I will never understand why vigilante justice is so romanticized in our culture. But I guess that’s exactly what we are doing when we go to see a movie like Batman (which, for the record, I am a fan, although I prefer the Michael Keaton ones). I mean, who is Batman if not the ultimate vigilante? That’s what we love about him, average guy (if you want to call insanely rich and genius average), no super powers, nothing particularly special about him (besides privilege, martial arts training, and a plethora of unrealistic inventions), but here he is kicking ass and taking names, fighting crime and protecting us all. We can all dream of being so heroic, because really, who amongst us couldn’t also win the lottery and take karate lessons, right? It’s not like waiting around to be bitten by a radioactive spider or finding out you’re really an alien from another planet. Batman is tangible, it is something we could, in our minds, actually aspire to.
But Batman is a character in what amounts to a fairy tale. When I hear people say things like “If only someone had been armed in that theatre, the gunman would have been taken out and lives would have been saved.” I think that clearly too many of us are not aware that superheroes are fictional.
Let’s take a look at the “armed vigilante saves us from crazy gunman” theory with our reality glasses on for a minute. Would an armed vigilante in the theatre really have been able to take the gunman out? I don’t think so. I think the vigalante’s bullets would have just been more bullets flying senselessly around in a crowded and smokey theatre filled with panicked and running people. Let’s look at the facts:
– The gunman threw smoke bombs, so as to obscure everyone’s, including any potential vigilantes, vision.
– The gunman wore a flack vest, protecting him from most bullets that might have flown towards him.
– The gunman came in guns blazing, giving him the advantage of being the first one shooting. Anyone who attempts shooting back at him must first find cover that also allows him the line of sight and support to fire back at the gunman.
– The theatre was packed full, and the minute shots were fired all of those people panicked and started screaming and running every which way, which would have obscured line of sight to the gunman.
– The vast majority of people who have ever fired a weapon, including most military members, have only ever fired a weapon under calm, quiet conditions, with clear line of sight, and absolutely no risk of return fire. This is the exact opposite of the conditions inside the theatre, and I would be willing to bet that even a vigilante who is the best of shots under his or her normal firing conditions is not going to do as well in these circumstances.
So, taking all this into account, I think it’s more likely that a vigilante firing a weapon in the crowd would have taken more lives, honestly. Best case scenario, the vigilante would fire and hit nothing, or choke up out of fear and not fire at all. I think the chances of a vigilante being so good as to have taken the gunman out before he killed anyone, given the entirety of the circumstance, is about as likely as Batman himself having been there.
Look, I want to think up ways we can make this not happen again too, I totally get it. But counting on vigilantes to save us by allowing more people to legally carry concealed weapons into more places just doesn’t seem like a realistic solution to me. In fact, it kind of seems like a bad idea. A bad idea that’s actually been tried at some point in American history.
Enter another iconic movie genre of heroes and villains: the western.
The old west is also commonly romanticized (perhaps more realistically so), and it was a time when almost everyone carried concealed weapons almost everywhere they went. It was also a time of intense brutality, hard, hard, lives that often ended in an early and brutal death, and, despite what you may have learned from John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, the good guys were not always the quickest draw and more often than not they did not save the day. There really was not a lot in the way of romance in the real old west, and vigilantes did not save the average citizen from flying bullets then either. In reality, it was pretty much just chaos.
We moved away from that kind of living for a reason, and while it might be fun to revisit in movies and books, the truth is that I’m really not interested in returning to that kind of lifestyle. I don’t want to live in a world where I am so afraid of every other citizen that I have to carry a gun with me everywhere I go, because I have no way of knowing which vigilantes are on my side or some other side. I don’t want to live in a world where everyone has access to a deadly weapon every time they get pissed. It just seems like a really bad idea to me. I totally support second amendment rights, don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to return to the days of the old west. I think that idea sucks.
What do I think is a good idea? Just tossing this out there, but how about if we worked to make sure gunmen with flack vests and smoke bombs don’t go into theaters in the first place? I’m just brainstorming here, but what if that guy, who was clearly batshit insane, had had access to mental health services? I don’t know the full situation with him (none of us do), but it stands to reason that maybe something like that might have helped. It probably wouldn’t have worsened the situation any. Thats just one idea, there are many others, and I’m totally open to hearing even more.
But let’s put this theory of the heroic vigilante to rest. This is real life, not a movie, and if you cannot see the difference between the two, I’d say there’s a chance you’re almost as batshit insane as this gunman is.