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Guns, Games, and Violence

Dee Yun Dee Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-05-17 04:03:21

Guns, Games, and Violence

Vargas and I actually created this strip months ago, shortly after the Newtown shooting tragedy. I held off on posting it because the event was too raw, with far too much pain and noise drowning out the possibility of measured, rational responses. This diatribe will meander quite a bit, dominated by my views on gun control but it will eventually rotate back to our usual focus on video games.

I find the political response disgusting, across the spectrum. The left took an opportunistic and disingenuous (there was little attempt to craft thoughtful, practical legislation) stance for appearance's sake - which in turn, provoked equally inane responses from the right, which dug in to uncompromisingly oppose any progress whatsoever. (For example, once upon a time, the NRA supported more rigorous background checks, but now oppose such measures fearing a "slippery slope".)

I deplore the lack of calm, clear heads. This isn't about saving lives. It's about political grandstanding and news show quotes. It SHOULD be an issue about freedoms, and circumspectly deliberating which freedoms are worth the cost of preserving. Take the federal speed limit, for instance. I clearly remember driving under the old 55 mph limit; we all hated it and it was repealed in 1995. This has resulted in an increase of over 20,000 ADDITIONAL automotive fatalities. TWENTY THOUSAND! This figure dwarfs Iraq and Afghanistan fatal casualties, much less shooting spree deaths. But we aren't moved emotionally by statistics. My point is that there are any number of ways to genuinely save lives, but we are loathe to relinquish our freedoms, such as driving fast, to do so.

The Second Amendment is one such freedom. I understand that individuals who do not own firearms do not immediately have anything to lose if that freedom is eroded. Not everyone has a gun. But we all have mouths, and thus hold the First Amendment sacrosanct. I don't necessarily buy into all of Malcolm Gladwell's theories, but he does make a compelling argument that ideas and behaviors are propagated much like viruses: Micronesia had teen suicide rates ten times higher than anywhere else. This began with a very particular suicide which was emulated repeatedly with specificity. Likewise, the Columbine shooting kicked off similar tragedies in the United States. We could theoretically end them within a generation by simply blacking out any and all media reporting on such events, akin to the quarantine of a disease. But we clearly value our right to free speech over those lives.

I'm sure you can tell by now that I also value our right to bear arms. I also want to be understood that I do not oppose practical gun control laws. What I do object to are ridiculous measures written by grandstanding politicos who have no idea what it is they're legislating (e.g. erroneously referring to and attempting to ban hollow point ammunition as "military grade", when their specific purpose is increased collateral safety). I firmly believe that these laws need to be implemented on the federal level (state or local laws are useless when a simple drive to another locale can bypass them), and that they need to be informed by scientific study as opposed to knee jerk visceral reactions and superficial, ignorant appeals to emotion.

The fundamental problem is that only law abiding citizens obey the law. You can outlaw whatever you like, but Pandora's box is loose. The gun has been a foundational shaping force in American history, and there are over 200 million privately owned firearms in our nation. Criminals who are intent on committing heinous violent crimes with firearms, are not going to hesitate to break laws governing firearms.

In fact, unarming law abiding citizens can render matters worse. Consider the shooting at the Dark Knight Rises opening in Aurora, Colorado. The perpetrator specifically targeted that theater because it was the only one in the area designated as a "gun free" zone. He knew that he could act with impunity, free to shoot people without reprisal until the arrival of slow police reaction.

We have some of the nation's strictest gun control laws here in California. Magazines are limited to ten rounds, and fully automatic weapons are highly illegal. Yet, they do nothing I can see to curb gun crime. In my day job, I work liquor stores in South Los Angeles. The murder rate is abhorrent. In every single case I was aware of, nobody used legal magazines, much less legally obtained pistols. La eMe (Mexican Mafia) even sprayed up a store wall with fully automatic AK-47 fire. God forbid, but if I ever need to defend myself against an assailant with lethal force, the only thing our gun control laws accomplish is to grant an advantage to my attacker.

England has some of the most stringent gun control laws anywhere in the world. And yet, they do not prevent atrocities like the Cumbria shootings. Criminals will find a way.

Let me put it this way: if someone has decided to kill people, they will, guns or no. With all due respect and sensitivity to the victims of the recent Boston Marathon bombing, would it be reasonable to now force legislation banning pressure cookers? We all know what the sensible answer is. And that's what we need: sensible solutions.

And then we have *both* the NRA and gun control advocates blaming violent media -video games in particular-, and we eat it up. Just this week, our Vice President uttered that there is "no legal reason" the U.S. can't tax violent media. Despite repeated findings failing to link the consumption of violent media and acting out in violent behavior, he and others continue to cry out for "further studies". It's a witch hunt akin to the crippling of the comics industry in the '50s. Fredric Wertham stunted the development of that medium, and it would be artistically tragic if the same were to happen to video games.

I'm not saying that all violent media have merit. Most of it is crap (as are most works of art in general). All of it should be judiciously filtered away from impressionable and forming young minds. (There's this old guard assumption that video games are only for children.) But I would say that the First Amendment is sufficient "legal reason" the U.S. cannot tax violent media.

What is not being discussed in the national conversation are the underlying roots of these problems. We ignore the fact that our nation is marred by deep fractures, and has been plagued by mass slayings since its inception. We were founded in violence, propogated by violence, and now languish in a culture birthed by violence. Exacerbating this is the societal shift toward cynicism and distrust for authority. From the era of Watergate onward, our disillusionment has increasingly deepened. Toss in our accelerating love of material consumption with its resulting ethical bankruptcy. Finally, factor in our most recent generational trait of self-absorbed sense of entitlement.

Now, from this heady stew, take those individuals who are disaffected and marginalized. If you sprinkle in mental instability, this is when we have tragedies.

This is what we must address. Those are the people we need to reach. It's a much more arduous fix than gun control or censoring violent media; that's putting a band-aid on cancer. Truly addressing our problems involve national soul searching coupled with civic and political cooperation. I'm disappointed that the dialogue on mental health reform came and flitted away. I'm disappointed that we've dug partisan trenches and fire meaningless slogans in lieu of constructive diplomacy.

But it's never too late. We need to claim the greatness that lies in the DNA of our nation. We can solve these problems by participating in the machinations of our government, with the diligence and effort to understand our failings that we might address them with care and responsibility.

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