Inconvenient truths about guns, games and gore
A public debate is raging now in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, with the primary focus on three main issues: gun control, violent media, and mental health.
Even the National Rifle Association, overwhelmed by hate mail and in hiding for nearly a week after the December 14, 2012 shooting deaths of 20 first-graders and their six unarmed female school personnel, has finally agreed that the level of violence on display this century is unparalleled in American history.
Not since the bloody gangster wars of the 1930’s—and our government’s bloody war on those gangsters—have so many public shootings occurred on U.S. soil.
And criminologists hasten to point out that the worst of these have happened within only the past 15 years, and have nothing whatsoever to do with organized crime or inner city gangs.
The NRA blames graphic videogames and movies for the steep rise in public shootings by the public, not handguns and not assault rifles. They’ve even gone so far as to suggest that if more people were carrying concealed weapons, particularly in schools which are fast becoming the targets of armed madmen, then these bloodbaths would come to an abrupt halt.
It’s an expected position for this powerful lobby to have taken, of course, and, just as expectedly, one that’s enraged not only the gaming industry and some of Hollywood’s most bloodthirsty writers and directors, but gun control advocates worldwide.
However, despite the admittedly ugly specter of schools becoming heavily policed fortresses in our near future, there’s some indication that the NRA might just be right…
More guns, less violence?
Dr. John Lott, author of More Guns Less Crime, and a Yale researcher who’s published and co-published numerous scientific studies on the role of carry-and-conceal laws in deterring would-be felons and murderers, is a controversial figure in the ongoing battle over gun rights.
Many from academia who oppose lenient firearm legislation have sought to undermine Lott’s data and methodology as pure junk science, and have even claimed his results are influenced by personal bias and conflicts of interest.
Yet, regardless of these challenges to his integrity and his critics’ relentless efforts to debunk his findings, the fact is Lott’s research in the late 1990’s seems to have withstood the test of time, and it continues to be well-respected even among those calling for stricter gun laws.
Nowhere is this more true than with regard to Lotts’ conclusions concerning the role concealed handguns have played in not only disrupting some public shootings once they were in progress, but in reducing the likelihood of such events ever being staged in the first place.
With over a 75 percent reduction in the incident rate and a 50 percent reduction in fatalities for those states who permit handguns to be carried and concealed in public places, it would appear that even the craziest mass gunman is deterred by even the slightest notion that one of his potential victims may shoot back at him.
Which strongly implies that in right-to-carry zones one needn’t even pack a pistol in order to be safer.
According to researchers like Lott, public shootings which result in zero casualties are grossly underreported by the mainstream media, and, if any coverage at all is given to those thwarted by armed civilians, reporters prefer to state that a shooter was “subdued” rather than reveal he was shot or held at gunpoint until the police arrived.
This seems entirely credible but, before firearm enthusiasts start jumping up and down and yelling “I told you so, guns DO have a positive effect on society,” remember there is no real dialog where an important party to a discussion is somehow being prevented from coming to the table.
Which is to say that, any empirical evidence which could counter the so far standalone argument in favor of carry and concealment as a preventative approach to mass murder has to date been aggressively disallowed.
As to why these voices in the gun debate are being suppressed, constituents of NRA-endorsed representatives and ones with strong ties to gun manufacturers should probably consider writing these elected officials and asking them for further clarification.
The fact that leading agencies like the Center for Disease Control that are charged with the duty of promoting public safety and awareness for a host of consumer products, policies and services are being actively denied funding to conduct research on firearms is one effective way to quiet the opposition.
But another is to outright threaten and intimidate organizations and scientists from pursuing these studies when they do have the resources available.
For instance, one recent year the CDC saw its annual budget vindictively slashed by $2.6 million, the precise amount it had spent on firearms research in the previous year.
This, coupled with the insertion of strong language into congressional spending bills that forbade the agency reapportioning any part of their remaining allocations for funding gun research, sent a stern message which its recipients found more than a little daunting.
Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California’s Davis Medical Center, has studied firearm violence for well over 30 years and in that time has published more than 100 studies on the subject.
Much of his institute’s research contradicts the popular premise that more guns equal a safer citizenry or that violent crimes are on the steady decline, findings which have made Wintemute an object of wrath for gun advocates, to say the least.
“The president of one of the largest handgun manufacturers in the country once told me, face to face, how much money he had committed to an intimidation effort,” Wintemute reported. “He advised me to keep my life insurance paid up.”
In fact, the gun lobby’s menacing and whispered threats in passing reached the point where even federal authorities had to acknowledge a real threat existed for Wintemute. “There was a time when federal law enforcement agents recommended I wear a ballistic vest,” he said. “There is a wanted poster on the Internet.”
