David Hoppe

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:: It's not about guns

It's us

By David Hoppe

Guns have been in the news again. First there were the shootings in Tucson. Then an Indianapolis cop, Officer David Moore, was shot in the head during a traffic stop, on Jan. 23, by a suspect "who slipped through the cracks."

These incidents have prompted expressions of outrage and frustration from people who continue to be confounded by how easy we make it for Americans to acquire guns and ammunition. Gun-related homicides are eight times higher in the U.S. than they are in the rest of the industrialized world.

As usual, some folks have called for stricter laws concerning access to deadly weapons. But, this time around, those voices have seemed resigned to the idea that little in the way of legislative action can be expected or, worse, that even if new laws could be enacted, they might not stop the violence.

The Tucson shootings prompted others to say we need a better way of monitoring the mentally ill. But how to do it - and who would qualify for this sort of scrutiny - seems unwieldy and potentially injurious to civil rights.

With polling data suggesting that Americans are split over whether and how much to control guns, and stories about guns and ammo flying off retail shelves at the drop of a hat -- the Tucson shootings turned into a kind of advertisement for high-capacity magazines -- it's plain that gun advocates have the upper hand.

Not only that, they've been emboldened. Two laws up for consideration in this year's legislative session would actually expand gun rights in Indiana. SB 506 would make it easier for individuals without licenses to carry guns to places other than their own property, and SB 291 would subvert Federal gun regulations by declaring any gun or type of ammunition made in Indiana free from Federal laws or regulations, including registration.

The idea is that guns make us safer.

This idea is embedded in the American way of life to a degree that's so pervasive it's sometimes easy to take for granted. I'm not just talking about the Second Amendment here. What the framers of the Constitution had in mind about gun ownership is and always will be debatable. But that amounts to a parlor game compared to the larger cultural forces we've created that perpetuate and encourage our reliance on firearms.

You can't even watch a football game without being reminded about the extent to which our country is defined by armed force. Announcers proclaimed that the NFL Championship games were broadcast to American troops in 135 countries. If true, this means we have soldiers stationed in all but 31 of the known nations of the world. What are they doing?

Keeping us safe, is the standard answer to that question. Once we used to say that America couldn't be "the world's policeman." But that notion has morphed into the view that "the world is a dangerous place," full of "bad neighborhoods." And so our defense budget is greater than those of almost all other countries combined. We make (and try to keep) our friends through the sale and trade of armaments.

Challenge the assumptions upon which this approach to foreign policy is based, ask whether or not the world really is safer, whether terrorists and whacked-out dictators are truly deterred by our military might, and the answer sounds as if it was lifted from a gun advocate's bumper sticker: If America disarmed, international outlaws would be armed to the teeth.

This message is reinforced by an industry fixated on packaging the creation and portrayal of paranoid fantasies for our entertainment. According to the American Medical Association, the average TV viewer sees at least 32,000 murders by the time she's 18 years-old. Killing, by guns and through a mind-boggling array of other means, is acted out endlessly on screens of all sizes. What's more, most of this violence is age-appropriate. Characters can be shot to bits and a film is rated PG-13; but have a character say "fuck" a few times, as happens in the violence-free The King's Speech , and adolescents aren't welcome. Even worse is having actors appear to fuck, as they do in Blue Valentine , which was threatened with an NC-17 rating for explicit sex scenes.

Blasting away on screen, we are told, is cathartic, a relief and a release that goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. When the nervous Nellies among us try to point out that a diet of ultra violence might be anti-social, providing permission to troubled souls with nothing left to lose, we are shown another Amendment, the First, and scolded for trying to constrain artistic expression, not to mention a tried and true formula for making money. People, we are reminded, love this stuff. If they didn't, they wouldn't buy it. Movies, like guns, don't kill people. It's the people that are to blame.

Which is true enough.

But it begs a question: Is this the way we're meant to be?