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How to react to Colorado shooting (hint: no dark knight rises)

The Colorado shooting during a screening of the Batman movie 'The Dark Knight Rises' will evoke calls for ways to prevent more mass killings. But such tragedies only point to Americans having to learn how best to react personally.

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Judy Goos hugs her daughter's friend, Isaiah Bow, at a school in Aurora, Colo., where eyewitnesses to the theater shooting were gathered for questioning July 20. A gunman fired into a crowded movie theater at a midnight opening of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises," killing at least 12 people and injuring at least 50 others.

Barry Gutierrez/AP Photo

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As with other recent mass shootings in America –  Columbine, Amish girls, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Gabby Giffords – Friday’s killings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., have evoked a desire to prevent another senseless tragedy.

People try to discern the motive of the killers, the means used, the lapses in security. And simply bringing justice, such as a long prison sentence, isn’t enough for many.

The ultimate goal is reliable protection.

The most popular demands for ensuring public safety from mass murder will likely be calls to better screen public places, tighten controls on guns, and demand less violence in media – assuming that action flicks like "Batman" movies actually provoke someone to open fire in the theater.

Such solutions can change society on a large scale for the better. Gun laws do often work. Young children do now watch less fictional violence. Law enforcement has become better at detecting potential killers.

But the best protection lies within each individual, not only in improving one’s physical safety but in the mental, emotional, and even spiritual ways we react to horrific events.

Killers often seek to evoke anger and fear in crowd shootings, perhaps out of a perverse need to deal with those same emotions within themselves. Simply reacting to such murders with anger and fear – while certainly understandable – may only reinforce such behavior.

The best antidotes are the opposites of those emotions. They include openness, empathy, a respect for individual rights, and even forgiveness. These undermine the emotions that lead to violence because they have a long-lasting reality, as seen in how human civilization has advanced to embrace them as the core foundations for governance and daily life.

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