Writing and consuming adventure fiction is a form of wish fulfillment. We watch cop shows, because we imagine ourselves to be an heroic police officer solving crimes and protecting the public. We go to James Bond movies, because we fantaszie about being a super-suave secret agent, who can outwit the bad guys and get the girl. We read comic books, because we would like to fly or swing from a web-line high overhead, drawing the adulation of millions while saving the world from the nefarious plots of cosutmed madmen.
It’s fun. Through these men and women we finally take our revenge on the school bully or the arrogant co-worker, who always get the promotion.
Lately, though, there’s been this notion that the principles of the action-adventure story could work in real life. Following the tragic shooting at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora CO, the sentiment ran from some that, if someone in the crowd had just been armed, he or she could have shot the perpetrator before more people had to die. A similar point of view was expressed after the shooting at the Family Research Council in Washington DC.
The idea is a simple one: if we allowed regular citizens to arm themselves, they, like an action-adventure hero, could take down these crazies before the police arrive and before more people could be harmed.
But then there was a gun battle between police and another shooter on Friday in front of the Empire State Building in New York. Police officers fired 16 rounds and eventually killed the suspect. But, in their attempts to get the bad guy, they also shot nine innocent bystanders.
These are the police we’re talking about. Trained marksmen. Guys who practice regularly with their guns and are generaly pretty good at hitting what they’re aiming at. People who are trained to handle the high-stress, low-margin-for-error environment of a criminal with a loaded weapon in a crowd of people.
If those guys can accidentally hurt nine people in addition to the perp, doesn’t that give the lie to the concept of an heroic citizen with a .357 in his waistband?
I am not a gun-control proponent. My political views are pretty liberal, and I’m not really sure why private citizens have need for assault rifles, but I am generally pro-2nd Amendment. I don’t object to people owning guns. I don’t object to people enjoying shooting them in proper environments. And I certainly don’t object to people shooting a criminal in self-defense.
As a guy who writes adventure fiction, though, I worry about crossing the line between wish fulfillment and cold reality. I am a black belt. I have often thought I could take down a terrorist on a plane should the need arise.
But could I? Should I?
I don’t know the answer to either of those questions. As my bio states, I’ve long wished to be a superhero. I want to save the world. I want to be the person everyone calls hero and looks up to. I write stories to fulfill those desires and to entertain people just like me, who want the same things.
But we need to be careful about crossing the line from fiction to real life. Because there are innocent people involved. A gun battle at the theater in Aurora might have ended the incident with less loss of life. Or it might have made things a whole lot worse.
When anyone engages an armed criminal in a crowd of people, he or she is gambling with the lives of everyone there. Unlike a fiction writer, that person can’t control the exact outcome of the encounter. The NYPD officers certainly did the right thing, but, even with their training, there were still unfortunate results.
My perspective as an adventure-fiction author is this: there are no simple solutions to the problem of disturbed individuals expressing their outrage and their insanity through violence on the innocent. Suggesting that someone should have been armed and done battle with the perpetrator is both naive and disrespectful to the victims.
Friday, real life and action-adventure fiction converged in front of the Empire State Building. In the end, the good guys won. But neither the story nor its resolution was perfect.