Why aren’t we focused on the guns?

This morning I’d like to share a guest post about the Aurora shooting from Andrew Gumbel, who is not only the husband of AMERICAblog contributor and friend Naomi Seligman, but who also worked for more than twenty years as a foreign correspondent for the Guardian and the Independent.

Of particular interest to the Aurora shooting, Andrew has a new book out, “Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed–and Why It Still Matters.” In the book he looks at law enforcement’s actual success in preventing this kind of mass violence, and more generally, at the culture of violence, and guns, in America. (Here’s a video of Andrew summarizing the book.)

For that reason, we though it might be interesting to have Andrew’s perspective on the recent mass shooting in Colorado.  Here’s Andrew’s post:

Samuel Fuller, the maverick film director who served as an infantryman in World War II, once pointed out that there was no adequate way to convey the horrors of war to a movie audience, short of opening fire on the audience (seriously).
In “A Third Face,” his fast-talking, no-nonsense memoir of “writing, fighting and filmmaking,” Samuel Fuller bluntly observes that “there’s no way you can portray war realistically, not in a movie or a book.” In order to convey “the idea of real combat” to movie audiences, he says, “you’d have to shoot at them every so often from either side of the screen.”

But, he added acerbically: “The casualties in the theater would be bad for business.”

His throwaway line has now become stark reality – America’s capacity for generating real horror outstripping, once again, the imaginations of our poets and novelists and film-makers.

Just how bad for business will the Aurora shootings be? Will anyone now be able to sit in a darkened movie theater, defenseless and alone, and feel truly comfortable?

We will hear a lot of rash generalizations and overhasty conclusions over the coming hours and days, and no doubt one of them will be that this is the end of the road for the movies. They were the quintessential popular entertainment of the 20th century, but now they are over; we’ll all have to stay home with our TVs and video games and streaming devices and stick our own popcorn in the microwave.

I doubt the consequences will be that extreme, or that rapid, but I do think that going to the multiplex will never be the same again – just as air travel has not been the same since 9/11. Business is bound to drop off, at least in the short term, and we’re bound to see some sort of beefed up security – whether that takes the form of metal detectors at the box-office turnstile, or some other deterrent.

That will add to what is already a long list of reasons why people no longer feel inclined to go to the movies – the crappy parade of comic-book adaptations, the expensive concessions, and, yes, the increasing array and quality of home-entertainment options.

We can also expect the movies themselves to be blamed for what happened. Hollywood, and the entertainment industry more generally, is a popular horse to flog whenever a mass shooting occurs – if only because that skirts the need to talk about the real central issue here, which is the alarming ease with which disturbed individuals can gain access to firearms and explosives.

The Columbine shootings were blamed on Marilyn Manson and video games, if not also The Basketball Diaries and Natural Born Killers. In the first hours of the Aurora coverage, people have already drawn comparisons with the gas mask apparently worn by James Holmes, the man named as the perpetrator, and the mask donned by Bane, the villain of The Dark Knight Rises. Now it may be – it’s way too soon to know – that Holmes was inspired by the comic-book character in some way; but that’s a very different issue from blaming the attack on the filmmakers, which I confidently predict will happen, if it has not happened already.

Why aren’t we focused instead on the guns? Even in an age of counterterrorism and Homeland Security, almost nobody wants to talk about the single biggest threat to our safety and well-being, which is the proliferation of firearms and explosives in the general population.

People like to cite the 2nd Amendment, or fall back on a more visceral notion of American freedom, to justify the status quo. But the fact remains that without this country’s ludicrous gun laws and even more ludicrous enforcement mechanisms, tens of thousands of shooting incidents each year could be mitigated or avoided.

There seems to be a touching, almost naïve, belief that the vast majority of gun owners are not inclined to violence and would never do harm to their fellow countrymen. But that belief is challenged at every turn by stubborn reality. Without this country’s gun culture, there would have been no Oklahoma City bombing – a subject I know well because I just wrote a book about it. There would have been no Columbine, or Virginia Tech, and Gabby Giffords would still be an active member of Congress.

And yet the gun lobby rides triumphant and nothing ever changes. It’s hard to generate a debate without the topic boomeranging on itself, with pundits and lawmakers advocating more guns and conceal-carry permits so the self-appointed “good” Americans can take out the “bad” ones, based on their own split-second judgment.

How did that work out for Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman?

One of my favorite Sam Fuller movies is Shock Corridor, an eccentric indie flick from the 1960s in which America is reimagined as a lunatic asylum. Watching the news from Aurora, it’s clear that reality is, once again, proving just as strange as fiction.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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