April 17, 2013

Analysis: Contemplating chaos in a nation of 'soft targets'

Allen G. Breed / The Associated Press

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The Century 16 cinema east of the Aurora Mall in Aurora, Colo., where James Holmes allegedly killing 12 people and injuring 70 last July.

AP

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It doesn't feel that way, says Busch. Her cousin, Micayla Medek, was just 23 when she died in a hail of semi-automatic gunfire during a premiere for "Dark Knight Rises" at the Century 16 cinema last year. Busch listens in despair as politicians debate whether to debate tighter restrictions on high-powered weapons with high-capacity magazines.

"When you go through so much trauma, your perspective on life changes, your belief system changes," Busch says. "You lose your innocence and, at the same time, you go back to a point of innocence. ... It's like you just want to go home, and your definition of home is different."

Despite the tragedies the United States has faced in recent years, Ruben says the nation as a whole is "still at the stage of a great deal of naivete."

Ruben was two weeks old when her parents fled Iraq in 1950. She was going to high school outside Tel Aviv in 1967, when Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Egyptian forces in what has come to be known as the Six-Day War.

"The Western mind cannot really perceive the will to lose life, to kill yourself, to send your children with a complete purpose of killing yourself and others," the 62-year-old New Jersey woman says. "This is a concept that is so foreign to the democratic American mind, even though 9/11 happened right in the heart of America. It raped America in such a violent way. I don't see that that is interpreted as something that really exists and can come to here and hit home in such a way — that it's an isolated case, that there are excuses for that, that they were disturbed people."

American parents have long warned their children "not to talk to strangers." In Israel, Ruben notes, television ad campaigns instruct kids on how to spot a suspicious package, and to report it.

Her two adult daughters live there now, and it is nothing to them to have their bags inspected or to automatically pop their trunks before driving into a mall parking structure.

"It's so much part of the culture, and you don't even blink," she says. "They know that they need to do these things in order to be safe."

Unlike Israel — a very small country virtually surrounded by people who deny its right to exist — the United States has friends to the north and south, and two oceans as a natural defense. But any sense of American invulnerability is an illusion, says Paul LaRuffa. The Hollywood, Md., man has a running discussion with a friend about how far government should be allowed to go in the name of keeping the public safe.

More than most Americans, LaRuffa has some real skin in the game.

On Sept. 5, 2002, LaRuffa had just closed up his Italian restaurant, Margellina, and was preparing to drive home when his car window exploded. A man shot LaRuffa five times at close range, took a briefcase containing about $3,500 from the back seat, and left the restaurateur for dead.

He was still recuperating from his wounds when a sniper (or snipers) began stalking the towns and cities up and down Interstate 95, turning the simple act of pumping gas into a game of Russian Roulette.

"I went through that whole paranoia," he says. "I was scared like everybody else."

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