The Media And Gun Violence

The Media And Gun Violence


Leonard Zwelling

It’s like catnip to them. The electronic and print media cannot get enough of tornados, hurricanes, fires, floods, or gun violence. In the latter category, the media salivates more if that violence should take place in a school rather than on an inner-city street. It’s gun violence porn for the television camera. It’s the press barging into personal tragedies, microphones held high and cameras rolling. The question this raises for me is: does the press have an agenda when it covers the news and if so, how is that unbiased journalism?

There can be no doubt that the school and supermarket shootings of the month of May are horrific. However, as this blog has recently noted, all that seems to transpire after such an event is the recurring cycle of pray, mourn and repeat because no state legislature nor the Congress in Washington has had the courage to implement true gun control reform based on the science of studied mass shootings and other forms of gun violence let alone the success of such laws in places like Australia and New Zealand.

We have already listed what would constitute logical and reasonable reform. That would include strict and no exception background checks to keep guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally disturbed; the banning of all assault-style weapons in the hands of private citizens; the removal of ammunition sales from the internet; and outlawing the sale of any kit that would render a safe weapon an unsafe automatic one. It’s really that simple.

From the tear-filled coverage of the latest shootings in Buffalo to the grief-stricken families of Uvalde, Texas, the media is virtually putting out a public service announcement for gun control laws and doing little to press legislators to be held accountable for their inaction over all of these years. Like the issue of abortion, if the Democratic Party, really believes in gun control legislation, why didn’t it propose this legislation in the winter of 2009 when it had the required 60 Senate seats? Why? Because the Dems were fooling around reforming health care instead of using their super majority to do meaningful small things that are really not small at all.

Personally, I wish the press would stay out of the lives of the victims with its microphones and cameras and stop seeking more information on the motives of the killers who are clearly mentally ill. If the press identifies the motive of the Uvalde shooter, how does that change anything? Get to the heart of the matter—the reason there has been no progress in gun control legislation. I would rather see the press confront the NRA leadership and the Republican leaders of Congress on the issue than continue to intrude into the lives of people under tragic circumstances.

Modern media believes that putting a face on a tragedy is the essence of a story. That’s true in Hollywood, not so much on the news. The real story is who owns the guns? Which guns and why? Then we can begin to understand the magnitude of the problem and forge a path to a solution. As of now, that’s not what the press does. They magnify the tragedy instead of blazing a path to a solution.

In lieu of truly understanding why gun control legislation is so elusive, the press chooses to focus on the personal stories of the victims of gun violence and those who perpetrate the crime. That may attract eyeballs but it neither educates nor ameliorates the awful situation in which the country finds itself. Most of the civilized world has legislated against widespread arms in the population and created a meaningfully tolerant atmosphere for abortion rights. Why can’t the US get these two things right? Good question!

2 thoughts on “The Media And Gun Violence”

  1. Hi, Dr. Zwelling. Hard to disagree with much of this. I have to chuckle in the grimmest of ways when Joe Biden, of all people, angrily asks “How long are we going to put up with this?” I don’t know the answer to that question, but it’s at least 50 years which was the duration of his largely-unremarkable Senate career. You are correct that there has been opportunity after opportunity to think this through rationally and enact solutions that would actually work, yet our esteemed “leaders” have apparently spent the time between tragedies focusing on everything else.

    My only beef with your take is your suggested ban on “assault-style weapons,” for many reasons, not least of which the ratio of handgun deaths to “assault rifle” deaths and also the logistics of enforcing such a ban. I’ve seen estimates ranging from 5 to 10 million of these rifles in private hands, almost certainly accompanied by a billion rounds of ammo. Attrition of these weapons would take a generation. In the meantime, a hundred people will be murdered every weekend by people wielding handguns and this will merit a tiny paragraph on page B6. America doesn’t do a good job of triaging its problems.

    Not trying to start an argument. I’m a “gun guy” but even I realize that this time, it’s different. “Something” will get done, but it will be a hysterical, knee-jerk reaction based on emotion, and the results will thus be predictable.

    For the record, I’d begin with upping the ante on “red flag” laws. How many warning signs did we need for the most recent tragedies? Not to mention the Waukesha massacre, a mass murder committed with an SUV. I’m a little tired of reading the perps’ manifestos within an hour of their crimes. My gun-loving brethren will think it heresy that I suggest patrolling citizens’ social media pages in “Minority Report” fashion, but too bad. Both sides digging in their heels like petulant children has led to the perpetual inaction you so eloquently described.

    As always, I appreciate your take on these complex issues.

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I have a blog coming up on Minority Report. Stay tuned. LZ

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