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Guns don't kill, albums do


Until recently, most of us assumed that the greatest menace to police in this country was the rising level of gunplay on our streets. But now, we know better. Thanks to a loose coalition of politicians and law enforcement fraternities, we now realize that the real threat to American law enforcement comes not from pistol-packing criminals, but from rhyme-slinging recording artists.

Imagine our relief.

What prompted this revelation was "Cop Killer," a song written and performed by Ice-T and his thrash band, Body Count. In it, as the band grinds out a generic speed metal groove, the rap artist screams such lyrics as "I'm 'bout to dust some cops off," "Cop killer, it's better you than me" and "Die, pig, die!"

Needless to say, this didn't go over well in law-enforcement circles. In early June, the Combined Law Enforcement Association ofTexas called a boycott of Time Warner, whose Sire Records division released the "Body Count" album, and other police groups -- including the National Sheriffs Association and the Fraternal Order of Police -- quickly joined ranks.

But it wasn't until Vice President Dan Quayle joined the fray few weeks ago that this became a truly hot political issue. Since then, there's been a virtual stampede to condemn Time Warner and Ice-T. Last week, some 60 members of Congress (57 of them Republicans) released a statement expressing a "deep sense of outrage" over the album, while just yesterday, President Bush denounced the song as "sick."

Trouble is, Bush and his buddies are only half right. "Body Count" isn't sick -- it's a sick joke, one of several intentionally offensive numbers on the "Body Count" album. In fact, compared to "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight," in which the protagonist dismembers Momma for teaching him to hate white folk, "Cop Killer" seems downright respectable.

That the conservatives aren't laughing is itself part of the joke, inasmuch as "Body Count" seems to have been created expressly to tick them off. That's why its lyrics offer a full course of sex, sadism and Satanism, and treat each topic with a similar cartoonish exaggeration. It's also why real rap and metal fans immediately recognized the gag.

Still, there is cause for outrage here, and that's at the way Bush and Quayle have used the "Cop Killer" furor to score political points when they could have been addressing the issue of gunplay in American cities.

Urban homicide rates have soared since Bush took office, spurred by an unprecedented availability of automatic and semiautomatic weapons. Given the number of 9mm weapons on the street in most major cities, police officers have every reason to feel under the gun these days.

Rather than take on the gun industry, which is making millions on these death-dealing weapons, however, America's conservative leadership would rather boycott an entertainment conglomerate like Time Warner. After all, guns don't kill policemen -- albums do.

Besides, it's far easier to attack some mock-menacing pop musician than to try to solve the plague of gun-fueled violence in our culture. After all, getting to the heart of why Americans seem so eager to kill other Americans isn't easy; it takes thought, compassion, and ideas too complicated to fit into sound bites.

And nobody wins elections that way.

Eventually, of course, the "Cop Killer" controversy will blow over, with some other trumped-up rap outrage taking its place. But the urban violence that gives "Cop Killer" its resonance will still be here, loud and bloody as ever.

Why isn't anyone up in arms over that?

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