Wisconsin Shooting Leads to a Terrifying Thought

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- A famous line from the movie Shane has the Jean Arthur character objecting to Shane teaching her kid how to shoot. Shane replies, "A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an ax, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it."

As the shooting in the Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday demonstrates -- for the second time in two weeks -- it's plain that Hollywood screenwriters set national gun control policy. It's as if the U.S., a nation with more nuts than a pistachio grove, was a kind of massive outdoor film set, with the Grand Tetons in the distance and good guys always triumphing because the script says so.

That same "guns don't kill people, people kill people" hokum just killed six people and critically wounded three others, including a police officer. When are we going to get wise that American society is not a Hollywood backlot?

In states like Wisconsin, whose gun laws are so feeble that you can carry a concealed handgun without a permit, what you have in effect is a kind of lethal, macho parody of the self-regulatory system so beloved by the banking and securities industry. Only instead of metaphors such as "weapons of financial mass destruction," we're dealing with the real thing: real weapons of mass destruction, real guns, real bullets, real lives, and our national security being potentially put in danger by gun laws that seem to have been written for a John Wayne fantasy, not the real-life U.S. of the 21st century.

As in all systems of self-regulation, the market participant -- in this case, the gun buyer -- is relied upon to act in what the Randians call his own "rational self-interest." And like all systems of self-regulation, it just doesn't work. That's obvious by now. But what isn't appreciated is the potential damage that can be wrought on our national security by the crazy system of firearm self-regulation.

According to a report on the Wisconsin shooter by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Wade Michael Page was a "frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band." In other words, this was, as indicated on Sunday by the local police, an act of "domestic terrorism," motivated by racial or ethnic hate.

The SPLC reports: "In 2010, Page, then the leader of the band End Apathy, gave an interview to the white supremacist website Label 56. He said that when he started the band in 2005, its name reflected his wish to 'figure out how to end people's apathetic ways' and start 'moving forward.' "

Why he targeted Sikhs isn't clear. Maybe the dummy confused them with Muslims? Whatever the reason, thanks to our gun laws, he had the right "tools" at his disposal. He could have bought a shovel or an ax, but instead be bought a 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol. He bought the murder weapon legally at a local gun shop, according to a news report. As took place in the shooting in Colorado a couple of weeks ago, there were only flimsy legal impediments to prevent him from arming to the teeth, and it was only his own stupidity and lack of forethought that prevented him from wearing body armor, as did the Colorado gunman.

If he had done so -- and there are no laws preventing anyone other than convicted felons from possessing body armor -- that cop who was shot yesterday would probably be dead, not critically injured. In fact, we'd probably have two dead cops, or perhaps more, and a lot more dead civilians.

The important thing to remember is that the decision to wear or not wear body armor was Page's, as a self-regulatory entity. Otherwise there was nothing to prevent him from making himself impermeable to police bullets.

Thanks to our system of firearm (and bullet, and body armor, etc.) self-regulation, society is open to threats not just from domestic terrorists like Page, but from foreign terrorists. This time Sikhs were targeted. Next time the victims could be any other people who fall afoul of the "tools" purchased, legally, by someone who doesn't like those individuals' ethnic origin, skin color or belief system.

This is not an outlandish possibility. Al Qaeda's ranks are said to include American citizens, and any American citizen who is a resident of a gun-permissive state like Wisconsin, Colorado or Arizona can stock up on automatic pistols, assault weapons and shotguns, as well as body armor and bullet-proof vests. It's easy to imagine two or three or perhaps 10 individuals being outfitted by such legal purchases.

Then they can enjoy the freedom that our great land offers in terms of human target practice. They can act locally or think big. Hey, this is America! Opportunities await across the land. If they really want to make Anderson Cooper hyperventilate, all they have to do is rent a car, drive through the Lincoln Tunnel, park at one of our convenient garages located throughout the city, and make use of the world-famous New York City subway system, preferably at rush hour.

Or head into a crowded street or neighborhood, or church or synagogue or school.

Or they could take the No. 2 train downtown and get off at Wall Street. Or head out to Washington, D.C. The only thing that limits them is their imagination -- certainly not our insanely permissive gun laws. Thanks to them, all it takes is one American citizen to buy all the assault weapons and semi-automatic pistols needed to wreak havoc on our streets.

I presume that our well-trained police would react faster than the police in Mumbai during the 2008 attacks, but the results could be just as deadly.

If the attack is planned carefully enough, the terrorists could wreak havoc that would make the Colorado and Sikh temple shootings seem modest by comparison. The legal body armor and bullet-proof vests that they'd be wearing would make all the difference, as it did in the North Hollywood shootout of 1997, when heavily armed bank robbers, wearing body armor, shot 18 people, including 11 cops.

I don't know why al Qaeda or some other foreign terror group hasn't taken advantage of our insane gun-control laws. No, wait a second -- strike that. They have. An al Qaeda member who was a naturalized U.S. citizen, Wadih el-Hage, legally bought the gun that was used by El Sayyid Nosair to kill Meir Kahane in 1990. Both are now serving prison terms.

So the terrorists, foreign and domestic, know just what to do. We've made it so easy for them, it seems silly for them not to try. It's an obscenity waiting to happen, and if and when a major terrorist episode explodes in a major city, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves, for tolerating an insane policy of firearm self-regulation.

Gary Weiss' most recent book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press.