Chekhov’s famous advice to writers is clear: ‘If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.’
He was talking about the dangers of extraneous details that distract or delay the progress of a story. It’s good advice and sometimes it comes to mind when, in an effort to plant viable red herrings in a mystery, I find myself writing a full out detour in the story.
But since the most recent in a long string of mass shootings, I’ve been wondering about guns outside fiction. If you hang a real pistol on a real wall, is it likely to be used for real? It’s certainly more likely to be used than if it wasn’t on the wall at all.
I have enough friends outside the United States to have seen the expression of disbelief pass across their faces when the subject of gun ownership is discussed. I live in a city with strict gun ownership laws, but that does not mean it’s a gun violence free zone because guns are easily obtained legally in other cities and states, and illegally too.
All the hard facts—the stats on accidental shootings in homes, suicides, domestic violence escalating to homicide, and worst of all children playing with guns—would seem to lead to a reasonable person to the conclusion that guns are dangerous. I have friends that enjoy target practice with guns and I know there are many hunters in rural parts of the country. They hunt for food as well as sport. It’s not something I find appealing, but not everyone loves to dance Tango so that’s just evidence of how people differ. I’ve often wondered if hunters consider switching to crossbows. Would that give the deer better odds?
The second amendment did not anticipate AR-15 military assault weapons or mass shootings at schools, concerts, or nightclubs. Maybe if we, as a society, were less committed to hanging a pistol on the wall, we’d be less likely to hear about mass shootings and the other real dangers of real guns.