Of course, such a rating system has been around for many decades. And of course, attempts to blame school shootings on movie or video game violence rather than the easy availability of weapons of mass murder is a tactic that the gun lobby and their enablers wore out in the '90s. But even if there's little evidence that school shooters were driven to murder by viewing violent movies, I do think that movie violence may have skewed some people's ideas in the gun violence debate in a rather different way.
The NRA would famously like us to believe that "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun." This idea is nonsense. Stopping the bad guy from getting the gun in the first place would, of course, have stopped the killing before it started. There are also examples of bad guys with guns being stopped by good guys without guns. And there are examples (see Parkland) of "good guys with guns" failing to do anything about bad guys with guns. A few anecdotal examples of good guys with guns actually stopping bad guys with guns don't stop the overwhelming tide of evidence that introducing more guns doesn't make society safer.
Yet many people find this idea of a "good guy with a gun" awfully compelling. And I can't help but think that Hollywood has unintentionally contributed to that problem.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is one of my favorite movies. Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name character is the epitome of badassery, coolly taking down bad guys with stunningly quick and precise gunshots. It makes for compelling cinema. I recognize when I'm watching the movie that it's fiction and real life gun violence is much messier and not nearly as precise. Even well trained police officers have shockingly low hit rates in gunfights. But a lot of people seem to think that, in the heat of combat, a "good guy with a gun" could, just like a movie hero (Eastwood's Man character being one of countless examples), calmly dispatch of the bad guy without posing an additional threat to innocent bystanders. And the NRA and gun manufacturers are all too happy to have those people carry on with that misconception.
(A good response to the "only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun" trope that I've seen is "Sounds like the words of someone who's trying to sell two guns.")
Donald Trump and other Republicans are pushing forward with a plan to arm teachers in order to stop school shootings. This is an absolutely terrible idea. I shouldn't have to explain why it's an absolutely terrible idea. If you must read more about why it's an absolutely terrible idea, listen to people better informed than me and look up the opinions of teachers and combat veterans, two occupations that both have great insight into the terribleness of the idea. Trump has laughably claimed, among other things, that teachers with guns would be an effective deterrent to prevent school shootings from happening in the first place. Is he unaware that those who carry out such massacres often have a death wish and it's not uncommon for the incidents to end with the shooter dead anyway? Someone like that would clearly not be deterred by the knowledge that a teacher might be packing heat. The most predictable effect of such a plan would be making the classroom teacher the first victim when a school shooting was initiated.
If the plan to arm teachers actually goes into action as our "solution" to school shootings, it would be good evidence that the United States of America is a failed state. We might as well just pack it up and try to start over.
There are much more sensible ways to reduce the problem of gun violence (that mass shootings at schools and elsewhere are, in reality, only a relatively small portion of). AR-15s and similar weapons have no legitimate use for hunting or for self defense. The only real reasons a civilian would use such a weapon are for practicing at a gun range or for carrying out a mass shooting. People's right to get their rocks off at the gun range do not outweigh other people's rights to go to school, church, a concert, or a movie and not be slaughtered. Beyond banning such weapons, there are other common sense steps supported by a large majority of Americans that would not violate the 2nd Amendment. There is no good reason to oppose universal background checks on the sale of firearms. The only reason to oppose such a policy is if reducing the easiness of obtaining firearms would reduce your profits. Universal background checks should include checking for diagnoses of mental illness, yes, but we shouldn't focus too heavily on mental illness as a scapegoat for our gun violence problems. People diagnosed with mental illnesses commit a small percentage of violent crimes and are much more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence. People diagnosed with mental illnesses should not be allowed to purchase firearms, but that would do more to protect those people themselves from self-administered gunshot wounds than to prevent mass shootings. Other key focuses of background checks should be people who have committed violent felonies and/or domestic violence. Is there anyone who really thinks we should protect the rights of violent criminals and wife beaters to own guns? Seriously?
Let's rid ourselves of the fallacy that the only one who can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun and let's take the common sense steps to reduce gun violence that have been very effective in other countries.
Oh, and "the ugly" in the title of this post? That refers to the right-wing extremists who have harassed and threatened the Parkland survivors and their families for speaking out against the NRA and in favor of common sense gun control measures. Sadly, most people who act in such a manner are beyond the ability to be reasoned with. The only way to stop them is to continue speaking out and then to organize and get out the vote and boot NRA-owned politicians out of office this November.
This past weekend Karyn and I went to Washington DC and among the sights we saw were the Holocaust Museum and the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture. Both contained heart-wrenching examples of what can happen when a group of people dehumanizes another group of people and both were sadly all too relevant to modern American society. At the latter museum, the most moving exhibit was the casket of Emmett Till, the young African-American boy whose brutal murder in 1955 helped galvanize the civil rights movement. It occurred to me that perhaps the Parkland shooting could be a similar catalyst today.
And on a related note, I would be remiss to not mention that, as inspiring as those Parkland students are, it's very telling that the culture at large has been much more receptive to their protests than to those of young Black Lives Matter activists. I am not at all criticizing the March For Our Lives movement, but I am criticizing the society that finds such movements more acceptable when they come from those with lighter skin. If you've reacted more favorably to one movement than the other, I'd suggest you re-examine your biases. And I'm not saying you're a bad person if you've done so. I'm saying you live in a society that bombards you from birth with messages, both subtle and unsubtle, that create cognitive biases against certain groups of people. The best we can all do is make every effort to confront and resist those biases.
Every day it seems we have more depressing news about the state of our nation and world, but I see a lot of hope in our youth, from Parkland to Cleveland to Baltimore to Ferguson. Let's all support those young people striving to make our world a better place and let's all make sure everyone we know gets out to vote this fall and sends a strong message to those who can only envision a future with more and more guns and violence. We can and will do so much better.