There’s a shocking moment in the play ‘Assassins’ when a crazy woman gets a gun out of her handbag and fires it into the audience. Most of us have never seen a gun before, let alone had one pointed at us, so the gesture is unnerving.
I’ve grown up in a society where a gun is as invisible as a vampire, something you see on a movie screen but not in real life. That’s not to say they’re not a part of a British sub-culture now, but they’re still non-existent to most of us.
Consequently I very rarely mention them in books or stories I write because it doesn’t come naturally to me. Until I recently went to a firing range (see column passim) I had never touched a weapon.
I appreciate that it’s different in the USA because the right to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment, and firearms hold a key position in American society because many believe individual gun ownership is a guarantor of democracy. The pioneer concept of having the ability to enforce the protection of one’s home is deeply engrained. (However, I was mugged at gunpoint in the US in 1984 in Los Angeles, and that wasn’t about the right to bear arms).
Recently it was announced that action movies of the gun-waving, car explosion kind have been faring badly, and social commentators have been exciting themselves with the idea that there may be a generational change in attitude, but I don’t think so – it’s just that the movies periodically rediscover the female tween audience, and violent films will return. How can it not when the NRA has a much higher budget than most UK universities?
But a glance at the gun statistics is sobering. There are 90 guns for every 100 Americans and 85 shootings a day. The world league table of gun deaths puts the USA close to the top along with South Africa, Colombia and the Phillipines. Although tables are unreliable because some countries include attempted gun attacks, Britain remains near the bottom, somewhere between Lithuania and Denmark.
The point is that the USA leads the world’s richest countries in gun deaths whichever way you juggle statistics, and that doesn’t seem about the right to bear arms, but the right to commit crimes.
The NRA – a society that’s meant to promote the sport of hunting – has political clout, with so few opponents that it needs no publicity campaigns or lobbying groups. As the Guardian journalist in the US points out, ‘America’s relationship with guns is as deep and complex at home as it is perplexing abroad. The fact that most British police are not armed confounds even the most liberal here. And even though the nation is evenly split on whether there should be more gun control, every time there is a gun-related tragedy, whether it is the shootings in Arizona, Virgina Tech or any number of schools, the issue has been effectively removed from the electoral conversation.’
It’s a good argument for not promoting gun use in popular literature or movies – and one wonders if the current fad for supernatural stories is a deflection of the tradition gun-and-bomb laden adventure tale into something deliberately less realistic.