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.
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.”
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.