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Remember The Smoking!

beautiful_example_of_imagination_mushroom_cloud

Grab your guns; we’re heading for the Alamo! On October 19th gun enthusiasts will be participating in a “Line In The Sand” armed rally in St. Antonio, Texas. Participants are encouraged to carry their “long guns” and the event is billed as family friendly. It is not a protest in the traditional sense, as Texas has some of the most lenient gun laws in the land; it’s more of a show of arms if you will. The assumed intent is to create a powerful visual of gun slinging American families. To encourage a wholesome atmosphere participants are asked to remove bullets from chambers before marching.

Once one gets past the image of a John Wayne (or Mel Brooks) movie, the conceit is not that strange. People often march to express strong feelings, and clearly people feel very strongly about their guns. What is strange is that as a nation we seem to have bought into that sentiment. We continuously elect representatives who hold gun rights sacred. It’s challenging to conjure any other “right” that directly impacts the rights of others as dramatically as gun rights. We think nothing of restricting individual rights that have little if any impact on larger society. We set restrictions on; who can marry, female reproduction, child safety, and the right to die. In the past few decades we have begun to set limits on individual rights which affect the public. You can no longer drink and drive with impunity. Smoking is so restricted as to be unrecognizable as the American pastime it once was.

Smoking was once ubiquitous. People smoked in movie theaters, buses, planes, and even elevators! Ashtrays were everywhere! Freestanding ashtrays were in doctor’s offices, factories, office buildings, and schools. The smoke cloud emerging from most teachers’ lounges rivaled that of a nuclear test. Once upon a time cigarette smoke was everywhere. About twenty-five years ago C. Everett Koop (U.S. Surgeon General) published a report equating the addictive nature of nicotine to that of heroin. You’d be forgiven for not considering this a “Eureka!” moment. But keep in mind that the tobacco industry was (if not is) one of the more powerful lobbying groups in the country. Shortly after the report’s publication cigarette packaging had to include a warning box. Dr. Koop later published a report regarding the hazards of “secondhand smoke.” The first restaurant smoking sections then cropped up. Some readers might remember the bizarreness of smoking sections; everyone seemed to pretend that smoke doesn’t move. But as behavior change motivation goes, baby steps are often the way to go. Fast-forward to 2013 and most of us live in a practically smoke-free environment. Smoking is considered a private behavior and as such cannot infringe upon the larger population.

So why haven’t we been able to treat gun ownership this way? Secondhand smoke couldn’t possibly kill more people than guns. Why have we not set limits on how many firearms a registered, licensed and certified owner can possess? Where are the laws about which kind of weapons are allowed outside of a registered, licensed and law abiding gun club and which must stay secured? Why do we tolerate gun show loopholes? How can a household that includes children be allowed guns, but apartment residents with children must have window guards? There are gun enthusiasts in favor of reasonable restrictions. Not all gun fans cling to the 2nd amendment like it was an out of context bible passage. Not every person who enjoys guns holds fast to rhetoric and flag waving. So where are those voices? Where is our C. Everett Koop?

People will show up to the Alamo with their guns and children. Even if the showing is paltry the imagery will be startling. Once again we will be lulled into thinking that gun owners are monolithic. Once again the issue will be framed as all or nothing. Color me a pessimist, but once again our capital will be noticeably silent.

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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Stick ‘Em Up!

davy

Every so often a new study posits the link between media violence and real violence. The theory most often is that children exposed to violent themes and games become inured to real violence and thus more likely to commit violent acts. There is a certain logic to the premise but is it really that straightforward? Hasn’t violent play always existed?

People raised during the earlier days of television were exposed to far more violent images than their moving picture going or radio listening ancestors. A child growing up in the 1950s was immersed in cowboy-shoot-em-up imagery and play. Cowboy and cowgirl costumes (replete with guns and holsters) were not just Halloween costumes; they were toys. Television, movies, books, comic books and creative play was rife with shooting. Even Superman (the television show) had people shooting (and killing) people. Toy soldiers, G.I. Joe and war games have been a part of child’s play since the advent of war. But all of this happened in a distinct child’s world, in which an adult (related or not) was always at the ready to impose adult order. The world belonged to adults and children knew that. They were ever conscious of their place in the adult world and the distinct delineation between being a child and being an adult. Children engaged in unsupervised play and then returned to the structured adult world.

The adult world demanded marked different behavior than that of a child’s world. The language (e.g., slang, profanity,) manners, appearance and attire requirements in the adult world were different from that in the child’s world. Adults maintained the boundaries in various ways. There were many subjects that were not discussed in front of children (little pitchers have big ears; what in the world does that mean!?) Adults socialized without their children and enjoyed other privileges of adulthood (e.g., choosing which television shows were watched, what foods were eaten, which clothes were purchased, etc.) The rigidity of home life was countered with the wildly independent social life of a kid. Play was unsupervised and free-range. Children engaged in activities without parents. They played sports, danced and sang without their parents witnessing every single moment. They were in their world and they were just playing.

