by Anthony P. Mauro Sr.
There are many people working on gun control legislation in New Jersey. I like the idea of enhanced penalties for gun crimes. I also like the emerging emphasis on mental-health treatment. But I think there are two critical areas being overlooked.
New Jersey has the second most restrictive gun laws in the nation. Therefore, creating additional laws should not be the focus of the state; it should instead be ensuring any new laws squarely make us safer, and that we do so without further eroding our second amendment rights in the process.
For example, research shows that 72% to 85% of firearms used in crimes in New Jersey were purchased out of state. Additionally, 97.2% of the murders caused by firearms are by handguns. It would seem from these statistics that we could make a substantive impact on murders caused by firearms if we directed new laws at stopping the practice of illegal gun trafficking and straw purchases of handguns. This aspect is not squarely addressed in pending legislation as of this writing.
Also, we are told that much of violent behavior is learned and that exposure to a culture of family violence and abuse is a basis for a cycle of family violence and abuse. The fact is that our society is saturated with gun violence as depicted in TV shows and movies, and we have new generations manipulating the controls of video games to create acts of gun violence that they experience in a world of virtual reality. If a culture of violence is a basis for violent behavior, and daily exposure to glorified violence is brought into our homes through televisions and video games, then it too should be squarely addressed in pending legislation.
Of course, a culture of violence caused by various forms of media does not bode well for the media industry. We are now seeing media outlets unearthing experts citing research about how a culture of media violence does not produce or encourage violent behavior. But the past actions of the media belie such assertions.
In the 1960s, the media understood its importance as educator and role model in portraying a society free of racial prejudice; and in response changed the images and messages being broadcasted into our homes. We began to see a diversity of races and genders being portrayed in films, and on TV; all in an effort to remove barriers and change a “culture” of prejudice or inequality.
So, why isn’t the media quick to change the images and messages it sends in violent media programing and in virtual violence in video games? Could profit motives and a script that doesn’t fit media agendas be a factor?
Similarly, the media understood its ability to change a culture of cigarette smoking that once existed in our nation. It wasn’t long ago when TV shows and movies were filled with scenes of cigarettes hanging from the mouths of actors and role models. There were also TV commercials promoting cigarette smoking.
Our society, experts, and researchers recognized that constant exposure to cigarette usage and scenes of cigarette smoking added to a culture of smoking, and the media acted responsibly to remove cigarette smoking from TV and movie scenes. Cigarette commercials were also banned.
The actions of the media, researchers, educators, and policy makers have proven that they believe exposure to images and portrayals of unwanted “cultures” (prejudice, smoking, etc.) perpetuate the unwanted culture. So, why aren’t they using this same understanding and proven effective approach as a means to change a culture of violence?
In my opinion, 100 pounds of research doesn’t equal one ounce of common sense. I don’t believe for a moment that saturating society with images of unwanted behavior doesn’t promote a culture of unwanted behavior. Plus, past actions by the media, educators, and policy makers, have proven they believe the same, and they have responded with censorship of these behaviors
Therefore, in NJ, efforts to change a culture of violence that is promoted and endorsed by media and video game purveyors, and making laws targeting illegal gun trafficking and straw purchases of handguns (72% - 85% are used in murders) seem to me to have the potential of significantly reducing murders caused by firearms, while maintaining our second amendment rights.