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 Townes Van Zandt, writer of many of country music's greatest songs, died in 1997.
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Date published: 1/24/2013

By Jonas Beals

THE RECENT discussions and arguments about gun violence have hit on some of the usual explanations: movies, television shows and video games. There's little doubt that our entertainment is riddled with bullets, but, setting aside the issues of influence and causation, is music worthy of inclusion in that questionable category?

Guns are certainly commonplace in popular songs, from controversial rap tunes like "Cop Killer" by Body Count to country hits like "Gunpowder and Lead" by Miranda Lambert.

But popular music is also one of the few mass-market entertainment mediums in which you will hear anti-gun sentiments (outside of Batman, who won't use guns, but will put them all over his cars, motorcycles and helicopters).

Here are some songs that deal with the downside of gunplay.

'Pancho and Lefty' by Townes Van Zandt

Perhaps the most famous song by this master songwriter, it deals with Pancho, a bandit boy who terrorizes Mexicans with the pistol on his hip. It's not quite clear what happens, but Pancho ends up dead and Lefty ends up in Cleveland. Either way, intimidating people with guns ends up badly.

'Jeremy' by Pearl Jam

One of Pearl Jam's greatest hits is based on the real-life story of Jeremy Wade Delle, a Texas high school student who killed himself with a .357 Magnum revolver in front of his English class. The song takes a dim view of guns, but it mostly portrays the futility of suicide.

'Ohio' by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

While not explicitly denouncing gun violence, the song uses the 1970 Kent State shootings to question American authorities and the public's response to such a terrible episode.

'Saturday Night Special' by Lynyrd Skynyrd

It might come as a surprise that a Southern rock band would take an anti-gun stance in a song, but here we are. Not only does Skynyrd want to throw all handguns "to the bottom of the sea," they say that handguns "are made for killin'" and "ain't no good for nuthin' else." The aggressive music underlines two misunderstandings that turn deadly thanks to a handy pistol.

'Tonz "O" Gunz' by Gang Starr

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JONAS' IN-TOWN PICK: The Unites States Navy Sea Chanters at Colonial Forge High School in Stafford. As the Navy's official chorus, they sing a little bit of everything, including sea chanteys. Saturday at 7 p.m. OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Umphrey's McGee at The National in Richmond. A supremely talented jamband in the vein of Rush, Zappa and Yes. Saturday at 7 p.m. LISTENING TO: "Johnny Too Bad" by The Slickers. One of the greatest reggae songs ever recorded and another great commentary on a bad guy with a gun. Taj Mahal's version is also worth a listen.