I've just been watching the news about the tragedy in Virginia - one can only imagine how terrifying it must have been for everyone involved. There's another topic posted on this forum, I notice, on the subject, so with a brief echo of the shock and outrage expressed universally there, I thought this might make a useful, albeit tragic, stepping stone for debate.
You can bet your bottom dollar the "gun control" issue will be back on the media agenda over the coming weeks, and a forum all about crime fiction seems a marvellous place to pre-empt it; both on a moral level, and as something that those of us involved in genre novels may find relevant to what we're reading or writing.
Speaking personally as a Londoner (where, for the record, gun crime amongst youths has been on a steady upward curve for years, despite criminalisation), there's always a twinge of discomfort - even guilt - when I'm writing about weapons. I like to think that I could defend myself morally against detractors (I'm never consciously suggesting that having or using a gun is a good idea, and indeed most of the characters I write about who use guns wind-up far worse-off as a result); but you can't get away from the fact that as an author it's part of your job to make the situations you're describing exciting, compelling and empathetic for your readers. So when someone accuses you of "glorifying gun culture", is there a defence?
On an even wider level, as a Brit, I find it really tricky sometimes to understand the national psyche of the US. Guns occupy such a different headspace for those of us in countries where they're outlawed. We don't "miss" having the right to bear arms - in fact I'd go so far as to say that we're guilty of getting a bit sneery about the whole thing. Playing devil's advocate, the philosophy would run thus: if living in a "free country" means living somewhere where the only major difference is the ubiquity of guns, I'd rather not live in a free country...
Don't get me wrong, I'm not attacking US policy or philosophy, and I don't want this to become a "which country is best" playground-style shouting match. I'm just keen to debate the issue, and to understand the way the two different viewpoints appear equally as rational and legitimate to those who subscribe to each. I also wonder how the rest of you deal with it as it relates to fiction. Do writers feel the same twinge of guilt I mentioned above? Do readers feel their pulses racing during gun scenes in novels, then feel bad about how much they enjoyed it? And does the issue of gun control ever arise in your fiction?
I leave you with a quote from the late lamented Bill Hicks. The numbers are a little shy of the truth in today's world, but he sums up my thoughts on the topic pretty well nonetheless:
"No one has handguns in England, not even the cops — true or false? True. Now: In England last year, they had 14 deaths from handguns. F-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-fourteen. Now: In the United States, and I think you know how we feel about handguns — Woooo! I’m getting a warm, tingly feeling just saying the fuckin’ word, to be honest with you; I swear to you I’m hard — 23,000 deaths from handguns. Let’s go through those numbers again because they’re a little baffling at first glance: England, where no one has guns, f-f-f-f-f-f-f-fourteen deaths. United States (and I think you know how we feel about guns — I’m gettin’ a stiffie), 23,000 deaths from handguns. But there’s no connection. And you’d be a fool and a communist to make one. There’s no connection between having a gun and shooting someone with it, and not having a gun and not shooting someone."