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Guns. Lots of Guns.

Guns are fun to shoot in real life and fun to watch on-screen. But they are just a tool.
| Oct 4, 2017 | 7 comments |

By now, everyone has heard about the tragedy that took place in Las Vegas. Sadly, it is an all-too-familiar part of the American experience and always leads to soul-searching, hand-wringing, and pleas for change. The perpetrator was not an Islamic terrorist (culprit: radical ideology) or an inner-city gangbanger (culprit: drugs, crime, overcrowded prisons); he was a middle-class white guy, and in such cases, the culprit is usually guns. I’m not going to wade into the hyperbolic and hyper-emotional bog of gun control arguments, but I’d like to look at guns in speculative entertainment and what the Bible might have to say.

Fantasy as a rule has hardly any guns, so let’s look at the other half of the speculative pie: science fiction. It would be impossible to imagine the genre without guns, though the further we go into the future, the more energetic the weapons become (projectiles are so 21st century). I don’t know about you, but a phaser or blaster or other energy-beam weapon seems far less intimidating than a cartridge weapon. They’re cleaner, smoother, quieter, and the wounds are usually less bloody. The phasers on Star Trek look about as scary as a flashlight. They’re much more “civilized” than the bulky, brutish weapons of today.

Image copyright Activision

In fact, this “clean and smooth” look applies to weapons across the board. You’ll find a handful of fantasy movies or games with sleek, slender katana-like swords but you’ll find plenty of skull-adorned hilts and heavy, jagged blades that would be very cumbersome to wield. Bulky and chunky looks more savage, and savage is more frightening.

How about video games? I confess that I’ve been out of the gaming loop for more than a decade (though I rocked Angry Birds when that came out a few years ago). During the days of CRT computer monitors and LAN parties, however, Half-Life, Counterstrike, and UnReal Tournament were my jam. The bigger and boomier, the better. And from what I see in the advertisements for Call of Duty, BioShock, Destiny, and other big-budget FPS games, the trend continues. FPS games, like the gun world itself, is largely a male-driven culture, and guys like their toys big and loud. There’s a reason the “pew-pew” sound effect gets so much mockery.

The “coolest” sci-fi shoot-’em-up remains, after nearly twenty years, The Matrix. Black trenchcoats, black sunglasses, entire arsenals at the touch of a button – don’t tell me that didn’t give you goosebumps the first time you saw it. The Matrix almost immediately found itself in the social crosshairs when the Columbine High School massacre took place only three weeks after its theatrical release. We will never know if or how much of an influence this film had on the shooters but there is no question that it made gun violence look “cool.”

Image copyright Warner Bros.

What does the Bible have to say about all of this? Obviously there are no direct references to guns in Scripture but it is clear that weapons do have a purpose and place in society (Matthew 26:52, Luke 22:36). However, peace is emphasized repeatedly throughout the Bible and is clearly God’s wish for His people. How does this affect our entertainment? I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer, but for me personally, when I’m watching an action film, I’m not enjoying watching (fictitious) people get killed; I’m enjoying watching bad guys get what they deserve. I have no problem watching Stallone mow down enemy commandos by the dozens, but I don’t want to watch innocent people get cut down as they run for cover.

Guns are fun to shoot in real life and fun to watch on-screen. But they are just a tool. How they are used makes them good or bad. If someone enjoys watching massacres or blowing away random civilians in a game like Grand Theft Auto, that is borne out of sin. But if someone locks and loads the BFG in the video game Doom because of its massive demon-stopping power, then fire away.

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7 Comments on "Guns. Lots of Guns."

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Autumn Grayson
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What happened in Vegas was awful, but it makes me sad that people are just going to use it as a political tool to say that law abiding citizens shouldn’t have guns to defend themselves with. I know not all ‘gun control’ people go so far as to say everyone should be disarmed, but that doesn’t change the fact that some people use it to say that the guns themselves are the reason there’s violence.

