(The Root) — On Friday morning at about 12:39 a.m., when James Eagen Holmes walked into the Century Cinema 16 theater complex in Aurora, Colo., outside Denver; kicked open an emergency-exit door leading into Theater 9; and opened fire on a crowd of people gathered for a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, resetting the national political debate may have been the last thing on his mind.
But when he carried most of an arsenal of two .40-caliber Glock handguns, a Remington Model 870 shotgun and a Smith & Wesson AR-15 rifle with a 100-round drum magazine into that 12:05 a.m. showing of the latest Batman movie and ultimately killed 12 people, the former University of Colorado graduate student pumped fresh voltage into a third rail of American politics and reawakened this nation to one of the real banes of its existence.
What happens next in this rancorous election year, and what comes next from its principal actors, could change the course of the gun-rights debate — for a while, anyway — and the arc of the presidential campaign, which ends in less than four months.
As news of the incident already being labeled “the Colorado Batman shootings” emerged, Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama both issued statements that tried to temporarily table presidential politics.
President Obama issued a statement that sounded the right empathetic tone in framing the event in a wider, familial context: “Michelle and I are shocked and saddened by the horrific and tragic shooting in Colorado. Federal and local law enforcement are still responding, and my administration will do everything that we can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time.
“As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family. All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come.”
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Obama’s rival for the White House, followed: “Ann and I are deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence that took the lives of 15 [sic] people in Colorado and injured dozens more,” said Romney. “We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief. We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice.”
At a Friday rally in Fort Myers, Fla., Obama said, “There are going to be other days for politics.” The president vocally pondered the unthinkable: “What if Malia and Sasha had been in the theater?”
“Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight, and I’m sure you will do the same with your children.”