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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How ironic--talking about "real" crime at Crimespace. And yet how appropriate, IMO. I'm a former police officer, distantly related to Charlton Heston to boot, and I used to pass the NRA's national headquarters every day on my work commute for years, but I have never actually owned a gun. (I was issued a gun as a cop and returned it when I left the department.) I respect the right of individuals to keep a gun to protect their own households or to rise up against a corrupt American government if it ever gets corrupt enough to need rising up against. (No, I don't think we're quite there yet now.) I'm glad people here have the freedom to hunt or merely take target practice, as I'm big on individual liberties. And "if you outlaw guns, then only outlaws will have guns" isn't the most misleading bumper sticker ever made. I'm personally for a middle ground and advocate toughening up gun ownership regulations considerably.

By the way, we haven't outlawed coins (nickels, dimes, quarters, etc.) even though we know that a certain number of infants and children each year are going to swallow them and die. There's really no end to what we could justifiably outlaw based on mere body counts. There are always trade-offs.
"So when someone accuses you of "glorifying gun culture", is there a defence?"

The defence is, "I paint what I see." For me, in my fiction, I try and present the world as I see it. Crime fiction may often be in the "pop culture" part of culture, but it's still part of the culture, it's still art.

I live in Canada. I think in Canada we have an out-dated view of ourselves (and much of the rest of the world). We don't have much "pop culture" in Canada to present our current world. Recently on a website about "literarture" here someone mentioned that a lot of very good crime fiction is being written in Canada and the comments were all things like, "Oh, crime in Canada, what is it, unlicensed lemonade stands?" Well, for a country of thirty million we've sure had our share of school killings, mass murderers and serial killers. But we don't seem to think we do, and we don't think we have a problem, and maybe a small part of that is our lack of "pop culture" presentations of it.

And our fear. We have a lot of fears we don't talk about and many of them are primal, the kind of fear of the dark and fear of the "other," variety. This is another place where art can help in understanding.
If you want to understand the U.S. fascination with guns, I think you need to understand where we, as a nation, are coming from. We glorified the frontier long before Manifest Destiny reared its ugly head. The American West as a symbol is only one example. Our history is far more libertarian than our current politics and culture suggest. The idea of individualism, and defending it at any cost, is very much a fabric of the country. Guns are more than just weapons, they're symbols of power.

There are a few problems with the idea of banning guns outright in the U.S. One is that they're so ingrained in the cultural mindset. Any glorifying of gun culture at this point is redundant. Things like Grand Theft Auto III are just a symptom, not the problem. It's the culture of violence that spawned it in the first place. Reversing that trend would be like tossing bricks into the Grand Canyon.

Another problem is that they're everywhere. Even if you stopped the manufacture of weapons here, you'd still have thousands upon thousands of guns in the country already in the hands of private citizens. Good luck trying to take them away.

Then there are the imports, whether legal, or illegal. Our borders go beyond porous. For every contraband seizure made in San Diego, an uncountable number actually make it through. They come up through Mexico, down from Canada, on boats and planes, packed in crates of coffee, stuck in bales of marijuana.

I think the biggest issue is the intractability of each side in the debate, and there are a lot of them. We have close to 300 million people here, and everybody's got an opinion. The moderate voices looking for a rational solution, or just some kind of generalized compromise, are drowned out by the louder voices at the edges. That's a problem with moderates, they don't typically have the passion of the fringe to sustain the argument long. Apply that to abortion, assisted suicide, or Coke versus Pepsi, you'll see the same thing.

All that said, I don't see the problem getting resolved any time soon.

And that's your defense right there. If you bring up guns in your fiction it's because they exist. It's because they're a problem. Like any other plot device, social issue, or character flaw. Everything that happens in fiction, no matter how small or how unconscious on the part of the writer is an exploration of that thing.
Like John, I am Canadian, I live in Canada. I don't believe gun control is the root of the issue, and I do have my own beliefs about what is contributing to the escalation in violence in society... but I've already elaborated elsewhere.

The gun control debate, however, is a red herring and to think it's the solution is exceptionally short-sighted. I'm speaking generally and not directing that comment to anyone here, but it's the usual approach of slapping a band-aid on a bullet wound to think that gun control will stop gun violence.

I suspect gun control isn't an option in the US because you couldn't actually *acheive* gun control without changing history. Given that handguns have never actually been all that prevalent in everyday UK culture, criminalising them was a far more plausible option.

To give an example of the way the mindsets obviously differ, Eric earlier mentioned the bumpersticker caption: "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have them." To anyone in a culture where guns are everywhere, that sounds like a good argument against criminalising them. To me, from a culture where guns already *do* only belong to outlaws, it sounds like an entirely sensible and useful state of affairs: if the police find a guy with a gun, they know he's up to no good and arrest him. But changing the one mindset to the other is nigh-on-impossible without being able to magically click your fingers and erase all guns from America, past and present.

