As much as we love gun brandishing heroes who kill villains, and sometimes just for fun, it’s not doing the world much good. According to a new study, shows without gun usage depiction have fared phenomenally compared to those that have guns. Hollywood has always been a vocal advocate for fair gun use and gun laws, but has seldom addressed its own handling of America’s sensitive gun culture. This is serious because gun violence incidents, especially school shootings, do not seem to be a thing of the past anytime soon.
Most crime and vigilante-esque films have their leads with a firearm on them, all the time. It doesn’t matter what the genre is – even Jake Peralta wields a gun. Most of these shows are driven by plot, where there is a violent antagonist on the other side as well. However, they don’t reflect the reality of police shootings.
All of this further spins into Hollywood narratives – which are entirely fictionalized and do not intend on offending anyone. Law enforcement officers on screen are mostly complex characters, who toil whole days at work and slump down in their couches watching the game at night. The other lead in titles like these are, firearms. When our deeply secretive cop hero stalks an assailant, a close-up of the cocked gun and a focus pull to the eye serves as the winning shot (cinematographically). The gun becomes something the character forges a relationship with, so much so that it becomes indispensable. Firearms become romanticized accessories for these saviors because of their depiction. For example, you would associate fire-blazing guns with Arnold Schwarzenegger than a female actress.
Hollywood isn’t answerable for these depictions either. They make cinema, and cinema requires such romanticizing of objects. It is an art form at the end of the day, and those who create cinema will complain of infringement on their creativity if we hold them accountable – because they’re not. But they do have to take in the realistic aspect of firearm usage in their depictions. Of course, the bullet scene in The Matrix will forever remain iconic. Creativity is definitely welcome with such elements. But one has to be aware when this creativity becomes absurd – the bad kind. Blood is surely going to ensue after a gun is fired, be it for a comic purpose or to aid the works of nightly vigilantes. This is the aspect that creators tend to dismiss the reality of.
Hollywood is a mirror of the society, and the society perpetuates what Hollywood shows it. Movies and TV show people brandishing guns as if it were meant to be, and the audience takes it as an assured means of security. Every average household and every other adult white male owns some kind of firearm at home. The USA is probably the only country where you can buy guns in supermarkets by passing a background check – that takes only a few minutes. Firearms continue to be the top cause of death for American children, and yet, these are all very loosely touched upon by filmmakers and creators. Scripted shows should spin off on these realities, which allows any genre to take freedom. For example, the sitcom Superstore does a wonderful job of showing the reality of gun access. The episode is nothing short of laughs, as an employee is genuinely concerned over the buyer’s intentions of purchasing a gun. It is the anxiety that is made fun of, but does a good job of showing how rampant and deep rooted the issue is.
Another alarming reality that gun portrayals forego is suicide. Of all deaths caused by firearms, gun suicide account for half of them. This fact is skirted for obvious reasons. According to the study, only one scripted show featured a gun suicide case during the fall week in both 2022 and 2023. Also, only on show in their study had featured a warning on civilian gun usage – in the episode itself. This is in stark contrast to the reality of gun usage. Ironically, creators feel responsible enough to repeatedly give out warnings and assistance messages for suicide prevention, in light of mental health. Yet, no such textual notices find themselves when programs show civilian characters, albeit minor, possessing guns. You’ll find these characters retrieving their guns from a drawer, whether to intimidate or for protection. And they go scot free and blend into the plot like any other element.
Gun owners can easily claim that their possession of firearms are justified because of their cinematic portrayal. Nobody really complains about these programs. It’s lead to more portrayals of civilians turning into vigilantes, like Joel from The Last of Us. Of course, a zombie apocalypse necessitates defense by means of firearms. But we’re not going to see one in our lifetimes; not our generation at least. In 2021, 121 guns existed for every 100 people in the USA, a country that instead is in the news most because of police brutality. AR -15s are favorites for Americans, and have notoriously been seen as a common factor in mass shootings. In 2023 alone, 199 mass shootings have occurred.
There is huge grey area when it comes to responsibility in gun representation in the media. Possessing guns are largely made to be seen as cool, and to add appeal to the masculinity. Rifle wielding is a major reason why Angelina Jolie’s femme-fatale image sold. Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a group which is a leader in gun law advocacy, has collaborated with influential people in the industry to a at least get a better, truer representation of gun usage. The open letter states that it acknowledges Hollywood’s role in furthering change in society – so that’s one goal ticked off. It clearly pledges to better their take on gun ownership, have a proper discussion about firearm usage during pre-production, and limit scenes that involve children and guns. The industry, without a doubt, has to take into account real-life consequences of gun usage. Celebrities, producers, directors, and writers have already pledged to do this, and there has been change in firearm depiction.
The narrative around guns needs to be brought down from the pedestal it is on. While Hollywood steers clear from such over-dramatic depictions of gun use, it also needs to take a firm stand on the role it plays. The blame can easily be bounced back on the industry as something that perpetuates this false American ideal of bravery, to deflect which some solid counters are needed. Every other school shooter can easily be influenced by big muscly men gunning down entire armies in movies, and this is an alarming concern that Hollywood needs to do some pondering on.