Immediately after the Santa Barbara killing rampage, the usual suspects in politics and the media began yet another drumbeat for gun control, in spite of the fact that half the people were killed with a machete, not a gun. This is nothing new. But the affect on the average person is cumulative.
We all know people who are either simply afraid of guns or really don’t like them. But you may have wondered where they get the often outrageously inaccurate information on which they base their objections to firearms. Well, a big part of the problem is Hollywood. Since the 1960s, it has become almost impossible to watch any TV show, and especially those involving cops, firefighters, or lawyers, without finding seemingly endless inaccurate and downright false depictions of guns and gun owners.
But it goes further. The most insidious messages are barely noticeable unless you’re looking for them (as most people don’t). This is completely understandable, because serious students of propaganda know that the most successful campaigns carefully hide their agenda in subtle themes combined with constant repetition.
Take the idea of gun registration. Most people, including gun owners, are surprised to find that only 9 states (and Washington, D.C.) actually have laws requiring registration of handguns. Because if you watch any of the long-running crime shows, you would think that gun registration was the norm. Why? Because just about every episode involving a firearm will likely have one of the key characters asking, “who was the gun registered to?” or announcing, “the gun was registered to _____” or simply, “the gun was’t registered.”
The characters will also often almost miraculously solve a crime by “tracing” the gun, or because “ballistic records” connected the gun to “a series of homicides.” Never mind that professional killers and even gang-bangers seldom use the same gun twice. And they certainly don’t register them. “Keeping records” is the answer.
Now think about average people hearing the words “register” and “tracing” repeated over and over, on every crime show they watch, for years. If some legislator in your state has just proposed some bill requiring gun registration, the average person unfamiliar with the issue asks, “What? Aren’t ALL guns registered already?” This makes it tougher for gun owners to oppose gun registration schemes, since the public has already been “primed” to accept it.
The same kind of propaganda is used to misinform viewers on guns themselves. Just look at how often you hear the term “assault weapons” in a movie or TV shoe, for no other reason than it sounds "scary" ("assault weapon" is basically any gun that is black, has a pistol grip, and otherwise has a sort of "military" or "police" appearance).
They even decided to resurrect the mythical “cop-killer bullets” in a recent episode of the new series, “Chicago PD” – even describing how what were obviously .223/5.56 rounds could “go through an engine block.” Those of us who know better laughed out loud.
Movies and television stories also relentlessly inundate the viewer with fully automatic gunfire. Every gang shootout, mafia hit, or firefight in the many international political thrillers that are currently the rage, features AR-15s (or the “Darth Vader” of all firearms, the AK) blazing away, with cascades of empty shell casings filling the air.
These images have power beyond reason. Telling people that full-auto firearms are used only extremely rarely in real life does little, since the human brain responds far more to visual stimuli than words. Thus, their “experience” (read: TV watching) convinces them that machine guns are “everywhere,” causing horrible carnage, and therefore need to be controlled. As a result, when some new restriction on such “dangerous killing machines” is brought forth by anti-gun lawmakers, they fall in line.
Add to this the blatantly anti-gun attitudes displayed by most TV characters (other than characters like Jack Bauer, or the super-woman ex-CIA agent, Ms. Shaw in “Person of Interest”) and it isn’t hard to understand why so many of our neighbors are easily persuaded to go along with the next gun control proposal.