By one measure, at least, we might say that 2013 was the year of the gun. The year began in the wake of the slaughter of 26 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a single individual wielding the weaponry and ammunition displayed in the disturbing photograph above. This was not all that he carried—note that the yellow evidence markers extend into the 40s— but its stark presentation, cast in the language of criminal forensics, underscores the fact that we are witnessing weapons of death—for surely automatic weapons serve no other purpose—and invites the question so often asked: why would any single individual need so much armament? And surely there is something that we can do as a society to manage and regulate access to such weapons … particularly the automatic weapons marked by the bullets and cartridge clips? But of course we have done nothing. And while the numbers vary, even the most conservative estimates indicate that nearly 10,000 people have died in the U.S. from gunshot wounds since the Sandy Hook massacre (some estimates range as high as 32,000). By some counts half of those deaths were by suicide, and while I’m not convinced we should ignore those for this fact alone, that still leaves us with 5,000 deaths that were violent and transgressive—the heavily reported Navy Yard Killings in September only a fraction of the overall total. 5,000 lives tragically and precipitously cut short.
I say above that we have done nothing, but really we have moved backwards. Congress has stubbornly refused to reinstitute the lapsed federal assault weapons ban or to even consider stricter regulations on gun registration—and please look closely at the photograph above as you ponder that fact and the 32 victims of Sandy Hook. And the reason is clear, for those who govern the gun culture have aggressively vilified even those within their own community who dare to consider the possibility of moderation when it comes to interpreting the meaning of the 2nd Amendment, recalling legislators and banishing those working for gun magazines who challenge the absolutist “gospel” of the NRA.
The photograph above, however, only tells part of the story. Its stark representation of the facts point to a tragic and palpable past. But photographs also help us to imagine possible futures. And so we have the image below.
The young girl being taught how to hold an imitation automatic weapon is attending “Youth Day” at the annual NRA Convention in Houston, TX. One can imagine passing on the traditions of hunting with weapons from one generation to the next or even training our youth as to how to handle a handgun safely and responsibly without serious concern, but that is not what we are looking at here. This young girl is being indoctrinated into a gun culture through automatic weaponry—who hunts with automatic weapons?—and that projects a very different kind of future. She doesn’t appear to be particularly interested in the weapon, her attention seemingly distracted by other things, and this may give us some hope that she doesn’t identify with the toy gun in her hands, or with the future it projects; at the same time, however, her index finger seems to be poised all too consciously on the trigger and that should leave us somewhat concerned that she has learned her lesson all too well, projecting a future in which weapons of death become all the more natural accouterments of everyday life.
One past. Two possible futures. And what the photographs ask is, which will we choose?
Photo Credit: Handout/Reuters; Adrees Latif/Reuters