(Originally posted October 2015.)
There has been a lot of discussion about gun violence in the trenches of the internet the last few months, particularly after the Umpqua Community College shooting. When President Obama spoke that evening, he made the comment that “what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize.” Of course, that sparked the flame of far right gun rights outrage, and the good guy with a gun bullshit started to run rampant among the internet trolls who have no sense of decency or understanding of the feelings of the victims’ families. Shamelessly, they are even blaming the victims themselves for not being armed.
In the aftermath of Umpqua, I found myself looking at comments on Facebook in response to this and other shootings. I thought I would perhaps get a better understanding of the radical right wing gun nuts. I wanted to. I wanted to see if I could really put myself in their shoes for a few moments and figure out where we might reach a middle ground.
It was fruitless, of course. Compromise is incomprehensible to them, by and large. I didn’t encounter a single gun owner who advocated tougher gun laws. I did, however, learn something about the mythology that inspires their indefensible position. These guys – almost ALL are men, and almost ALL of those are white – think they are superheroes.
Like a comic book storyline, the gun trolls see a world where the police need the help of brilliant vigilantes, preferably with guns. Why? In the opinions of the dozen or so men I talked to, the police are neither responsive enough or sufficiently motivated to actually help effectively in a mass shooting situation. However, they tell me, there are plenty of men out there with loads of guns and military training who could effectively resolve a shooting situation; some even suggested they would do this better than the police.
Of course, I still tried to find that middle ground. I suggested the idea of a “permit to purchase” program that requires citizens to go to the police department and apply in person for a gun permit. In response, I was told that “even in person, police still can’t tell if someone’s a psychopath or not.” The police, from this point of view, can neither defend citizens adequately nor detect potential mental illness or instability in a citizen. Of course, when I comment on the low opinion that they seem to hold of the police, more than a few said that the police agree that citizens with guns reduce crime. Middle ground be damned. Even the police admitted they needed vigilante help.
Police, based on descriptions I was given, are little more than cuckolds with guns. They can’t protect, detect or do much of anything useful. In contrast, the hordes of “trained” civilians and military veterans on the sidelines are ready and waiting to show just how badass they are when the next mass shooter invades a school, an office, a military base, etc. They are simply going to show the world that they don’t tolerate gun violence against the innocent. They’re going to go full Punisher on these fuckers. (Forget Batman! Fucker is too pussy to use a gun!)
All I can say is “Wow.”
No doubt, the mythology of the superhero is fun and exhilarating. I have been a huge Batman fan since grad school, and I’ve published on the subject as well. The notion of being an extremely well-trained martial artist/detective who fights selflessly against crime and corruption, well, I mean that’s a fun fantasy. We wish it was possible because it would be amazing and cool as hell. Of course, my parents would have had to die, etc., etc., and that would really really suck, but I’d be Batman. It almost seems worth the tradeoff. But it’s not.
If you really wanted to be Batman – or more realistically, the Punisher – you’d have to be some kinda physical specimen. I’m thinking Lebron James or J.J. Watt. You’d need the gun skills of a Navy Seal/Marine/Special Forces standout. Plus, you’d have to be a fucking genius, like the collective intelligence of Anonymous, the engineers at Tesla, and all the current and former geniuses at NASA combined. Plus, since you’d be devoting your life to the singular task of stopping criminals, you’d kinda need some Sister Theresa-like devotion to helping the innocent and underprivileged. Lastly, you’d need Bill Gates/Warren Buffet kinda money, because “Spidey Sense” isn’t real, and you’re going to need gadgets galore to get to the scene of a crime before it goes full slaughter.
These requirements to become a superhero are reasonable expectations and, of course, completely out of touch with reality.
When you reference the “hero” status that these guys so obviously fantasize about, the backtracking begins, however temporarily. At that point, you get the “if a civilian with a gun was with you, and you were about to be shot by a mass shooter, would you want him to keep his gun holstered?” Now, they move the goalposts from superhero to “civilian with a gun” and no guarantee of tactical training at all. In their heads, though, they imagine a scenario where they are the good guy with a gun, and they are without a doubt going to handle this devastatingly dangerous and potentially fatal situation without so much as the quickening of their pulse. Why? Because guns, that’s why. Fuck the training. Fuck the deliberate assessment of the situation. Fuck safe sight lines. Fuck the odds. It is time to just start shooting, because shooting stops bad guys! It does!
If we were talking in a bar at this point, they’d definitely be yelling and threatening me. You know, like superheroes do.
So let me offer a word of insight to those of you with unbridled enthusiasm for the good guy with gun fantasy in your rhetorical quiver. You are not heroic. You are not skilled, you are not reasonable, and you are not super. You are convinced that real life is no more challenging than a video game, a movie or an afternoon at the gun range. You have not been shot at (most likely). You have not killed anyone (most likely). You are not a fucking gun ninja. You are a schmuck with a handgun who isn’t living in reality.
That’s the last person I want defending me against a mass shooter who, like you, is also having some serious problems with reality.