Children flourish when they can explore the world safely. Knowing that adults are in charge and are sure as shootin’ gonna tell them what to and not to do, is very comforting. However, if a child is left with a feeling that the adults are not in charge, or worse yet, the child is in control, that child can grown very frightened and insecure. The same child who senses that “no one is the boss of me” not only has a fuzzy sense of fiction and reality (which is an inherent part of childhood development and why children need parents) but also could possibly be left to immerse themselves far too often in violent games and play. There is nothing about holding a plastic gun and aiming it at a screen that is more violent than holding a Davy Crockett pistol against a friend’s head. However there is something numbing about playing alone and obsessively. An interesting treatment in these “violence studies” would to be to have one group of children “Go Outside And Play!”

This dance of control in which parents involve themselves in a child’s world and children are given equal footing in the family may not be the most effective formula for growing strong children. Children flourish when they are given limits. They want to grow up when being a grown-up looks better than being a kid. While there is nothing positive one could say about violent video games, it is short sighted to think any imagery in any form has the power to change collective behavior. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, and childhood and adulthood is much more likely to affect change. If in fact the exposure to violent imagery (in games, film, video, etc.) has risen and violence in children and young adults has risen, that is indeed correlation. But to suggest (yet again!) causation and wag our finger at the media makes us look silly and a bit irresponsible.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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The Smoking (Gun) Section

Anti-smoking campaign launched

C. Everett Koop made a mark on public health in America. He was a forceful advocate for rational scientific facts that were at times in opposition to his own personal beliefs. He refused to imbue abortion with (unsubstantiated) claims of lasting psychological damage. He forced a (seemingly) reluctant administration into acknowledging and fighting AIDS. He may very well be the only surgeon general whom we can all name and picture and that is in no small part due to his anti-smoking campaign. Dr. Koop was the catalyst for the most dramatic change in social behavior in our time. Alarmed by the effects of smoking Dr. Koop, and without much support from his administration, he went up against the powerful tobacco lobby and took to the podium (in his impressive uniform.) He appealed directly to the nation to change their ways. He issued a report about second-hand smoke and campaigned for smoking restrictions in the workplace and restaurants. Through his efforts, both academic and rallying; Americans began to change their attitudes towards smoking. Smokers gradually went from the freedom to smoke anywhere in a restaurant, to doing so in a designated area, to doing so outdoors. People grumbled and even got angry, but they moved and public health improved. The air quality improved for all and smoking diminished (dramatically) overall.

Smoking became a personal behavior that must stay personal. What if we were to do the same with gun ownership? What if we were to treat guns as we do smoking, as a public health issue? People can own guns, they can shoot guns, but they most do so in the shooting section. Guns must be registered and licensed and be stored at a registered and licensed gun club. The clubs provide shooting ranges and would be allowed to sell ammunition. Licensing and registering a personal (at home) handgun would require the purchase of a gun safe. Gun security in a house in which children are allowed or live would be treated like cars and car seats. Any adult caught having an unsecured gun in proximity of a child would be subjected to the same penalties a person driving with an unrestrained child. Hunting is already a highly regulated endeavor. There are times of year in which a person is allowed to hunt particular animals and there is licensing. Hunting guns would be registered, licensed and stored at a hunting lodge (or a locker in the state police barracks.) Gun owners would be fined and have their license revoked if they don’t abide by the rules.

Would creating a ‘smoking’ section prevent illegal firearm sales or guns ending up in the wrong hands? Maybe, maybe not. But by changing what we consider normative behavior, we do change everything. What Dr. Koop did was shift our society’s perception of smoking. We moved from glamorizing a behavior to recognizing it for the blight on public health that it is. If we no longer accept that an individual’s right to gun ownership trumps that of the public good we will be that much closer to protecting our children and ourselves. If we begin to see that guns, like cigarettes, are a personal choice that must remain personal we are that much closer to controlling gun violence. People who choose to own and use guns responsibly should embrace this notion and extricate themselves from any organization that preaches personal freedoms above that of a safe and secure society. They should tear up their membership cards and visibly step away from an organization whose solution to violence is to arm elementary schools. There is a name for groups whose use of violence creates a general climate of fear in a population.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Having Vision

Lucy

“Background checks!” “Assault rifle ban!” “Mental Health Registry.” I can’t be the only person completely flummoxed by the latter of these gun control cries. There’s been plenty of chatter and innuendo but little if any real explanation as to what in the world is actually meant by a mental health registry. How will illness be identified and categorized? Is the inclusion of a mental health codicil simply a way of saying ‘a registry of people who have exhibited violent behavior in the past and had treatment.’? If so, that is quite the branding overreach. People who commit violent acts are by definition violent. People who harm strangers are not of sound mind. But neither are people who commit white-collar crimes.

