When was the last time the media portrayed the responsible use of recreational firearms? You wouldn't know it from reading the newspaper or watching television, but according to the National Safety Council, the firearms accident rate has declined 20 percent during the past decade, plummeting to a 90-year low. In 1998, only one percent of accidental deaths were attributable to firearms accidents.
There is a subconscious anti-gun bias on the part of major media. Certainly, our society has changed since I founded Sturm, Ruger & Co, but I can assure you that my reaction to a "gang-banger" on the news is precisely the same as that of every law-abiding American -- profound outrage.
The antisocial elements of our society seem to hold the rest of us hostage. The media constantly portray carnage and gore, often in agonizingly slow motion, for no discernible reason. The same goes for incredibly violent video games that some young people play for hours on end. Such portrayals have their staunch defenders, but as a firearms manufacturer, I would implore them to stop using violence to make a killing. Let's not pretend it's anything else. The incessant desensitizing of our young people to mindless violence is beyond measure and beyond comprehension.
Graphic, vicious and sadistic films, television shows, video games and music lyrics that trumpet wanton killing -- often directed against the police -- are outrageous. Drug and alcohol abuse, the breakdown of the family, inadequate child supervision and the lack of "a decent respect for the opinions of others" (to paraphrase Jefferson) are far more pernicious and harder to address than simply passing another "gun law." But we won't accomplish much until we stop deluding ourselves into thinking that society's violence is because of firearms and that the media bear no responsibility for this witches' brew.
More law enforcement agents were mowed down by machine guns in "Die Hard II" than have been killed on duty in the history of the nation. The impression left is that "something must be done" to get machine guns off the streets. But they have been essentially illegal since 1936. We have so-called "assault weapon" bans, which do nothing but ban guns that look like machine guns but operate just like the shotgun President Clinton takes duck hunting -- one shot at a time.
When anyone protests gratuitous violence or counsels restraint in portraying violence, the media take umbrage behind their right to do so. In 1955, we placed a full-page ad, "A Symbol of Responsibility," stating "with the right and enjoyment of owning a firearm goes that constant responsibility of handling it safely and using it wisely." Would not a little self-restraint similarly apply to the right to produce a movie, print a newspaper or record a song?
We recently protested to a major newspaper about its irresponsible behavior in bringing a child to a gun show display and then deliberately taking a photograph of him brandishing a pistol in an unsafe manner. The newspaper defended the photographer. We do not sell our products to minors and deplore their unsupervised use, yet we were cast as villains "promoting violence" by this same newspaper. Similarly, television networks that show ultra-violent films with guns portrayed in the most antisocial ways piously denounce firearms on their evening editorials. Some won't even run firearms safety spots because "they show a gun."
Isn't it ironic that those who scorn the Second Amendment are cavalier in treating the First Amendment as their right but not a responsibility? Let anyone ask for any restraint of those who would abuse their First Amendment rights to incite antisocial behavior, and the purveyors hide behind that amendment, loudly decrying "censorship." While there are legitimate adult uses for firearms, nothing justifies this excessively violent "free speech" aimed at our youth in the guise of "entertainment."
Our corporate motto is "Arms Makers for Responsible Citizens." We have strongly supported more than 20,000 gun control laws and "point-of-sale" background checks for new gun purchasers. We voluntarily ship our pistols in lockable boxes as a precautionary measure. I only wish that others would also become symbols of responsibility before they desensitize another generation of youth to the horror of violence. We are all sick of it.
The writer is chairman of the board of Sturm, Ruger & Co., the largest U.S. firearms manufacturer.