Suppose we wanted to increase the number of gun deaths in this country. . .
www.Op-Ed Submission by Lynn Hoffman
By now, you may have almost forgotten the news from Blacksburg, Virginia: Thirty three people died on April 16th as a result of a single man with a gun. Letís think a second: thatís thirty-three familes who heard this afternoon that the child they loved and raised and laughed with and hoped with is dead.
ďYour kid is dead.Ē
If youíre a parent, you donít want to imagine what that news would be like if it were your kid and at the same time you canít not imagine it. If you can absorb the horror of that thought, imagine this one: Over two hundred families in Philadelphia got similar news so far this year. It wasnít always about a college kid. There was the mother of four and the neighborhood baseball coach. There was the cop and the high-school honor student.
So what can we do to reduce the killing, to make things better? Let me answer that question with another question: What would you do if you wanted to make it worse? Suppose that you were, oh, let's say The Devil, and you wanted more people to die from gunshots on the streets of Philadelphia. What would you do to make that happen?
Well, for starters, you'd make sure that there were lots more guns around. You'd sell them in every gas station and corner store. You'd make them cheap and untraceable. If you couldn't make those conditions legal in Philadelphia, you'd make it legal in the surrounding counties of this and other states. Then you'd encourage some free-enterprise by people buying guns out there and reselling them here.
The next thing you'd do is you'd make guns seem very sexy: sort of romantic. A pistol would become a poor man's Porsche. You'd promote images of cool dudes carrying guns and occasionally using them to settle things with misguided, less cool people who challenged them. You might even write songs or make movies about the gun-runners who brought the little bang-BANGs to the streets. Oh, and you'd use sex to sell the idea. You'd have some hot pop-star look-alike on posters at the bus stop allowing that she really likes "a man with a nine. A Tek-Nine, that is."
I think that in one form or another, those things are already happening.
Why is it happening? Well, for one thing, guns are big business.
Domestic gun manufacturing was worth $1.2 billion dollars in 1997. For another, scaring gun owners is pretty big business too. There are organizations-like the National Rifle Association-that exist because they have cynically convinced hunters and marksmen to fear any regulation of guns-even something as innocuous as registration. The big lie in this case is that registration or licensing or banning cop-killer bullets will inevitably lead to the confiscation of weapons and to a pretty dull deer season.
No one, not even the most hysterical gun nut, seems to be able to explain how requiring a license will lead to peopleís guns being taken away. (Anybody tried to confiscate your car lately? Your dog? Your barber shop?) But the power of these scare-the-public groups in the voting booth pretty much assures that no congress or state legislature will pass even the most modest gun laws.
There's not much that I can do, as a novelist to change the laws that make guns so easy to get. In fact, the political cowardice of our legislators pretty much insures that the laws wonít change. But what I can do, and what the heroine of bang BANG, Paula Sherman can do and what you and that pop-star look alike can do is help change the dominant message about carrying a handgun.
Here's the new message: Handguns are for two kinds of people, cops and dorks. If you're carrying a gun and you're not a cop, then, well we know what you are. Itís mostly a male problem and we can't wait for you to get over it. That's the important message in bang BANG: real men don't play with guns and real women know that. If youíre a woman who likes men, make it known that you donít like men with guns.
In my novel bang BANG, Paula Sherman campaigns for that change. She suggests that women who take the pledge to avoid gun-totiní boys wear a blue dot as a sign of their commitment. Maybe itís time we took Paula seriously.
Hereís another new message: you buy a gun, itís yours forever. That means that youíre responsible for everything thatís done with that gun for as long as you live. If somebody steals the gun and does some harm-youíre responsible. If you sell it to your unlicensed cousin and he does harm with it-itís on you. We may not get to make this a matter of law, but if the media reported the ownership chain of guns used in crimes, we could at least bring some shame to bear.
Gun deaths won't stop until we change the culture, so let's change the culture. Let's start now.
Lynn Hoffman, author of the novel bang BANG and THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE .