Calls for armed citizenry rely on belief in superhero fantasies

April 23, 2007|By CYNTHIA TUCKER

ATLANTA -- Kids love superheroes because they're invincible, brave, all-powerful. Children can suspend disbelief to look up in the sky for Superman or around the corner for Wonder Woman. Teenagers are enamored of a TV series called Heroes, which revolves around young people with - you guessed it - superpowers.

But it's more than a little disconcerting to hear that so many adults also believe in superheroes. They must. Why else would they insist that the best way to prevent carnage of the sort that occurred last week at Virginia Tech is to put guns into every available hand? They're indulging their childhood fantasies, remembering the movies in which the Caped Crusader or John Wayne instantly dispatched the bad guy.

In real life, police officers - trained to fire in the heat of battle - hit their intended targets only about 40 percent of the time, according to University of South Carolina criminologist Geoffrey Alpert, an expert in police shootings. And we all know about wartime "friendly fire" tragedies, when well-trained soldiers accidentally kill their own.

Yet conservative commentators have been in high dudgeon for days, suggesting that students with guns could have guaranteed a Hollywood ending in which an unflappable sharpshooter would have felled Cho Seung-Hui with a quick head shot. Michelle Malkin was among those who denounced a Virginia law that excludes college campuses from areas where concealed weapons are permitted.

"What if just one student in one of those classrooms had been in lawful possession of a concealed weapon? ... It darned well isn't too early for me to raise questions about how the unrepentant anti-gun lobbying of college officials may have put students at risk," she said.

That utterly preposterous argument comes straight from the National Rifle Association. The gun lobby now peddles an insane policy of making firearms as ubiquitous as cell phones.

The NRA has supported measures that would prevent employers from banning firearms in vehicles in their parking lots. Despite police opposition, it has pushed policies that would allow motorists to tuck firearms under the seat of their car. It has lobbied against closing the gun-show loophole, which allows private gun sales without a background check. No responsible gun owner should accept the NRA's irrational positions.

My father certainly would not have. An avid hunter and veteran of combat in Korea, my father owned shotguns, rifles and a handgun. Yet he was fanatical about gun safety.

When I moved to Atlanta just out of college, I told him I was going to buy a handgun. He strongly disapproved, believing I'd be more likely to get injured with my own gun than fend off an attacker with it.

"You don't need a gun," he said. "You need to stay out of dangerous places." I took his advice.

His concerns are borne out by the FBI's statistics about gun crimes. In 2005, 8,890 people were murdered with firearms. Guns were also used in 142,471 cases of robbery and 151,118 cases of aggravated assault. By contrast, there were only 143 cases of justifiable homicide by civilians using a firearm.

If dozens of Virginia Tech students had been armed, "Lord knows what a disaster we would have had," Mr. Alpert said.

"If they had had a Jack Bauer, maybe so. But the world isn't composed of Jack Bauers," he noted.

So all those armchair heroes - all those firearm fanatics who claim everything would be different if they'd been in one of those classrooms with a gun - should don their red capes and take a leap.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun. Her e-mail is cynthia@ajc.com.

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