Bob Franken

King Features Column

(This, as usual, is a week old to accommodate the newspaper syndicator)

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Reality is really hard to swallow. We are conditioned to demand and expect fixes to any given problem. The harsh truth is that, oftentimes, there aren’t any. Gun violence in this country is just the latest example of an issue that is literally life and death and doesn’t really have an effective fix — not a doable one, in any case.
The only truly sufficient remedy — getting rid of all the civilian weapons in the United States — of course is not going to happen in a nation that has 270 million of them.
There is plenty of talk these days about the effect movie and video-game violence has, particularly from organizations like the National Rifle Association and other groups that represent the interest of the corporate armament profiteers. There is conflicting research about the impact of that vicarious mayhem, but the problem is more ingrained. For generations, cowboy movies have been a part of our culture. Hollywood has made the deadly shootout routine with zero attention paid to the consequences. No wonder we so embrace our pistols and rifles; we are all trying to be the Lone Ranger. That isn’t going to change, and few politicians have the courage to take on such primal feelings.
An assault-weapons curtailment, as the president proposes? Won’t happen. Never mind that they serve no purpose except for lethal slaughter, they provide a pathetic feeling of power to those who own them.
Some of the toughest actions have difficulties of their own. The New York state legislation that calls for mental-health professionals to aggressively report to the authorities clients who are expressing dangerous thoughts is one of them. Obviously, it is desirable to keep guns out of the hands of a psychopath, but what about the person who is going through a rough patch and harboring dark feelings while he or she struggles through it? What does his or her therapist do if this person vents about these fleeting violent fantasies? Should the professional turn him or her in? What does that do to the premise of confidentiality, which establishes trust and allows troubled one to work through these issues?

To be sure, more comprehensive background checks could have positive results, particularly if they include all purchases, public and private. The value of that is evidenced by the fact that it is so bitterly opposed by the NRA. But it doesn’t do anything about the hundreds of millions already in personal arsenals.
Speaking of the NRA, just when we think the group has gone as low as it can go, it reaches new depths. The latest is a web ad that calls President Barack Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for speaking against putting armed guards in all schools while his daughters get Secret Service protection. Ignoring how the organization routinely violates the dismal standards of decency in politics, maybe there is a compromise here. Maybe we should put Secret Service agents in every school. Better yet, let’s neutralize the NRA using reason as our weapon.
Overall, we need to address the fundamental problem: our twisted love affair with these murderous instruments. A sustained ad campaign that portrays gun possession as cloddish could fundamentally alter those notions. Integration in commercials went a long way toward changing minds about racial separateness. Yes, it’s propaganda, but no more so than the present-day glorification of violence.
At the same time, we need to ridicule those who argue that personal arsenals are needed to protect against our tyrannical government. That is out and out paranoia; in fact, arguably anyone who believes that probably should be eliminated in a mental-health background check. It also displays an ignorance of history.
Whatever the gun-control debate accomplishes in the wake of Newtown, Conn., it won’t be enough to prevent future atrocities. All that will ultimately work is a change in our culture.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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