Here's a radical proposal: Let's ban guns from being shown in movies and television.
But not for the reasons you think.
I'm not suggesting this because real handguns and automatic weapons are a threat to humans everywhere, though that is true. Nor is it because the casual, often comedic presentation of gun violence in films and TV shows tends to anesthetize young viewers to violence and its effects. Or that it warps their perception of reality so that it seems like a natural segue to move immediately from an argument to, say, lethal gunplay. The science isn't all in on that last one, but I'd wager on the side of the empiricists.
No, I believe we should ban guns from movies and television for another reason altogether:
Because they're always the most boring and predictable dramatic choice you can make.
And I say this, in spite of the fact that big-budget action films attract a mass audience that is entertained by extended exchanges of automatic weapon fire, in which hardly anyone ever gets hit. (Except when those automatic weapons are being fired by the hero -- who can make every bullet in a machine-gun burst strike a different enemy.)
I'm amazed that the mass audience keeps buying tickets to these movies. I would love to understand the thrill or excitement to be derived from scenes in films like The Expendables 2, in which various forms of machines guns are fired repeatedly while hitting very few targets -- or putting holes in inanimate objects.
The old SCTV series used to feature "Farm Film Report," in which John Candy and Joe Flaherty would give favorable reviews to movies with the best explosions: "It blowed up good -- real good!" was the highest praise they could offer. I'm just trying to figure out when that aesthetic actually took over.
A movie like Expendables 2 -- or this week's Gangster Squad -- lend credence to the theory that the mass audience would watch a movie that was nothing but two hours of fireworks, if each explosion was accompanied by blood spatters. Those kind of shoot-outs are not just a cliché in action films; they're practically wallpaper. The shoot-'em-up scene is such a foregone conclusion that there simply is no pleasure or thrill to be derived from it.
Guns are drama's most reductionist element.
This commentary continues on my website.