On carols, guns and violence
I took a vacation day Monday — thought it would be a good day to run some Christmas errands.
It was another gray, pre-winter day. Seems like the skies lately have matched the collective mood in the U.S., in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. Today — cold and rainy in the Capital Region.
As I walked through Sears and Macy’s at Colonie Center, I kept hearing the Christmas songs — “Joy to the World,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “The Christmas Song.” They’ve been playing for weeks at every shopping center.
I kind of felt guilty even listening to them. Everyone seems to be depressed about the last few days, the 20 little kids, the evil creep with a bunch of guns. I’ve felt this way before — when a terrorist bomb brought down Pan Am 103, “The Clipper Maid of the Seas,” over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 — there was the same sense of loss and helplessness.
What could anyone do then? What can anyone do now?
The Lockerbie bombing happened just before Christmas. Maybe that’s why this has shaken so many of us — Christmas is a time for children and celebrations, for families getting together, toasts by the fireplace seats at the dinner table, pictures snapped for future generations. I suspect it’s going to be a different holiday season for many of us, as the “family of man” — if it even exists anymore — continues to mourn lost, innocent souls.
I’ve heard and read tons of things about gun control and violence in our culture. And while I’m more comfortable discussing pop culture, I think I can make some basic statement about both.
Guns first. I understand the “right to bear arms,” but I have known only maybe three people in my whole 57 years who ever owned guns. I’ve never needed one. Never felt the need. Same thing for just about everyone I know.
None of the people on my gun list owned the rapid-fire, assault-style rifles and handguns that seem to be so popular with gun “enthusiasts,” the weapons that cause so much grief and misery.
I’m no expert. But you can’t explain to me why anyone needs a high-capacity, five-rounds-a-second weapon in their house. And assault rifles? Why should these damn things be allowed in any civilian neighborhood?
Are they trying to impress their friends with their collection? Does it make them tougher guys?
Even for hunting, these fast guns seem unfair. I’d sleep even lousier than I currently sleep if I knew my neighbors had arsenals in the basement. But that’s the right — everyone can have a gun, any size, any caliber.
Violence in our culture has been around forever. Look in the old newspapers, and just about every day, something horrible happens someplace. Kitty Genovese, Jack Fitzpatrick and Brenda Spender are names I remember — Kitty stabbed to death in Queens in 1964 as neighbors listened to her pleas for help, Jack stabbed to death as he and his young children waited in line to see Santa Claus in Cleveland in 1971. And Brenda — the “I don’t like Mondays” shooter who opened fire outside a San Diego school in 1979, killing two and injuring eight kids.
Pro football has become more and more violent. I watched a bunch of games Sunday, and it wasn’t the muscleheads’ usual grandstanding on defense that bothered me. It was all the commercials, for new movies such as “Jack Reacher” and “Gangster Squad.” The clips showed guys getting their heads pushed into bathroom walls and big guns blasting all over the place.
These productions are far different than pop culture depictions of past tough guys. “Dirty Harry” was violent — but there was story too — and not violence just for the sake of violence. I’ve recently become hooked on the old “Have Gun, Will Travel” western from the 1950s. And while the gunfighter character “Paladin” was the black-clad fast gun, he always used to say he used violence as a last resort. Pretty enlightened for 50 years ago.
Last weekend, the new “Hitman” video game was also getting air time, and it’s all shooting and killing. Just like every other shooter or faux military shooting game on the market.
These shooter games, I think, are really part of the problem. Kids play them all the time, and I’ll bet the thought “I wonder what this would be like for real?” has popped into their heads. Not me. Never a big fan of video games. And when “paintball” was kind of big during the late 1990s, and a news room outing put us all in camouflage and weapons, I thought the whole adventure was kind of stupid. I never played again.
I’m starting to rant. But my basic points stand. I don’t need a gun, and my neighbors don’t need high-capacity firearms. Video games with shooting and exploding bodies have to go, there is no place for them in our society.