We Need to Talk About Guns, Mass Shootings, and War

We’ve ignored our embrace of violence as fun and how mass shootings became commonplace

Benjamin Sledge

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Photo by STNGR Industries on Unsplash

I returned home from Iraq before Christmas 2007. The PlayStation 3 had dropped during my time in combat, but became a hard commodity to come by, so I assumed I’d grab one for Christmas. As with any product around the holidays, it became impossible to find, but a few friends had got their hands on one. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had released a few months prior, so everyone was amped to have a new first-person shooter for the holidays.

Throughout most of my life, I’ve enjoyed video games, spending evenings with friends playing 007’s Goldeneye or Halo. When I sat down to play Call of Duty, however, I struggled to play. The game felt real. Too real considering the environment I’d just returned home from. I remember staring at the screen and thinking, “That’s the same EoTech red dot sight I used on my rifle in Iraq. That’s the Beretta 9mm I carried in my drop holster. The rifle even has an AN/PEQ-2 on the side for night vision capabilities like mine did!”

From the gloves the first-person shooter wore to the weapons and uniforms, it got really real, really quick. I set the controller down and stopped playing. People were capitalizing on an experience they knew nothing about and for… fun? Players were upgrading weapons, and as expansion packs emerged, the weapons looked more and more like the ones we used in war. Sniper rifles got tricked out in coyote tan and the environments mimicked the bombed-out buildings of the Middle East.

When your character died, though, there was a respawn often followed by a flurry of expletives. Head shots were coveted, and explosions killed more than one player. War — my wars — had become a commodity to exploit with none of the real life repercussions or devastation.

The more first-person shooters became popular, the more they saturated the market. For the first time in my life, I stopped playing video games.

I was in South Africa when I received word about the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas that stole the lives of 19 children. A close friend from Iraq had brought me along for a hunting trip out in the African bush. He was just 18 years old…

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Benjamin Sledge

Multi-award winning author | Combat wounded veteran | Mental health specialist | Occasional geopolitical intel | Graphic designer | https://benjaminsledge.com