How do we end our current gun violence? Many people waste their energy arguing over changing laws or regulations. Some people propose a ban, which would be counterproductive and simply create a black market. Some say limit ammo or types of guns, but all guns kill and killing is what we need to stop. I say we learn from the anti-smoking campaign.
Smoking used to be fashionable and cool. It was an activity of the rich and famous, with mascots like the Marlboro Man who represented classic Americana. Now it is seen as a disgusting, wasteful, and stupid habit with negative health and environmental externalities that all of society has to bear. It is banned in many public places. Everyone is aware of its carcinogenic nature. It remains legal, however, with a high tax to discourage abuse. The net result is a massive reduction in smoking.
The worst fear of gun owners is having their guns taken. This perceived fear often leads to even more gun purchases. Some value their gun for its self defense capability, others as a hunting tool, and they are often seen as having historical and sentimental value. This is a fundamental part of the American cultural fabric, and attempting its hostile and aggressive removal will not work.
The first step to solving an issue is to admit its existence. We must accept as a fact that Americans enjoy violence more than other Western developed societies. Many blame TV, movies, and video games for causing violence. However, they are simply catering to the viewers’ desires. There are dozens of famous movies about organized crime and the mafia. Their leaders are always portrayed as heroes, and no one shies away from depicting how they deal with rivals. I often cringe and look away when I know a bullet is about to rip through a skull and splatter blood and brain matter. The effort made to portray this tells me there must be people who genuinely derive some entertainment from seeing this. This is routine in TV also.
This cultural propensity to violence is similar to attitudes toward smoking in the past. This was changed by a persistent public campaign of exposing its dangers and shaming its users and sellers. The key thing to notice is that this has been extremely successful despite the fact that cigarettes remain legal to this day. Guns differ from cigarettes in one critical way: their intended use is to harm or kill other living creatures, not the owner. If cigarettes are used as intended, they kill the owner. So, naturally, the anti-smoking campaign has largely focused on self harm. Similarly, an anti-gun campaign should follow suit.
We should then focus on statistics relating to how guns may harm their owner. For example, gun suicides far outnumber gun homicides. Now a gun owner may have a healthy state of mind when they purchase a weapon, but even they don’t know their future and knowing they may turn it on themselves will make them pause. Guns also often lead to accidental deaths and even fail to protect. A gun in one’s possession may also trigger knee jerk reactions from cops.
We should also start showing the consequences of gun violence openly and transparently. News broadcasts should show what victims look like. What amazes me is what can be seen on TV shows, but the news can’t even show a fistfight. I am sure the reality is much uglier than media portrayals. Seeing this may make someone think twice about using or owning a gun. The anti-smoking folks are experts in this. They show tracheotomy and stroke victims, amputees, people with bypasses and dependent on oxygen.
The best part of this idea is that it does not have to wait for an idle Congress. A foundation can exist with the sole goal of changing our attitudes towards guns and violence, while assuring gun rights supporters that no legal changes will even be attempted. If we emulate the anti-smoking campaign, I think we can see a noticeable reduction in gun violence within a generation.