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December 15, 2012 9:57 AM Thoughts on Post-Newtown Journo Policy Chatter

By Samuel Knight

Typical of the aftermath of any major event, the media has inspired more than a few talking points in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy in Newtown.

One thread concerns how journalists immediately engaged in policy discussion before all the facts were known.

A Canadian friend of mine reached out to me about this via Facebook (I went to McGill from 2004-2008 - as an aside, I can recall only two Canadian mass shootings in that time frame resulting in seven fatalities, including the two gunmen). He asked if it was appropriate to turn the narrative into a referendum on gun laws, when we didn’t know all the facts - including the identity and location of the shooter.

It was a fair question. And after consideration, I told him that I believe it was - that it is even the duty of a journalist (not reporters) to make policy pronouncements, even with imperfect information.

Here’s what we had already known by the early afternoon yesterday that warranted calls for some sort of action: a man shot dead over twenty people with a multitude of firearms. The majority of the deceased were children. That we have seen these shootings happen time and time again without any resulting change; that we couldn’t protect these kids - still in diapers when Obama was first elected - represents a colossal systemic failure, this outpouring of grief stricken calls for change represented the most seeming thing that the majority of journalists could do yesterday.

We may not have had all the details about how Adam Lanza acquired the guns, his mental state, or anything else that would have proved useful in any sort of serious inquiry or in actually writing legislation. But the fact is this: the United States plays host to the most gun violence in the OECD, and that warrants opening discussions on both gun laws and the state of mental health in the United States. And what better time to broach the issues when the country is starting to look for answers?

Too often, people treat journalists as if they’re meant to be stenographers - they are supposed to be in many cases, but in the larger picture, they must seek to hold society accountable for its failings. A journalist should seek to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted, as the old clichĂ© goes. Regrettably, this hackneyed phrase merits repeating in a time when tabloid horse-race journalism often “wins the morning.”

This sort of pontificating happens after every tragedy, and so it should . Unless, of course, you believe that pure objectivity in journalism actually exists, in which case I have some unicorn insurance to sell you. Whether or not it is done tastefully or reasonably is another matter. Queen of Tact Ann Coulter, for example, suggested that concealed carry would have stopped Lanza - as if dozens of children murdered execution style could have fended off a maniac wearing kevlar after their teacher was killed in a surprise attack. And I won’t deign touch the “prayer in our schools” suggestions offered by the likes of Mike Huckabee.

Nonetheless, I don’t hold it against Coulter or Huckabee for offering their two cents on the matter. This is part and parcel of the industry. And it will continue to be - as it should - after any catastrophic event, as people search for answers, and competing ideas seek to shape the “reconstruction” narrative.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.

Comments

  • c u n d gulag on December 15, 2012 10:20 AM:

    Welcome to this jungle, Samuel.

    Coming soon, to America – a new school morning ritual.

    “Did you make my sandwich, Ma”
    ‘Yes dear.’
    “Did you load my gun?”
    ‘Yes dear. It’s in your holster on your kitchen chair, ready for you to strap on.’
    “Thanks, Ma!”
    ‘Son, before you go, remember The Three S’s.’
    “I know them, Ma!”
    ‘Ok, then recite them to me.’
    "Oh Mom…”
    ‘Don’t ‘Oh Mom,’ me, young man. Recite The Three S’s for me!’

    "Ok, here goes:
    Study hard,
    Stay safe, and
    Shoot straight. Now can I go?”

    ‘YeSSS dear.’

    And I'm sure, Huck-a- Putz, that there was plenty of prayer going on in that school, and in the Kindergartener's room, especially, as the gunman drew out his weapons.

    It didn't seem to work too well, though.

    But maybe you're right, Huck-s-Schmuck - maybe if the whole school had started the day with a prayer, THEN maybe God would have heard their young innocent voices, and smote that maniac with a lighting bolt.

    Hey, Huck-a-Loogie - GO FECK YOURSELF!!!

