On Guns, Murder and Terrorism
Bob Herbert writing in the New York Times, makes a passionate appeal for more sensible laws about guns. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/14/opinion/14herbert.html
"Since Sept. 11, 2001, when the country’s attention understandably turned to terrorism, nearly 120,000 Americans have been killed in nonterror homicides, most of them committed with guns. Think about it — 120,000 dead. That’s nearly 25 times the number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan."
He goes on to ask why we lack the motivation to do anything about this epidemic of murder, calling for more stringent gun control laws. The article is great, but it doesn't go far enough.
The problem goes far deeper than merely the ready availability of guns. As much as I disagree with the NRA, there is a certain amount of truth to their slogan that guns don't kill, people do. Our popular culture, our news media, our entertainment glorifies guns, and posits violence as the solution to many, if not all problems.
Often times, the "good guys" in movies behave in ways that are identical to the "bad guys," they are just posited as being on the right side of the issue. With few exceptions, there are no ramifications to their actions, and no consideration of the impact upon innocent by-standers. When, for instance, has a movie hero even given a passing thought to the scores of injured -- or dead -- people left in the wake of the spectacular and incredibly destructive car chase he just undertook escaping or chasing down that bad guy? What consideration is there given to their pain and suffering, the months of rehab, the loss their families and friends suffer? When standers-by are merely props to the good guy's heroism and the bad guy's evil, slight wonder that we see an increasing tendency to use fellow citizens as props in personal narratives of dysfunction and pain.
The way the news media reports events only contributes to the problem. The hype and sensationalist reporting around mass killings, combined with the dehumanizing of people with whom we are in conflict (Hamas militants, or the Somali pirates, for instance, have no human face -- they are statistics, not people with families, friends, and reasons, no matter how wrong-headed, for their behavior.), serve to make violence all the more acceptable, or even alluring.
Until we cultivate a culture that rejects violence as a solution to our personal problems, gun control is not likely to be very effective.
Let me be clear -- I favor stringent gun laws. Guns are potent enablers. An alienated student who doesn't have access to an assault rifle may kill himself, but the likelihood of him being able to "take out" 33 of his classmates and professors in the process is pretty much nil.
But until we deal with the glorification of murder and mayhem in our popular culture, you can bet that these types of incidents will only continue.