Since my son took his life with a gun to the heart, I have been extremely sensitive to the throw away comments people make about killing themselves: “If I ever behave like that just shoot me.” “If she keeps it up I’m going to shoot myself.” I used to make these types of comments myself but now find I censor them.
How is it that we have become so desensitized to death by guns that we trivialize it into meaning, “She is so annoying” or “I would be so embarrassed”? I don’t think it is a lack of vocabulary or creativity, I think it is overexposure to the images of death by gunshot. It is so common on TV and in movies that it is perceived as almost cartoonish, even in well written and, I like to think, well intentioned dramas like Law and Order.
What is the alternative? The fact that Law and Order often takes its story lines from news headlines illustrates the problem: death by gunshot is a cultural reality, even a daily reality in some cities. But perhaps we can re-sensitize ourselves to the awfulness of this reality and avoid casual, joking usage. It won’t make a difference to those who have died by gunshot, but it might decrease the lack of respect we show them by using their experience as a punchline.
Taking a life, whether in war, crime, self-defense, or suicide is never anything less than a tragedy–for those who have died and those who are left behind. Out language should reflect that, because language does not just convey meaning it creates meaning. Language influences attitudes and attitudes influence behavior. The trivialization of death and the aggrandizing of guns makes the use of guns more likely in real life. The use of guns in virtual reality types of electronic games makes killing a form of entertainment; our language doesn’t have to help perpetuate that mentality.
P.S. Case in point: the title of this entry is taken from the name of a TV sitcom some years back.