Monday, November 30, 2015

The Colorado Springs Shooting: What We Know

Graphic via Life Matters Journal

You already know that on Friday, a gunman killed three people and injured nine others while firing shots from a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood abortion center.

61-year-old Ozy Licano was sitting in his car in the parking lot when he encountered the gunman, identified as Robert Lewis Dear. Dear fired through Licano's windshield. Thankfully, Licano was not seriously injured. Dear then retreated into the Planned Parenthood facility and stayed there for several hours, firing shots into the parking lot at the police officers who had gathered to address the situation. 

One police officer, Garrett Swasey, was killed. Two other individuals were also killed, and nine people were injured. Details about those victims have not been released at the time of this writing; however, they were not police officers, and Planned Parenthood has confirmed that they were neither staff nor patients. By process of elimination, we can guess that the victims were simply people who were in the parking lot at the wrong time, perhaps running errands. (The Planned Parenthood is located near various stores.)

Police have urged the public not to speculate about Dear's motive, but of course everyone wants an explanation. Initial rumors that Dear had camped out in the Planned Parenthood after a failed bank robbery, based on an eyewitness report of patrol cars swarming the nearby Chase Bank followed by the sound of gunfire, were quickly debunked. At this point it is at least clear that the shooting began in Planned Parenthood's parking lot.

We don't know much about Dear, but what little has been released is a sad echo of the many mass shootings our nation has endured. He lived in a shack with no electricity or running water. Although he had no diagnosed mental illness (which could have prevented him from obtaining a firearm), a neighbor says that Dear advised him to "put on a metal roof to block any government surveillance." Dear's responses to police interrogation have been "rambling," but he did say "no more baby parts" and something about President Obama. He has had past run-ins with the law, including allegations of animal abuse and domestic violence, but no convictions.

None of this is particularly surprising; mass shooters are rarely the picture of mental health. But what everyone wants to know is: was this about abortion? And if so, should the pro-life movement be blamed?

The "no more baby parts" comment, if accurate, is probably a reference to the undercover videos released over the summer which showed Planned Parenthood officials callously discussing the harvesting of abortion victims' organs for research. That's a strong indication that abortion motivated Dear. And yet Dear's victims had no apparent connection to Planned Parenthood. In fact, Officer Swasey was pro-life, and already being lauded by the pro-life community as a hero (as he should be).

So now what?

I've seen two reactions dominate the pro-life community. The first is horror and sorrow, just as any sane person would react to any mass shooting. The second is condemnation, and anger that this could have been done in our name. As one commenter on our facebook page put it: "I'm finding myself empathizing with Muslims at this moment... Feeling like I need to make some kind of comment or statement defending the pro-life movement because of this even though some deranged shooter has nothing to do with being pro-life." The analogy is an apt one. 44% of Americans identify themselves as pro-life, and popular pro-life policies—like banning abortion after the first trimester and requiring informed consent—command solid majorities. We're easily talking about over 150 million people that are all being painted with the same brush.

But getting defensive is the wrong response. If it's true that Dear was motivated by our criticism of Planned Parenthood, that would mean that he somehow got the first half of our message—Abortion is wrong—but not the critical second half, the why—because life is precious. That should concern us. Not because Dear was "one of ours," not because the media wants to guilt us, not because Planned Parenthood is fundraising off of it, not because vigilantism hasn't tarnished any other causes (it certainly has), but because one of our central goals is to effectively educate people about the value of human life. We obviously failed on that count when it came to Robert Dear.

It is in times like these that I wish I believed in the power of prayer. That would at least give me something nice to say. But it's not on God. It's on us. As hard as we've been working—the shooting came just days after the CDC reported that abortions are at an all-time low, with tens of thousands of abortions prevented through peaceful, lawful means—we have to work even harder to ensure that every human life is protected.

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