Swans Commentary » swans.com January 14, 2013  



Guns Make Me Crazy


by Jonah Raskin





(Swans - January 14, 2013)   Guns make me crazy. The idea of guns in American schools makes me even crazier. Guns will likely make students crazier than they already are. They'll teach students that guns are good, that they're necessary, and that they're a good way to solve problems. Most likely they'll also teach student to buy guns, use guns, and join the National Rifle Association (NRA), which is why the NRA favors guns in schools.

I've never owned a gun or a rifle, and I can count the number of times I have fired a gun on the fingers of one hand. Even in the late 1960s and early 1970s when American radicals -- Black Panthers and Weathermen -- were enamored of violence I was gun-shy, though I rioted in the streets along with thousands of others to protest the War in Vietnam and armed police attacks in which Black Panthers such as Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered in their sleep.

Gunplay seemed fool-hearty then, if only because the police had more guns and bigger guns, too. They had snipers then; they have a lot more weapons today. In some cities in the United States, the police have drones and schools across America already have armed guards.

The idea that more guns and more armed guards will solve the problem of violence in schools seems woefully muddleheaded. The idea that good men with guns is the best way to defeat bad men with guns has never really solved social issues. I don't see why it would solve problems now. Granted, Union soldiers defeated Confederate soldiers with arms in the American Civil War, and the noxious institution of slavery was abolished -- as the movie Lincoln shows -- but the war left more than 750,000 Americans dead and wounded. Moreover, it left deep political, social, and psychological scars in the body politic that haven't yet been healed.

While I have never owned a gun and have never used one, except to take target practice on one occasion, I've been a life-long aficionado of violent movies, from Gun Crazy and The Big Sleep to The Godfather and Pulp Fiction. But my addiction to violence on the screen may be coming to an end. I have enough violent images in my head for a lifetime -- I don't want to inject more violent images into it. Recently, I planned to see the gangster picture Killing Them Softy, with Brad Pitt, but by the time I was ready to go to the theater it was already gone. I suspect that the movie studio and the movie distributor pulled it because of the murder of twenty students in Connecticut in December 2012. Plans to publicize forthcoming movies with violence, such as Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, a western, have been scaled back because of the killings in Connecticut.

Hundreds of studies have looked at the relationship between violent images and violent behavior, and, while the evidence is not conclusive, it does show that some individuals are more likely to commit violent acts because they see violent images. Men are also likely to commit violent acts if they've already committed violent acts. Soldiers kill in wars and come home and kill civilians. Increasingly, they also kill themselves. To stop violence, we need to end wars, and end them not by using violence. I realize that it might not be humanly possible to do that.

Violence is deeply ingrained. At times, it seems to define humanity itself. Some societies are more violent than others. American society is perhaps the most violent society in history, and that's not because Americans have more violent DNA than others. It's because of our history, culture, and our values. We justified and rationalized the killing of Indians for hundreds of years, for example, and justified the slaughter of animals, such as the buffalo, for sport.

After all these years, guns still make me crazy. Real guns make me nervous and guns on TV and on movie screens make me nervous, too. I know I'll think twice now before going to a movie such as Django Unchained. I haven't seen the trailer for the picture, but I already know what's in the movie; men with guns fire and shoot at other men with guns. Sure, there will be variations on the western gunfight. But a gun is a gun is a gun, and a gunfight is a gunfight is a gunfight. I'd rather watch a movie without a gun, without gunfighters, without explosions and without good guys or bad guys blowing one another up.

Many schools have spent years trying to keep sodas and products with sugar out of school and to persuade students to eat fruits and vegetables. As that movement has gained ground, and as sugars have been kicked out of schools, it would be a shame to bring guns in.


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About the Author

Jonah Raskin is a professor emeritus in communication studies at Sonoma State University in California and is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine, The Mythology of Imperialism: A revolutionary Critique of British Literature and Society in the Modern Age, and For the Hell of It: the Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman. He lived and taught in Belgium in the 1980s. He is the editor of The Radical Jack London: Writings on War and Revolution. He also worked in Hollywood in the 1980s and wrote the story for the movie Homegrown. To learn more about Jonah, please read his entry on Wikipedia.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published January 14, 2013