I got a treat with my morning coffee today – a facebook conversation with two very thoughtful ladies whose opinions I value. One is a small homesteader who has fostered dozens of children, teaches about preparedness, and has written books on both topics; the other, a social rights activist and academic. They were conversing about violence in television, as it relates to violence in society (and school shootings), and what to do about it. One friend is planning a letter-writing campaign to advertisers; the other pointed out that there are wider socio-economic issues that also need to be addressed.
Of course, these being my friends, the conversation went from Andrea Dworkin to butchering a pig in under ten posts. I love my friends! but I digress…
On guns, violence, and mass shooting, I have many opinions. Of course, opinions are like certain body parts…everyone has them, and mine is probably no better than any other. I can’t really comment on violence in television, as I haven’t owned one in over a decade, but I will opine that getting rid of the teevee made me happier and richer, and that no longer having my nose rubbed in how the other half looks (skinny and flawless, with perfectly straight teeth and no wrinkles) and lives (with a gadget for everything, a perfectly clean and uncluttered house, with no money stress and perfect relationships) has had quite a positive impact on my body image, wallet, and general self-love. In fact, my opinion on television is that a lot of folks would be better off without one at all, but that’s radical crazy talk, and I’ll stop now
Back to guns, though, I live on an acreage, with pets and livestock, out in the country. Way out…too far to, say, take a badly injured animal to the vet. Certainly too far for animal control or police to come deal with a rabid coyote. Even when a neighbor had a rather large bear hanging out on her deck, it took several days for the Fish and Game folks to come out and even decide on a plan of action. For these reasons, I consider guns necessary here, even for people who don’t hunt (and many do). Guns can be very useful tools.
Of course, guns can be badly abused threats to society, too. I don’t really understand the necessity for civilians to own handguns of any description, nor the need for even semi-automatic weapons. I don’t think that an average city-dweller (who, I am presuming, likely does not hunt) to have any firearms at all, really. Certainly not for home defense; I have read statistics (though I unfortunately don’t remember where) that you are more likely to accidentally shoot a family member than you are to on-purpose shoot an intruder. I would imagine there is a significant chance of having your firearm taken and used on you, as well. From what I gather (and this may or may not be backed up by actual statistics), a significant portion of the American folks who purchase a gun for home defense have limited training in the use of their firearm, practice with it rarely if at all, and keep their firearm in an unsafe place, like loaded in the bedside table, where a child can find the gun and shoot themselves or a parent or sibling. A quick google search nets a disturbingly large number of hits for both possibilities.
Of course, I am Canadian, where handguns are tightly controlled, carrying (concealed or not) is not legal, and you need to take a course and get a license in order to legally have a long gun. Our rules also include that you must lock up a gun that is not in active use, including during transport. I think that’s a reasonable balance between the utility of a farm and hunting tool and its potential (lethal) human impact. If anything, I would argue for tighter controls on handguns and possibly periodic re-certification (testing), though really, gun violence here is thankfully relatively rare, and in the areas with the most guns-per-capita, there are few shootings, and the majority of those are suicides or accidents.
I would also point out that on the same day as a mass school shooting in teh US, there was a mass school stabbing in China. In the US case, there were nearly thirty fatalities. In the China incident, there were numerous injuries, but nobody died. While it’s true that guns are just a tool, they are a much more lethal tool than knives, so limiting access to guns really can have an impact on mortality rates when someone goes off the deep end and goes on a rampage.
As for violence in general, there are countless social, economic, and personal factors that can contribute to violent behavior. I know this from long experience in dealing with violent clients at my day job. I think that some level of violence is inherent in the human species, but I also believe we can mitigate or control violent impulses to a large extent, given the right conditions. A positive upbringing, a loving family, enough wealth to have a safe, warm home and sufficient food to eat, no undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses, a belief in personal responsibility, appropriate prevention and treatment for addictions, a sense of social belonging (community), and a lack of bullying would go a long way toward that end.
Television does not address any of those areas, directly, but it does contribute to an overall culture where many of these things are accepted as a norm, or ridiculed as an oddity – TV can normalize bullying or misogyny or racism, or it can model something different. Program writers write what sells – their goal is to get lots of butts on the couch and eyes on the screen, and leverage those eyes into advertizing dollars. So, in a way, what you (and all your friends and neighbors) choose to watch (or not) can impact what ultimately gets written, produced, and broadcast, and thereby influences the culture all around you. Writing advertisers and producers to decry violence on TV won’t have any immediate effect on gun violence, but maybe, over the long term, if enough people participated, it could shift the overall culture a bit to the gentler pole. Turning the TV off entirely would likely have no social impact at all, but I’ve found that the personal impact is high, and my choice to do so has perhaps led a few others to re-think their watching habits, or even get rid of their own televisions, which, in my opinion, is also a net positive.
Ultimately, unfortunately, tragedies will continue to happen. Sometimes, people just lose it, with or without a reason. However, action, be it on an individual, community, or governmental level, is clearly called for. Maybe you want a society with stronger gun control, or maybe you want a gentler society, or a better social safety net. Great! Do something! That might be letter-writing, marches, lobbying, or just turning off the television for good. Just do something, anything at all, to contribute to making that reality, and improve your world a little. That, I think, is everyone’s responsibility, and is the only way that anything will change.