Safety just a mirage

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Shocking as last week’s Colorado theater massacre was, the event had a ring of familiarity. We’ve seen it all before, in schools and workplaces across the nation – and here in Kentucky. The gunmen typically turn out to be loners, unhappy persons who seem driven to share their misery with others. There follows the inevitable call for tougher gun control to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of sick people, and to deny sophisticated arms to anyone except police and the military.

A kind of fatigue has set in among Americans who despair of government finding any solution that won’t take their own rights. We’re not talking about hard-core gun enthusiasts who believe they should be allowed to pack weapons, open or concealed, wherever they choose. Less fanatical types, who have no desire to go about their daily business with pistols under their jackets, have also come to realize that police can’t be everywhere, and criminals can be anywhere. The Colorado shooter fatally wounded 12 movie fans and injured 58 others before police could answer the desperate calls for assistance and arrest the suspect, a former graduate student who is not cooperating with interrogators.

Mass shootings in public places make international news, but the average American is just as worried about security at home, where police are even less likely to be nearby when needed. News reports of invaders who’ve crashed through doors to rob, terrorize and assault residents minding their own business have stimulated firearms purchases. Crafting gun laws that impede criminals’ and psychotics’ access to weaponry without disarming law-abiding citizens won’t be simple.

Many argue nobody needs semi-automatic weapons like one the Colorado shooting suspect used to squeeze off a rapid-fire barrage before it jammed and he had to fall back on the shotgun and handguns he brought along as backups. But others may believe a few assault weapons in the hands of the right homeowners could help cure the home-invasion epidemic – or at least put a few of the offenders permanently out of business. Realistically, an old-fashioned shotgun is probably a better option for home defenders with less than stellar marksmanship skills. It’s still legal, for now.

Gun-rights diehards make the case that more law-abiding citizens bearing arms in public places could actually improve safety by enabling a citizen response to madmen on a rampage in the absence of law enforcement. Apparently there was no such savior inside the Colorado cinema. Even if there had been, it’s debatable whether good guys with guns would have contained the tragedy or made it worse by unleashing chaotic crossfire in a darkened auditorium filled with tear gas the suspect released before he started shooting.

One irony is that Batman, the comic-book hero of the movie whose premiere the Colorado crowd came to see, is himself a sort of vigilante who steps in to save the day when conventional law enforcement fails to get the job done. The action series lets movie-goers witness gratuitous violence from the comfort of their theater seats without fear that any real harm will befall them – or so they think.

With the world full of disaffected individuals – and groups – determined to shatter illusions of security everywhere, no law short of martial law can consistently ensure safety in public places or, for that matter, private places. The demented and diabolical among us never stop discovering new frontiers of evil.

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  • The theatre chain where this happened had "no gun" signs on their doors. Tragically, the patrons chose to obey those signs, and were completely unable to defend themselves. Had even one person chosen not to be an unarmed victim it could have changed everything. What is certain is that UNARMED persons can NEVER hope to stop such a monster. Never have, never will.

  • Obviously, there wasn't anything anybody in the theater could do in probably the state with the most lenient gun laws in the USA. All of this readily available "force" makes the evil in our midst much more efficient, and the NRA wants to up the ante. And that is the name of that tune.

  • This is by far the most balanced editorial about guns that I've read to date in the State Journal. Well done. But on one point the SJ persists in their myopia, and that's in being unable to acknowledge that armed citizens are now, and have always been, the first best defense against such maniacs as the one in Colorado. Again and again, when homicidal shooters have been prevented from committing their crimes unhindered, it was an armed citizen who did it, as we saw in Pearl, Mississippi and in West Virginia's law school. Maybe under difficult conditions a defender would have had a very hard time of it, but isn't it better to be able to have the ability to fight back, than to die on your knees hoping for mercy because you're unarmed? Irrational, emotional hysterics will rant about grenades and RPGs but those who pay attention to history and facts will know that only force will deter the evil in our midst, and wishing it weren't so will not stop a maniac bent on murder.

  • A very well spoken piece. I won't deny that as a Texan, I'm in favor of an armed and active populace, and ascribe to the belief that the rampage would have been much better mitigated had someone been shooting back at the guy. Even accounting for chaotic crossfire, I would tend to believe the resulting distraction for the shooter (and having to shoot at those trying to kill him, rather than those fleeing from him) would have cut the casualties in half, at the very least. In either case, you've made very good points about the sort of apathy thats set in. [as a side note to anonymous_1713: AR in AR-15 stands for ArmaLite, the original creators of the design, not for assault rifle. They named all of their weapons AR-(number); Colt just didn't bother changing the name when they purchased the manufacture rights to the weapon. The tear gas was home made, not purchased.]

  • The guy had a 100 round clip in his AR15 (assault rifle 15). He had tear gas canisters. He had two Glocks and a shotgun. According to the National Rifle Association, even that was nearly enough firepower, as they want more. If the NRA had their way, he would have entered the theater with full on automatic weapons and an RPG launcher. Why stop there? Give these nutdogs flame-throwers and grenades so that they can do the job right!

  • Extremely well said. I dont know how anyone on ether side of the debate can debate this. It explains the problem that we do have with violence and that there is no easy answer. Makes me think a combination of many factors can help the problem but because of human nature it will never be solved.