Regarding the shooting in Manhattan yesterday, Gail Collins is right:
Nine passers-by were also wounded, and it seems almost certain that some or all were accidentally hit by the police. This isn't surprising; it's only in movies that people are good shots during a violent encounter. In 2008, Al Baker reported in The Times that the accuracy rate for New York City officers firing in the line of duty was 34 percent.But, of course, when I was looking at right-wing comments sections and message boards yesterday after the shooting, quite a few folks were having that precise fantasy. And they were having it not in spite of the fact that trained police officers have trouble with accuracy in situations like this, but because the cops' shots missed the mark.
And these are people trained for this kind of crisis. The moral is that if a lunatic starts shooting, you will not be made safer if your fellow average citizens are carrying concealed weapons.
This is not the accepted wisdom in many parts of the country. (Certainly not in Congress, where safety was cited as a rationale for letting vacationers take loaded pistols into federal parks.) Shortly after the mass murder at the movie theater in Colorado, I was waiting for a plane at a tiny airport in North Dakota, listening to a group of oil rig workers discuss how many lives would have been saved if only the other theater patrons had been armed. "They could have nipped it in the bud," one man told another confidently.
People, try to imagine what would have happened if, instead of diving for the floor, a bunch of those moviegoers had stood up and started shooting into the dark. Or ask a cop.
We are never going to have a sane national policy on guns until the gun advocates give up on the fantasy that the best protection against armed psychopaths bent on random violence is regular people with loaded pistols on their belts.
The one-sentence version of the overarching gunner myth is: The police can't help you, so you have to defend yourself. When the Manhattan shooting happened, that got translated to: The cops are lousy shots, but if there'd been a well-trained True Patriot on the scene, his aim would have been true.
This is, of course, insane. It's a testament to the Walter Mitty nature of the gunners' worldview -- they all think they'd be heroes, pure in heart and flawless in execution, under conditions like this. They're eleven-year-old boys in the bodies of adults.
Now, of course, I could be wrong. It's theoretically possible that, on average, well-trained True Patriots would incapacitate the bad guys and spare the innocents more effectively than trained police officers. (It's also theoretically possible that Roseanne Barr will win the presidential election in every state where she's on the ballot.)
I fear we're going to be testing this premise empirically in America in the near future. I really believe that the gun lobby's next front is going to be challenging the right of business owners to deny entry to people carrying concealed weapons.
I think either they're going to press for laws denying business owners the options of refusing entry to the strapped or, if that conflicts with their beliefs about the sanctity of private property, they're going to boycott businesses that deny entry to people who are packing, and treat businesses that welcome the armed the way right-wingers now treat Chick-fil-A.
Eventually, businesses won't dare to ban armed patrons, either because they won't be allowed to do so by law in red states or because the dropoff in customers will be too great.
And then we'll get plenty of opportunities to test the armed-civilian hypothesis in shootouts.
Gosh, I can't wait.