Why Cartoonists Make the Best Case for Gun Control

The gun debate in America may have “jumped the shark” with yesterday’s Mother’s Day Parade shooting in New Orleans that left 19 wounded, including two children. When something as universally accepted as the idea of motherhood becomes a shooting gallery, any idea of a debate seems as absurd as Fonzie in leather jacket and bathing trunks riding those water skis over 35 years ago. Reuters ran with the story as their international headline the next morning, as the latest “look at the crazy Americans and their guns” story. But I’ll leave the real jokes to the real comics, who have already made their voice on the issue heard clearly in the short film "Cartoonists Demand Action to End Gun Violence," in which a bevy of big cartooning names try to make a serious point through the funny pages. While interests groups, the media, and even the government have failed to change anything, perhaps cartoonists can make the best case for gun control.


Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore narrate the short film featuring the work of more than 20 different cartoonists who range all over the spectrum in terms of political activism, which is one of the things that makes this film work. First, Hoffman and Moore list all the everyday places of American life sadly placed in the shadow of gun violence: schools, malls, street corners, movie theaters. The sight of Jim Borgman’s fictional, perpetually 16-year-old Jeremy from the daily comic Zits put into the context of gun violence at malls paradoxically made the reality even more striking for me. We don’t associate cartoon characters with the life and death realities of gun violence in America. We put them into a different, gun-less alternate universe. Sadly, we often mentally put real life teenagers into that gun-less alternate universe, too, at least until the real, gun-filled world shatters that false bliss. Sometimes it takes a dose of unreality to make the reality break through.

Before extolling viewers to agree that enough’s enough and to demand gun control, Hoffman and Moore list all the life roles—husband, wife, father, mother, family—gun violence interrupts. All along, images from cartoonists help us envision those roles. When they arrive at family, Jeff Keane’s The Family Circus strikes the point home poignantly. Begun by Bil Keane, Jeff’s father, over half a century ago, The Family Circus may be the most family-friendly, socially conservative strip in the history of mainstream American comics. Even Charles Schulz’s Peanuts looks radical by comparison. When the art of a real radical such as Ted Rall arrives on the scene soon after (as an angry mob about to awaken a sleeping congressman), you fully realize how this debate has grown beyond political ideologies and become a simple issue of human rights that has taken a darkly comic turn.

"Cartoonists Demand Action to End Gun Violence," organized by cartoonist Ruben Bolling of Tom the Dancing Bug, belongs to the larger Demand Action.org movement, which began as a campaign of American mayors against illegal guns. Even if you’re not a fan of cartooning or these cartoonists, pictures such as that of This Modern World’s Sparky the Penguin railing against a generic congressman with the U.S. Capitol dome in the background (shown above) by Dan Perkins (aka Tom Tomorrow; this year’s Herblock Award winner) should make you want to holler, too. Perhaps the absurdity of a politically active penguin’s the perfect symbol for the absurdity of the entire aimless debate. Lalo Alcaraz, Roz Chast, Mike Luckovich, Art Spiegelman, Garry Trudeau, Mo Willems, and many others heap scorn, satire, and absurdity eye high in hopes to open the eyes of viewers.

While gunfire marred Mother’s Day in New Orleans, four mothers from the Sandy Hook Shooting wrote an essay asking others to take the Sandy Hook Promise to honor their children by “do[ing] everything I can to encourage and support common sense solutions that make my community and our country safer from similar acts of violence.” “As ‘Sandy Hook Moms,” we often hear the phrase ‘I can’t imagine what you are going through,’” the essay reads. “Well, please imagine it. Imagine what it’s like to lose a son or daughter to gun violence and encourage your elected officials to do the same.” Guns have claimed the lives of at least 71 children aged 12 and under in the five months since the Sandy Hook shooting, but that represents just a tiny fraction of the total 4,000 American lives lost to guns in that time frame. Each week I read #GunFail, a heartbreaking rundown of gun-related accidents both fatal and not but all darkly comic. "Cartoonists Demand Action to End Gun Violence" helps us imagine, as the Sandy Hook Moms, plead the consequences of gun violence. In response to the New Orleans parade shooting, Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce suggested that “[m]aybe we are not a good people. Maybe we should think on that for a while.” These cartoonists and their effort to stop the proliferation of guns in America gives hope that, if we’re not a good people, we can still try to be.

[Image: Dan Perkins, aka Tom Tomorrow. This Modern World.]

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Nigel Farage in front of a billboard that leverages the immigration crisis to support Brexit.

Because climate change is too big for the mind to grasp, we'll have to use a case study to talk about this. The Syrian civil war is a horrific tangle of senseless violence, but there are some primary causes we can point to. There is the longstanding conflicts between different religious sects in that country. Additionally, the Arab Spring swept Syria up in a wave of resistance against authoritarian leaders in the Middle East — unfortunately, Syrian protests were brutally squashed by Bashar Al-Assad. These, and many other factors, contributed to the start of the Syrian civil war.

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The ensuing flood of refugees to Europe is already a well-known story. The immigration crisis was used as a talking point in the Brexit movement to encourage Britain to leave the EU. Authoritarian or extreme-right governments and political parties have sprung up in France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, and other European countries, all of which have capitalized on fears of the immigration crisis.

Why climate change is a "threat multiplier"

This is why both NATO and the Pentagon have labeled climate change as a "threat multiplier." On its own, climate change doesn't cause these issues — rather, it exacerbates underlying problems in societies around the world. Think of having a heated discussion inside a slowly heating-up car.

Climate change is often discussed in terms of its domino effect: for example, higher temperatures around the world melt the icecaps, releasing methane stored in the polar ice that contributes to the rise in temperature, which both reduces available land for agriculture due to drought and makes parts of the ocean uninhabitable for different animal species, wreaking havoc on the food chain, and ultimately making food more scarce.

Maybe we should start to consider climate change's domino effect in more human and political terms. That is, in terms of the dominoes of sociopolitical events spurred on by climate change and the missing resources it gobbles up.

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Increasingly severe weather events will make it more difficult for nations to avoid conflict.

Part of why this is difficult to see is because climate change does not affect all countries proportionally — at least, not in a direct sense. Germanwatch, a German NGO, releases a climate change index every year to analyze exactly how badly different countries have been affected by climate change. The top five most at-risk countries are Haiti, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Notice that many of these places are islands, which are at the greatest risk for major storms and rising sea levels. Some island nations are even expected to literally disappear — the leaders of these nations are actively making plans to move their citizens to other countries.

But Germanwatch's climate change index is based on weather events. It does not account for the political and social instability that will likely result. The U.S. and many parts of Europe are relatively low on the index, but that is precisely why these countries will most likely need to deal with the human cost of climate change. Refugees won't go from the frying pan into the fire: they'll go to the closest, safest place available.

Many people's instinctive response to floods of immigrants is to simply make borders more restrictive. This makes sense — a nation's first duty is to its own citizens, after all. Unfortunately, people who support stronger immigration policies tend to have right-wing authoritarian tendencies. This isn't always the case, of course, but anecdotally, we can look at the governments in Europe that have stricter immigration policies. Hungary, for example, has extremely strict policies against Muslim immigrants. It's also rapidly turning into a dictatorship. The country has cracked down on media organizations and NGOs, eroded its judicial system's independence, illegalized homelessness, and banned gender studies courses.

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