The Real Question the NRA Needs to Answer

A show of hands: When you first scanned the headline about the horrific, heart-breaking killings at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo., how many of you, when you saw the number of dead and wounded, thought the story was about a suicide bomber abroad, or a battle in a war zone? And then, when you read more carefully, you made the sad realization that this was yet another case of domestic violence perpetrated by a nut because he could?

Though I'm a longstanding gun control advocate who's written often in these pages on the subject, for me, the numbers and the location still prompted temporary cognitive dissonance. Aurora, Colo., I thought? When civilians decide to act on their insanity in America, the number of dead is usually smaller, if only because targets have time to flee. But then I remembered Virginia Tech and Columbine, only a few miles away from last evening's tragedy. And all the public school shootings perpetrated by one student against others. And Gabby Giffords.

I suspect that like many Americans, I'm too enervated by these events to ask the usual questions, chief among them, "Why don't legislators ever do anything to make it harder for these acts to succeed?" But I know the answer, and it's the one I tell people who live abroad when they want to know why America seems to be so full of gun-crazy criminals: It's because a small group of paranoid individuals feel that if they aren't permitted to carry a weapon at all times anywhere, they're in grave danger. It's not even a matter of the financial clout of lobbyists, though that's a factor; it's more that if you're in Congress, your life is easier if you don't have to deal with the unholy wrath that will descend on you if you buck the NRA.

So I'd like to play devil's advocate, and instead pose the question that's implicit whenever the other side takes to the airwaves after mass stranger-on-stranger massacres, when they try to shut down anyone who argues for commonsense gun laws. And that question is: People, when you go to a crowded midnight showing of a likely hit movie, why don't you do it with a loaded weapon in your hands? And why, instead of watching the movie, don't you keep it trained on the exit nearest you, so you'll be ready to shoot to kill when an apparent psychotic in a gas mask steps in and starts killing people? You say it's because you came to watch a movie, not play at being a vigilante? Colorado allows citizens with permits to conceal and carry firearms. Don't you think it's kind of selfish of you to space out and be entertained when anything could happen at any time?

I think back to the Gabby Giffords shooting, and recall a man being interviewed on TV shortly afterwards. He was carrying a gun at the time, and said he'd been a mile away buying cigarettes when the murders took place. He and castigated himself for pausing on route, and thereby delaying his ability to prevent the evil-doer from acting. "Why did I stop?" he asked rhetorically. Never mind that when he arrived at the scene shortly thereafter, he almost fired at rescuers attending to victims before being made aware of what was going on.

My own answer to my hypothetical question of "Why aren't people armed and at the ready at all times?" is that they're busy leading their lives -- shopping for groceries, eating fast food, attending classes, watching a movie -- and expect the police, who're paid to watch out for bad guys, to patrol public places on their behalf. Yes, they can't be everywhere at all times, but ask them, and they'll say that they could be more effective in their jobs if it weren't so easy for every idiot and his grandmother in this country to be packing. But that's not an answer you'll ever get from the NRA leadership, because they're too afraid of what might happen if they ate, or shopped, or watched a movie without a gun within reach. And you'll never hear that from our legislators, because they're too afraid of the NRA.