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Red Flag: Why Was the Colorado Mass Shooting Suspect Free in the First Place?

Late Saturday evening, a lone gunman -- armed to the teeth and wearing body armor -- entered a night club in Colorado Springs and murdered as many people as he could before he was subdued by patrons.  Five people's lives were stolen in an instant.  Dozens of others were wounded.  The alleged assailant is in custody and faces a raft of charges.  It's another mass shooting in America.  Predictably, many people have reacted to this heinous event by racing to their usual political corners, deploying arguments so familiar at this point that many of us could practically rehearse them in our sleep, depressingly.  After the Uvalde horror this past spring, I wrote a lengthy piece in a good-faith effort to cut through some of the usual talking points  and be constructive.  I offer it again here.  There are no tidy, let alone perfect, solutions to any of this.  We live in a fallen world, evil exists, and our constitution guarantees certain inalienable rights to our citizens.  Some of the evil ones sometimes exploit of those rights in evil ways.  A few thoughts about the emerging specifics of this latest atrocity -- and don't miss the fourth bullet point:


(1) We don't yet know the suspect's motive, but it's hard to believe it was a random coincidence that he chose a haven for LGBT people as his target.  The parallels to the 2016 Pulse shooting in Orlando are haunting and horrifying, though there's no evidence that this new one was an ISIS-inspired jihadist act, as was the case six years ago.  Perhaps this individual just loathed gay or queer people and decided to unleash his desire for bloodshed on a community he hated.  We'll likely know more about what sort of darkness lurked inside his heart soon enough.  He is to blame for his actions -- not Republican politicians, not social media accounts that critique LGBT activism, not any turnkey ideological scapegoat.  I've been very consistent on this.  I understand the human need to process terrible events, and to somehow channel revulsion and grief.  But the endless, instant finger-pointing at perennial political opponents in the immediate aftermath of horrors like this only serve to deepen our divides and achieve nothing beyond heightened tribalism and resentment.

(2) The LGBT community is responding to this killing spree especially emotionally and viscerally, and justifiably so.  Our society has become so much more welcoming, accepting, and tolerant in recent years.  That progress has been real, should be undeniable, and is certainly welcome (which is not to say there is no overreach from agenda-driven activists, searching for new causes to champion.  No one can or should speak for the entire community).  What makes attacks like Orlando and Colorado Springs so upsetting to LGBT people is that they were carried out by intruders who deliberately and affirmatively chose to enter particular venues in order to kill and maim us where we are meant to feel most welcome and free.  The term 'safe spaces' is rightly ridiculed in a number of contexts; I've joined in on the mockery at times.  But gay clubs are voluntary, organic safe spaces for members of a community that faced widespread discrimination for so long.  To this day, it can be very hard to come out, depending on one's family dynamic, work environment, or upbringing.  It's complicated.  People are complicated.  Whatever their individual situations may be, LGBT people should be able to seek out establishments that cater to them, unwind, drink, dance, sing, and  For such a place to be violently invaded, with patrons slaughtered just because they're there, is an extra and painful affront.  It hurts.  I'd imagine that many straight people -- including opponents of same-sex marriage and various forms of LGBT activism -- can intuitively understand that on a human level, and share in our grief.


(3) News accounts about what happened inside Club Q just before midnight on Saturday include details of heroism and bravery.  The death toll would almost certainly would have been higher, and the tragedy even more grotesque, if not for the quick and decisive actions of two customers.  These men saved lives, according to this New York Times report:

A man shrouded in body armor and wielding an AR-15 style rifle attacked an L.G.B.T.Q. nightclub in Colorado Springs on Saturday night, in a rampage that killed at least five people and injured at least 25 others. At least one person inside the nightclub, Club Q, tackled and subdued the gunman, the authorities said, helping to prevent further bloodshed. Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs said that a man had grabbed a handgun from the gunman and then hit him with it, subduing him. When the police burst into the club, the man was still on top of gunman, pinning him down, Mr. Suthers said. The owners of the club, who had looked at surveillance tape, lauded the actions of two patrons whom they said they did not know but who, together, had overpowered the gunman and held him on the floor until police arrived. “One customer took down the gunman and was assisted by another,” said Matthew Haynes, one of the club owners. Referring to the first person who acted, Mr. Haynes added, “He saved dozens and dozens of lives. Stopped the man cold. Everyone else was running away, and he ran toward him.”

