Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

We Are All the NRA We Love Guns and Gunslingers ... except When People Actually Die

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

We Are All the NRA We Love Guns and Gunslingers ... except When People Actually Die

Article excerpt

National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre may be the extremist voice of "the gun lobby," but virtually every single one of us is an active promoter, and consumer, of gun culture.

It's a crowded lobby.

More than the flag, more than the dollar sign, more than the Cross or the Crescent or the Star of David, it is the gun that is the paramount symbol of American life.

The gun is the leading character in a stunning -- and numbing -- variety of TV shows, movies, magazines, books and digital games. Imaginary guns -- drawing them, firing them, blowing smoke from their barrels, re-holstering them -- figure in end zone celebrations, while tough gun dialogue morphs into political catchphrases: Hasta la vista, baby. Read my lips.

The producers of the new Jack Reacher movie that was to have had a Hollywood-style premiere in Pittsburgh this week hurriedly canceled the affair in the wake of the Newtown shooting. The Reacher novels on which the movie is based feature a protagonist who rolls up a stunning body count in each adventure, beating and stabbing -- but mainly shooting -- bad guys to death. The movie, which stars Tom Cruise as this hard-boiled avenger, starts off with a seemingly random massacre of innocent people who do nothing to deserve their fate except walk out of work at the moment a sniper decides to start firing. They're only the first to die.

We live in a culture that venerates the psychopath (Dexter, Hannibal Lecter), as well as the merely trigger happy (Dirty Harry, Rambo, James Bond). We abhor the gun when a horror like Newtown occurs, but we adore the idea of the gun the rest of the time.

We don't know yet what influenced the twisted mindset of Adam Lanza, who killed 27 people, including 20 children, last week. We probably never will.

We do know that Jason Holmes, the Aurora, Colo., shooter who murdered 12 innocents at the premiere of the latest Batman sequel in July, was seemingly operating under the delusion that he was The Joker in that dark and violent saga. What he has in common with Lanza, and other young rampage murderers going back to Columbine, is that he grew up in a culture where the use of firearms is routinely and graphically depicted as a way to assert power or exact revenge. In American cultural dialogue, a bullet is the ultimate last word.

As someone who studies media, I know that violent media's influence on violent behavior is not a monkey-see-monkey-do proposition. Most credible researchers, in fact, believe that media can, at best, "cultivate" a certain view of the world -- in concert with a host of other factors such as upbringing, personal experience with violence as victim or perpetrator, mental condition, etc. Most of us process the idea of the gun for what it is -- symbol, plot device, fantasy, agent of catharsis -- but for a few it may serve as the catalyst for a perfect storm of rage and violence. …

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