Opinion | Bruce Butler: Let’s try a Hollywood tax

It happened again. This past week, three 9-year-old students and three teachers were senselessly murdered in a school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee. How long this tragedy stays in the news is debatable since the facts of this incident do not fit the established political narrative that typically follows incidents of school violence. Sadly, Colorado and Littleton’s Columbine High School will always be infamous for school violence.

In the case of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville, the assailant was reportedly a transgender 28-year-old who methodically planned the violent attack on a private Christian school. The popular cultural narrative is supposed to be a conservative white Christian male who is seeking vengeance on a vulnerable minority population and, therefore, it is a prima facie case of domestic terrorism. Regardless, the ideological reaction of the national news media and prominent politicians to the Covenant School tragedy was swift and predictable, and not enough attention was focused on the loss of six human beings and the devastation wrought on their families and the Nashville community.

Following this pointless and depraved act of violence, President Biden shuffled his way onto the White House podium to call for an “assault weapons” ban, and gun control advocates called for a day of anti-gun protests at the Tennessee Capitol. The Tennessee governor, and other Republicans, called for prayer and more school resource officers to be deployed at both public and private schools. Still others wondered why there are not more “Red Flag” laws, and why these laws are not more effective?

In theory, Red Flag laws are mechanisms to block individuals with potentially troublesome mental or behavioral problems from gaining access to firearms, an idea that has some merit if the adjudication of each case was certifiably unbiased and fact based. However, many signs of mental or behavioral problems are hidden, obfuscated or impacted individuals are afraid to speak up for fear of being retaliated against, ostracized or cancelled. On the other side, there is legitimate concern that Red Flag laws could be deployed against political opponents, invoked in family disputes or used against neighbors. There is a lot of room for unscrupulous abuse.

Leftists want to project select violent crimes committed with firearms as proxies to disarm law-abiding citizens and repeal citizens’ Second Amendment rights to own and possess firearms. Meanwhile, conservatives want to preserve Second Amendment rights at all costs, so the terms of the debate are intractable, and nothing will change so long as we keep rehashing the same old political narratives.

The root causes of school shootings and other societal violence are much deeper, and there are ways to make a difference if our leaders are willing to rethink their ideological comfort zones. All you need to do is tune into NFL game advertising, social media or other widely viewed programming to see that Hollywood is obsessed with gratuitous violence. For the sake of argument, “Hollywood” means movies, broadcast, cable and streaming television programming, video games, music videos and a myriad social media platforms and content.

Hollywood’s portrayal of firearms use is ridiculous, if not grossly negligent. The way many Hollywood characters wield large caliber firearms would land them flat on their backs after the first shot in the real world.

Just as I support law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms, I support Hollywood’s First Amendment free speech rights to create and distribute violent content within reasonable, and age-appropriate, limits. Most people can separate reality from fiction. However, it is naïve to think that Hollywood’s violent content does not adversely impact vulnerable individuals and influence their behavior.

Therefore, I am calling on left-wing media and Hollywood’s producers and personalities to support a gratuitous violence tax on fictitious violent content — not hard news, legitimate sports, or historic documentaries. Similarly, I am asking conservatives to place aside their visceral opposition to new taxes, to address endemic cultural violence and mental and behavioral health challenges. The gratuitous violence tax proceeds could be used to fund firearms safety training and mental and behavioral health programs. Absent public pressure, Hollywood has no intention of self-policing violent content, so the Hollywood tax is a sustainable source of beneficial mental and behavioral health funding for years to come.

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