It goes without saying, misconduct that severe only helps to reinforce the antigun faction’s unwavering belief that it is runaway gun ownership alone which provokes so much senseless bloodshed in the United States.
There’s no doubt about it, gun ownership in the USA is at an all time high, and by some reports there exists today nearly one firearm per every single man, woman, child, and toddler.
Rightly so, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre, those figures are being scrutinized very closely now by our world neighbors, and their conclusion is that the American people are too infatuated with firearms.
Still, this is a knee jerk evaluation, and very wrong—it is not guns Americans are so in love with, but freedom.
A nation’s past greatly informs its present and it also serves to instill in future generations a certain kind of national pride and psyche. Ours grew from the necessity of overthrowing a barbaric tyrant whose governors and soldiers were acting like marauders in the North American colonies.
Keep in mind we were, at that point in time, all the king’s royal subjects. Yet across the pond and far from home, we were being treated by him just like second class citizens, like mere slaves and indentured servants.
In the harsh wilderness of colonial America, the king’s men pillaged and plundered our farmsteads, our livestock, our merchants, our public coffers, our women, and our daughters.
What’s more, when we politely petitioned for redress of these grievances and for more protection, those urgent petitions were either denied or ignored.
As a matter of survival then, we had no choice but to revolt, to use force to expel the oppressive agents of the British empire from our shores. And we were required to do this not once, but twice. First in the 1770’s when we declared our independence, and then in the early 1800's when the British attempted to slip through our back door via Louisiana.
America was a simple agrarian society in those early days, our forefathers hardly warriors, but in neither conflict did we defeat a despotic monarchy and its brutal soldiers armed with only sickles, scythes, and pitchforks.
We matched British firepower bullet for bullet, cannonball after cannonball, and when it was finally over with, when our would be conquerors retreated black and blue, declaring they would never return again to harm us, we still kept watch for them as we tended our fields and stores. Only this time we did so with muskets and powder horns tucked into our belts, and with loaded long rifles hanging from our shoulders.
That’s what ended the bloody assaults, a citizenry fully armed and ever vigilant.
This drawn out struggle for freedom also taught us some hard truths and lasting lessons: That the enemy need not be foreigners in some far off country plotting and scheming a land grab. The enemy can be our very own government and its armies.
With that knowledge, the right of individuals to bear arms, even against their elected leaders, was ratified in the US Constitution, and it remains a liberty interest that is still deeply revered and frequently invoked.
Because, as the American people can attest, and as any historian worth his or her credentials could readily affirm, freedom is not free at all, and very often comes only with a fight.
Good guns, bad guns
It is argued that the tipping point for a seemingly out of control wave of gun violence this century was the gradual introduction to the populace of semiautomatics and assault weapons over the past few decades.
These, in private hands and arsenals have upset a delicate balance, analysts say, and as a result we are facing a different sort of tyranny now, and losing: That of armed men packing hundreds of rounds of ammunition that they, in turn, and for whatever insane reasons, can fire at us in only split seconds.
It’s possible there is such a thing as a good gun and a bad gun, who knows, but, frankly, it seems far likelier that it’s not innovations in gun technology that are the real problem here, but changes in the people who own and use advanced weaponry.
It stands to reason, no matter how sophisticated and deadly today’s firearms may be, these are still only inanimate objects with no will of their own. It is the man with his finger poised on a trigger who ultimately decides whether he'll be a protector or a predator, if he'll use a firearm to defend or to destroy.
Obviously then, between doing good and doing evil, there has to be other factors influencing his choice.
Talking points and talking heads
With all eyes on the role that guns, videogames, and blockbuster blow ‘em up movies play in the escalation of domestic acts of terror, pundits and talking heads are taking center stage lately. All of them doing the best they can to divert attention away from their industries and to defend their unabashed capitalization on violence, fear, and recreational mayhem.
“There is no evidence that violent videos cause violence” gaming moguls say. Movies featuring buckets and buckets of blood are “only movies” filmmakers contend. “Guns don’t kill, people do” is the catchphrase that firearms manufacturers have always notoriously made.
So what’s the truth then? Why are we seeing all these gun rampages on defenseless civilians? Why has the rate of such heartless events risen so precipitously this decade so that we are now witnessing one major public shooting spectacle every two weeks or less?
Well, the truth in this case is multifaceted. First of all, guns certainly do kill, as anyone with a half a brain surely knows. Especially when they fall into the hands of youngsters, criminals, and the mentally ill.