I think fiction should partially be used to explore issues surrounding weapons and how we should handle them in society. Authors can also do research into what it is really like to be a responsible gun owner and show that in their stories to help educate the public. As it is, I think the media primarily just shows people loading guns and firing them off, which is fine for certain types of movies. But I think constantly using that depiction is one reason for people primarily blaming guns whenever there is a shooting. The message most media sends is that guns are about pointing and shooting and going crazy, instead of showing that in real life it takes some level of discipline to learn how to use a weapon right. So, in the eyes of non gun owners, gun ownership probably seems to be about chaos or irresponsibility. Many are probably quite aware that gun owners aren’t just going to go around shooting people, but that doesn’t change the negative perceptions they’ve learned to have about guns.

When someone has been taught(from an early age) that owning a gun is a big responsibility, that learning to use one involves some level of discipline, and understands how to use a gun safely, they are more likely to be careful with them.

That would probably help reduce the chances of accidents a tiny bit. But then authors can do more by researching and discussing other issues surrounding mass shootings, such as mental health issues and how we as a society can better handle them. Maybe that would get people talking about real solutions instead of them squabbling over whether guns are the reason there’s violence in the world.

Again, I think it’s fine for some stories to just depict loading guns and going crazy(as long as the story doesn’t promote hurting innocents). But I think society could benefit from having more variety in the way guns and other weapons are depicted.

notleia
Guest

I think I wouldn’t have grown to care about gun control, except that the parts of gun culture about toxic masculinity and persecution/survivalist fantasies are about a porpskillion times louder than the responsible part.

The stories we tell ourselves about self-protection with guns are not supported by statistics. The stories we tell ourselves about hunting do not justify the vast majority of the hardware on the market. I know that America is a highly individualist society, but responsible gun-keeping would include measures to keep the community safer from toxic douchebags.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I think the media could help with that. I know in my stories I don’t usually address it directly, but my characters tend to live in harsher worlds where a being really will get killed or traumatized quite easily if they don’t know how to fight or have a weapon or at least a safe place to go. In that kind of environment, the characters are forced to develop realistic ideas of how to survive, and of the role of weapons in their lives.

One thing I really try to put in these stories it how important it is to think through how things would actually happen and figure out how to handle it. It isn’t always enough to have a weapon, for instance. My characters have to be confronted with things like ‘even though I know how to use a gun, I can still get killed. The gun does me no good if I don’t have it with me in an emergency, and above all have some sort of training on what to do in the emergency. And then I must realize that even with training the emergency can still be unpredictable.’ A gun is a tool to AID in self defense, but isn’t a magical key to safety. If the media would do a better job of addressing the realities of situations like that, then society would be better off. Though I think authors who do this should try and illustrate realities of such situations rather than only illustrating things they think will favor their opinion.

Also…as a side note, gun owners with toxic masculinity are annoying, but this trait isn’t necessarily the direct indicator of whether someone will be dangerous with a gun. I was listening to a documentary about a shooting the other day, in fact, and many of the contributing issues were the shooter’s mental disorder, his growing hatred for Jews, etc. Obviously not all shooters have the same motive, but there is a very big difference between annoying people who are like ‘I’m manly because I own a gun, I have the right to bear arms so stop being whiny about my guns!!!’ and people who are like ‘I have problems in my life and hate everyone so I’m going to go make this big horrible thing happen to call attention to something’

notleia
Guest

I was talking more specifically about cultural narratives, but hey, media both feeds off and influences those, so why not.

But the mouthy douchebags are still a real problem, because one of the key points of toxic masculinity is using abuse and the threat of violence to solve all their problems. And when your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails. The mouthy douchebags may not have shot up a stadium yet, but chances are good that they have or do physically or emotionally abuse anyone under their power.

notleia
Guest

Bonus clicky thing more specifically about emotional labor but does tie into toxic masculinity, what with men not learning to deal with their negative emotions in a healthy, non-violent, non-shooty way: https://medium.com/@emmalindsay/men-dump-their-anger-into-women-d5b641fa37bc

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