Rated G for Guns
When I awoke on Friday December 14 I rolled over and took my phone from my nightstand, as I do every morning, to skim through the news notifications I subscribe to. Lately I have been met with a few sparse notifications from CNN about the fiscal cliff or updates about Syria from the New York Times, and without fail at least one from the AP, cryptically outlining the developing details of a breaking news story, often reiterated by its fellow news outlets a few notifications later.
On Friday, however, my phone’s welcome screen was flooded with updates about what was then the massacre, still unfolding, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The tragedy in Newtown Connecticut was quickly becoming arguably the most deplorable the country has ever known. The lives of twenty children and six adults were cut unimaginably short at the helm of a madman wielding not only two handguns, but also a semi-automatic rifle, (the ‘bushmaster’) a weapon developed for combat zones, but one for some inexcusable reason you could pick up at your local Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Now, the shooter has been identified, as have the victims, and speculation surrounds a motive; what could have made this despicable person commit such an act? I don’t care to know about this person. I will not print their name in my article. And I will not elaborate on the claims regarding his mental health being made, which I believe to be limp excuses for what is a countrywide issue and obsession with violence and guns. For anyone interested in a stand-out and lucid response to the defense that this gunman’s actions were somehow explainable due to his mental state, I refer them to “Don’t Blame Autism for Newtown”, the December 17 New York Times Op-Ed, by Priscilla Gilman, the mother of an autistic child, who argues that coverage like this stigmatizes a community of people perfectly capable of leading healthy, acclimated, and especially empathetic and non-violent lives. She also makes the distinction that autism and Asperger’s are not in fact ‘mental illnesses’, but instead are neuro-developmental disorders or disabilities. Furthermore, as an addendum to that argument, I would denote that when a Muslim extremist commits an act of violence it’s terrorism, when and African American does, it’s attributed to gang violence, drugs, an income disparity etc. But when a Caucasian male, growing up in a quaint suburban neighborhood commits the greatest atrocity the country has ever known, he’s ‘mentally ill’.
But I digress.
This is an issue of gun control, and as I alluded to before, what I feel is a nationwide fixation with violence. And yes I’m talking to you violent video games. I understand that many people play their fair share of Call of Duty under perfectly healthy circumstances. However, perpetually entering an alternate reality simulating the use of the same kind of weapon used in Connecticut, especially in conjunction with the gun-saturated environment that killer and so many others dwell in, can have horrific repercussions. Not to mention that many of these video games have product placement agreements with some of the largest gun manufacturers in the business, with some of their game websites even encouraging users to visit the real-life websites of the guns featured in the game. But that’s not all the finger pointing I’ll do. I would argue that violent movies are distinguished from violent videos games, because where movies are something you watch, violent videos games are an interactive simulation of imparting harm on, albeit, some fictional, but nonetheless present opponents.
In regards to violent movies and even television programming, I believe the standards for censorship often implicate an acceptance of violence above other material that is equally or less potentially questionable, offensive or adult. The next time “The Departed” is on AMC or TNT leave it on for a few minutes. The movie in its original format is laden with profanity and violence, yet the TV version is void of only one. We are living in a society where you can turn on the TV and see Jack Nicholson getting his brains blown out, but you can’t hear the word ‘shit’. Same holds true for nudity.
But really, isn’t that just a sick caricature of the country we’re living in? I mean women are fighting for access to birth control because of right wing, wrapped-up-too-tight zealots, who think recreational sex (like rec tennis, without the net!), is a dirty sin. And those SAME people are the ones trying desperately to argue that is a RIGHT to have an automatic weapon, one that could say…wipe out a classroom of innocent children and their heroic teachers.
Why? Why would you EVER need a weapon developed for the Iraq/Afghanistan War, a war that boasts some of the most advanced weapons our country has ever seen, in your home? It’s not for hunting, that’s for sure. If you need an automatic weapon to hunt, you shouldn’t be hunting. They were doing it with spears at one point, I think a non-automatic rifle should suffice. Frankly, while I understand the argument that hunting is a healthy way to maintain population control for certain animals, as a counter argument, I would examine over-development of land. But again I digress.
The same puritanical attitude applies to the drug war and gay marriage for that matter. By all means making guns easier to get will make it less corrupt, but legalize marijuana? Nope, it’s a slippery slope to hard drugs (and the fridge). Allow homosexuals to get married? It’ll undoubtedly lead to bestiality and polygamy (oh wait, that second one’s perpetrated by the religion of our most recent presidential campaign failure, AND it’s got a show on TLC). In fact, I would propose a kind of two-for-one deal in congress. Treat gun control like drug-control. Keep alcohol and cigarettes legal, and legalize marijuana. Criminalize the possession of cruder drugs because they effectively demonize the responsible use of their less harmful counterparts. Treat automatic and semi-automatic weapons like cocaine and heroine and criminalize the possession and use of anyone who perpetrates the law, because they too give responsible gun owners, like responsible drug users, a bad name.
A term that made its way around the news circuit was ‘gun enthusiast’, in reference to the gunman’s mother. This term makes me cringe. Unless you are shooting at dead air, or an inanimate object, a gun is used to inflict pain on another being, whether it is an animal or a human. It’s like being a knife enthusiast, or a numb chuck enthusiast for that matter, but for some reason we find it acceptable to be obsessed with WEAPONS. A marijuana enthusiast is a pot-head, which bears a negative connotation. The last time marijuana KILLED someone…NEVER. Someone obsessed with sex is a nymphomaniac, for goodness sake they gave that person the term maniac in their title! Also a relatively harmless indulgence when you take into consideration the atrocities we have seen as a result of gun violence just this year.
Unfortunately, while the most recent tragedy our country faced is without question the most reprehensible of its kind, echoes of such events ring loudly through our recent history. We cannot do anything to bring those victims back, but we can try to change the way gun control is handled in our country. We need stronger background checks. We need to close the gun-show loophole, enabling the purchase of guns without a background check, (the Columbine guns were purchased at a gun show). We also need to work tirelessly to get the kind of weapons that have riddled our country with grief this past year off of our streets, through buyback programs and the criminalization of the ownership and use of them.
On the Friday following the tragedy at Sandy Hook, the NRA in a press conference proposed every school have armed personnel on the premise. The futility of this was already exemplified in shootings such as Columbine and Virginia Tech, making it apparent that the NRA’s call for more armed guards is simply a catcall to raise gun sales. Beyond that though, there is an even more gaping hole in their reasoning. All too often the argument is made, ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people,’ but then wouldn’t the reverse be ‘guns don’t protect people, people protect people,’ implicate the NRA’s self-centered, money-hungry attitude toward gun control in all the gun violence this county has endured? To borrow a phrase from our modern day Annie Oakley (not) herself, Sarah Palin, ‘YOU BETCHA!’
CNN’s Don Lemon put most profoundly what I could not put into words myself, so I will paraphrase his stance — while your right to carry a gun is outlined in the constitution, it does NOT supersede someone’s right to say, safely go to a movie theater, or a political event, your place of worship and especially, your school. To commit an indiscretion against a child is the most disgraceful act a human can perpetrate, something the world should find outright intolerable. Anyone who can honestly watch coverage of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary and argue that this is not a time to reassess our gun laws needs to address their conscious.