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  • Ava Mack

Divided and Threatened: America at gunpoint

Today, Americans face law enforcement/civilian violence at home and terrorism abroad. Gun

violence underlies both, and has become a part of our lives with a routine-like normality. Reform

is necessary, but standing in the way are not Second Amendment supporters or NRA members

who are activists for legal and safe gun use. Nor is it simply the quantity of guns in circulation

that is to blame. A recent study published in the Summer 2016 issue of Regulation, “Researcher

Perceptions of Lawful, Concealed Carry of Handguns,” analyzed the relationship between gun

ownership and crime, surveying both economists and criminologists. The study found that both

economists and criminologists view gun-free zones as a magnet for criminals by a margin of 2:1,

that permitted concealed handguns are more likely to reduce than increase murder rates by a

margin of 5:1, and permit holders are more law-abiding than average Americans.

This is not the only study of its kind. In a 2015 Gallup survey, a representative group of

Americans were asked if they thought residents are safer with a gun in the home and answered

“Yes” by a margin of 63 to 30 percent. Another Gallup survey found that 60 percent of gun

owners listed “Personal Safety/Protection” as the reason they own a gun. A 2014 Pew Research

Center survey found that 57 percent of Americans believe gun ownership “protects people from

becoming victims of crime,” whereas 37 percent believe that it “puts people’s safety at risk.”

Findings from these polls and surveys suggest that not only is a complete prohibition of guns

impossible, but that it would not stop terrorism abroad or domestic violence. Without guns,

individuals determined to use violence will use, as they did in Nice, France, trucks. They will use knives,

as they did on 19 disabled people in Tokyo. They will use stones and their bare hands. The root

of evil is not within the instrument, but within the wielder.

Moreover, to restrict guns for everyone encourages purchase from black markets which further

disadvantages law abiding citizens. The recent shooting in Munich, Germany is just the latest example.

According to German police, the 18-year-old Iranian-German shooter, who killed 10 people

including himself, purchased the 9mm Glock handgun online. A report from the Wall Street

Journal on the shooting warns that online arms-trafficking sites combined with cryptocurrencies

such as Bitcoin, “put guns within reach of people with no connection to criminals, and who

otherwise would struggle to buy illicit weapons.” According to Col. Nicolas Duvinage, head of

the cybercrime unit at France’s Gendarmerie Nationale, “for someone without any links to the

criminal world, the dark web is sadly a wide open door.”

What, then, can and should the U.S. government do? Constitutional rights should be upheld and

balanced with reform. Rights granted in the Bill of Rights, rights to do or possess something,

only extend as far as the consequences of those actions or possessions upon other individuals. As

the saying goes, you may only swing your arm as far as the tip of my nose. The plain truth is we

should not wait, as has been our method, until we get hit in the nose to reform our ways.

First, the US government can and should increase background checks. Rather than an

encroachment on privacy, constitutional rights and civil liberties, background checks are a

proactive way to allow law abiding citizens to purchase and use guns while keeping them out of

the hands of not just bad guys, but mentally and behaviorally compromised individuals as well.

If extensive background checks are needed for passports and the lowest level of security

clearances, it is not a ludicrous abridgment of privacy or liberty to have the same requirement

for the purchase of weapons.

Second, the government can and should ask, “for what activities are assault rifles necessary?”

The Second Amendment was written at the time of muskets and a predominantly rural, sparsely

populated and naturally wild America. Neither the Framers of the Constitution nor the

amendment they penned anticipated citizens, who no longer form the ranks of militias, having

access to semi-automatic rifles or the ability to build personal arsenals. And if they did anticipate

a future of advanced weaponry coupled with a professionalized military that has been without a

draft for over 40 years, they would support passing laws that appropriately reflect the

relationship of our citizenry and military.

Yet the government continues to be inactive or inefficient on gun reform. Rather than the

quantity of guns, their availability or their owners, there is a detrimentally overlooked obstacle

which affects our attitude as citizens toward guns and stands in the way of competent

government action: how gun violence has been portrayed by the American entertainment


Romanticizing gun violence is so integrated in popular culture that its prevalence is easily

overlooked. Today, Hollywood movies are made for an international, rather than strictly an

American, audience. This means that not only is the dialogue exportable, limited and simple for

easier dubbing, but that American movies export violence as well.

How many movie posters feature a very attractive gun wielding hero or heroine? How many

movie trailers automatically play on our Facebook timelines that are a minute and twenty

seconds of explosions, gun fire and brutality? In how many movies do nameless characters,

never introduced, get mowed down to create a visual effect? The anonymity and the multitude of

deaths per movie makes the act common and sterile. Without a moment of pause, or a thought of

remorse, it sends a signal that our society has picked up on: killing is easy.

Liam Neeson is one of the most outspoken anti-gun celebrities, and has been criticized given the

nature of his movies such as Taken (1, 2 and 3). He says we the audience members should be

able to discern the difference between the character and the actor; the reality and the romance.

But while that argument can certainly be applied to characters like Captain America or

Deadpool, Liam Neeson plays an ordinary man in Taken. We idolize the roles we see on screen

whether superhero or not, and sadly, violence sells. As consumers we perpetuate the demand and

believe the moral of many movies that guns solve problems. They stop the bad guy and his

schemes, and the good guy prevails. But in ordinary life guns don’t solve problems, and in real

life killing doesn’t make us heroes.

America must find a balance. There does need to be constitutional gun reform, but also a serious

conversation about what and who sets the gun violence example. The simple answer is how

many there are, and how easy it is to get one, but this is not the sufficient answer. There are

deeper, subtler and more dangerous messages that affect our attitude as citizens to gun violence

and our government’s ability to curtail it. I see an elite political and celebrity class that

transcends party, race and creed. These wealthy insiders can afford to protect themselves while

everyday Americans are left feeling divided from each other and threatened by each other. The

ability of celebrities to make million dollar violent movies, set an example, profit from that

example, and then blame activists for legal and safe gun use, or politicians to surround

themselves on Capitol Hill with armed guards while deciding to kick the can of gun reform down

the road, is unacceptable. I fear not the licensed gun owner, but the person who has guaranteed

protection, reform or no reform.

When it comes to American lives we shouldn’t be tallying the number of black to white deaths,

civilian to law enforcement deaths. Our government should be working now, together, on

preventative and proactive measures such as background checks, stricter militarized weapon

access, and age requirements, that are realistic, and don’t punish law abiding citizens. And as

Americans we should seriously consider how the popular culture of gun violence we accept and

reward with our attention and money aggregates into a cultural example and norm. Not doing so

not only wastes time, it wastes lives.

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