  • Daryl McCullough on December 15, 2012 10:42 AM:

    Here's something that would make Google searches so much more useful for political research: Some kind of filter that would organize web pages based on political slant. It often happens that I hear about something that seems like an important piece of information in discussions about policy. But then I find that only conservatives sites ever even mention it, or only liberal sites. Being liberal, my tendency is to believe that if something is only mentioned on conservative sites, it's because it's really bogus. But I always have a nagging worry that it's people selectively paying attention to information that supports their beliefs.

    That was a long-winded introduction to a short question: Has anyone taken a look at the Kates/Mauser article on gun control and violent crime:

    http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf

    It suggests that gun control doesn't really help much, or can be counter-productive.

  • MuddyLee on December 15, 2012 10:51 AM:

    Are there any real life instances of armed citizens stopping a massacre like the one in Newtown CT? You hear this Coulter "theory" promoted by conservatives (especially after the Va Tech shootings), but is there any evidence that this works in the real world? Didn't somebody who was armed at the Gabby Giffords shooting almost fire on a man who he THOUGHT was the gunman?

  • rk21 on December 15, 2012 10:54 AM:

    Someone should ask morons like Fisher and Huckabee that since there is a lot of religion in Saudi Arabian schools and no school shootings, then is Allah the true God?. Also since there are no school shootings and no religion in schools in many godless European countries then is secularism better than Christianity? Or maybe the problem is that guns are the true American God. All hail the Gun!

  • inkadu on December 15, 2012 10:57 AM:

    We knew one of the guns found was a .223 which, if pictures are accurate, is a hardcore assault rifle. I heard that news by about 4:00, I think. So right away you have a specific policy point: should people have access to these guns?

    Part of the reluctance to talk about these things before all the facts are in is an assumption if everything happened legally, then there is nothing we could do. But that's really an artifact of how we accept the laxity of our gun laws.

    We can also talk about better mental health care -- which can only be comprehensive as part of a comprehensive medical system. I don't need to read a psychiatrists report or detailed life history to guess that this shooter had some mental health problems.

  • J on December 15, 2012 11:13 AM:

    I'm more worried about this dreadful event disappearing down the memory hole, together with any discussion that it might have inspired, as so many others have done before it.

  • rrk1 on December 15, 2012 11:27 AM:

    The predictable answer to a massacre from morons like Coulter and her ilk is always more guns. There is now one gun in circulation for every man, woman and child in this gun addicted country.

    What is worse is that the media half-life of a gruesome tragedy like this one is about one week, and then it goes down the memory hole with all the rest of the gruesome mass murders that happen every year. The NRA has successfully made gun-control a taboo subject, a phrase that can no longer be uttered in public. When will the NRA be seen as a terror facilitator?

  • Prof B in LA on December 15, 2012 11:27 AM:

    The usual NRA smoke-and-mirrors will carry the day. Unfortunately. http://www.russellburgos.com/2012/12/sandy-hook-firearms-fanaticism.html

  • c u n d gulag on December 15, 2012 11:34 AM:

    You know what will take an act of courage, that I don't think I'd be able to muster?

    Being the parents of one of those slain children, and opening up the closets where the gifts were carefully hidden.
    Loving gifts whose holiday wrappings will never be torn open by their children's eager little hands.
    Gifts which never be played with, or worn by, the child they were intended for.
    Gifts, which, if they're lucky, will end up at some charity, to be distributed to needy children - and not thrown out into a landfill, the wrapping stained with the tears of parents and siblings.

    The greatest gift we can give ourselves, after this slaughter of the innocent, is some sensible gun control - and not wrapped Glocks for every teacher and Principal.

  • john sherman on December 15, 2012 11:54 AM:

    More guns are the answer to gun violence like hot fudge sundaes are the cure for obesity.

    I wonder what Huckabee had to say after the Amish school shootings in Pennsylvania in I believe 2006.

  • tiredoftheBS on December 15, 2012 12:14 PM:

    Opinions say more about the opiner than about the subject at hand. Using the absence of religion in the school to explain how a deranged non-student enters an elementary school and kills 27 people doesn't even touch on the cause of the tragedy, but it's just about as close to the argument as blaming the gay culture in this nation for 9/11 and anything else considered evil in our society. Just another reason to dismiss the right wing of the political spectrum as crazy and irrelevant.

