You notice right away that the cigarette packages look different in Turkey. At first, you might just see that they’re mostly black. And then that they have photos on them. But get a closer look at the photos, and you see that they’re rather disturbing. And sometimes graphic.
They depict the kinds of damage that tobacco can do to your body. One is just a mild, slightly amusing photo of a young couple in bed looking frustrated, combined with a warning that smoking affects your virility. Others, however, depict lungs, jaws and gums horribly eaten away by years of heavy tobacco indulgence. These images have been required on cigarette packaging by Turkish law since 2010 (Turkey is one of several nations to have adopted such requirements).
The interesting thing is that about time I began noticing these in Istanbul, I also got word from the U.S. that there had been another in the endless, steady series of school shootings — this one in a little town in Texas. And into my mind popped a modest proposal: why not require the same kind of packaging for firearms? Mandate that the stock of every assault weapon be adorned with a photo of massacred children. Not their smiling cherubic school portraits, but a graphic crime scene photo show little bodies ripped apart by bullets and splattered with blood. If you’re going to allow such deadly implements to be sold (and there’s no way it ever will be otherwise in MAGAmerica), at least make their owners own the harvest they help sow.
When I (only half facetiously) put forth such a suggestion, a friend commented that maybe it wouldn’t be fair to give gun owners the same treatment as smokers. Because while every cigarette hurts someone, only a small percentage of assault rifles ever will. To this I replied that an even smaller percentage of nuclear warheads will hurt someone. Now this may not be literally true if you actually examine the math, but you get the point: potentially, at least, a single gun can do a lot more harm, and much more quickly, than a single cigarette — and a bomb vastly more so. Furthermore, the effects of a single cigarette are infinitesimal; damage wrought by smoking is protracted, whereas the damage wrought by high-powered weaponry is immediate if not instantaneous.
And unlike cigarettes, which mostly just harm the user, guns are made specifically to harm other people. Yes, tobacco harms other people too, at least indirectly. Not just as far as second-hand smoke, which can be prevented easily enough, but to the extent that when one contracts cancer, especially of a terminal variety, there is an impact on one’s loved ones. But this is also true with the consequences of other reckless self-indulgence, such as overeating, excessive drinking, or not wearing a bike helmet. Firearms are the one product manufactured and sold under the expectation, or at least the fantasy, of wreaking death and destruction.
I’ve always held that pop culture does a tremendous disservice by glossing over the consequences of violent behavior. British horror writer Clive Barker, who was once criticized for the goriness of his work, responded that violence such as he traffics in is not what’s harmful. What’s harmful, he said, is the kind of violence such as in Star Wars when Luke gets his hand chopped off, then gets it replaced with an artificial replica, and ends up being just as good as new. That, he said, conveys the message that violence leaves no permanent side effects.
In the movies, the good guy whips out his shiny six-shooter, dispatches the bad guy — who obligingly falls dead promptly — in a single shot (or maybe three, the magic number), then, after cutting another notch on his handle, rides off into the sunset toward a good night’s sleep. In the real world, it’s never that neat and clean. Fatal gunshot victims often take hours, days or weeks to die. The movies don’t reveal their suffering, the suffering of their loved ones, or (take note, NRA crowd) the perennial anguish often experienced by the shooter.
As for possible infringement of civil liberties, we already know that the “constitutional right” to own a gun is a mythical beast. And the kind of legislation I’m talking about wouldn’t even necessarily restrict ownership. It would just provide a constant reminder to those who insist on playing with deadly weapons about what those toys are capable of.
Would it be effective? Who knows? Certainly there would be all kinds of efforts to circumvent the measure. In Turkey, there was a boom in sales of cigarette cases, to keep the ghastly images concealed. A similar product might be marketed for the AR-15. And the packaging definitely hasn’t put an end to smoking altogether — the Turks are inveterate tobacco lovers, just as Americans are inveterate gun lovers, and probably always will be.
Still, when it comes to a product with the unique deadly capability of assault weapons, wouldn’t it be… well, worth a shot?