Friday, March 22, 2013

Hour of the Gun

Gunfighter.  Gunhawk.  Sharpshooter.  Sixgunner.  Regulator.  Peacekeeper. 

Hipshot Percussion by Stan Lynde
From  the vaunted time of the Old West to today, guns and the people who use them are a volatile topic, particularly in the wake of the horrible mass shootings we’ve undergone lately.  Switzerland, interestingly, has high gun ownership, but that's the Swiss, not us.

 I own a handgun but I’m for background checks, limiting magazine size, banning assault rifles and a lot of the other measures being considered these days.  Though truth to tell, when I first started publishing crime and mystery fiction, I felt obliged on getting it right when I’d have passages about guns.  Yes, I admit it I have a bit of a crush on guns.  Not James Bond’s longing looks at his Walther PPK, but still.  .

But don’t get me wrong.  There are way too many damn guns in the hands of way too many people who should not have them.  Given that, considering the sort of hardboiled stories I and some of my colleagues here on Criminal Minds pen, how do you not portray gun violence?  Yet if you’re writing about low lifes and the desperate, guns are going to show up.  Doesn’t mean you have to fetishize them, just the opposite I’d say.  Guns are serious business.. 

Gone are the days like in those episodes of Mannix I used to watch as a kid when ol’ Joe would get shot by a high powered rifle in the shoulder, and the only sign of injury would be in the next scene his arm would be in a sling but other than that, he was good to go.  Never mind that a high velocity round even in your shoulder (mind you the shooter is using a scope and is supposed to be a pro) would rip and tear muscle and tendons, probably break his collar bone and do nerve damage.

I recall some years ago reading a piece, one in a series, in the L.A. Times about gunshot victims and emergency rooms.  The article detailed what a gunshot does to the human body, weaving in comments by trauma doctors and nurses.  I kept that article and referred to it knowing while I would have guns and shootings in my work, I couldn’t be flippant about portraying the after effects.  That there had to be psychological and physical tolls.  When I had my private eye Ivan Monk shot in one book, there was ramifications for him over the course of other books and short stories.  He wouldn’t shake it off like Mannix.

In my latest novel Warlord of Willow Ridge, a few guns are bandied about in the course of the antihero O’Conner’s confrontations in the book but not fired.  The idea being this career criminal, with one foot in the suburbs, still operates in a arena of hotheads and potential violence.  And when a gun is finally fired toward the end of the novel, it has greater impact as events have brought the reader to this point .  That even them there are consequences for O’Conner post the shooting.

In an era where first person shooter video games are competing to be more bloody, offer more carnage than the other, us long form writers do need to look inward.  Rather than try and amp up the violence, better to explore the ramifications when the guns come out and shots are fired.  What happens when the smoke clears. 

Related to this conundrum about guns and crime, and just to be a blatant self-promoter for a moment, please check out this cool project I’m involved with called Midnight Mover.


1 comment:

bruce wright said...

Having read a number of your fine books I would say that they hardly glorify guns though they appropriately make clear both that the consequences of gun use are pretty awful and that some people do glorify them.