Friday, April 15, 2016

Gun safety versus safety through guns: A literary perspective

The story of Little Red Riding Hood, according to this NPR piece from a few years ago, first made its appearance in a French collection of children's stories in 1697. Since then it's been told and retold, worked and reworked, depending on the point of the storyteller, and invariably blood gets spilled – Red's, or the grandmother's, or the wolf's, often all three.

Until now.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the National Rifle Association made its entry into this literary tradition earlier this year with "Little Red Riding Hood (Has a Gun)," the first of two repurposing of classic stories for children (the other being "Hansel and Gretle (Have a Gun)" written by Amelia Harrison in collaboratioin with the NRA. In these two stories, disaster is averted and violence prevented by the presence of a gun in the hands of someone trained to use it safely (in the grandmother's case, it's a shotgun).

So, a couple of things. Three, really.

First, if the NRA really cared about safe hunting and gun handling they'd have stuck with gun safety training and not become the lobby of gun manufacturers and the front for a hysterical reading of the Second Amendment. I took their safe hunter training when I was a Boy Scout. How safe was it? Twice during the course, we were ordered to put our rifles down while the instructors chased away deer who had begun calmly grazing directly behind the targets.

Second, it's not so much that the NRA is preaching gun safety with these stories, it's that they're perpetuating the perception that guns should be everywhere and we'd be safer (and, some also suggest, more polite) if they were. (Presumably, that's not counting homes with domestic violence, of course, or homes with someone having suicidal thoughs, or most of the state of Florida.)

Third, sorry to the author Hamilton and her partners at the NRA, but this theme was handled – and handled better – almost 80 years ago, by James Thurber as one of his Fables for Our Times:

The Little Girl and the Wolf

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. "Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?" asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood. When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother's house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

(Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.)

I can't resist noting that the NPR commentator linked to above describes Thurber's story as displaying "a more feminist bent," making me suspect either that he has a limited familiarity with Thurber's work (which is characterized by a lot of what I'd call casual misogyny, such as these, especially "man and house;" note also the recurring theme of the woman with a gun), or that he has limited familiarity with feminism (or is willing to pretend same to get a laugh).

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