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.