Second, there have in fact been thousands of scientific studies on the dangerous effects of violent imagery and video games. And each of these has shown that such activities promote aggressive behavior, desensitize users and spectators to acts of brutality, and dramatically reduce prosocial skills and the ability to experience empathy.
Last but not least, the sharpest increase in, and the highest percentage of, public shooters this century are from the 15 to 19-year age bracket.
These juvenile are presenting society with a new breed of mass murderer: Predominantly white males from the upper middle classes who intricately preplan their strikes (and accompanying suicides) and who tend to don military costumes and weaponry they are otherwise unfamiliar with except through video-gaming and the movies.
Naturally, it’s all but impossible to prove a negative, but with incriminating statistics like those the onus is firmly on media giants to finally provide some rigorous research in support of contentions that their products are completely harmless, as opposed to simply quipping empty rhetoric all the time.
Absent such proof, they must do the right thing and voluntarily limit the distribution of disturbing content immediately, because it’s clearly been demonstrated time and time again that simulated slaying exercises, whether visual or interactive, physiologically impacts viewers and participants in extremely negative ways.
Yes, this would entail a bit of financial sacrifice on the part of entertainment industries—billions of dollars’ worth by modest estimates—but conditioning people to kill without conscience as a means of recreation is unconscionable, and has led to an uptick in gun violence in societies where firearms are relatively easy to obtain.
The slippery slope of Sandy Hook
Today, we don’t care to quibble about the numbers involved in the December 2012 slaughter of six-year-olds at Sandy Hook and of the women who tried to save them. Even if it’s not the highest body count on record, due to the tender years of the majority of those victims and the unprecedented show of violence, Americans have decided it is the worst massacre in US history.
And that we’ve seen far too many in the years preceding it.
Nevertheless, in an effort to talk us down from our resolve to put an end to all the killing, gun promoters quickly scrambled to come up with data that would, they hoped, dissuade renewed efforts to ban the kind of assault weapons used against Sandy Hook’s first-graders and teachers.
To do this they had to dig through the annals of crime in search of a “worst” school massacre so to support a flimsy theory that such attacks are “not on the rise” and “have always been happening.”
The 1927 bloodshed at a public school in Bath Michigan is the incident we are being directed to, regardless that this was in fact a bombing and not a public shooting, and it wasn’t part of a growing trend in school violence, nor the beginning of one either.
In fact, the bombing of Bath’s students and staffers that left 53 children and four adults dead with scores of others wounded in two separate blasts was an isolated act of revenge, committed by a disgruntled and deeply troubled employee who had a history of cruelty to animals and to his family.
What people didn’t know way back then which we do know now is that individuals displaying those traits and tendencies are ticking time bombs.
But school massacres and their related body counts are not really all that concern us as a nation these days, because, in spite of all the denial and propagandizing currently underway, the truth is there is nowhere and nobody safe anymore from psychos with firearms.
In the malls, streets, movie theatres, classrooms, workplaces, churches and highways, lunatics are climbing out of the woodwork, suited up like 3D commandos from Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, and taking potshots at everybody.
Exercises in futility and hostility
By now it can be safely posited that representing simulated training exercises in killing as mere “games” and, thereby, a valid form of recreation is a clear case of intentional misrepresentation.
It is comparable to the dishonest marketing strategies of the tobacco industry in hiring physicians to assert that smoking was a healthy habit to indulge in, or big business interests retaining fringe scientists to obfuscate and even deny the pressing issue of global warming, until it became too late to divert environmental havoc and chaos.
Havoc and chaos has become the name of the game, as can be seen by the plethora of single-shooter “toys” available in the marketplace today, and no one should be surprised to learn that the evil genius who invented such a lethal pastime is the military itself.
With the U.S. military’s announcement in early 2012 that they will soon be redesigning most of their sims to incorporate females targets as suicide bombers in them, and with the penchant of the gaming industry for copycatting, and with copycat shooters lurking in the wings, it’s a sure bet we’ll be seeing many more women and children being slain by crazed video assassins.
Unless we’re willing to put our foot down and start regulating.
Contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 2011 defending the sale of violent videogames and movies to minors, rating media content for its age appropriateness and restricting both impressionable children and mental defectives from access to such harmful products is NOT a free speech issue, but rather one of corporate accountability and public safety.
Much the same as regulating alcohol and tobacco, it is simply demanding a manufacturer honestly disclose the risks associated with a product’s use, and punishing all those who seek to fraudulently market and bypass reasonable consumer protections.
In short, if shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre is a type of speech that can be prohibited because it’s recognized as potentially dangerous to the public’s welfare, so then is yelling “fire your machinegun.”
