The Netflix original 13 Reasons Why has created quite a buzz in the weeks since its release. Many have praised the show for the awareness it’s generated on the effects of bullying and its central theme of never really knowing what’s going on in another’s life. Recently, however, many organizations and school boards across North America are now criticizing the show for its gratuitous depiction of suicide and the suggestion that Hannah’s choice to kill herself was the logical outcome of the treatment she received.
While 13 Reasons Why has started an important discussion on the issues of bullying, sexual assault, and suicide, there’s something else that gets touched upon in the show’s last four episodes or so that hasn’t received as much attention: gun control. The polarizing nature of gun control and the risk of alienating people who don’t agree with you makes the topic particularly hard to discuss, but there’s clearly something to be said for the ways in which guns and gun violence are portrayed in 13 Reasons Why.
The subtle message on gun control has generally been overshadowed by the show’s more prominent themes of suicide and sexual assault, but there are clear attempts by the show’s creators to draw attention to the link between gun violence and the ease of which mentally ill and traumatized individuals can gain access to firearms. The hints at the potential for gun violence in last handful of episodes ultimately culminates with Alex attempting to take his own life with a gun. Although Alex is the only casualty of gun violence in the show, three other students at Liberty High School, all three of which have endured some form of bullying, harassment, or assault, are shown to have easy access to firearms.
Justin, at first glance, is the standard obnoxious and yet charismatic high school jock and bully. As the show goes on, however, we learn more about Justin’s home life and the abuse and neglect he’s been subjected to. Things begin to fall apart for Justin towards the end of the show when his relationship with Jessica deteriorates and his knowledge of Bryce’s actions begins to weigh him down. He’s forced out of his house by his mom’s abusive boyfriend and, as he packs to leave, he stuffs a gun into his gym bag. While it’s not clear exactly what he intends to do with the gun, Justin, already unpredictable and unstable at this point, downs some liquor and meets Bryce, Jessicas’s rapist. Justin, of course, doesn’t end up shooting Bryce, but we are shown just how easily an unstable and angry individual who’s been drinking can become dangerous to himself or others.
Jessica, the first victim of rape in the show, is also shown to have easy access to guns. After her assault at the hands of Bryce and the subsequent uncertainty following attempts to brush off Hannah’s claims or cover up the event, Jessica begins to drink heavily and behave erratically. A heightened moment of tension comes when, while hanging out with Bryce, she opens up her dad’s gun locker and takes out a pistol. She plays around with the weapon with Bryce and the audience is left with a feeling of uncertainty and suspense at the possibility that either one of them would fire the gun accidentally, or, Jessica, finally accepting what Bryce did to her, would shoot him.
Tyler, the show’s observant and invasive school photographer and Hannah-stalker, is given a shocking reveal in the final episode. When Clay gets back at Tyler for the invasive pictures he took of Hannah, Tyler becomes the butt of a cruel joke at school (pun intended). We see him constantly ridiculed and put down by other students at school because of Clay’s actions and facing personal attacks at home because of Hannah’s tapes. It’s revealed in the last episode that Tyler actually has a stash of guns in a chest in his room. This is really quite a significant moment because we’ve seen Tyler getting bullied and abused by other students for a number of episodes at this point and can see the effects it’s been having on his state of mind. Adding a stash of guns into the mix makes Tyler, potentially, very dangerous.
Finally, Alex, a quiet student and the son of a police officer, is shown to have particular difficulty dealing with the revelations of Hannah’s tapes. The knowledge of his role in Hannah’s death and the atmosphere of secrecy, intimidation, and hostility at his school eventually wears him down. One of the final scenes of the show is Mr. Porter, the guidance counsellor, being told by Principle Bolan that Alex has shot himself in the head and is in critical condition at the hospital. It’s not said where Alex got the gun but it can be assumed that he was likely able to gain access to his father’s.
In an age where school shootings have become alarmingly more common, the gun-related messages of 13 Reasons Why are increasingly relevant. What each of these instances show is the potential for violence when guns are easily accessible to people, particularly young adults, who are unstable because of some form of trauma or abuse. Each of the students discussed above were suffering from internal and external pressures, with each character becoming more nuanced and complex as the show progressed. Their vulnerability and deteriorating mental health combined with the easy accessibility of firearms made each of these students much more capable of committing violent acts, both against themselves and others.