The problem of gun crime is seemingly growing in the UK although in terms of total crime statistics those involving guns only make up one percent of the total figure. Despite this, MPs, campaigners and social commentators are up in arms over the increasing number of shootings and particularly the link between gun crime and gang culture. One of the most touted reasons behind firearms offences and gangs is hip hop music; but is it really fair to blame a music genre for what is essentially a problem caused by complex socio economic factors?
It is often highlighted that two of hip hop's biggest stars were victims of gun crime, Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls were both sadly shot, but can this be attributed to the music or lyrics they espoused? After all, John Lennon was shot and he predominantly spouted a message of peace. That said, some of the lyrics and imagery in rap videos do raise some interesting issues, for instance; a recent publicity shot of rapper 50 Cent saw him holding a gun; understandably, critics were quick to purport fears that this glamorised carrying and using guns. Additionally, some rap songs directly discuss gun crime, in some cases highlighting moments where a rapper has either been shot, or has shot someone.
Supporters of hip hop however do not feel that there is a direct correlation between the music genre and gun crime, taking the stance that the majority of rap sales occur in middle class suburban areas whilst the majority of gun crimes take place in deprived inner city regions. This is a fair point, blaming either film or music is a simple get out clause for politicians, at the heart of the problem are social and economic factors that have far more influence in the growth of gun crime within the UK. That said, while the link is not direct, the glamorising of guns and firearms in music videos and lyrics should not take place, society, and more specifically regulatory authorities have a responsibility to ensure young people are not exposed to such an environment.
It is not just rap music that exposes impressionable young adults and children to imagery of guns and violence however. As well as music, films, television and video games all contain violent images. One of the most common points is that as we are now exposed to so much violence, much of society is desensitised to it. The use of the United States as an example is useful, here gun crime is so often reported in the media that the mass public are no longer shocked by what they see and hear.
In the UK the situation is slightly different, because gun crime levels are smaller the majority of the public are still shocked and repulsed by shootings and murders they see on the news. While no tangible truths have been drawn between the media, behaviour link, it is a debate still raging in many circles. The media has an important role to play, it is a sensitive balance to portray gun crimes in a way that is not sensationalist, but must also highlight the problems that are blighting society.
Hopefully this article has raised some interesting points on the issue at hand. In the UK it is doubtless that gun crime is becoming a serious problem, the government has the unenviable task of tackling this issue, but unless they can take a multi-faceted approach that takes into account the social issues of poverty and hopelessness combined with media regulation the problem will continue. There are no quick fixes, but one thing is certain, while television, films and music have a responsibility, using them as a scapegoat for the ills of society is a cheap political trick that is both injudicious and unenlightened.
Cultural commentator Thomas Pretty looks at the reasons that are behind gun crime and whether music and the media can really be blamed.