  • Mimikatz on December 15, 2012 12:15 PM:

    If guns are too difficult for this society to talk about, then let's talk mental health. It seems that foreseeable future we are going to have to live in a society with too many guns and too many nuts. We can't tolerate both, so let's at least do what we can to repair the safety net, provide more mental health services so those who need them can get help without stigma (especially men, especially young men), maybe we could do some things to make society less hostile and isolating, and maybe the rest of us won't have to go through this over and over.

    And to the Coulters, it appears from news reports that the mother bought the guns. Made her and the community safer, didn't it?

  • bigtuna on December 15, 2012 12:17 PM:

    1. There was a shooting in a mall in Salt Lake City several years ago- 5 killed, 4 wounded. It was stopped by person with a weapon - an off duty police officer who happened to be shopping with his family.

    I am very suspicious that the vast majory of people who take these "training" sessions to get a concealed weapons permit have the ability, training, etc., to react in such a situation. How many hours do trained officers get? Hundreds, I bet, and they go through scenarios, they do training in mock situations, etc.

    2. These sorts of things are so horrific that I cannot even think too well afterwards for days. But, while I know this might sound cruel and heartless, but:

    one honest reponse to these events, after some time for grief, is to point out that our adherence to the first and second amendments, [that is, our entertainment industry's glorification of weapons; + 2nd amendment orthodoxy] is that these things come with a price. Along with these legal issues, there is the fact that we woefully underfund mental health care, and all of the other related issues [limited restrictions of gun sales, etc. About 12,000 Americans are murdered by people using firearms annually; about 17,000 suicides are done by guns annually. About 200 murders / year are via these mass shootings.

    THis is the price we pay for thse attributes of our society. I don't agree with it at all, but isn't this what it boils down to? We are a violent people, with access to something like 250,000,000 guns. Given our make up, and our laws, the cost is about 30,000 deaths / year. I do not get how adding more guns, and more gun owning rights, will help.

  • Chopin on December 15, 2012 12:51 PM:

    Time to embrace the strategy of the xtian wingnuts and their state-by-state campaign to eliminate a woman's legal right to obtain an abortion. Maybe there are some states whose citizens would like to regulate gun ownership to the point they are as rare as abortions. After all, the second ammendment begins with the words "A well REGULATED militia".

  • schtick on December 15, 2012 2:06 PM:

    I was disgusted by a friend, a real friend, posting on FB a supposed note sent to God by a child asking why He lets such things happen with the response of God writing He wasn't allowed in schools. I replied by saying that I doubt anything would have been different in that situation either way.
    Amazing we have tougher laws for drinking, driving and smoking than we do for guns. Yet somehow, people blame it on not enough God.

  • Madeleine Begun Kane on December 15, 2012 3:55 PM:

    Massacre Message (Limerick)
    By Madeleine Begun Kane

    Mindless murder and mayhem in schools.
    U.S. mall assaults -- gun wielding ghouls.
    We seek a solution,
    But hear: "Constitution!"
    We need leaders -- not NRA tools!

  • David on December 15, 2012 4:54 PM:

    I have no opinion about gun control, but in this instance it appears that the shooter's mother was the owner of the guns and was a collector and encouraged her boys in their use. She was shot dead before the school shootings, most likely by her own son with her own gun.
    So gun control would have done nothing here.
    One thing we can say with confidence if statistics are working and bell curves are real: more guns increase the odds of more gun problems, be they hunters shooting their own feet, vice presidents shooting friends in the face or these periodic massacres.

  • John on December 15, 2012 5:20 PM:

    Daryl-

    Check out this article by Ezra Klein. He cites research showing some correlation for stricter gun laws and fewer gun related deaths.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/07/23/six-facts-about-guns-violence-and-gun-control/

  • akindependent on December 15, 2012 9:47 PM:

    There are reports that the gunman tried to buy a weapon a few days before the massacre. CT has more stringent gun laws than most states, and the gunman was frustrated by the waiting period and background check and gave up. That's not to say that he could not have bought a weapon eventually--I don't know enough about CT law. But had he not had access to his mother's gun collection, CT law would have prevented him from having a gun on that particular day.

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