Killing children

Kids and Guns

Kids and Guns. Daddy's girl, with his favourite toy

Kids and Guns.
Daddy’s girl, with his favourite toy

I was annoyed with the Guardian TV critic the other day who complained that there was so little to watch.  But peppered through the schedules are excellent documentaries we can easily miss.  Some are just too unsettling to want to see, but deserve our attention.

Kids and Guns was a wonderful documentary about …. well there was a clue in the title.  In America, it seems, many parents want their children to learn to shoot.  In an astonishing early clip we saw two children being given a gun for Christmas.  The older one complains to his father

Father: Andrew, here’s your gun

Andrew’s older brother: You’re crazy.

Father: Why?

Son: I’m too young to have a gun.

Father: No you’re not. Do you think I’m gonna let you have a gun whenever you want?

Son (pointing to younger brother): But Andrew’s too young.  He’s three, and I’m six.

Amazingly, those few words, by this wonderful six-year old were the most sensible ones we heard in the entire programme.  We saw a reluctant little girl being pushed into shooting, a controlling father called Spyder cruelly forcing his daughter to shooting competitions, and a grief-stricken couple whose son had accidentally shot himself when hunting on his own.  They coped with their loss by blaming the gun manufacturers.

That’s one coping method.

If there is a coping method for distressing television I’d like to know. We are left with a sense of mute helplessness in the face of such peculiar behaviour.  The United States can produce so many wonderfully sophisticated programmes (and much else, of course), while being the home of such dreadfully misguided people. Perhaps the hardest thing is their immunity to argument – it’s not just sad, it’s distressing and frustrating to witness.  Without the option of debating with the participants directly the viewer is left wanting to shoot something or taking it out on the remote control.

But American TV does include a LOT of debate.  I like to watch clips of articulate atheists engaging with Christians and other theists.  Some are British – notably Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens – but others are Americans.  Matt Dillahunty hosts a phone-in in Texas called The Atheist Experience, and while we might get Nicky Campbell getting lots of comments from a crowd of guests of The Big Questions, Dillahunty goes into far more depth. It’s really good.  Try the clip here.

When I went to Twitter earlier and searched for #kidsandguns the first tweet that came up was a gruesome photo of a dead child who had been blown apart by a missile in Gaza.  While more than 3000 American children are killed or seriously injured by guns each year we didn’t see any of the bodies in the programme. But coverage of the war in Gaza has been full of them – and you can see reporters struggling to maintain journalistic balance in the face of such distress.  This is a story which cries out for discussion and engagement with the issues.  Interesting to see that while Americans can have a serious debate about gun control, there is close to unanimous support from Congress in favour of the principle killers of children in this dispute.  It seems that American peculiarity isn’t limited to gun-toting parents.

Social media give an opportunity for viewers to vent our frustrations but perhaps the Guardian TV critic had a point: the most natural response to this horrendous story and our frustrations is simply to switch off.