Extraordinary courage.  Bravo, especially to the one man who risked his own life to put an end to the assault before it could get worse.  The Times story continues, "the motive behind the attack at Club Q was still unknown. Mayor Suthers said the shooting 'has all the appearances of being a hate crime,' but he said that investigators were still combing through the gunman’s social media history and doing interviews to determine a motive."


(4) In a frustratingly high number of mass shootings, the assailants turn out to have been known to authorities, having previously exhibited obvious warning signs of mental disturbance and violent tendencies.  Colorado has a 'red flag law' on the books, it's worth noting.  And it appears as though the red flags flapping around this suspect should have been readily apparent not only to people in his immediate circle, but to local officials, too.  Within hours of the attack, people started sending me 2021 local news stories about a man whose full name (which I won't publish here) and age match the mass shooting suspect.  The initial takeaway was that the person who murdered five people at Club Q this weekend was also involved in a frightening standoff with police just last year:

The Times report quoted above also references this apparent connection:

A man with the same name and age as the club shooting suspect was arrested in June 2021 after the man’s mother had called the police and said that she was not with her son and did not know where he was, but that he had threatened to hurt her with a bomb, ammunition and other weapons. Police negotiators persuaded him to walk out of a house and surrender — but not before the police had evacuated residents from about 10 nearby houses in a suburban neighborhood just outside of Colorado Springs, because of the bomb threat. The police have not said whether the shooting suspect and the man arrested in 2021 are one and the same. The man was charged with several crimes after that arrest, including felony menacing and three kidnapping charges...The police said in 2021 that they had not found any explosives. A spokesman for the local district attorney declined to say on Sunday how the charges were resolved.


An updated piece published earlier today in Politico confirms that the alleged 2022 nightclub shooter and the man involved in the 2021 bomb threat siege are, in fact, one in the same:

A year and a half before he was arrested in the Colorado Springs gay nightclub shooting that left five people dead, Anderson Lee Aldrich allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb, forcing neighbors in surrounding homes to evacuate while the bomb squad and crisis negotiators talked him into surrendering. Yet despite that scare, there’s no record prosecutors ever moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich, or that police or relatives tried to trigger Colorado’s “red flag” law that would have allowed authorities to seize the weapons and ammo the man’s mother says he had with him...The county sheriff’s office declined to answer what happened after Aldrich’s arrest last year, including whether anyone asked to have his weapons removed. The press release issued by the sheriff’s office at the time said no explosives were found but did not mention anything about whether any weapons were recovered.

El Paso County is a conservative jurisdiction in a Democrat-run state.  I'm not sure where the buck should stop, and I don't particularly care.  This isn't about scoring points against Republicans or Democrats; it's about finding out how on earth someone could terrorize a neighborhood with a bomb scare, get charged with multiple serious felonies -- then be walking free, in possession of a powerful weapon, just months later.  The 'no comments' from the local DA and sheriff's offices aren't going to cut it.  Was this person not prosecuted for the bomb threat ordeal?  Did no one decide it might be a good idea to trigger the red flag law against him?  We don't know the back story, and this could be more complicated than it looks.  But it looks very bad, and five innocent people are dead.  Relatedly, it's reasonable for gun control opponents to ask why anyone should be asked to stampede toward yet more laws when existing ones don't work or aren't enforced.  It's always a good idea to wait for more information to arrive on such things, but these questions are basic and important.  And more information must arrive.  Side-stepping relevant inquires about this suspect's criminal history is unacceptable.


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