Smoking was very fashionable when I was a kid. There were t.v. commercials that promoted it, there were brands for women and brands for men, and the product was available everywhere and affordable. The tobacco industry employed thousands and thousands of workers.
I have no idea why, but my family was an exception. My parents and grandparents didn't smoke, although their siblings did. But my tobacco-free household was the exception to the rule.
Movie theaters were hazy with smoke. Buses were clouded with smoke. Go to a restaurant, everyone would be smoking with their meals. Cigarette butts lined the gutters. Every house had ashtrays. And nobody gave it a second thought. People weren't defensive about smoking, it was just something everyone did.
Big Tobacco knew as early as the 1950s that smoking was linked to lung cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, and emphysema. They released "study" after "study" that showed no link between tobacco and cancer.
Lots of people were dying, though.
It took a long while for reality to sink in. Figure that cigarettes became widely popular in the 1920s. So by the 1960s, people who started smoking in the 1920s were getting sick. In droves.
My best friend's mother was a chain smoker. She died of emphysema in her 40s. And this unfortunate woman was not an outlier. I had numerous friends whose grandparents were battling cancer. My parents' friends were all sick.
In the face of such carnage, Big Tobacco could no longer lie their way out of responsibility. Better yet, the widespread public perception of smoking changed.
Smoking was banned in theaters. Then on planes and buses. Then in restaurants, hospitals, libraries and schools. Then in bars. Then in outdoor settings. Nowadays, if you light up a gasper in a crowded Irish pub, you'll get the stink eye and the bouncer along with your shot and chaser.
So many people had to die for this major social change. It was a rare family that wasn't touched in some way by smoking-related illness.
Guns are the same way.
The NRA will tell you that there's no correlation between gun violence and gun ownership. They have "studies." They have a veritable Bible of philosophy on the goodness of guns.
The assault weapons ban enacted after Ronald Reagan was shot was allowed to expire in 2004.
If guns have a 40-year run of death and destruction the way cigarettes did, the American public will finally be fed up and ready to enact bans around 2050. Sadly, that is my prediction. We are looking at a situation where gun violence will have to touch a majority of American families, the way smoking-related illnesses did, before any action will be taken.
Then it will be taken. Gun owners will get the bouncer and the stink eye. They will be shamed in public for their bad habits. They will give the guns up for their own safety and encourage their friends to do it too. They'll do it because they will personally know multiple people who have died due to gun violence.
This is the anatomy of a public health crisis. People blithely use a deadly product and justify their use, right up until there are widespread deaths directly linked to the product. Then, and only then, do people step back and show some common sense.
The difference between guns and cigarettes is that not many kids died from smoking-related illnesses. Kids are dying from guns. But until lots and lots and lots of kids die, until the gun-toting citizenry loses its own loved ones, nothing will be done.
Gun ownership is a public health crisis. It's a plague masquerading as a pastime.
As a teacher, I hope I survive it.