Part One: How we have been set up for all this violence.
A recent radio interview with Senior Analyst for the Violence Policy Center Tom Diaz provided me a missing piece for my understanding of how to look at gun violence in America. What follows is my reflection on the role of the arms industry and its unwitting ally the entertainment industry in creating an America in which these mass killings occur and why these occurrences are inevitable.
Gun manufacturers in America are just another example of a profit-driven enterprise that, having saturated its traditional market, seeks to exploit new market opportunities. What separates gun manufacturers from other enterprises that trade in potentially lethal products like the pharmaceutical industry, the auto industry, and the tobacco industry is that they have been given the gift of a tangential mention in the Bill of Rights.
While legal scholars and commentators currently state that the Supreme Court has settled the question of whether the Second Amendment protects individual gun ownership; I find myself holding to the interpretation of the Second Amendment that says that its intent was to protect the right of citizens to participate in local militias. This later interpretation would disestablish the arms manufacturers’ protected status and subject them to the same regulatory apparatus that has served the American People so well by protecting us from unsafe products and practices by all other American corporations and industries.
So, the arms manufacturers, through their handmaiden the NRA, have sold us the notion that any regulation whatsoever of their lethal industry is an assault on our personal liberty and a threat of oppression by a menacing “government” that is dead set on depriving us of all our constitutionally protected rights. If we submit to any limitation on the right to keep and bear arms, what will be next?
They have convinced the American public that we can protect ourselves from an increasingly dangerous and menacing world by the ownership, possession, and concealed carrying of lethal handguns and assault rifles.
They have fought – to their profit and to the demise of 30,000 Americans each year – reasonable data gathering, study, and regulation of handguns, hunting weapons, and anti-personnel assault rifles. Thus, allowing them to expand their market base to ordinary citizens who have no reasonable need for their products and to continue to increase their corporate profits in the face of declining sales to sport hunters, law enforcement, and the military.
Part Two: Are we really that gullible?
Do violent television programs and video games incite violent action or do they provide a means of vicariously expressing our violent nature and result in a more peaceful society? I’ve heard arguments expressing both perspectives. While this is an interesting question for further study, I think there are some inferences that we can draw on the impact of our fascination with violent entertainment.
First, let me state unequivocally, I am a willing and active consumer of the products of our violent entertainment industry. My television viewing has included such titles as Perry Mason, The Rockford Files, Law and Order, Law and Order, Criminal Intent, The Sopranos, 24, Homeland, and recently, Breaking Bad and The Wire. Although some of these programs do not directly depict violent acts as graphically as the series 24, they all depend to one degree or another, on the plot device of a violent crime, usually a murder.
As those of you who know me can attest, I have yet to be accused of a violent crime as a result of my television viewing. Further, I would like to think I would be considered low risk for the kinds of criminal behavior depicted in these television dramas. I have of late however, given thought to limiting my consumption of dramatized violence to see what impact such a change might have on my serenity and sense of the world because I am given to speculate that dramatized violence is a major factor in the widespread belief that we live in a dangerous and menacing world.
Over recent years and decades the studies I have encountered continue to show that Americans’ fear of being a victim of violent crime is far greater than our actual risk of crime and violence. Consequently, I think we have been set up by our entertainment to be receptive to the fear mongering that the arms industry relies on from the NRA to promote the sales of their anti-personnel weaponry.
The other and perhaps more insidious effect of dramatized violence is the creation of the violent warrior-hero who commits acts of violence to avenge the deeds of the villain and restore order. There are two consequences of the glorification of these violent warrior-heroes.
First, they sanction and valorize the use of violence. Jack Bauer, violent warrior-hero of the series 24 slaughtered hundreds of minions of the masterminds of the conspiracies foiled. He effectively used harsh interrogation techniques and even resorted to murder to gain the information he needed to succeed in foiling his fictional villains. All this at a time when our national conscience was struggling with the actual use of harsh interrogation against suspected conspirators. Did Jack Bauer’s success in these fictional episodes contribute to our willingness to accept the use of torture and interrogation techniques that have repeatedly, over the centuries, been shown totally ineffective in evoking useful intelligence; even though they are effective in convincing witches and heretics to confess their sins? (Not, I hasten to add, their actual sins, but the sins their inquisitors accused them of.)
Further, how many times did we see Jack Bauer draw his handgun, fire a few rounds, and kill his intended target? Let me remind you that Jack Bauer is a fictional character, enacting a script that reads “Jack fires. Terrorists #3 and #4 fall dead.” There are NO real-life Jack Bauers. No human being alive could make the kill shots depicted in these televised fictions. Yet I think every concealed-carry permit bearing, gun toting, NRA member, gun owner believes he could prevent the next mass shooting if only HE were there.
It is time for us as individuals and as a nation to grow up; put away our childish fantasies and super heroes; and give up violence as a solution to anything. It is time to band together and repudiate the lie that “the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Aren’t we Americans smarter than that? Aren’t we Americans more creative than that? Aren’t we Americans deserving of better solutions to the challenges that face us? I hope so.