This isn’t a political blog.
I do not have the requisite expertise in government policy to intelligently or usefully opine about what the government can or should do to decrease the odds of things like what happened these last few days, happening in the future.
Many people think that guns are too readily accessible. Many people think that government has a role to play in making guns less accessible.
Many other people have strong feelings about the inadvisability of the government disarming civilians to prevent behavior that the vast, vast majority of people who own or have access to guns do not perpetuate.
I’m sure if many of you look at your social media news feeds right now, you see many people who have very strong opinions on the question.
I just don’t have the knowledge to speak to these issues, and I do not desire to contribute to the Internet culture of emotional “hot takes.”
I think these are serious, literal life-and-death issues, and they deserve more thoughtful and informed discussion than I can offer.
I am, however, a psychologist— which means I have education, training, and experience with human behavior.
And that is why I can offer the following observation: I cannot believe that, in the discussions that invariably flow from such grotesque events, that so few people seem interested in examining popular culture’s love affair with gun violence, as a powerful contributing factor to these things.
It has been very well established in the field of psychology that behavioral modeling is a powerful determinant of behavior— especially violent behavior.
Researchers have been able to demonstrate, with precision and consistency, that both children and adults who are exposed to violent behavioral models are overwhelmingly more likely to exhibit violent behavior themselves.
We are very, very likely to do as we see done— especially what we see done by role models we consider powerful and who have things we want.
If one takes even a casual glimpse at popular entertainment in western culture, especially movies— what does one see, over and over and over again?
The firing of guns.
Gun violence is so pervasive in movies, especially (but not even exclusively) action movies, that we don’t even give it a second thought.
In movies, guns are easily accessible, and usually fired without serious on-screen consequences— except that they confer power and autonomy on the characters who are firing them.
In movies, firing a gun gets you out of a jam.
In movies, firing a gun threatens your enemies.
In movies, firing a gun makes a sequence “exciting.”
In movies, it is rare that characters who are inexperienced with firearms mishandle them to their own detriment— one of the reasons why everyone thinks they can fire a gun is because they’ve seen countless (literally, countless) movie and TV characters do it, essentially every single day they’ve watched TV or seen a movie.
Whether or not we even LIKE action movies all that much, we ALL have literally thousands upon thousands of images seared into our brains of characters firing guns, usually accompanied by emotion-escalating musical cues.
What do you think that— all of that— does to the brain of someone who had difficulty with moral decision making, behavioral inhibition, and reality testing?
As I said a the beginning of this blog: this isn’t about politics. I don’t know what the government should or shouldn’t do about the availability of firearms in the United States.
But I believe I can confidently opine, as a psychologist, that if we’re serious about really decreasing the chances of this happening again, we need to reevaluate how gun violence is depicted in popular entertainment.
I have a feeling we won’t do that, though.
Because movies with gun violence make an awful lot of money.
And guess who buys tickets to those movies?
That’s right. We do.
We create the demand for popular entertainment that saturates our brains with problem-solving, heart-pumping gun violence.
We are part of the problem.
We’re not the whole problem— but we do own part of it.
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