It’s been no secret that Bernie Sanders has an unusual history (for an independent / socialist / Democrat/ whatever he is) when it comes to gun control. And people are starting to talk about it, including articles such as “The Last Thing Bernie Sanders Needs it a Conversation About Guns” on NPR, which does a good job summarizing the situation so far.
To briefly give an overview of Sanders’s strange history with guns and politics: at one point, he voted against the option for victims of shootings to sue the manufacturers of assault rifles. He has tried to frame the gun control argument as if it’s about hunting, even when discussing assault rifles and mass shootings. Despite being someone who thinks we need more federal laws and regulations when it comes to anything related to economics, he thinks that states should make their own decisions about whether purchasing a handgun should require a waiting period.
But what is really troubling me is this: Bernie Sanders took to one of his two official Facebook pages on Friday (less than 24 hours after the most recent mass shooting) and posted a preachy, idealist monologue. In it, he said we need to be “comprehensive” and “sensible.” His next sentence is some mild vagaries about mental health, the kind of thing that people on both sides are saying as a way to avoid having to do anything more concrete. (You can read the statement, along with some other coverage on his stances on gun control, here.)
And then we have the kicker: “We also have to tone down the incredibly high level of gratuitous violence which permeates our media.”
This is such a shocking, disappointing, empty politician’s promise. And as someone who like violent movies and television and books, I’ve decided to respond about why he’s wrong.
Let’s break down all the problems with it with a few questions for Senator Sanders:
a) Is there any suggestion, any evidence, that consuming violent fiction (regardless of its medium) results in violent acts? Specifically, is there any kind of link between violent media and mass shootings?
b) Are you advocating for mass censorship? If our television, music, movies, video games and books are to have less violence, how is this to be accomplished? More petitions from family groups? A stronger, tougher FCC? The elimination of premium cable as an option? Doesn’t all of this reek of the banning of books and constraint of freedom of speech? Do you want to bring back the V-chip?
c) The most popular drama in the United States is NCIS. It’s a cop show, in which protagonists are cops and the cops carry guns and sometimes have to shoot people. Should the cops in this show stop carrying guns? Should they stop shooting people? Is this show an example of the violence you’re discussing?
d) The most discussed show in the United States media is Game of Thrones, in which the characters carry swords and sometimes chop off the heads of other characters. Does this promote mass shootings?
e) Isn’t this argument very ’90s? Do you also want to ban Power Rangers?
f) In your opinion, what makes violence “gratuitous”?
g) Finally, I think it’s worth noting exactly what you said, Senator Sanders. The six questions so far have been responding to the idea that there is too much violence in our fiction. But that’s not actually what you said. You said media. Which includes news. And yes, you’re correct, there is too much violence in the news media. You know why? Because the United States is too violent. Because there are too many shootings. Too many mass shootings. So here’s the question: what will you do to have less mass shootings in our media, by having less mass shootings in our news, by having less mass shootings in our reality? You say we have to “stop shouting at each other.” I agree. If you think you can be President of the United States, what are you going to do?
These are the questions I want answers to. This is what worries me about Bernie Sanders. This is why I’m not “feeling the Bern” as so many other people my age are. The answer to mass shootings is not censorship. It’s not banned media. But yes, I do want less violence in the media, by having less violence in the news. Let’s hope Senator Sanders can help provide some genuine comprehensive sensible reform to the issues of guns, like he has promised.
For more on Bernie Sanders and his flaws, see Is Bernie Sanders the Ned Stark of the 2016 Election?