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Challenging the Gun Lobby, Changing the Culture of Violence

By       Message Karl Grossman     Permalink
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We'll soon see whether the gun lobby can be successfully challenged and the culture of violence that has been growing in the United States changed.

President Barack Obama had it just right this week in declaring that the "discussion" that has "reemerged" since the killings in Connecticut about "what we might do not only to deter mass shootings in the future, but to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every day" has "to continue. But this time, the words need to lead to action."   He was accurate in stating, "We're going to need to look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence." And important, too: "We're going to need to work on making access to mental-health care at least as easy as access to a gun."

Five days after the massacre in Newtown, he announced he was forming a panel, led by the vice president, and emphasized that he wants it to "come up with a set of concrete proposals no later than January--proposals that I then intend to push without delay."

The killings have been called the 9/11 of U.S. mass murders and a tipping point--a horrific event involving weapons about which words of condemnation, and then no action, can no longer suffice.

We'll see. The National Rifle Association, the spearhead organization of the gun lobby, is enormously powerful and extreme. "It is opposed to virtually every form of gun control, including restrictions on owning assault weapons, background checks for gun owners and registration of firearms," notes the Center for Responsive Politics. Based in Washington, this nonpartisan, independent research group tracks how money affects politics and public policy in the U.S. and has long investigated the millions of dollars the NRA pours each year into campaign contributions, lobbying and targeted campaigns for and against candidates.

Still, as U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York said Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation: "I think we could be at a tipping point" where we might actually get something done. First, this was not a single incident. It followed a series of others. In the last few months, we've had mass shootings in Oregon, in Wisconsin and Colorado. When the public sees these as isolated incidents, they're less upset than when they occur one after the other. And the public will not accept as a "new normal' one of these incidents every month, these mass shootings. Second, of course, it involved children. And it's so poignant to see those pictures. "What agony, what horror. So I think we can get something done."

"One is to ban assault weapons, to try and reinstate the assault-weapons ban. The second is to limit the size of clips to maybe no more than 10 bullets per clip. And the third would be to make it harder for mentally unstable people to get guns," said Schumer.   click here

The federal government's ban on the manufacture for civilian use of assault weapons--firearms specifically designed to kill people, such as the AR-15 (a version of the military's M-16) used in the Connecticut shootings--was scandalously allowed to lapse eight years ago.

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"When he was campaigning for office in 2008, Barack Obama vowed to reinstate the assault weapons ban that had expired in 2004," noted the New York Times in an editorial in July, after the killings in Aurora, Colorado. "That would have prohibited the AR-15 rifle used in the Colorado theatre shooting, along with the large 100-round magazine attached to it. But as president, Mr. Obama has made no attempt to do so." It added, "Mitt Romney banned assault weapons as governor of Massachusetts but now he opposes all gun-control measures."

Another editorial three days later further criticizing both of them was entitled: "Candidates Cower on Gun Control."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said to Piers Morgan on CNN after the Aurora massacre: "Someday there will be a shooting which you would think would trigger in the American psyche this 'I'm not going to take it any more' attitude. Maybe if you shot a president? But Ronald Reagan, when he got shot, didn't trigger it. Maybe if you shot a congresswoman? No. Maybe if you shot a bunch of students on campus? No. Maybe if you shot a bunch of people in a movie theater? I don't know what it is, we obviously haven't gotten there yet, but we just--this cannot continue." click here

Maybe the killing of 20 first-graders will result in an "I'm not going to take it any more" stance. Hopefully, it will--but it will have come at such a terrible cost.

As to U.S. culture glorifying guns and violence, one only has to sit through the 20 minutes of coming attractions now commonly inflicted upon movie-goers: one ultra-violent film after another.   Film violence has increased radically in recent years. Director Peter Bogdanovich commented earlier this year that "violence on the screen has increased tenfold. There's too much murder and killing. It numbs the audience into thinking it's not so terrible." click here

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In college I wrote a novel reviewed by a professor who advised: "You've got to kill some people"--to up the "tension." A cheap trick. Greek dramas and Shakespeare's plays, yes, include violence, but not the extraneous, ridiculous violence out of Hollywood today to hype "tension." Cheap tricks and dangerous.

And then there are the violent video games marketed to children.

In the wake of the Connecticut massacre, the Discovery Channel decided not to renew for a third season its TV show "American Guns," about a family of gun makers. The Weinstein Company toned down the Los Angeles premiere of Quentin Tarantino's ultra-violent "Django Unchained." A spokesman for the company said: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, and in this time of national mourning we have decided to forgo our scheduled event."

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Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and host of the nationally syndicated TV program Enviro Close-Up.

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