The questions that remain unanswered following the shooting last week at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., are as plentiful as they are unsettling: How does a person with no criminal record turn into a killer? How does someone become so callous as to slaughter complete strangers? Were there warning signs? Could it have been prevented?

However, delving into the psyche of a young man who dyed his hair orange, cloaked himself in body armor and entered a movie theater with the intention of killing dozens of people he had never met will likely prove fruitless and frustrating. Knowing that he is schizophrenic or sociopathic would provide some measure of explanation, and give very little solace to the families of the victims.

But there are plenty of other questions prompted by the shooting that demand attention: How can a person amass an arsenal without drawing attention? Why have lawmakers made it so easy to purchase an assault rifle, or two or 10? What is the purpose of owning thousands of rounds of ammunition, or an extended clip to hold dozens of those rounds?

And, what does any of that have to do with personal protection?

It is on that last question that the gun control debate hinges, particularly in a rural state like Maine, where many people grow up around guns and learn to use them responsibly. Across the country, disgraceful scare tactics used in the service of political power have equated any gun control with an effort to disarm the public, further muddying the debate.

But reasonable gun laws, such as the assault weapon ban that was quietly and reprehensibly allowed to lapse in 2004, do not take handguns and hunting rifles away from responsible owners. They aim, instead, at people like Timothy Courtois of Biddeford, who police say owned more than 12 guns, including a machine gun and an AK-47 assault rifle. Courtois, who had clippings of the Colorado shooting at his home, told authorities he brought a loaded handgun to a Saco movie theater last weekend.

We cannot let another horrific example of gun violence pass without seriously examining all its elements. That includes the place in our society for weapons of mass murder certainly not envisioned when the Founding Fathers crafted the Second Amendment. Perhaps James Holmes, whose assault rifle jammed, would have caused just as much death in that movie theater using only guns allowed under reasonable laws. Maybe Jared Loughner, the perpetrator of the Arizona shootings involving then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, would have found a way to inflict all that damage without the high-capacity magazine he used. Maybe the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech would have occurred regardless of the safeguards in place.

But we can’t look at all the shooting incidents – more than 125 fatal mass shootings in the U.S. since Columbine, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence – and the prevalence of guns in this country – an estimated 270 million – without wondering if there is a connection.

Consider, as well, the number of homicides and suicides involving guns and you can add one more question to the list: What is it about the United States, more than most other wealthy countries, that attracts so much gun violence?

Ben Bragdon is the managing editor of Current Publishing. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.