The first tragedy is that evil like this exists and mental health professionals or law enforcement officials were not able to catch him before he went this far. (Breaking news as I write this post suggests that a University of Colorado psychiatrist received a notebook detailing the plans but it got lost in the mail room. How tragic!) But there is something more than that. It finally struck me when I listened to a song by Iron Maiden called: Die with your boots on. Dying while trying to protect your girlfriend or child is honorable. I can't help but think how many of them would have rather died while protecting their loved ones by facing their attacker with a gun of their own.
We don't know what could have happened because citizens were denied their second amendment rights. The theater was a "safe zone" which forbid guns. That simply made the theater goers easier targets for their shooter. Armed and trained citizens acting in the moment of attack, are much more likely to save lives than armed and trained citizens arriving minutes later. There could have been a gun owner within five feet of the attacker, or fifty feet away. That gun owner could have had a clear shot, or never had one. For example, one witness described how he ducked down and actually felt the spent rounds land on him as the attacker shot other people. So this person, literally, had a point blank shot at the attacker as he was distracted...if he was armed.
Some people argue that this man was too armored, and had too big of an advantage for one defensive shooter to have an effect. But every concealed permit I know of requires training. A trained person could hit the head, and even an untrained shooter could hit if they were close enough to feel the spent shells fall on them. Barring that there is a chance of hitting an unprotected limb. If the defender did hit armor, bullets bouncing off of it would draw the attention of the shooter. Depending on the calibre of the weapon, it would also knock him down, or even bruise a rib. The ensuing firefight, even if one sided between a handgun and an armored man with an assault rifle, would draw his attention and allow others to escape.
Plus, there is a psychology advantage in disrupting the attacker. Most mass shooters are cowards who enjoy the power and pleasure brought by shooting helpless, surprised people and hearing their screams. They have a preplanned scenario of helpless victims running from him as he shoots fish in a barrel. A disruption of that mental narrative by fighting back, especially with another gun, would have shaken the gunmen. Since most of these crazy gunmen are not trained marksmen, while people with their concealed permits are, combined with their defying the preplanned scenario in the attackers' head, would have given the defender a good chance of striking the attacker first. And saved lives. Keep in mind that there were several military personal in the audience, so there is an even greater chance that their marksmanship would have been superior to the attackers. And they would have been trained in how to operate in tear gassed environments.
I have personal experience with the theory that calls for a counterattack against a mass shooter. My stepfather was personally involved in a mass shooting. Unlike the the Fort Hood shooting, only one person died. A group of unarmed special forces, including my step father, charged the attacker immediately after he started firing. They chased him down through the forest in a one sided firefight and captured him. They saved at least a dozen lives, and I have grown up without my step father because of it. But I am proud of my step father for dying with his boots on. Even unarmed, they subdued the attacker and saved lives.
The lesson we should learn, is that citizens are far safer when they are allowed to exercise their second amendment rights. They don't have to act like special forces. But they already showed their willingness to act with bravery and heroism, they could have been much more effective in those efforts if they were armed. There were many heroes in this tragedy who could have gone on to lead full and productive lives. But instead they were reduced to being human shields for their loved ones. They could have had a much better chance of subduing the attacker and saving the lives of their loved ones, but also their own lives, and prevented the deaths of other victims, if they were allowed to arm themselves. In short, these heroes were denied a chance to die with their boots on.