Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Alimentary Tract

A few weeks ago I was watching what passes for a Sherlock Holmes TV show on American television. The show begins with a policeman coming under fire from what sounded to me to be a machine gun. The appearance of the weapon was a hand-held machine pistol and I heard to term MP5 used to describe the weapon. Presumably, this machine gun was the Heckler & Koch MP5 that has a firing rate of 700 too 900 rounds per minute.

It has been unlawful since 1934 (The National Firearms Act) for civilians to own machine guns without special permission from the U.S. Treasury Department. Since the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986, ownership of newly manufactured machine guns has been prohibited to civilians. Machine guns which were manufactured prior to the Act's passage are regulated under the National Firearms Act, but those manufactured after the ban cannot ordinarily be sold to or owned by civilians.

In the course of the investigation Sherlock Holmes' boss, a policeman makes a point to state that the gun was a semi-automatic with a large-capacity magazine. These are code-words in the current debate about gun control.

At first blush, it appeared that the script writer wanted to show that the police in New York City do not understand the difference between a semi-automatic weapon and a machine gun.

That's not unusual, a lot of people who know nothing of firearms hear fully-automatic or semi-automatic and they make no distinction. But the former is a machine gun and the latter is a single-shot firearm.

Upon further reflection, the script writer was saying something different, because later s/he intimates that the gun had been subjected to an illegal modification to convert it into a machine gun. So the writer was making a point about this illegal modification. Perhaps the justification for this narrative speed-bump was to make the viewing public more supportive of new gun laws.

One needn't possess Sherlock Holmes' deductive powers to wonder how would new gun laws deter the criminal who in this story had already violated Federal laws passed in 1934 and 1986?

But I'm more interested in the narrative speed-bump.

The audience tunes into a detective show on television to see all the things one expects of crime-fighting--searching for clues, drawing inferences from them, catching criminals, and bringing them to justice. Audience members can be equally entertained by this whether they are NRA members, ACLU members, or both. The audience has not tuned into a tract for any activist's cause.

Any speed-bump takes the audience out of the story--even those sympathetic to the political axe being ground. This is a tax on the storyteller. Part of what I call the Hollywood Stupid Tax.

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