Where Have the Heroes Gone?
What no one is saying about the Aurora shooting.

Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur


Frank Miniter

In America we don’t ask why a man decides he wants to be a fictional character. That’s his business. In America perfectly sane people with families and jobs can be whoever they want to be on the weekends. You want to be Brad Pitt in A River Runs through It? Just watch your back cast. You want to dress up and reenact Civil War battles you saw in Gettysburg? Just be careful with your gunpowder. We don’t even care if they get the parts right. In fact, few noticed that James Holmes got the hair color wrong — orange instead of Joker green. But although we’re accepting of these fictional impulses, when such a nut decides to kill us, we want to stop him. Unfortunately, we don’t know how.

To recognize the sociopaths among us, we have to understand them. But when an evil or insane person uses a firearm, we never get the chance to even try, because the ensuing debate predictably bogs down in gun politics. This is a debate we have had, and the American people have mostly won it. But the anti-gun Left doesn’t want to move on to real solutions. It insists on pushing gun control even though murder rates show that taking away the guns of the law-abiding doesn’t save lives. Chicago, for example, which has some of the nation’s strictest gun-control laws, is on pace to become the U.S. city with the highest murder rate.

To see what I mean when I say this is a debate we’ve already had, consider that in 1959 some 60 percent of the American public favored handgun bans, according to Gallup, whereas today opinion on that question has flipped: Roughly 70 percent now oppose such a ban. Most Americans no longer want more gun control. And despite what Sarah Brady claims, it was not with a shadowy army of lobbyists that the NRA won this debate. The NRA won by making it clear that gun rights are a freedom issue.

To see how much opinion on this issue has changed amidst a lively national dialogue, consider the increase in the number of concealed-carry permits nationwide. Through a process that began in the mid-1980s, America has become mostly a “shall-issue” nation with respect to concealed-carry permits. A shall-issue jurisdiction is one where a person must obtain a permit to carry a concealed handgun but where the granting of the permit is subject only to the applicant’s meeting certain established criteria. Local officials in shall-issue states don’t have any latitude to simply ignore the constitutional right to bear arms.

Today 41 states have right-to-carry laws. Thirty-eight of these have shall-issue laws. All the states except Illinois have laws that, to varying degrees, solidify the right of citizens to carry certain concealed firearms in public, either without a permit or after obtaining a permit.

Florida has issued more than two million concealed-carry permits since adopting its law in 1987; it had 919,831 permit holders as of March 2012. Nationally, the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates, there are 6.8 million concealed-carry permit holders today. This is up from about one million in the mid-1980s. Since 1991, when violent crime in the U.S. peaked, many federal, state, and local gun-control laws have been eliminated or made less restrictive. And the number of privately owned guns has risen by about 100 million, according to data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. As all that happened, the nation’s murder rate has mostly been falling; in fact, from 1991 to 2010, according to FBI statistics, the homicide rate decreased 51 percent.

Although the national debate about guns has been won by freedom-loving Americans, some politicians persist in keeping their minds closed. They insist that gun control is the answer to stopping homicidal maniacs, even though it demonstrably isn’t. Meanwhile, most Americans (and politicians) support gun rights but are busy playing defense. And so we never look at the underlying problems.

While the battle for individual freedom must be fought in legislatures and courtrooms, we must also step back to look at what’s happening in our culture. We have let Hollywood displace our heroes. Where they used to be, we now have narcissistic, arrogant guys and gals who really don’t care about the body count.

Our loss of noble heroes has consequences. Today, as “flash mobs” raid stores, the media rarely contemplate the cultural changes that have imbued young people with such a distorted notion of morality. Where is the debate about the culture that has brought this about?