Remember how fast we all got tired of looking at James Holmes, sitting in the courtroom wearing a dazed look and a mop of tangled hair dyed a hideous shade of red, trying to look like he was mentally unstable? What we heard was that he was channeling the Joker, archenemy of Batman, whose movie premiere he crashed a few years back in Aurora, Colorado.
The oft-repeated line in the aftermath of atrocities like this, and the many that have followed, is that we should not politicize it; this line is used mostly by the opponents of any sort of gun control. What they mean by ‘not politicizing it’ is not to take a moment to consider whether the availability of assault rifles and other ordnance from the military arsenal to the general public should be regulated. Don’t panic. The occurrence in Aurora was an aberration, even as it took its place in a mind-numbing succession of similar horrors, perpetrated with less than aberrant regularity.
These are all aberrations, each and every one of them. Considering how many millions of people regularly attend movie premieres, or go to college classes, or grade school classes, or attend political rallies without being murdered, the continuing string of violent atrocities are aberrant and rare, in a relative sense. But it should be borne in mind that in every one of them, the aberrant perpetrator greatly increased his lethality by easy access to firearms. Case in point: a crazed student recently went on a violent rampage in a Pennsylvania high school. Nearly two dozen people were injured, but nobody was killed, because he only had a knife, no gun.
But these facts are exercised ad infinitum in digital, print and broadcast forums, and never serve to change the mind of anyone dedicated to the proposition that the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution is something more than a historical anachronism whose intent has been purposely misconstrued by an opportunistic gun industry led by the NRA; the people who believe, in a twist of logic I’ve never quite grasped, that gun ownership—of all things—is the cornerstone of individual liberty. These are the same people who used to grow misty-eyed when Charlton Heston intoned about America’s pioneering, frontier past, when the Family Gun was all that stood between a family and starvation. They buy into this mythology as if there were still a shortage of grocery stores and a man needs to put meat on the table on a daily basis.
But mythology is what the whole gun ownership thing is about: the necessity to own guns, the safety offered by them, the sacred right and ability of a Man to protect his Family. It is a mythology and a belief system unto itself, against which the proponents of gun control can offer nothing more than facts and statistics to support their views.
Among the myths, one of the most pervasive is the repeatedly evoked thought that ‘if only one legal gun owner had been present at (fill in the blank), the shooter wouldn’t have done so much harm.’ This thought is a great salve to the sort of avid gun owner who sits around with his buddies propounding the things he would have done if only. ‘If Id’a been there, I woulda dropped that coward.’ Yeah, except it has never happened. In not a single one of the notorious instances of gun violence in recent memory has a hero arisen from the crowd, armed and sure-sighted, to take down the perpetrator.
This has to be a sore spot for the NRA and for gun owners in general. When oh when will the fact that law-abiding citizens can license and carry firearms start to make a difference? When will the legally armed citizen finally meet up with the illegally armed crook and win the day? One almost imagines gun policy morphing to the standpoint that gun ownership is more than a right, it is a solemn obligation—and the true glory of America will not be realized until every mother’s son is armed and ready to defend the womenfolk and young’uns. Sounds extreme, but given today’s political climate, I could foresee legislation requiring me to carry a gun passing before any law limiting my right to purchase an AK47 for hunting doves.
But the problem with the individual armed savior myth is much more than the presence of legal guns. It has to do with the actual bravery of the people carrying the guns. And this is where we come to Batman, the private citizen turned vigilante. Yes, he is armed, and trained, and ready. But what makes Batman Batman is not that he has an arsenal of snazzy weapons: it’s that he has balls. He will stand up for his fellow citizen; he will station himself between innocent people and the harm that threatens them. It is this that distinguishes the hero, not what he happens to be packing.
This kind of bravery does not typify people who carry guns. These are fraidy cats, people who think they need a gun in their pocket to walk down the streets of their own town, to visit the barbershop or get a pizza. Statistics about the proliferation of accidental gun deaths will never make them give up their right to carry a loaded pistol around, because they are too insecure. These are not the kind of people one wants to count on in a stressful, violent, emergency situation. These guys are Barney Fifes, with no Andy Taylor to take the bullets away. At best they might draw and miss, at worst, add to the mayhem by firing wide and taking out additional victims.
In the end, James Holmes was no Joker. The Joker is a fictional character with huge abilities to perpetrate endless crime sprees. James Holmes was a sorry, probably mentally ill young man who caused a world of sadness to many people; but his abilities were limited to that one night, and the lethality afforded him by a popular gloss on the U.S. Constitution. And in the end, there is no Batman. A bunch of pistol-packing guys droning into their beers about the sacred right to concealed carry and what they woulda done are not going to save anybody. And the myth of the private citizen who will be ready to arise and rescue his fellow citizens from another violent gunman is only that—a myth.