David Hoppe

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:: Guns are not cool

by David Hoppe

Another mass shooting.

Another round of pain and loss. More bodies to bury.

On Oct. 1, the Washington Post reported there had been 294 mass shootings in America so far this year. That’s 294 mass shootings in 274 days.

Those numbers don’t begin to reflect the overall carnage from gun violence in this country: In 2015, nearly 10,000 killed and 20,000 wounded.

And the year’s not over yet.

As usual, these latest killings, in Oregon, have prompted calls for common sense gun laws, like universal background checks.

At the same time, a chorus of voices (also as usual) claims that greater gun regulation is pointless and unconstitutional; that the key to public safety amounts to more and more of us “good guys” arming ourselves.

But if this were true, the United States should be the safest country on Earth. In 2009, the Congressional Research Service estimated there were 310 million civilian guns in this country. Since the population at that time was pegged at 307 million, this means there are probably more guns in our society than people.

I don’t know what the answer to our gun mania is. But I do know this: Guns are not cool.

I’ll say it again: Guns are not cool.

As I write these words, I am struck by how contrary and weird, even downright un-American, they seem. Guns, after all, are part of this country’s DNA. They play an important part in our national iconography, standing for independence, individuality, empowerment and a kind of rough justice. You don’t have to be a gun nut to have been moved by the portrayals of gun-toting heroes by the likes of Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood.

We say that guns won the West. They keep the peace. “Praise the Lord,” go the words to a patriotic song from the 1940’s, “and pass the ammunition.”

But it wasn’t that long ago that if you went to the movies or turned on your TV, you saw men and women smoking cigarettes. Cigarettes were once very cool. They represented a badge of sophistication, were welcome everywhere. War heroes, athletes and even doctors sang their praises in national advertising campaigns.

This changed. People were dying. Research showed how smoking led to various cancers. Slowly but surely, cigarettes went from being cool to being something else — something you didn’t want in your house.

The same thing needs to happen with guns. Before they set up playdates, parents need to ask each other if their children will be playing in a house where firearms are kept.

All of us need to cut down on our consumption of gun-driven entertainment.

And we should demand that Congress stop blocking research that treats gun violence as a public health issue. Just as the tobacco industry once tried to stop tobacco research, the gun industry has successfully managed to stop research that could help us get a better handle on why we think guns are cool.

Guns are not cool. Understanding this won’t eliminate gun violence, but it is the first step toward reclaiming our country’s sanity.