Two fantasies are propelling the national dialogue in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado, mass murder. One is that if just one person had had a gun in that movie theater, he or she could have stopped the madman by stepping up in the middle of all the chaos and shooting him. Nevermind that the bad guy was wearing armor and had an assault weapon with a 100-round magazine, plus a shotgun and a handgun. All it would have taken is one courageous citizen avenger willing to stand up and overcome evil. Kind of like Batman, now that I think of it.
The other fantasy comes from those who think we can somehow drastically reduce the number of guns in America and put the genie back in the bottle. It's similar to the fantasy that we can somehow send 11 million undocumented immigrants back to their home countries. Neither of these things is going to happen. When it comes to gun control, most of our elected leaders are either in the NRA's pocket or are afraid to stand up to them. They know that once the gun lobby targets them as someone who "wants to take away our guns," they're political dead meat.
Is there a middle ground that makes sense somewhere between these two fantasies? Possibly. Think of how we approach the problem of nuclear weapons. The U.S. and the Soviet Union mutually backed away from the arms race, recognizing that more nukes made it much more possible that we would blow the earth to kingdom come. Now, we spend a lot of time and money and diplomacy trying to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of unstable countries like Iran and North Korea.
Assault rifles and ammo are the domestic equivalent of nukes and should be treated as such to help keep them from unstable madmen. We monitor the sale of Sudafed in drug stores to detect people who might want to use excess amounts to make methamphetamine. If we can do that, why can't we monitor excessive purchases of high-powered ammunition? Such a policy might have at least raised a red flag about Colorado shooter James Holmes, who reportedly purchased 6,000 rounds in the weeks leading up to his heinous deed. And if our leaders can't find the cojones to reintroduce the assault weapons ban, surely we can demand more extensive background and mental health checks and licensing procedures for those who purchase them.
Or we can just hope that Batman is around the next time a madman rises.