The jury is out on whether there is a causal relationship between gun violence in movies and the real thing. But there is no question that movies and TV shows excel in gun product placement.
High school students have had enough of serving as target practice. Their pleas for measures to rein in murderous gun sprees are finally getting a hearing even from a president and legislatures in states predisposed to making access to guns easier, not harder.
But the gun industry in America is propped up not just by political and financial support, but also by a culture that eroticizes, glamorizes and prioritizes guns.
As Charles Blow wrote in the New York Times, “we have venerated the gun and valorized its usage. . . America, in many ways, is the gun.”
And a key enabler is right here at home in Hollywood, which lubricates gun sales through the branding, marketing and design development of its products.
“Gun companies are huge beneficiaries of the gun culture in film and television,” and vice versa, reporter Gary Baum told DnA. He delved into the close relationship between the movie and gun manufacturing industries in a Hollywood Reporter article he co-authored,“Locked and Loaded: The Gun Industry’s Lucrative Relationship with Hollywood.”
And film and television benefits through access to guns as props from weapons departments like that at ISS, the Independent Studio Services prop house in Sunland, California. This prop house has thousands of guns of every style and period. There, actors and law enforcement are taught about the proper handling of guns. They also give feedback to the gun industry about tweaks or innovations to guns that sometimes wind up in new designs.
The jury is out on whether there is a causal relationship between gun violence in movies and the real thing (President Trump and the NRA have claimed movies and video games incite violence).
But there is no question that movies and TV shows excel in gun product placement.
Just how much is demonstrated in the “Hollywood Guns” exhibit at the NRA Museum in Virginia. This is a permanent exhibit where you can find the guns used in Pulp Fiction, the massive Smith and Wesson Model 29 that was wielded by Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Callahan in the 1973 film Magnum Force, the Beretta 92F used by Bruce Willis in Die Hard, and many others that have been seared into people’s imaginations just as cigarette brands once were.
“Much of Americans’ relationship — in the mind’s eye — with guns have come from their appearances on the big screen, just the way that they do with cars and with fashion. The weaponry is presented for its aesthetic value, for its historical dimension, for its cultural regard. They are placed into a museum context,” explains Baum.
Notably, for many decades one museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, did not display guns.
According to Barbara Eldredge, who spent time working at MoMA and wrote her student thesis on guns and design museums, this decision “had to do with the moral narrative of modernism.”
“It’s an incredibly utopian movement,” she told DnA, adding, “the students at the Bauhaus were trying to create a new society and that’s the story that MoMA’s design collection is built from. So they would see bringing a gun into the collection as glorifying violence, and because their collection is an ethical code told through objects they didn’t want to add that into their mix.”
And yet you might argue that guns should be examined from a design perspective. Like any other consumer product, they go through redesign and innovation, and have to fulfill demands of form and function.
As it happens, “the principal design innovations have been creating more lethality — they never go in the direction of more safety design or less lethality.” That’s according to NRA critic Tom Diaz, a former NRA member who now researches gun design and marketing.
Guns are playing a bigger role on the silver screen. A 2015 report by the Economist concluded that gun violence in PG-13 movies has tripled since 1985. And the Hollywood Reporter found the number of gun models pictured in big box office movies between 2010 and 2015 was 51 percent higher than it had been a decade earlier.
Again, no causal relationship between watching violent movies or playing violent video games and behaving violently has been proven (nor disproven).
However, records show that only two of the deadliest single-day mass shootings in U.S. history from 1949 to the present took place before 1980. That means that the majority of deadly mass shootings have taken place in a period that coincides with the rise of gun violence in movies.
Product placement is golden, says Tom Diaz. He cites the example of Austrian gunmaker Glock. He says Glock pressured prop masters to recommend their models to set decorators and actors and the company hit the jackpot when their guns were used by Bruce Willis in Die Hard 2 and Mel Gibson in Edge of Darkness.
People who subsequently used Glocks in real life include Adam Lanza, the Newtown murderer; James Holmes, assassin in the Aurora, Colo. movie theater; Jared Lee Loughner, killer of six people who wounded 13 others including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson; and Sang Hui Cho, who used a Glock 19 along with another pistol to kill 32 people at Virginia Tech.
DnA talked with Baum the very week 58 people were murdered and hundreds wounded by a shooter in Las Vegas.
This was also the week the New York Times ran a story reporting that Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein had long “engaged in rampant sexual harassment.”
In his initial press conference responding to these charges, Harvey Weinstein, producer of Pulp Fiction and other Quentin Tarantino movies, announced that he wanted to focus on fighting the NRA and cease to make movies that glamorize gun violence.
Obviously, few were interested at that moment in Weinstein’s change of heart on movie violence.
But he openly acknowledged a possible link between movies and gun violence.
Most Hollywood executives do not, and nor do the alluring male and female actors who wield the weaponry (Angelina Jolie leads women in modeling the highest number of guns). At the same time, according to Baum, Tinseltown worries a mass shooting might one day hit the red carpet.
“Hollywood defers blame or responsibility for the most part to its audience. It feels as though it is providing an entertainment to an audience that wants this gunplay,” Baum told DnA.
One has to wonder if if Tinseltown’s love affair with guns is another manifestation of a male-dominated industry. Could newly empowered female directors and producers, courtesy of the Weinstein revelations and #MeToo, push for more gun-free storytelling?