Mental health and violence are only linked in terms of a one-way relationship: people who commit violent acts=unwell. But the vast majority of people who are unwell do not commit violence (to others anyway.) A glance through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM) will (takes quite some time but) will result in concluding there is simply no single mental disorder commensurate with violence towards others. If we were to analyze mass murderers we may see similarities. They might have social phobias or a narcissistic personality, they may even have hallucinations. Those are three distinct disorders that are also symptoms of several other disorders. What of people with substance-related disorders? They very well may have induced psychotic disorder, or not. And all psychosis is not the same. Psychotic episodes rarely result in shooting up a pharmacy.

So what do we really mean when we talk about a mental health registry? Even if we scrape away the Pollyanna delusion that the majority of unwell people seek and obtain good mental health care, we are still left scratching our heads. Are we saying that mental health professionals need report when a patient vocalizes intended harm? That already is the case, so if that’s what we mean we should just stop talking about this. Will mental health professionals be asked to expand the reporting paradigm to include those patients they suspect will do harm? Even if that type of Ouija board, tea leaf reading were possible, we’d still be left with a tiny population of people who are on a path of violence and are actively seeking help. In this magical scenario where therapists with any and every kind of training and credentials can see into the future and place someone on a registry; what exactly is the goal? Perhaps (in this lollipop and unicorn made for T.V. scenario) a violence prone person will be prevented from buying a new gun. Fabulous, great. Does it prevent him or her from accessing their mother’s stockpile? Does it stop them from using the guns they already own?

Focusing on the mentally ill is very much needed in this country. People are suffering and need care. Those in a fragile state shouldn’t be expected to do battle with insurance companies or general practitioners. We need to stop whispering when we speak of mental health issues. There is nothing shameful about needing help; but there is much shame to be shared in turning our backs. It shouldn’t be challenging to find good help, it shouldn’t be financially out of reach either. The path towards help shouldn’t be so opaque that people have to ask, “where do I find a therapist.” Professionally staffed mental health clinics, offering consistent and continuing care should be as ubiquitous as LensCrafters. There is no shame in needing help; most everyone needs glasses at some point.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Ready, Aim, Fight

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I am mildly inured to fictional violence, as is anyone raised on television and film. But even fictionalized, I’m not terribly comfortable with harm. As a child I much preferred the ‘Pow’ ‘and Zowee’ of Batman than the guns used in Superman. As I grew older I preferred Quincy’s methodical crime solving than the gun-wielding villains of Baretta or The Rockford Files. Growing up in and around a major city guns were (mercifully) fictional or only associated with illegal acts. There wasn’t any (visible) recreational use and not much second amendment chatter.

I didn’t see a real live gun until I lived in a (very) rural community. People carried them in and on their cars and trucks. They weren’t in the process of committing a crime, they just liked guns. Sometime during this exposure to real live guns I decided it would be prudent to know how to use one. Perhaps by feeling more comfortable around guns I would understand people’s affection/fervor.

Fast-forward a decade and there I am, in a gun club of the seediest kind in a New Jersey suburb known for many nefarious doings. The storefront facility on a dead end street smelled of dust and gun powder. In that fake wood paneled (no doubt part-time porn set) store the jarring smell added to the uneasy ambience. The faded posters and scratched glass cases filled with guns (including a pink model for the ladies) jolted me into the realization that ‘gun club’ is not a euphemism. People pay dues and come regularly to shoot. They bring their guns in fancy cases: intimidating versions of a bowling bag or cue stick case.

Down on the range, goggles and earphones on, I was told to pick up the gun. Bathed in sweat, my stomach lurching, I stepped back. The desire to learn a skill or conquer a fear is not a bad thing.  But staring at that semi-automatic gun it became crystal clear that there is only one reason to pick up that gun in real life. Knowing how to shoot a gun is not like knowing how to drive a stick shift or performing CPR. It is not a life skill it is a death skill. The only reason to pick up that gun is to shoot a bullet into a person. That is a lot to consider in mere seconds. Confused by the realization and conscious of the muddling nature of fear, I chose to just do it. I made it through two rounds (that’s a bunch of bullets) and hit the bull’s eye each and every time.

I went immediately home, poured a large glass of wine and got into the tub. There was no sense of accomplishment, no feeling of conquering a fear: a heaving stomach and a heavy heart was all I had. How could anyone want to ever shoot a gun let alone own one (or several?) People enjoy what just made me physically sick. I don’t pretend to understand anything or anyone anymore than anyone else. But after my certificate earning shooting experience I understand some people even less. I wanted to believe that (like bowling) shooting is an activity that is for some but not everyone. I wanted to believe that it was about honing a target skill, like archery. Maybe for some people it actually is. For me, it was violent and frightening and very upsetting.

I don’t understand wanting to shoot. I don’t understand owning guns. I cannot even fathom having guns in a house with children or compromised adults. However, I do understand people’s sense of entitlement and I will fight it any and every chance I get.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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