Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Night/Knight Rises: Aurora, Guns and American Culture

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Tucson, now Aurora. Add to this the dozens of school shootings in the last few years, and the shootings that take place almost daily in numerous urban communities. Have we lost our minds as a culture? What happened in Aurora is a tragedy of huge proportions, but our failure to act to these and previous shootings, speaks to a deeper sickness at the heart of our culture.

What happened Thursday night/Friday morning in the Aurora, CO movie theater is lunacy. This goes way beyond Second Amendment Rights. How does a 24 year old neuroscience PhD student legally buy an assault rifle, a 12 gauge shot gun and two Glock pistols? What justification is there for a young man with no military or police training to obtain weapons whose only purpose is to fight in war? What keeps our legislators from passing common sense gun laws that would require someone buying military-style weapons to undergo an extensive background checks and provide a justification for purchasing such high-powered weapons? We make truck drivers and bus drivers pass a more rigorous test, why not those purchasing high powered weapons?

In spite of incidents like Aurora the mainstream media consistently reports that there is no political will to change anything. The Republicans have been filling their coffers for years with National Rifle Association (NRA) money, and Democrats decided after losing the 2000 presidential race that guns were a non-issue. Despite the rhetoric on the right, the Obama administration have done more for the gun lobby than his card-carrying predecessor. So while the Republicans court the gun lobby, the Democrats spinelessly sit on their hands. (See article "For Democrats, Guns Are Bad Politics")

The media line that there isn’t political will in the country for gun control is an oversimplification. Consistently, polls show that when asked, a significant majority of people in the U.S. prefer some sort of gun control, but it’s not a critical issue for most of them, one on which their vote might hinge. However, for ardent gun-enthusiasts, often whipped up by NRA propaganda, “gun rights” as they call them, are such an issue. They often utilize the slippery slope argument – that banning or limiting assault rifles will eventually lead to the abrogation of the right to own any weapon. Moreover, the NRA spends a ton of money, almost more than any other political interest group, to keep legislators at federal and state levels from acting on any proposed gun control legislation. Thus, politicians get pressure and money from the pro-gun lobby, and little push back from those who think we need common sense gun legislation.

However, there is more that goes unnoticed and unspoken. The shooter, James Holmes, obviously dressed up to look like Batman – dark suit, gas mask, bullet proof vest. Reports further indicated that a few years ago he also had a fascination with the Joker character in the previous Batman movies. We like to kid ourselves that the violence that regularly fills our movie, TV and computer screens has no effect on us. It is only when someone goes a little over the edge that we notice the violence that permeates popular culture. James Holmes simply allowed the violence to go too far – but all of us support it, pay for it, and imbibe it.

Despite all the rhetoric about how liberal Hollywood is, the gun industry and the movie industry work hand in hand to assure there is adequate “product placement” in their movies. During the era when Clint Eastwood was creating the “Dirty Harry” movies, sales of the 44 Magnum that he used in those films went through the roof. In fact while officials at Glock won’t publicly admit this, what happened the other night was a boon for their business. Gabrielle Giffords was also shot with a Glock and following her shooting in Tuscon 18 months ago Glock experienced a spike in sales. Let’s not kid ourselves-shootings like Aurora and movies like “The Dark Night Rises” are good for the gun business -  and the gun executives are counting the money as we speak.

While we can shake our heads and wring our hands at what happened the other night, what is needed is a significant change in our culture’s relationship to guns. There have been too many incidents and too many victims for anyone reasonably to call it an “isolated incident.” Now, the NRA will respond with their favorite line: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” True enough, but people with guns kill more people than those who don’t. On my recent visit to Scotland I talked with folks about the fact that they don’t have gun violence. Guns are not widespread; even most Scottish policemen don’t carry guns. Now they have violence, but the number of fatal victims is far less. Why? Simply because their culture is not captive to guns like ours.

People of conscience can no longer fail to act. It starts with looking within and examining our own fascination with violence. How captive are we to shows like “24”, “Boardwalk Empire” or Batman that ooze with excessive and gratuitous violence? Moreover, what kind of pressure can we put on our state and national legislators to take action to at least limit the kinds of weapons people can buy and the frequency with which they buy them? We can demand that our legislators repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, and conceal and carry laws, while renewing the assault weapons ban. We can demand that our state legislators pass “one gun a month laws” and requirements to report lost or stolen guns (these laws would cut down on the illegal gun trade, the former would limit the legal gun trade.).

These acts are no slippery slope but rather simple steps backing us off the lunacy cliff we as a culture have placed ourselves. Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech, Columbine – these will happen again until we, people of conscience, take concerted action. Twelve people have died and hundreds are mourning, but we all are crazy if we fail to act to bring some common sense into the way we as a culture sell, monitor and control the guns that are large.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for wording your thoughts so well.

Sharon Buttry said...

Thanks for the blog. I think we as Americans love our guns more than our children. I'd like someone to prove me wrong, but look at how many kids are killed and injured each year so we can keep all our guns. Even a baby injured in Aurora! Then look at our legislation--obviously we put our convictions and money where our guns are rather than where our kids are.