As for the line of argument which suggests that if you criminalise guns people will just find other ways of killing each other, I have a certain amount of sympathy with that... But there's no doubt guns make it a loooot easier to do, and get away with. That's what most of us spend our time writing about, right?

"It's not the gun that kills, it's the person pulling the trigger." Fine, cool, okay. But you wouldn't let people walk around with nuclear weapons just because "it's not the bomb, but the person who hits the detonator." And there have been a looooot more people killed by guns in the world, than killed by nuclear weapons.

I'm being facetious, I know, but hopefully the point is clear. You can't blame the gun for the crime, but you can certainly blame it for making the crime faster and easier and far, far more likely to be fatal.

Still - it's all pretty academic. As has been pointed-out, Handguns in the US are here to stay, and there's no obvious or easy way to change that, even if people wanted to. Which - it seems - not too many do.
I suppose next there'll be a campaign for cutting off the hands of wife beaters as a solution to domestic violence.

I support getting to the root of the problem, not just dealing with symptoms. I've already expressed myself fully on it on my blog and won't rehash it - I find most people have already made up their minds on the issues anyways, but it is a red herring. It would be curious to do a study and see how violent the works by people with differing opinions here are. I bet the people advocating gun control write stuff that's, on average, far more graphically violent than I do.
Two things: Whenever we compare anything in the US to anything in England, we have to keep in mind the sheer difference in the size of our two countries. Plus, where border control is concerned, England is an island. (Duh, you say. Yes but still I do think that makes a difference.) Nevertheless the numbers Loomis cites are appalling. If you divide the total by the year and then figure an average per state per year, it begins to make more sense. I think I got 258. Given that England is approximately the size and population of just one of our larger states (I can't say exactly but I think California might be about the same size as England as a whole -- you can beat me with a Yorkshire pudding if I'm wrong), then the figures come into a more understandable proportion.

Second thing: Because of our borders being so porous, though I grant we aren't likely to be inundated with much that is dangerous from Canada, we could have a problem as big as the drug problem if we make guns illegal here. The crystal meth thing has reached my little community, where marijuana has long been tolerated with not too many problems; now suddenly we have much more violent crime than in the past. I'm an oldish lady and I've begun to wonder if a handgun might not be a good idea for my own protection.
Dianne, the people who live in the two places that aren't England, but which share a land border with it, might be surprised to hear England called an island...
I could see it coming up, maybe in a police procedural more than the other genres, but this is the USA folks, the fact someone (a character) has a gun doesn't need alot of explaining or investigation. But if you did you'd have to take it state by state. For instance in Virginia, the only real law about buying handguns is you can't buy two at the same time within the same month. California has background checks, and other restrictions, but then again we have gun shows, tradeshows run by the gun manufacturers, where it's like an open fair for gun buying. Yikes!
I think the problem for you might arise if you have your novels set in GB. There a shootout scene may well stretch the imagination - John Rickards has said this is why his novels are set in the USA. Something about reading a Rebus novel where the climax was essentially Rebus subduing the criminal with a flying tackle and some harsh language.

In the US, I'm not sure what the point of gun control would be. There are plenty of laws. I'd be in favor of toughening all of them. But then, there are plenty of laws about drug possession too. Our prisons are chock full of drug addicts, drug pushers, drug kingpins, drug mules... And when I say chock full, I mean it...Really. Chock.

Yet drugs seep across our borders from everywhere...even Afghanistan where we have two divisions worth of soldiers on patrol. So with something like 200 million guns in the US already and gun manufacturers all over the world ready to sell us more, I'm not sure what we could regulate.

There again, I certainly don't have details about this latest killing spree, but IIRC the guns used in Columbine were a mix of legally owned and black market guns. (Legally owned by the parents that is.) laws or no laws, those kids were going to kill that day.

As for whether I feel a twinge of guilt about gunplay in my books, the short answer is no. In the states, it is expected. The criminal who enters a liquor store with a knife is either in grade school or laughable. Thus in fiction and real life.
I can see both sides of the issue.

Problem is those who break the law can always find a gun to use if they want to, while those who obey the law have no defense and sometimes end up as victims.

Then again, if you have a gun and don't know how to use it, leave it in a safe place where you or anywhere else can't get to it if you really need it, or if you can easily be overpowered and have it taken away from you, it won't do you any good anyway.
Don't the statistics go that if you've got a gun in your house, the person most likely to get shot by it is you? Then again, statistics also show that kids are more at risk from drowning in backyard swimming pools than getting shot by a gun. Then again, a backyard swimming pool's primary function isn't to shoot things.


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