August 5, 2019

Are TV Shows Too Cavalier about Killing with Guns?

  • Analysis

By: Peter Suciu

Guns can be deadly weapons – there is no denying this fact. Firearms were invented as a way for one human to kill another at a distance, but let's not put blame on the weapons. Humans were doing a fine job of killing one another with swords, spears, bows, clubs, fire, and even rocks since the first group of wanderers met another group they didn't like.

But here is the thing: taking a life is a serious deal – even when it is for personal defense. There are even procedures for most police departments after an officer uses the use of deadly force. What doesn't happen after a deadly confrontation is the shooter just goes home and it is business as usual… except on TV.

We expect a high "body count" on shows like The Walking Dead, Into the Badlands, and Game of Thrones – and the latter two don't even have "guns." But the last decade has seen an increase in lighter dramas that are meant to be "fun" and less grounded in reality. On these shows, which routinely feature FBI/CIA agents or worse "kind-spirited" anti-hero criminals, killing is cavalier and casual.

These characters too often shoot first and ask questions later.

Death is something that sadly none of us can escape, and the loss of a loved one is especially painful, while the murder of a friend or family member can have long-lasting effects. Today, however, too many TV shows treat death from firearms as just part of a day at the office.

Shows such as The Blacklist, The Catch, Whiskey Cavalier, and Blind Spot all have shown characters killed causally, and there were few tears and no lasting grief. Characters quickly "work through" the death of a friend or colleague, while shooting untold number of cardboard villains and feel no remorse, guilt, or anxiety from the actions.

Taking a life on TV… simply put, is no big deal.

While it is often the "bad guys" who are the receiving end, the heroic shooters show less emotion than a teenage breakup. This suggests the heroes of these shows are all sociopaths who are incapable of expressing emotion – or it is another misunderstanding on the seriousness of firearms on the part of the shows' creators.

In the real world, police officers who resort to deadly force face an investigation and are even offered therapy to cope with what happened. Many live with the consequences of the actions for the rest of their lives and question whether they could have done something differently. Soldiers suffer from PTSD from witnessing the death of friends, from the effects of combat, and just from being in a place of danger for extended periods.

PTSD is rarely portrayed even after the characters of these TV shows are involved in extended firefights. Instead, on TV when you shoot and even kill someone, or even multiple people, you're celebrating at the bar that night. It is all "high fives" and another day at the office.

This has created a "disconnect" in other ways.

When there is a real-world mass shooting, the media asks “Why?” The answer should seem obvious.

We need to look at how our modern entertainment has made killing such a routine, and it isn't just on these whimsical TV shows.

This is also true of video games, and not just violent shooters, but even in causal games where characters get "multiple" lives. The consequences of one's actions are diminished, and this goes way between playing "cops and robbers" or shooting imaginary monsters.

Between seeing the same character actors get routinely killed on screen, only to appear in another story, and games where a loss of life is no big deal – it’s created a situation where death doesn't seem so final.

This idea has helped create a situation where we accept senseless gun violence and blame the guns, not mental illness or criminal intent. Guns on TV solve problems, and there are few – if any consequences – for shooting someone.

The irony is that the same actors who so casually use firearms on TV typically speak out, but then again why wouldn't they? The actors probably believe this is how "responsible" gun owners act, even if this is far from the case. In the real world those who rely on a gun for self-defense NEVER want to use it. It is the weapon of last resort, not the first solution to any problem.

This isn't to say that today's entertainment is bad, but TV writers need to take another look at the violence. Seeing some pain from the loss of a friend, grief for having to take a life or the long rehabilitation following a shooting could add a level of realism.

In other words, consequences of deadly force should be part of the story.

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at [email protected].

What do you think?
You Might Like