Happiness is a Warm Gun
by Rakesh Rampertab

“Happiness is a warm gun, mama.”
                                                                   —The Beatles

The critics will say otherwise but the ordinary citizen of any country knows that when its children live in a vulnerable state, unprotected from their own terrors, that it is approaching a state of decadance, if it hasn’t reached there as yet. The ordinary citizen also knows that when their adolescent sons and daughters are not safe in school, a place that’s supposed to be safer than the church and even the home, then something is terribly wrong with that society.

After the tragedy in Jonesboro, Arkansas, last month, everyone from legal critics to psychologists, came running with their volumes of theories and phrases like “ impulse-control-problem,” trying to offer reasons for the tragedy, and totally missing one vital issue...that it was not about the two boys that killed or the guns they used, but rather, it was the American way of life that Americans celebrate ever so often, that was in action. It was the violence, which has long been an integral part of life in this country and its premier cultures, which was manifesting itself in young lives.

This violence that I refer, or the bloodbath that we witnessed last month in Arkansas is the direct result of the right to bear arms, sanctioned by this country’s Constitution, and heavily guarded by powerful fringe groups like the National Rifles Association (NRA). While England passed a ban on private ownership of handguns after the massacre of sixteen school children and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, last year, to implement a similar ban in this country is almost impossible because here, unfortunately, we love our right to bear firearms dearly.

In every corner of the nation’s communities, from the fractured home and disoriented classroom, to mass entertainment forums and wild city streets, antisocial behavior and violence continue to spread their arms, grabbing whatever comes in their way, and luring children into their appealing worlds of danger. New stands everywhere publicly display adult and gun magazines like Hustler and Soldier of Fortune; a naked woman spread eagled or the latest Magnum on a magazine cover can seduce the brain of an eight-year old in a flash.

High schools are plagued with students bent on aggression or having “attitudes” and everyday someone manages to sneak a switchblade, chain, knife or gun into a school. Cigarette and marijuana don’t give that much excitement anymore because they pose no problem to transport. Fridays are billed for some kind of altercation outside of school, while any day suits teenagers who wants to “get busy” either in school or after school hours. It is a common sight to see students hanging out on trains long after one would expect them to be at home. The subway is just another playground for drinking, smoking, gambling, fights and occasionally, interfering with someone who appears quite easy to rob.

Then there is home, that save haven. Safe until the TV is turned on or a video game joystick assumes motion. Just when parents think that their children are safe on the inside, up comes mass entertainment with its blood sport video games, noisy, assaulting cartoon characters, and adult-rated movies, many of which kids still manage to see while parents are busy doing something else. All of these are programs heavily weighed with aggressive themes...even cartoon animation characters are always chasing and pounding upon each other. Where animation has lost its appeal of realness, the Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers and Mortal Kombat’s characters like Sub-Zero take over. Today’s kids are more likely to associate the names Leonardo and Donatello with green suited ninja warriors, instead of Renaissance art.

America has prided itself in its John Wayne-styled mannerism for much of the latter part of this century, and when the Duke fell, Hollywood’s Rambo came forth blazing, only this time with a bigger and more efficient gun. Remember Taxi Driver and that famous, machismo, “You talking to me” jive? Then came a casket of horror movies like Friday the Thirteenth that set the pace for today’s Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killer, and Scream, making gunshot and knife stab “cool” enough to arouse young minds. Even the old bard Shakespeare sent us his Romeo (Leonardo De Caprio), this time with guns and poetry instead of swords and outdated attires.

It has been the belief among white folks that only in black urban America kids strike down other kids, until the last two years when white kids began to shoot at their parents, fellow students and school teachers. In some respect it reflects the echo we heard when the Federal building in Oklahoma City was detonated, and everyone thought an Arab was responsible until a white American Southerner was arrested. There are those among us who believe that the rise of white supremacy in the South is being reflected in these school tragedies, and that their weekend picnic trips that includes hunting, help galvanize a feeling amongst young boys that’s its proper to bear and operate firearms. This is why it’s easy for a humiliated kid to return to school with guns, and like Pearl Jam’s Jeremy, to make a school a place where the “dead lay in pools of ” red below.

Even in the arenas of sports and music there are negative vibes for children; both football and basketball are very physical games, and no good ice-hockey game is possible without a split lip or bruised eye. We all know how profitable and nurturing WWF wrestling is’s absolutely stupid and cruel and only forces young men to release their frustration in a dangerous manner. A few years back, young people who looked for healthier means to release their sense of alienation and frustration saw gods in their grunge heroes and rap stars, until even the stars of both sports and music started to distant themselves from the reverence they were receiving. Charles Barkley was quick to tell kids, “I am not a role model,” and both Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder refused to idolize. Before half of the angry 90s was through, two of young America’s most admired poets, Cobain, and Tupac Shakur were dead, both victims of gunfire.

So, I do believe that it may be helpful for parents and adults in general, to listen to what the critics and experts are saying, but its really time to inspect the very American way of life, and observe those things which appear very normal, but which also help children simulate violent and aggressive behaviors. The U.S. government and the education system can only help so is primarily parents who will have to work the most with their children to stifle that capacity which entices children to be “macho” or little John Waynes, riding high in their saddles, and exercising their rights to bear arms.Page                                                                     Page X>>>                       

Aug 28 , 2002
[Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in 1998, in the Hunter College Envoy, in New York City.]
© 2001