It's Not Just The Guns... It's The Media

10/09/2017 12:30 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2017

You want to know where gun violence comes from?

Look no further than your TV set or your local cinema.

Bruce Willis is back! And he is shooting and killing everyone who gets in his way.

As we say in America: “That’s entertainment!”

Then, are you really surprised when Stephen Paddock decides to do sort of the same thing on his own in Las Vegas? Where do you think he got the idea from?

The average American spends an astonishing five hours a day, every day, watching TV (which now includes Netflix movies). A few more hours a month at the movies and of course video games, and what do you get? You get an endless, mind-numbing education in how you “handle a problem.” You shoot people.

If we, as a society, spent five hours every day playing the piano, we would be an incredibly musical nation. If we all dedicated five hours a day, every day, to playing tennis (all of us) we would be an incredibly athletic nation. If we spent five hours a day, every day, reading, we would be a remarkably literate nation. But we aren’t.

Instead, we spend five hours a day, every day, watching a lot of people shooting other people all the time. And that makes us a very violent nation.

By the time a child finishes elementary school, he or she has seen more than 8,000 murders on TV, plus 100,000 other acts of violence, many of them gun-related.

In the movie Die Hard 2, there are 264 killings in just 90 minutes.

On TV and in movies people, mostly the police or self-appointed vigilantes are pulling out their guns and shooting all the time, pretty much at the drop of a hat. It makes for very exciting television and films. But it bears absolutely no relationship to real life.

As a rule, most police officers go their entire careers without ever firing a weapon. That is real life. But that is not the life that people who watch TV and movies perceive as real.

For the purpose of entertainment, we have effectively brainwashed an entire generation (two really) to believe that shooting guns is a natural event, a common event. It isn’t.

After an event like Las Vegas there is a natural knee-jerk reaction to say ‘it’s the guns!’

Well, maybe it is. But maybe it is a bit more complicated than that.

The vast majority of gun owners in this country are law-abiding citizens. It’s not the guns, it’s the culture. The never ending shoot’em-up culture of American entertainment. The French philosopher Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, “you tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.” That’s France. In this country we might say, “you tell me what you watch and I will tell you who you are.” And what we watch is endless shootings and killings. On TV and in the movies everyone has a gun and everyone shoots everyone else at the first opportunity. This is how people solve problems. This has an impact. It has to.

I spend half my life in Britain. Contrary to popular opinion, there are guns in Britain. People hunt and shoot skeet. I do. But there is not a gun culture. In American cop movies and TV series, the cops are always shooting the bad guys or getting in to shoot-outs all the time. In British detective series, no one ever shoots anyone. There are no guns. Watch a few episodes of Midsomer Murders or Happy Valley. No guns. No shoot-outs. Plenty of drama. The fixation on gunplay is a strictly American phenomenon.

Spending five hours or more a day, every day, day after day, year after year watching thousands of people getting killed on TV, in the movies and on video games has an impact. First, it teaches us that this is a normal activity. It isn’t. Far from it. As well, it inures us to gun violence. It makes it seem almost normal behavior. It instructs us.

You have no doubt seen “gang bangers” hold their handguns sideways when they shoot. This seems “cool.” Actually, this is only a Hollywood technique. This side grip first appeared in Menace II Society, produced in 1993. My friend Chicago detective Paul Huebl tells me that this is a dangerous way to shoot a gun ― dangerous for the shooter (if you are concerned about their well-being). Holding the gun sideways causes the spent casings to get jammed. But, as CBS Chairman Les Moonves might say, guns may not be good for America, but they’re great for CBS... and the rest of Hollywood and the video gaming business.

People always list the uses of guns in America ― hunting, target shooting, self-defense. But they never list our number one use of guns ― to amuse ourselves with the fantasy of shooting people up, either in movies, on TV or in video games. This is what we call “entertainment,” and it has consequences.

If you want to stop more random shootings and killings in America, you might start with the media, but I think you may find that they are even harder to turn than the NRA. You think gun manufacturers have a stake in the gun culture in America? How much do you think it’s worth to Hollywood?

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