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."

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I've spent a morning ruminating on this, and I have only figured out that I don't have a clue what to make of this mess. I blogged about it, got to the end of the blog and asked myself, what did you even say? I dunno.
Evidently one response to this carnage (that, since I teach at a college and occasionally give hard grades, doesn't appeal to me) is to say that college students should be allowed to carry weapons to class so they can stop people who try to shoot college students. I'm not kidding. http://chronicle.com/free/2007/04/2007041702n.htm.

To answer your question, I do think crime writers have to think hard about what people learn from mysteries since there has been lots of interesting research that suggests in our brains we don't file fiction and non-fiction separately; we make what we learn through fiction part of our knowledge base. But for me guns are less the issue (though I do find them often glorified to an absurd degree) than how we may inadvertently make violence - particularly violence against women - entertaining and a kind of master plot for generic thrills. That really pushes my buttons - a story in which misogynistic torture of women is in good fun. I get a fair number of thrillers to review that fit this category. They don't have anything meaningful to say about the world, they're just meant as entertainment. They are the porn of violence, so far as I'm concerned, and closer to slasher flix than to crime fiction. Those ARCs go to the landfill to swim with the dead fishes.
Yes, this whole "torture porn" genre is a little worrying. I can barely watch ads for movies anymore, it's all about the torture. The weird thing is, to me, it's pretty much across the board now -- men and women, boys and girls, giving and getting the violence. I guess some would call it progress....
I think what we currently have was born with the movement ever-westward. The cowboy thing is no joke when it comes to the American psyche. If you read non-fiction accounts of the settlement of the Western states, especially in primary sources like diaries, the violence is appalling. In proportion to the poverty and incredible hardship, which is also appalling. People would not have survived without their firearms, and what we need for survival becomes very deeply ingrained. Might even become part of our genetic structure for all I know.
I am a mother of seven children, all who are minors and therefore still living at home. They are why I will never own a gun. I have no intention of purchasing what is tantamout to an accident/tragedy waiting to happen.

However, I have always been curious about a certain hypothetical. It is one based on the fact that criminals of every genre have the means to possess illegal... anything. Guns, drugs, etc. That's so obvious, it goes without saying. Just look at how easy it is to sneak... anything, and anyone, into our country. Where there's a will, and a demand, there's a way. Weapons are not going to suddenly dry up and dissolve from our world even if every nation in the world banned them. they will still be made. Just like roadside bombs, they will still be made.

Okay, here's my hypothetical - I live in a country where it is illegal for a homeowner to own a gun. And let's just say I am a burglar. A burglar who can easily find a gun on the black market because, you guys, they can. Okay, so I know that when I break into Joe Citizen's home, I do not have to worry about my own safety. In other words, I do not have to think twice about encountering a cocked gun with a homeowner standing behind it. Because I already know he does not own a gun. He can't. It's against the law. So I break in. To burglarize. And maybe do other things as well, depending on what - or who - I find.

So even though I, Patti McCoy Jacob, will never have a gun in my home, do I maybe want to keep a burglar guessing about the possibility that I will? That I do? Do I want him to think twice about his own safety when breaking into my home, which would perhaps make him think twice about breaking in at all? I think about Sharon Stone, before she became anti-NRA, who scared away a burglar from her home by wielding a rifle. And shouting some pretty interesting expletives at the same time. Was it her expletives that convinced him to run away? Or was it her rifle?

When my seven little ones are sleeping at night, do I want a piece of scum who is attracted to my nice-looking house to wonder if I might have a gun? One that I would use in a heartbeat to protect those seven little ones? Yes, for their sake. No, for the sake of those murdered yesterday by someone who so easily obtained weapons.

So I guess my final answer is that I have no f---ing idea what my final answer is. Or what the answer is period.
And that was the something gun owners could never really explain - if you want to own a gun but keep your kids safe from it, you have to break it down, keep it locked away, and store bullets separate from the weapon. So if someone breaks into your home, do you ask them to hold on a sec while you put all the pieces of your gun together? After retrieving it from its hiding place?

I do still want to know if the knowledge that a homeowner is allowed to own a gun deters a criminal. I wonder about those statistics, because one source I read said it was a deterrent. Another source might say something else. I suppose the answer depends on who's gathering the statistics. Which side of the issue he/she is on.
I guess one answer to your hypothetical - an incomplete and unsatisfactory answer, I'll concede - is that if said burglar *knows* his victim hasn't got a gun, and knows that if *he* gets caught with one the penalty will be very harsh, and even moreso that if he gets caught *using* one the penalty will be extraordinarily harsh, and finally that it'll cost him a lot of money and risk to go about getting one, then the chances are he won't take a gun on his job.

In the UK, as far as I know, instances of armed household burglaries (as opposed to armed robbery) are pretty low, and the lion's share of those are with replica weapons.

In short: when you know *you're* not going to get shot, you're far less inclined to put yourself in a position where you might be punished for shooting someone instead.

Like I said, not a perfect solution, but the alternative is - as we've seen stateside - to say "everyone have a gun!"

I'm not sure which is better.
Yes. All very true, alas! But then I wasn't raised in this country myself. I get the notion that this has something to do with the Revolutionary War and a fear of Indian attacks and the desire to defend the homestead against savages. There is a sense of living in the wilderness about it where it's every man for himself. It always seemed to me a very strange way to think about your country or hometown.


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