Colorado shootings tragic on many fronts

There are many things to lament in the aftermath of this past weekend’s senseless carnage at an otherwise nondescript theater complex in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo.

First and foremost, of course, is the loss of 12 innocent lives – ordinary people who left home that evening to be among the first of their friends to see the new Batman movie – including a 32-year-old mother of two, a 26-year-old Navy veteran and a 6-year-old little girl who was just learning how to swim.

Then there is the disturbing reminder that there are people in this world who are sick enough to execute a plan that calls for walking into a crowded theater in full body armor and spraying gunfire indiscriminately until a dozen people lay dead and nearly 60 more wounded.

One cries out to the nation for its collective thoughts and prayers as the community and its stricken families cope with the inexplicable feelings of loss. The other demands punishment to the full extend of the law for the madman suspected of carrying out this dastardly deed.

But outside this grieving community of 330,000 – separated by roughly 25 miles from the site of the Columbine High School massacre of 1999 – two other truths became evident as they relate to our government and the individuals who seek our votes to become part of it:

It takes a horrible tragedy of this magnitude for politicians to hit the pause button on the vitriol that passes for political campaigning today.

And our political leaders are incapable of having a serious conversation about the nation’s guns laws.

The first became obvious Friday, when the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney immediately put a halt to all negative advertising that had been scheduled to air on Colorado TV stations.

That conjured up memories of another mass shooting – this one outside a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011 – in which six people were killed and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was among 13 others wounded.

You may recall that incident prompted a national debate over the deterioration of civility in political discourse and even prompted some Democrats and Republicans to pair off and sit together for the president’s State of the Union address weeks later.

As was true then, the truce didn’t last long; the president and Romney were right back at it Monday, this time over foreign policy in anticipation of the former Massachusetts governor’s six-day trip to the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland.

Likewise, don’t expect either man to lead a serious debate over whether existing gun laws could be tweaked to at least make it more difficult for deranged individuals such as James Eagan Holmes and Jared Lee Loughner to execute their plans with such precision.

While both Obama and Romney have supported gun-control measures in the past – Obama in the U.S. Senate; Romney as governor – neither showed any signs of having the stomach to tangle with the political and financial might of the National Rifle Association – $18.9 million in political contributions since 1990 – in the months leading up to Election Day.

To be clear, we’re not suggesting there are any quick fixes that would prevent similar atrocities in the future. Invariably, people intent on killing will find a way to do so.

But that doesn’t mean our elected leaders should sit silently on the sidelines until the next one.