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Guns, Dollars, and Sense

What a week. Las Vegas…Tom Petty. A shattering, one-two punch; not quite a knockout, but close. We’ll stand up, shake ourselves off, and try to move forward. There aren’t words to adequately sum up the horror and loss of the Las Vegas shooting. As a musician who has performed at many of these types of shows and as an audience member at countless others, this would be my worst nightmare. I wish it had been just a bad dream.

Tom Petty died too young. It was a shock because there was no warning, no apparent health problems, no cancelled shows, no time to prepare. Coming directly on the heels of the Las Vegas tragedy, the news of Petty’s death was a like a kick to a man already on the ground. At 66, we all assumed Tom would be around for a while. He was still evolving, and growing as an artist. The pinched, nasally, vocal whine of his early hits had developed into a sly, smoky, snarl that gave his lyrics all the more impact. As a listener, you knew he was the real deal, that what he was singing was the raw truth. For gigging musicians, his songs were always fun to play live. When I played in cover bands in L.A. and someone would call “Breakdown,” “American Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down,” or “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” no one in the band would cringe - they were always songs the band could sink their teeth into, and rock hard.

There has long been and will always be a great deal of controversy surrounding guns in the U.S. Coming from Great Britain, which has always had a vastly different view regarding gun ownership, I can say that America has always been viewed by Europeans as a rather wild, violent country. Statistics and recent events tend to support this argument.

There are approximately as many guns as people in the U.S., and probably as many opinions on the role that guns should play in American culture. I won’t bother to even mention what my own personal solution would be - it’s simply too extreme to even put in the suggestion box. I’m smart enough to know that the best we can hope for is compromise; solutions that will satisfy most people, most of the time. The problem is not the Second Amendment, so let’s just remove that from the discussion. The problem is not purely politics (although politics do tend enter into the decision-making process at crucial moments). So for now, let’s leave Republicans and Democrats out of it as well.

Here’s the problem: Money. When we look at guns purely as a billion-dollar industry, it’s much easier to simplify the discussion. Let’s say, for example that a major auto maker, “Acme Motors,” designs a car, the “Flame,” that has a faulty breaking system. Accidents are happening everywhere and dozens of people are being killed and injured. The public demands a recall, but taking the “Flame” off the market would cost the company billions. A company spokesman defends the car, and weakly attempts to shift blame to drivers, claiming the deaths are not the company’s fault; sort of a “cars don’t kill people, people kill people,” excuse. It quickly becomes clear to everyone that Acme Motors is indeed responsible for releasing a product that is not safe. This is pretty much what has happened with the gun industry. In an effort to increase profits, the gun manufacturers and the NRA irresponsibly promote the sale of weapons and accessories, e.g. “bump stocks” and silencers that have no business in the hands of the general public. Millions of dollars are spent in promotion, advertising, and influencing Congress. A few years ago, polls showed 96% of voters favored safer gun laws, but Congress failed to pass a bill, due to pressure by NRA lobbyists.

No one needs an automatic weapon to go hunting, unless their intention is to riddle an animal with bullets, essentially blowing it to bits. Not exactly “sporting.” No hunter I know would have the need for this type of equipment. Automatic weapons were simply designed to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. That’s it. Silencers are a tool of assassins; the idea being that the shooter can kill without being discovered, then make his escape. A silencer on an automatic weapon would mean that hundreds of victims could be killed in a minute, before a sniper could be detected. The use of silencers is currently coming up for debate in Congress.

What needs to happen is that people, most people, at least, need to come together on this. Responsible gun owners, non-gun owners, hunters, gun manufacturers, the NRA, need to come up with comprises; solutions we can all live with. That’s the only way we can attempt to prevent another Las Vegas; because it’s not a question of if it will happen, only when.

I’d love to see an end to gun violence in the U.S. Sadly, I don’t think that’s realistic. The best we can hope for is improvement in public safety. And by the way, no one should fear that the “government is going to take their guns.” There’s simply too much money in it.



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