The Glorification of Guns in America
Because, “Happiness is a Warm Gun”
In this United States of America, there seems to be a fascination, an affection, a powerful and almost sexual attraction to guns. One of my favorite toys in the 1960’s (or maybe it really was my older brother’s) was an attache case that shot bullets out the side. It could have been this one, or it could have been a cheap copy, but I thought it was the coolest toy ever. I don’t recall any of the accessories/guns included. However, I was well-aware it was a toy. I had no fantasies of killing anyone.
Since the seventeenth century, our Founding Fathers relied on guns, cannons, bows and arrows and sharp-bladed metal weapons to take over and protect this land from those “savage” Indians. Then came the eighteenth century and better guns arrived to aid in fighting those pesky Brits. (Someone, please get me out of this close-to-failing history/war lesson. I never understood why they called it American history, when all it was was about wars and the years of the wars to memorize. Why didn’t they just call it American Wars?) Anyhow, the gun became the American favorite weapon of choice from the Wild West days to today.
America has had it share of mass shootings for over the past fifty years. The FBI defines a mass murder as “a number of murders (four or more) occurring during the same incident, with no distinctive time period between the murders.” Many of these horrific shootings occur at schools, while others have been at movie theaters, churches and even military bases or facilities. Sometimes, there are less than four murders, such as the recent on-air shooting death of a TV news reporter and her cameraman by a former coworker who wanted to finally achieve his one big story, after a failed career. For this reason, I will refer to these shootings (excluding military base tragedies) as public shootings.
Like many others, I try to understand why these shootings even happen at all and have become to the point where they might have a daily news slot, somewhere before the sports and weather segments. While even cutting of heads has become popular in America, generally, it appears to be a more personal one-on-one crime at this time; whereas, guns have been the weapon of choice for public shooters from at least the 1960’s.
In 1966, a student shot and killed his wife and mother at home, then headed to the Tower at the University of Texas at Austin where he shot and wounded thirty people and killed thirteen in what is known at the Texas Tower Shooting.
There also was the public shooting in 1970 at Kent State University. where nine protesters and bystanders were shot and wounded and four were killed by the National Guard. Oh, wait, that doesn’t count. It was government-sponsored.
In 1979, a sixteen-year old high school student shot at an elementary school where students were outside waiting for the principal to open the school gate. The principal and custodian were killed and one police officer and eight children were wounded at the Grover Cleveland Elementary School located directly across from where she lived with her father (who was at work when the shooting occurred). While barricaded inside her home, she told a reporter on the phone, “I just did it for the fun of it. I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day. I have to go now. I shot a pig (policeman), I think, and I want to shoot more. I’m having too much fun (to surrender).”
Additionally, the teenage sniper told classmates prior to the shooting “that she was going to “do something big to get on TV.”
The Boomtown Rats, with their “outsider” British perspective, explored the tragedy in their hit single, “I Don’t Like Mondays” which was a song often as misunderstood as Randy Newman’s “Short People” (kids, you might want to spare yourself the agony of the Short People song).
Are the post-1979 shootings copycat killings? The Daily Beast reported that the I Don’t Like Mondays shooter stated in 2001 “with every school shooting, I feel I’m partially responsible…What if they got the idea from what I did?”
As a society, we search for answers for the growing, daily violence across our nation. So, I couldn’t help but wonder if Hollywood was a contributor to the glorification of guns in America. Then I discovered that Thomas Edison produced a silent-era movie on the east coast in 1903 called “The Great Train Robbery.” This three-reel, approximately ten minute flick is definitely worth watching just to see how the actors react when they are “shot” and the scene where what seems like five-hundred people piling out of the train when it is held-up. And also, the other gunshot that you’ll have to see for yourself. Anyhow, this was before Hollywood. However, it didn’t take long for boring experimental films to evolve. Early on, it became inevitable, give a man a motion picture camera and most likely he’ll give you a movie with a gun (or magic mushrooms, but that’s another early film).
Earlier, in 1984 Edison created a scandal with his approximately 21 second long film “Carmencita” named after the Spanish dancer performing in the flick, “because it revealed Carmencita’s legs and undergarments as she twirled and danced. This was one of the earliest cases of censorship in the moving picture industry.” Give a man a motion picture camera and most likely he’ll also give you a sexually-charged film.
In the very early 1900’s, the rise of the Nickelodeans (standing room movie “theaters”) and their features brought more concern for social values, “newspaper critics soon denounced their sensational programs (involving seduction, crime, sex and infidelity) as morally objectionable and as the cause of social unrest and criminal behavior – and they called for censorship” according to filmsite.org. Almost from the very beginning of the creation of films, seedy movie content was determined to be the “cause” of “criminal behavior” in American society. Even before Hollywood took over, films were blamed for corrupting or badly influencing American behavior. Yet, it seems, at that time, the early flicks were art imitating life, for example, “The Great Train Robbery” which was based on a true event. These days, it’s hard to determine if films imitate life, if life imitates films, or both.
Even before Hollywood established itself, moving pictures already held a fascination with the United State’s gun history and culture. Hollywood later embraced and further glorified guns. Much later, music videos followed the trend with gangsta rap, beginning with N.W.A.’s (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) protest song, “Fuck tha Police.” Today, we have sweet Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” with guns plus.
Finally, another “outsider” British perspective. In 1968, The Beatles released the song, “Happiness is a Warm Gun” on “The White Album.” It was inspired by an article in “The American Rifleman” magazine titled, “Happiness is a Warm Gun“. Here is a portion of the song’s lyrics relating to the triple-entendre gun:
When I hold you in my arms
And I feel my finger on your trigger
I know nobody can do me no harm
Because happiness is a warm gun.
Happiness is a warm gun
Yes it is.
Happiness is a warm, yes it is, gun.