By Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper, 10/2015

Once again, a school shooting.  This time, in Oregon.   The facts come in. This many dead. This many wounded. Shooter is dead. Details about the shooter come in. President speaks. Candlelight vigils held. Grief counselors sent to the school. Politicians tweet prayers (Wow. Just wow.) National dialogue is all about guns for a week or two.

And nothing changes. We move on.

Happens again and again and again. Nothing changes. We move on.

You know what bothered me most about the latest school shooting? My own reaction. I’m at work and the email pops in: “CNN breaking news.” I read the news flash. I read the story. I think to myself, what a terrible tragedy. How awful.

And 60 seconds later, I’m back to what I was doing.

I put it out of my mind. I don’t even think about the shooting until later when I’m driving home. And I turn off WBZ because I don’t want to hear about the shooting, the dead, the senseless violence, the calls for gun laws and people wondering why this is happening.

So I put on music.

Why is that?

Because we’re getting used to it. A mass shooting in America has become – God help us – routine.

After Sandy Hook, we were sure things would change. They have not. Things have gotten worse.

One man I greatly respect said, “Our society is sick.” And he’s right: Movies and TV and video games are more violent than ever, and killings are so frequent in these mediums over time we are becoming indifferent to the violence. NOTHING shocks us anymore.

I realized that recently when I watched film called, “John Wick” about a former assassin who comes out of retirement after his car is stolen and his dog is killed. The movie is filled with stylized violence and EVERY shot fired is a kill shot. Several dozen people are shot to death in this film.

You want to know what I talked about after the film? The cinemaphotography. I’m serious. I was impressed with the filming style — How the filmmakers emulated several art forms including anime, spaghetti westerns and graphic novels. It was impressive.

And I realized that makes me part of the problem. I’m watching a film about a KILLER for hire who is MURDERING dozens of people who get in the way of his revenge, and I’m commenting on the quality of the production values.

You know what else is really sad? Nothing I’m saying here is groundbreaking and nothing I write here will change the violence in film, TV and video games that are desensitizing us to the real thing. Nothing.

NOTHING I write here will make a difference regarding guns and gun laws. NOTHING.

NOTHING I write here will change public policy and contribute to the dialogue on better help for the mentally ill. NOTHING.

But I will not give up all hope. So I do have a few suggestions for change that are small but might help just a little bit, as the saying goes, it’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness.

So I have two ideas:

First, movie rating and video game descriptions need to be more specific. We’re all familiar with the standard descriptions that include, “Adult themes, cigarette use, mild violence, brief nudity, intense sci-fi violence, drug use” etc. We need to expand upon that. I suggest classifications along these lines: “Gun use.” “Gun violence.” “Gun killing.” “Mass shooting.” “Scenes of murder.” “Stylized murder.” “Shots fired in a crowd.” And so on. That way, people would know in advance before they see a film what they’re in for. Maybe they might re-think the choice of film. I’m not telling anyone what movie to see, just saying the description needs to be more specific.

Second, and I’m serious about this: Ban the sale of all TOY guns. Most people my age all played with toy guns, toy cap pistols, toy rifles, etc. when we were kids. We played police, SWAT, cowboys and Indians and army. But there weren’t any school shootings when I was a kid. We knew these toys were not real. We didn’t bring them to school, we didn’t threaten people with them.

But times have changed dramatically. And that’s why I have never purchased a toy weapon for my nephew or nieces. EVER. That’s why – this really happened — I actually froze for a moment a month ago when my eight-year old relative pointed a toy gun at me. After a moment, I composed myself, realized it was a toy – and told him – sternly – to put it down. Because just for a moment, he scared the hell out of me with his toy pistol. For the briefest moment, I thought it was real.

To be clear, I’m NOT talking about REAL guns. Nothing I write here is going to change that topic. I’m talking TOY guns that can be found in any toy store or the kid’s aisle of drug stores. They sell for a few dollars and actually contain warnings – you can’t make this stuff up — not to use near law enforcement.

I am saying it: No more TOY guns. Why? Because selling them and kids using them sends the stupid message that somehow, on some level: GUNS ARE TOYS. And since kids with TOY guns have been suspended from schools (or in some cases the toy gun has been mistaken for the real thing — resulting in tragic consequences) STOP SELLING AND BUYING TOY GUNS.

To all the gun-owners and gun supporters, I am not suggesting any change to your 2nd amendment rights – I am suggesting that you above all know that guns are not toys so stop with the TOY guns. Don’t buy them. Toy manufacturers, stop making and selling them.

That’s all I’ve got this time, folks, this little op/ed will contribute NOTHING to the changes that are desperately needed in mental health, gun laws, and a culture of violence, but I think my two suggestions are a very small, positive step in the right direction.

And one last thing: If mass shootings TRULY become routine, if we TRULY become desensitized to them, where’s the hope for the future?

What do you think? Or do you just do what everyone else does, you feel sad for a moment, shrug, and move on?

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