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Real-life heroes

Real-life heroes

By John Silveira

January 15, 2000

TV programs and movies are often about heroes. Here’s the thinnest of plots: someone’s in trouble and a John Wayne-type character shows up to rescue him–or her. In the meantime a whole bunch of average citizens get robbed, raped, maimed or killed before our hero finally catches the villain in the dramatic denouement. This carnage, though it appears gratuitous, is intended to heighten the drama. The writers are trying to show us that while the villain is out there creating mayhem, the rest of us are vulnerable and helpless until Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, or Arnold Schwarzenegger arrive to save the day.

It’s the way this type of story has been told since the Iliad and probably long before that. Mind you, when I’m watching such a movie or program, Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon, or even Kindergarten Cop, I identify with the hero, not with the average citizen. I’m part of the audience the writers have in mind when they write these juvenile epics.

But movies are not real life. When a real crime is committed, the police usually get there just in time to find the body, comfort the rape victim, or take the report on the robbery. They never get there in time to catch the culprit in a dramatic arrest. In fact, if and when they catch him (and often they don’t) there are no heroics, only an amazing amount of dull, routine investigative work and frequently because a friend or family member turns him (or her) in. And, when they arrst him, he’s at his mother’s house, unshaved, watching TV in his underwear, and drinking beer from a can. He offers little or no resistance and, believe it or not, on the way down to the station to be booked, he often asks his captors how he can become a cop. So much for Hollywood.

But in a surprising number of these real-life cases, when the police finally arrive they discover an armed citizen — who already scared off the wannabe offender — just called them to give a report and even a description of the thug. Or they get there and discover the perpetrator (sometimes wounded) is being held by the citizen–or he’s dead on the floor.

This doesn’t happen in TV programming or the movies, unless that private citizen is, himself or herself, actually the hero (but all other private citizens are still helpless and hapless). In fact, I can’t remember a ever seeing aprogram where the police show up to find an anonymous private citizen who has properly dispatched a villain, and stick around just long enough to take a report before setting off to find more crime. More often than not, in the movies, when a private citizen decides to arm himself, ominous music plays, accompanied by the fearful mewlings of loved ones whose warnings of disaster always prove sensible and prescient–unless the day is saved when the real hero shows up just in time to relieve Joe Average of his weapon. What they want to show in movies is that guns in the hands of average citizens are misused, cause accidents, or are taken away by villains and turned on the innocent. The corollary is that only exceptional people can arm themselves without inevitable disaster.

But–and now we get to real life–this is not the way it is in the real world. FBI statistics show ordinary citizens defend themselves with firearms everyday. The anti-gun L.A. Times conducted a poll some years ago and discovered that some 650,000 people in that state had, at one time or another in their lives, used a firearm to protect their lives, their bodies, their families, or their property. Nationally, 2,000,000 people use guns to fend off criminals every year. In less than 1% of those cases is anyone shot; in less than .01% is anyone killed. In the overwhelming majority of cases (98%) the mere presence of the gun is enough to stop a crime. And in less than 1% of the cases does the criminal manage to take the guns away from the citizen using it to protect himself.

I realize movies and TV programs are generally about larger-than-life heroes and wouldn’t work without them. But I think one of the real reasons we don’t see realism from Hollywood is that Hollywood itself is made up of too many liberals and leftists who don’t realize the average Joe can and will stand his ground, that he is able to take care of himself. In their minds, some agent of the state or some hero must rescue the little guy, despite the fact that this country was founded and settled by little guys, ordinary men and women who took care of themselves. They were everyday heroes who settled the Atlantic seaboard, then moved west to farm, herd cattle, mine the earth, and open general stores. And they often appeared on the frontier with little more than a wagonful of household goods, a flock of snot-nosed kids, a milking cow, and a rifle.

It may be that movie folk don’t realize there are no larger-than-life heroes in real life. Life is made up of everyday heroes, only a few of whom even realize they are heroes unless they have to reveal themselves in a moment of crisis. For most of us, because life really doesn’t present too many dramatic moments, we just poke along day by day, doing our jobs in supermarkets, factories, doctors’ offices, computer manufacturing plants, etc., while we raise our snot-nosed kids. We don’t wear hero badges, medals, or uniforms.

A few years ago I saw a woman in a supermarket wearing a T-shirt that displayed a picture of a handgun with the legend: “You can’t rape a .38.” That woman was her own hero. And she’s one of mine.