By now the script should be familiar. A bombing or a mass shooting occurs and the media immediately look for a simple cause. Invariably, they turn to talk radio or some other conservative pit of "intolerance."
Within recent memory are tragedies like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 1999 massacre at Columbine, the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings and the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson. Some politicians and liberal interest groups have sought to link these and other violent incidents to the far right. There have also been incidents when some conservatives have tried to blame other tragedies on "liberals" "secularists" and abortion.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote on his blog that the "hate-mongers" Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck contributed to the Giffords shooting, despite later reports that the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, had never listened to their programs. The discovery that Loughner liked "The Communist Manifesto" and "Mein Kampf" forced media types to quickly abandon that smear, but not retract their comments. They're running the same play again.
Within hours of the massacre of 12 people and the wounding of dozens more in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., Brian Ross, an "investigative reporter" for ABC News rushed on the air to say that he had found a name similar to that of the alleged shooter and that the Jim Holmes he had discovered with a quick Internet search was (gasp!) listed as a member of the tea party movement. In Ross' mind, as well as that of other "journalists," apparently, tea party equals guns, equals extremist, end of discussion. ABC and Ross later issued a limp apology, but the bias was exposed.
Ross was not alone in his rush to misjudgment. The New York Times sought the opinion of film critic Roger Ebert, who predictably argued for more gun control laws even while diagnosing the alleged shooter as "insane." How would more laws force an "insane" individual to act sanely and obey them, especially when that person is intent on committing murder? Ebert didn't say. Even if more gun laws could deter "insane" killers, there are other weapons to choose from --airplanes, homemade bombs containing fertilizer. Should fertilizer be outlawed?
The National Rifle Association, predictably, was denounced on MSNBC and in the Daily Kos, but the left's real endgame was expressed in a recent letter to the editor in The New York Times by Ellyn S. Roth, New York City: "What is it going to take to get rid of the handguns in this country?"
Our government is unlikely to confiscate every gun in America in violation not only of the Second Amendment, but also common sense.
What is always left out of this familiar scenario is an in-depth discussion of evil. Politicians and commentators almost never speak of evil as something that resides deep inside the human heart. All humans possess the capacity for evil. While it rarely rises to the level of mass murder, the capacity for doing great harm to other human beings lurks within each of us. This is what theologians mean when they speak of a "fallen" humanity.
Violent movies like "The Dark Knight Rises" do not make all people emulate the Colorado shooter, anymore than a movie about love causes people to love one another.
Would an armed guard at the theater have helped stem the carnage? No one can say. The guard might have been the first one shot. Some have suggested that at least one armed movie patron could have stopped the shooter. That also is difficult to say. In a darkened theater, a gunfight might have killed just as many, or more.
Sometimes there are no "solutions" that can forestall an evil act. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney set the right tone, asking for prayers for the victims and their families. Calling on that Higher Authority is the proper and perhaps only counterforce to this and other expressions of true evil.
(Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.)