the difficulty

in the last week, two stories have demanded comment above all others (and there were certainly others). in the first, a prank call form a radio station that duped a hospital employee to divulge private information about the duchess of cambridge apparently caused that employee to later commit suicide. in the second, a young man took an assault rifle to a school and used that weapon to indiscriminately kill, before killing himself.

this second story, more recent and arguably more tragic if only for the number of lives lost, has driven a large amount of comment on gun control policy, attitudes to mental health, media coverage, and so forth (including, predictably and risibly, god). the former has led to questions about the use of prank calls in general. in the wake of events that are unanimously described as tragic, the discussion around why such things happen is often charged with emotion, where emotion should never be confused with irrationality; the ability to tell those two things apart is vital. somebody making a good point whilst not calm does not negate the validity of their point, and vice versa.

not wishing to go over ground already dealt with, some pieces i thought were relevant were this satirical piece by the onion (good satire is always spot-on), this old (and now recyclable) piece about media coverage by charlie brooker, this article on the maddow blog about a horrible man’s opinion on god not protecting these heathen children, and this superbly cogent excerpt on violence from boingboing. there are sources of statistics about gun ownership and violence that may or may not be enlightening, here from ezra klein, and a notable paragraph in this piece:

And what about the availability of guns as a factor? Researchers have found a connection between guns and homicide — more guns tend to lead to more murder. And guns will obviously make any mass attack far deadlier. Note that there was also an attack on 22 students in a Chinese elementary school on Friday. But there was a key difference: The man only had a knife, and there were zero fatalities.

for myself, one crucial point to make here, and as many times as it takes, is that categorising an act of mass murder such as those committed with alarming frequency now as ‘senseless’ is as unhelpful as it is wrong. shooting these children made sense to one person, and if we sweep such actions under the rug of ‘senseless’ then we are deliberately avoiding the chance – the responsibility – of understanding the problems that lead to it happening. and with that, of course, any chance of intervening to save the victims of the next shooting. to make sense of something does not mean to agree with it, and if you can identify why something makes sense – and we know it did make sense, to one person – in advance, then you stand a chance of stopping it. of helping.

and what of prank calls, and why talk about the two very different stories together?

a common trait of the two is that the victims didn’t ask for what happened to them; that is, in essence, what ‘victim’ means. but specifically, they were both victim to bullying (though the nature of the bullying was clearly different), and it is how we need to talk about the social acceptance of bullying that is the connecting theme.

in regards to the prank call story, i read this bbc piece about the fallout for prank calls with horror; i’ll summarise my response into the simple phrase: no, picking on someone isn’t funny.

prank calls aren’t funny. they have never been funny. the person you are calling doesn’t know who you are, and is trying to dispense their duties in a job (that they may be struggling with) with professionalism and courtesy; to abuse that trust is not acceptable. if you have an understanding with your friends, and know them well, then you will have your own boundaries and intimacy; in this context, a shared humour can involve this sort of interaction. even then, though: it is still lousy. comedy is a creative process; if you are laughing at someone, perhaps fooling them in a ‘wind-up’ they didn’t have a choice over, then you’re bullying them. true, in many cases the bullying is of a very mild form and doesn’t result in harm, but you have no way of knowing this in advance or assessing it at the time. even with your friends, you can’t know this, let alone strangers you decided to pick on today for no other reason than because you were too lazy to create anything. bullies laugh, as they torment. as their victim squirms, unable to do the right thing that would release them from the torment (there isn’t one), the bullies laugh on. that is what prank calls are, and they are not humour. laugh if you choose to, but don’t mistake it for humour, and remember what it is you’re doing and what that makes you before you decide to laugh again.

i admit to being an idealist; perhaps i am proud of it even. and while there is always the difficulty of knowing that legislating for control of things such as handguns is complex (though it really isn’t), there is always a social aspect that goes alongside – and usually precedes – such changes. and it is idealistically simple – don’t let it be okay for these things to happen. in the case of bullying, don’t do it, and don’t accept it. for media, don’t accept these actions being dismissed as ‘senseless’, and ask that the report not simply be a glorification of something so gruesome to the point it acts as an advertisement for anyone desperate for attention, for notoriety, for a way to call out. place your favour elsewhere, it costs nothing. but what about guns? well – and realise i speak from the united kingdom, where we don’t have guns, because, well, i shouldn’t really have to explain that one – again, it’s actually simple to put into practice: don’t have a gun in your home. you don’t even need to disapprove of those who do, just don’t have one yourself. get rid of yours.

the gun in your home is a weapon designed to kill, and it can only be used as such. why would you have this in your home? the statistics are against you. it doesn’t matter that you think your gun will never be used against you, or that it will never be appropriated and used against innocents. facts don’t care what you think about them. if the idea of gun violence scares you, get rid of your gun. take the constructive route, by removing a gun from the neighbourhood where you live. you don’t need it for self-defence, you don’t need it to protect your home. by continuing to own a gun, you are supporting the availability of guns for murder because you are having a gun available for murder.

it takes courage to stand behind your beliefs; to be constructive, rather than destructive. to remove gun violence, remove guns. do it without being required to by law; the law will follow, or it may not. but if the people don’t have guns, it won’t matter what the law is. or even if you don’t have the courage to look through the fallacies of ‘home protection’, start by rejecting something much smaller and much less contentious: bullying. recognise prank calls, bad ‘comedy’ that preys on those who can’t fight back, and refuse to accept it. instead, support those people who will benefit from your help. there is an outside chance those same people might just feel a tiny bit better.



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