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Gun Violence Should Get Its Own Trigger Warning

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Chris Lane recently wrote about why he had over the years changed from a full-on gun nut (his words) to supporting many types of gun control. One of the things he went into was how gun culture had changed and grown into something that was just paranoid and awful, and how carrying a gun went from making him feel free and powerful to feeling weak.

Lane and I have been friends for more than a decade, and he and I have definitely influenced each other greatly on America’s gun debate. One of the things that we’ve both come to agree on is that our cultural addiction to guns is a large problem that just seems to get swept under the rug. Guns aren’t just everywhere in real life, they’re everywhere in make-believe as well. Nearly every hero adorning our movie posters and video game covers has a gun and aims to make sure you know he’s going to use it to do some heroing.

And no, I’m not trying to say movies and video games cause gun violence. They do, however, express it over and over and over again as the answer to your problems. Men with guns are powerful. Men with guns protect themselves and their families. Men with guns stop evil. Men with guns live to fight another day. Men with guns get their breakfast at burger joints even after they’ve stopped serving it. Men with guns don’t have to put up with traffic lights. Men with guns don’t have to listen to women ask them if they remember where they parked the car. When it comes to the American media, guns are hammers and every problem is a nail.

Me? I’ve mostly given up on any sort of law or regulation helping in this environment. I literally had someone tell me that Australia didn’t have a “real” constitution because it didn’t protect the right to bear arms. The fact that we are virtually the only country that has something like the Second Amendment seems to have escaped a lot of folks. If school shootings, racially charged church shootings, shootings of members of Congress and cop shootings can’t spark legislation to pass in this gun-binge-as-freedom environment, I am hard-pressed to think of anything that possibly could. Presidential assassination? I have a feeling that wouldn’t sway the loudest voices

The answer is to change the culture, and to do that, I propose a literal trigger warning for film, television and video games. We already say that a following feature or program contains violence, so let’s just make it specific. What you are about to see or play will show gun use in a violent manner. Viewer discretion is advised.

Are you worried about laws disarming you? Worry no more since no one’s guns could possibly be taken away by this minor gesture. No one’s ability to buy a gun or even take one into a movie theater here in Texas shall be infringed by it. All it is is a little, tiny reminder that guns, whatever use they have, are dangerous.

Of course, I’d like more. I’d love to see something close to those anti-piracy ads that run before movies explaining the dangers of guns. Barring that, I’d settle for a warning screen like the one you sometimes get for seizure-triggers in games. Having a gun makes you more likely to be shot in an assault than not having one. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation means a woman is 500 percent more likely to be shot and killed. Forty-eight children are wounded or killed by gunfire per day in the United States, and most often with a gun that belongs to a family member. Gun ownership is associated with statistically elevated suicide rates. These are all facts I’d love to see on the screen, even just for a second, before we watch the action unfold.

Would anyone heed this or even read it? I don’t know. On the other hand, those small print ads on cigarettes clearly have worked over the years to reduce smoking, and the more graphic ones you see in countries like Australia work better still. Do people still smoke? Of course they do, but there are a whole lot fewer of them. Still, if people really want to buy cigarettes, they're going to buy them, to quote an anti-gun-control argument. Nothing’s standing in their way. They don’t even have to read the little reminder that the product they’re consuming could kill them.

But they do, and on an individual basis, it slowly made smokers consider what they were doing and quit. It took decades, mind you. Generations, let’s be honest, but that’s how a cultural shift works. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to get some truly responsible and minor gun laws passed, but it sure would be easier to do it in an environment where people were constantly reminded of just how high a price we pay for our cultural addiction to guns. How they themselves, not some face in a news story, might end up dead from their weapon. Then maybe, just maybe, after a generation of that, we might start catching up to the rest of the world and leave this fixation behind.

Jef has a new story about robot sharks out now in Lurking in the Deep. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter

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