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James Holmes Trial: This Will Be the Trial of the Decade

2012 will doubtlessly be remembered as the year of the shooting.

Though crime overall is trending downwards, and has been since the mid-1990s, the vast majority of homicides involve firearms — 60%, in fact. Gun ownership in the United States is among the highest in the world, and sadly most mass shootings, themselves fairly common, involve legally obtained firearms.

Mass Shootings in US, 1982-2012

This year alone, the Newtown shootings shattered national holiday cheer, a gunman attacked a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and James Eagan Holmes terrorized a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado.

And with the final numbers in, Chicago suffered 513 homicides in 2012, outnumbering U.S. troop losses in Afghanistan as early as June.

While most other high profile shootings left the perpetrator dead along with his victims — either by his own hand or the through the efforts of responding police officers — Holmes was arrested. He will stand trial, pleading insanity.

The James Eagan Holmes trial, slated for Tuesday, represents the most important trial of the decade — not because his crime was more heinous than others, though heinous it was, or produced record casualties, though casualties there were. Rather, the trial and the entire drama of the Aurora massacre is essentially a conflation of the entire gun debate currently raging across the blogosphere, in the Illinois legislature, and in our nation's capital. It is a microcosm of an epidemic; it offers an accurate snapshot of virtually every salient aspect of this important debate, from rampant firearms to mental illnessmedia violence to criminal glorification, the efficacy of the justice system to corporal punishment.

Further, this trial is important as it portends the advent of at the minimum thoughtful conversation on gun control and gun violence, if not actual, concrete legislation designed to curtail the distribution/prevalence of dangerous firearms, strengthen existing safeguards, and remedy the glaring loopholes that emerged from substantive 1990s legislation. Indeed, gun control has had positive effects in those states that chose to implement it:

Gun Deaths and Gun Control, 2007

If Holmes is convicted, prosecutors will likely seek the death penalty, which is sure to unleash a maelstrom of legal and ethical criticism. Meanwhile, a separate drama is unfolding involving the nation's mental health detection and outreach programs. Holmes himself demonstrates the difficulty in putting proposed mental health reforms into practice: he was, after all, a doctoral candidate with no history of aggression or depression.

Whatever the outcome, Holmes's trial occurs at a critical juncture. Many eyes will be on the accused, while many more begin to look towards impending legislative battles.

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