by Marcelo Fernandez-Zayas

In the last part of the decade of the 1960's I was a senior high school teacher in Washington, D.C. One day, a girl named Roberta came to me and asked if I would like to be the sponsor and coach of the Girls Rifle Club. In those days, boys who were enrolled in the Cadets Club were also members of the Rifle Club, and could practice competitive shooting on the range at the school. The National Guard provided the range with weapons and ammunition.

After negotiating with the principal, I obtained permission to establish the Girls Rifle Club.

Roberta, who later became an accomplished competitive rifle shooter, found several other students who wanted to be members of the Club. After training sessions on safety and firearms handling, we began serious practice. In the cold days of winter, we practiced on the range after class for two hours, three days a week.

Those were hectic days in Washington, with demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, civil rights protests and the ever-present smell of marihuana in the halls. We continued our practices, looking forward to competition against the cadets of the school in the spring. We hoped to score high enough to win entry to the city wide rifle club championship matches.

The members of the Girls Rifle Club had to purchase their own weapons and ammunition, since the National Guard had no provision for participants who were not members of the Cadet Corps. The girls gave me their rifles in the morning, and I secured them in my locker until after school.

In the spring, the Girls Rifle Club won the city championship. Outside, on the streets of Washington, protestors were engaged in racial and political confrontations with police and white supremacist groups. In spite of this surrounding climate of unrest, there were no problems involving firearms in the schools.

Thirty years later, there are no guns for the cadets and no rifle clubs for girls. There are no protesters in the schools nor militants on the campuses of the city. But schools are different. At the entrances to many junior and senior high schools, the administration has installed metal detectors to prevent the entry of firearms and other weapons. Everything has changed for the worst.

Thirty-five years ago, you could buy rifles through the mail and practice on your high school range. There were protests in the streets, but nobody ever heard of shooting a fellow student or a teacher. Guns were in some homes and high schools, but nobody used them to inflict harm on students and teachers.

Obviously, the problems of today are not the guns, but the people. The new generation was raised under laws and regulations of strict gun-control, but gun violence is prevalent in our Capitol city.

Guns are not easily available to the law-abiding, but appear in the hands of criminals all the time. What has happened? Perhaps we should look for at least part of the answer at the big and small screens. On a daily basis, we see programs that show people dying of firearms-inflicted wounds and the public at large does not protest.

Every time an incident with a firearm takes place, governments enact - as a predictable reflex - new laws against the legal possession of guns. But nobody raises a voice against the national television and movie industries. It is hard to understand this lack of protest, or even mild public concern, even though children of all ages are fed on TV and film brutal images that often include scenes of a "hero" impulsively shooting on the spot an adversary he or she may not like. You can't see animals being tortured or dying because advocates or societies that protect them will object.

However, we seem to have no organized protectors of humans when it comes to media portrayals. When the media presents a steady sequence of human beings tortured or dying on the screen, nobody protests. These perverse lessons in behavior and social interaction are streamed before the most vulnerable and impressionable segment of society - our children.

Any time there is a shooting involving a child, reporters and commentators say that the kids learned about that on television. And what is the protest?

Guided by print and electronic media representatives the outraged public protests against the gun manufacturers. Not a word is said against movie and television companies. Perhaps we should ask if our highly-paid moulders of opinion have a conflict of interest?

If Christ were to be crucified again, within this framework of denial and warped protest, our media would lead the charge to demand that people curse the manufacturers and call for a ban on hammers and nails.


Marcelo Fernandez-Zayas

24 June 2000

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