Die Hard: John McClane’s Kill List, Free Speech, And The Second Amendment

I’d like to preface this post by saying I’ve been a fan of the Die Hard series since the beginning. And even though Kevin Smith has given me reason to believe Bruce Willis is a serious prick, I still look forward to a new Die Hard flick.

This week, A Good Day To Die Hard, the fifth installment of the Bruce Willis action series will hit theaters. In the history of the Die Hard franchise, how many “bad guys” do you think John McClane has capped? Turns out there’s a wiki for that. — Through the first four chapters in the Die Hard series, our action hero has 58 total on-screen kills according to the Die Hard Wiki. Die Hard 2 (“Die Harder”) was particularly gruesome with 24 of the 58 kills.

The Die Hard Wiki even has a nice tidy list of on-screen kill requirements:

  1. McClane must be the one who caused the death.
  2. The death must be confirmed with video evidence.
  3. McClane must cause death, not just serious injury.
  4. The death must occur in the movies. Kills from games and comics are not included.

Looks like they have all their bases covered in the “kill/no kill” department.

John McClane - Die Hard with a Vengeance

So is this the culture of violence that the National Rifle Association (NRA) points to as the real problem in America?

In the New York Times opinion section, Joe Nocera writes, “It’s not that I don’t want to see a ban on assault weapons. I sincerely do. But after poking around the world of gun-crazed movies and other media, I have to say, the Second Amendment absolutists have a point.”

They do?

The ‘Die Hard’ Quandary:

Joe Nocera, New York Times Op-Ed Columnist — For instance, when you ask a spokesman for the M.P.A.A. about the real-world effect of gun imagery in the movies, he actually pushes back by claiming that “there is a predominance of findings that show there is no consistent or convincing evidence that exposure causes people to be more violent.”

This is, quite simply, untrue. “There is tons of research on this,” says Joanne Cantor, professor emerita of communications at the University of Wisconsin, and an expert on the effect of violent movies and video games. “Watching violence makes kids feel they can use violence to solve a problem. It brings increased feelings of hostility. It increases desensitization.” Every parent understands this instinctively, of course, but those instincts are backed by decades of solid research.

But does that really mean Second Amendment absolutists have a point? After all, we are talking about free speech vs. guns, the First Amendment vs. the Second Amendment. Nocera does acknowledge this when he says, “[I]ndeed, many of the same people who would like to ban assault weapons — shrink from demanding changes in the culture’s tolerance for violent images. To do anything about it legislatively would likely violate the First Amendment. Just as an assault weapon ban is the slippery slope for Second Amendment advocates, efforts to restrict violent images — or pornography, for that matter — is the slippery slope for First Amendment absolutists.”

So now we have First Amendment absolutists as well? OK, I’ll cede that point. There are people who believe free speech to be an absolute right. But here’s the problem — people who believe rights are absolute are simply mistaken, or they have chosen not to abide by the Constitution and the laws of this nation. If everybody’s rights were absolute, we would most certainly not have a civil society, and in turn, lose any sense of what rights are in the first place.

The second problem is comparing material rights to civil and human rights. Yes, the Second Amendment right to own a firearm was affirmed by the Supreme Court, but even the court said this right is not absolute. Local jurisdictions can limit the types of firearms that one can legally purchase. But of course each restriction could bring it’s own constitutional push back, that’s the nature of how our Constitution and our laws work.

But am I the only one who finds it mildly offensive to compare free speech and gun ownership?

Speech does not exist to do harm even if it can be used to do harm. Guns are meant to do harm even if they aren’t used to do harm. That is a very important distinction in my mind, and it’s a distinction that I think many of us on the left feel innately, but have a really tough time explaining to our gun-loving friends. We simply find it hard to understand how “a gun” gets elevated to such a level in people’s minds that it’s on par with the most basic of human rights.

Look, do I think violent movies cause people to commit violent acts? Maybe. Maybe not. Do I think Second Amendment absolutists have a point? Well, where they might have a point, if they were arguing as such, is that there is incredible hypocrisy when it comes to the content of our TV shows, movies, video games, etc. We do things in the name of protecting children like censoring nudity or language so that a movie can get a PG or PG-13 rating, yet we leave all the violence in. Whether or not this violence causes harm is not the point, it’s the hypocrisy that is the point. Regardless of whether it’s true, if you believe nudity and language is bad for your child, then why does violence get a pass?

And before conservatives start blaming Hollywood liberals, remember this. Hollywood is creating a product , one that sells quite well I might add, for consumption by a citizenry that right-wing media proclaims to be predominantly conservative. And let me also add, that right-wing pundits have no problem embracing violent Hollywood fare if it suites their needs. 24 and torture anyone?

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