Teens And Guns

Next Thursday, June 2, is Wear Orange Day. It’s a day dedicated raising awareness around gun violence across the country. No matter how people might feel about guns or the Second Amendment or concealed carry or arming teachers, most people can agree that too many kids and teens are killed by firearms every year.

Just how many? According to data from the National Vital Statistics System of the Centers for Disease Control, there were 2,309 firearm deaths among teens between 13 and 19 in 2014, the latest year for which data are available. That means on an average day, six or seven teens die due to firearms — whether through murder, suicide or by accident.

As high as that number sounds, it actually represents a decline from the 1990s. Today, there are about 8 firearm deaths per 100,000 teens. In 1994, that number was almost 29. Either way, those numbers represent the real deaths of actual teenagers and carry with them the grief and desolation of every lost life.



Part of the issue is that violence has long been — and continues to be — a marketable concept in American life; but why and to what end? Is this an acceptable situation? What has changed? 

Look at the handgun below. Who is this being marketed to? Why would Sanrio, a company whose tagline is “Small Gift, Big Smile,” want their brand associated with this category?

Photo: Hydrographics Of Texas

Violence has become a marketable commodity and that’s a strange thing. The acceptability — even primacy — of guns and violence as part of American culture is something that needs examination. It has warped our sensibilities in some basic ways. 

I remember several years ago talking to a man, the father of two children. He was talking to me about guns and gun safety. He explained his unique approach to teaching his children. He bought them a rabbit and helped them raise it, then, one day, he went outside with them and — without warning — shot the rabbit. He wanted them to understand and respect the power and danger of guns.

This is screwed up. As a culture, we seem to be doing something like this every day. Firearms have become fetishes and symbols for freedom and independence, for power and security, for safety and wholesome living. Really? Can none of these things exist without weapons? Do we really need to create a climate of fear — particularly among young people — that make firearms and the potential for imminent violence seem like acceptable part of life?

We live in a time of unparalleled safety and security and yet we see and hear messages every day that danger is all around us. That the only way to prevent this danger from overtaking us is to arm ourselves against it. That only by increasing the number of guns in churches, classrooms, restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls can we decrease the danger we face. This seems like an Orwellian equation to me.

Photo: Hydrographics Of Texas

Is this white gun, splattered with paint to look like blood, really being presented as a symbol of sensible safety? Is this the gun a suburban father, worried about his family, is going to select? Rather than sending the message of guns preventing violence, this treatment seems to revel in a gun’s ability to perpetrate violence.

This gun reminds me of the skins players can apply to their weapons in video games, one of the most popular forms of mass media among teenagers. (For the record, I am a big gamer and don’t believe there is any connection between violent games and real world violence. That said, games — like so much of pop culture — do inure people to the concept of violence.)

Do guns and violence need to be such an everyday part of American life? Should brands be tying themselves to firearms in ways designed to appeal to young people? With thousands of teens dying every year due to firearm deaths these are questions we need to consider.

I know where I stand and I’ll be wearing orange next week to let everyone know.

1 comment about "Teens And Guns".
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  1. Stacey Schaller from SBS Advertising, May 26, 2016 at 9:54 p.m.

    I'm not even sure where to begin. Perhaps the starting point would be that we Americans have lost the concept that there are "wolves" out there that take advantage of others. We like to believe that we are all just sheep—mild and harmless. We like to think that everyone is basically good, so if anyone does something "bad," we like to believe they are simply witless victims of circumstance. We want to think that guns fall into the hands of sheep, cry "Shoot me!! Shoot me," and the helpless lamb mindlessly begins to pull the trigger. 

    If we can really keep our heads in the sand, maybe we can hold onto that idea. 

    But if we're honest with ourselves, we can't. Guns remind us that there are wolves out there. They remind us of the violence we each harbor in our hearts—violence we hope no one notices. 

    Guns are just pieces of metal. Unless there is a hand on the grip, nothing happens. It's the ideas in the heads and hearts of the one holding the gun that determines whether that piece of metal is used for good or evil—to protect or destroy. And while we speak ill of hunks of metal, where is the outcry against violent entertainment? 

    Access to the stuff that gives people ideas is touted as their right under Free Speech. And when certain people act out the violence they foster with violent entertainment, anything in hand will do—a gun, a knife, a pipe or even their bare hands. But then we decry the one tool that is most effective against those that do violence against the innocent. 

    Guns don't kill people. People do. Guns are just a tool. 

    And we can't cure the disease if we diagnose the wrong cause. Taking guns from people will not prevent violence. It will just make the innocent more helpless. 

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