Although we have yet to see any medical proof that the 20-year-old psychopath who slew Sandy Hook’s children and faculty members was in fact ever “diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome” as is rumored, advocates for the autistic have rushed to assert that this mild disability does not cause violence.
This may on its face be accurate, but these health experts make very little of the fact that autistic people often suffer dual mental illnesses, and Schizophrenia is most commonly their companion disorder.
Our jails are absolutely teeming with Schizophrenics, not incidentally. Why? Because Schizophrenia does cause violently explosive behavior, and this disease as well as the full spectrum of other mental defects is on the rise this era. Indeed, major health organizations are reporting that almost 30 percent of Americans currently have at least one form of mental illness.
That number, if true, would run into the tens of millions, by the way, and it’s fair to say none of these patients, even the most mildly afflicted, should ever have access to firearms.
Three in ten of our fellow citizens battling their demons every night and day should also cause serious concern for the rest of the population who are supposed to be well, psychologically speaking. However, statistics show that only half of all public shooting events are committed by those with known psychiatric problems.
Which leaves one to wonder what could have caused the other purportedly healthy 50 percent to suddenly snap.
Ever forgetful of the role America and her many guns had in ending two world wars, and of the combined sacrifices that 1,500,000+ U.S. soldiers made then in order to liberate the planet from the evil designs of a once truly belligerent race, we find ourselves time and again criticized by our own allies for our alleged “culture of violence.”
Predictably, this berating becomes louder and shriller whenever a school shooting occurs within the land of the free and the home of the brave.
In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, our detractors have cited everything, from rampant and irresponsible gun ownership to over-the-top violent Hollywood movies, as the cancer eating away at our social stability.
We’re a nation of nutters, some among them insist.
Perhaps out of a longstanding grudge our most bitterly vocal critic throughout has been England, who, in one of its many scandal-plagued tabloids recently upped the discourse this week:
“LAND OF THE FREE HOME OF THE DERANGED” the Daily Mirror crassly sniped at us as we were otherwise preoccupied burying and mourning our dead in Connecticut, and solemnly soul-searching. “The world does not see a free country, America,” the Mirror callously added. “ We see a vision of hell.”
Understandably, a vision of hell is laying it on just thick enough to sell a few hundred more newspaper copies, extra sales which the Mirror desperately needs in order to settle lawsuits and pay criminal fees for years of phone-hacking victims of crime and a number of celebrities as well.
But the irony in their vicious assessment is that our “love affair” with violence, as manifested in our movies, never even existed here until England itself exported it to us…
It took more than twenty years after he died to learn that the man who brought us Psycho was a psycho himself.
Of course, considering the extreme brutality in much of Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s work—specifically aimed at women—the revelations by his famous starlets should not have shocked us all that much.
A sadistic misogynist who obsessed on the beautiful blondes he cast in his films, Hitchcock stalked, harassed, abused, threatened, and even attempted to rape these women, many of whom were bound to him by contracts that they could not escape unless by marrying and quitting Hollywood altogether, or getting pregnant and defaulting.
Blondes like Tippi Hedren, however, who were new to the silver screen and not quitters by nature, felt forced to endure Hitchcock’s unseemly behaviors. They would fulfill their contractual obligations with a sigh of relief and an unspoken oath of silence, but were so traumatized they never renewed another one with him.
Secrecy is an important tool of abusers and their enablers, yet in 2012 the star of Hitchcock’s horror flick The Birds did finally speak out, recounting in her own film, a documentary aptly titled The Girl, a tale of terror that the film industry had already been aware of for several decades before Hitchcock died in the 1980’s.
“It was absolutely horrible,” Hedren said. “I was caught in this situation of being under contract to him. It was the studio system, so there was really nobody I could go talk to about this…We are dealing with a brain here that is genius and evil,” she added. “Deviant almost to the point of dangerous because of the effect that he can have on people that are totally unsuspecting.”
The contract terms regarding the frightful scene in The Birds where Tippi Hedren is ripped to shreds by a swarm of crows actually called for mechanical devices to be used, as opposed to real fowl. But the actress had been repeatedly rebuffing Hitchcock’s sexual advances, his stalking and menacing phone calls, so he was furious and seeking revenge. He substituted real birds at the very last minute, without even the film crew’s knowledge.
On the day that the scene was filmed, everyone on The Birds set watched horrified as hundreds of crows were let loose and attacked the young actress, tearing at her hair, hands, legs and face, and leaving her visibly shaken and scratched. And to up the terror level a few notches, Hitchcock then turned what was supposed to be only a one-day shoot into a weeklong assault on Hedren, demanding over and over again for her to do retakes.
