Congress Was Gunman's Accomplice: Opinion

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When President Obama addressed the nation Sunday night on the massacre in Aurora, Colo., he wisely omitted the name of the accused shooter, James Holmes. It was the right thing to do on a day that was focused on the victims and their families.

It also would not have been quite accurate.

You see, Holmes did not act alone. He had an accomplice. That accomplice was nowhere in sight when Holmes made his first court appearance on Monday. As far as I could see, nobody from the U.S. Congress was present in the courtroom.

Congress provided Holmes' arms and was his supply sergeant. By allowing a 10-year ban on assault weapons to expire in 2004, Congress must surely have known that something like the shooting in Colorado would take place.

There may be no legal culpability, but when it comes to moral culpability for the Aurora cinema shootings, Congress is guilty as hell.

As much as any Internet Web site or gun merchant, Congress put that Smith & Wesson AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle in his hands.

Congress oiled and installed the 100-round magazine that Holmes had in place on his AR-15 when it slaughtered 12 people.

By allowing ammunition to be sold as freely as alfalfa pellets -- more freely than Viagra or nasal decongestant -- Congress cheerfully provided him with 3,000 rounds of ammunition for the AR-15 and an equal number of rounds for his .40 caliber Glock pistols.

By not restricting sane controls on body armor and tear gas, it allowed Holmes to buy equipment that could only interest cops -- or somebody not wanting to be shot by cops.

Most of the time, when we discuss Congress' failings as a regulator, we are talking about dollars and cents issues -- Congress letting the banking industry go out of control or not exerting control of hedge funds.

But this is life and death. How many more people have to die before Congress acts to restrict sales of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, ammunition, tear-gas canisters and other weapons of war?

Will it take the killing of 120 people next time? Or will Congress only act when this nation's insanely lax gun laws are exploited by terrorists, and result in politically motivated slaughter of innocents by agents of Al Qaeda? Will even that make a difference?

President Obama didn't even hint at the assault weapons ban in his address Sunday night, and I suppose that's OK. It might have been viewed as tacky. But he needs to seize the initiative. The shooting in Colorado gives his administration a golden opportunity to take the side of the American people against the gun lobby, in an issue that has overwhelming public support.

I'm not naïve. Even if the president attempts to exert leadership on this issue, I doubt very much that Congress, in an election year, is going to ban the sale of assault weapons that should only be in the hands of law enforcement and the military. When it comes to guns, Congress shows off its yellow streak proudly, almost defiantly.

In fact, that's the difference between Holmes and his unindicted coconspirator: Congress is more premeditated, more corrupt, more aware of the consequences its actions. There is no question about its sanity.

Unlike Holmes, who can be expected to make repentant noises as soon as he snaps out of it, the members of Congress who are responsible for its paralysis on gun control can be expected to be as snarling and defiant as a cheap gangster in a pre-Code Jimmy Cagney movie.

Take this nugget of sophistry, for instance: "I don't think society can keep sick, demented individuals from obtaining any type of weapon to kill people," Sen. Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, told Fox News on Sunday.

By that kind of logic, we should just repeal all gun control measures and let the nuts and hoods roam the streets, armed to the teeth, countered by a similarly armed citizenry. The entire United States would be like the Wild West. Yee-haw! (But then again, frontier towns like Tombstone had strict laws against carrying guns within the city limits.)

Just that position is held by the lunatic fringe of the anti-gun-control movement, supported by their friends in Congress like Johnson, who believes that restricting sales of high-capacity ammo magazines would deprive gun owners of their constitutional rights.

What's amazing about the campaign against gun control is how flabby the arguments are. One can barely call them arguments at all.

It's not just Republicans who go off the deep end on this subject. "If there were no assault weapons available and no this or no that, this guy is going find something, right?" said Colorado's Democratic governor John Hickenlooper. "He's going to know how to create a bomb."

Sure, he could "create a bomb" or buy a baseball bat and roam the streets of Aurora, bashing people with it. But since that's messy, doesn't it make a lot more sense for us to just give up and make it easy for him to slaughter people en masse?

That's the kind of swill that used to come out of only the looniest anti-gun-control automatons. But now it's gone mainstream.

The word out of the White House is not encouraging. So far, it seems that President Obama is going to put getting re-elected over the lives of the American people.

A White House spokesman says, "The president is focused on doing the things that we can do that protect Second Amendment rights, which he thinks is important, but also make it harder for individuals who should not under existing law have weapons to obtain them." But the president, he said, is not pushing for reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.

So I guess we're just on our own, just as the Earp brothers were in Tombstone in 1882, when they enlisted Doc Holliday to enforce Tombstone's municipal gun control law at the OK Corral.

There is a culture of violence in this country; we saw its manifestations in Tombstone in 1882 and again on Friday morning in Aurora, Colo.

We call ourselves the greatest nation on earth. But we have to accept that along with that greatness comes an annoying tendency of our people to shoot each other. Our leaders need to recognize that, or share the responsibility for continued bloodshed.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Gary Weiss's most recent book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press.

This contributor reads:

Bronte Capital
Columbia Journalism Review�s �The Audit�
Going Concern
Jr Deputy Accountant
White Collar Fraud
On Twitter, this contributor follows:

Barry Ritholtz
Felix Salmon
Herb Greenberg
Sam Antar
William Wolfrum