In the 1960 movie Psycho, Hitchcock resorted to similar means with Janet Leigh, even chasing her at times with a raised butcher knife. The actress, best known for being hacked to death in a shower stall by a psychotic cross-dresser, found her experience with that movie so permanently damaging that she subsequently had all the showers removed from her own house. Years later, when people caught wind of this phobia and asked Leigh if it was true, she confirmed, “It is not a myth.”
When Hitchcock first approached Paramount Studios about filming Psycho, they flat out refused to fund the project because they regarded it as nothing more than violent snuff. They told him plainly it was “repugnant.”
At that time there was a Production Code firmly in place which governed the amount of violence and sexuality film producers could offer moviegoers. Accordingly, there was nothing that came even close to the dark subject matter of Hitchcock’s screenplay for Psycho, a fact which forced him to have to endlessly wrangle with the powers-that-be in order to bring it to life for the cinema and distribute it in the United States.
In the end, the British-born filmmaker was willing to “chop” nudity in the opening scenes of the film on the promise that his brutal shower murder would be left intact by censors. He also had to make significant financial concessions, including using much of his own money for production purposes.
It was a gamble that paid off—Psycho was an international hit and hailed forever as a cinematic “breakthrough.”
The success of one of Britain’s most influential and celebrated sociopaths was the catalyst for the rapid erosion of Hollywood’s decency standards as set forth in their Production Code; and it launched a competition between all the major studios as they set about outdoing each other in making more and more gruesome movies available.
As can be seen today, it’s become quite a bloody contest, that evidently nobody has won yet.
The gore-fest that’s been dished up for us now by the motion picture industry doesn’t phase most younger viewers. Since Psycho, they’ve been raised on a steady diet of such gratuitous violence and sex, much of which surpasses even Hitchcock’s twisted imaginings.
In fact, and probably as a consequence, there is a never ending supply of creative types emulating and promulgating slash and crash flicks today, and very few genuinely G-rated movies in the making.
The sordid truths that were finally disclosed about Alfred Hitchcock should give us all pause though, especially in light of the Sandy Hook slayings and growing appeals to the gaming and film industry for a ceasefire. It’s perfectly valid grounds for asking whether any of our present day screenwriters, directors, and game designers, busily cranking out these ghoulish wares and striving for greater and greater realism in them, share any of their master’s aberrations.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” Oz’s phony wizard angrily exclaims in a vain effort to prevent discovery by his captive audience of a cruel ruse he’d been perpetuating for years. We too may not be impressed by what we find hiding behind Hollywood’s drapes, but maybe now we should look there anyway.
The frenzied stockpiling of guns and ammunition by Americans these days is not a vote of approval for mass shootings. Nor is this being done by firearm fetishists.
As it was in the past so it is in the present, it’s simply an act of preparedness for the future, a vote of no confidence in the government and its soldiers.
If this “inalienable” right is taken from the people or even modified, there is little doubt that other key liberties will also be seized in the future. That ingrained fear, the fear of tyranny, of the suspension of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution by a dictator and his shadowy cabal, coupled with widespread political corruption and a crumbling economy, is at the core of all this hoarding.
But, rest assured, the vast majority of citizens who’ve armed themselves to the teeth in this manner are more trustworthy than the police are. They don’t profile or frame innocent citizens, they don’t steal and deal drugs, they don’t lob teargas at unarmed protestors and beat them unconscious with clubs…etc.
They are valiant, not violent.
That being said, a time has come for compromise. We have an enemy in our midst, one like no other we’ve ever faced before. He is posing as our friend, our coworker, our classmate, and our neighbor. He may even resemble a son, a brother, a nephew, or a cousin.
Whoever he appears to be, he is an imposter. By day deceiving us and by night plotting to gun us into the ground and everyone we love—the very people we’re protecting.
To those ends the traitor is amassing weapons and ammo and armored vests and facemasks, or stealing the weaponry of another who has let their guard down because they don’t suspect him.
He is a very serious threat to our way of life, to our fundamental freedoms, and this guy has to be stopped before he hurts anybody, before he teams up with others of his kind to increase the body count per shooting.
To achieve that objective we’ll have to face this current crisis with an open mind and engage in honest dialog, sometimes with people and groups we inherently disagree with. We’ll have to ask ourselves as a nation why this evil is happening to us and what the root causes of it are, and then sincerely endeavor to address each and every one of the problems we uncover.
Because, if we don’t do this in earnest, then very soon there will be only two kinds of people left in our great land: Perpetrators and victims.