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A new rash of gun violence? Only if you ignore 2020 and 2021. Plus, CNN 'fair and balanced?'
By Gary Abernathy
Gun violence is suddenly the stuff of more headlines
The mass shootings at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last month were horrific. But you could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking that, since then, there’s been a startling uptick in gun violence and more mass shootings than ever erupting across the country.
In fact, according to the Gun Violence Archive, where most media turn for such statistics, from 2014-19 the U.S. averaged 348 mass shootings, including 417 in 2019. After our country unwisely responded to the covid pandemic with blanket lockdowns, quarantines and business closures, mass shootings jumped to 611 in 2020, and then 692 in 2021.
There have been 246 mass shootings so far in 2022 as of Monday morning, June 6. At that pace, total mass shootings for the year would be 572 — significantly below each of the last two years. The 2021 pace was slightly more by June 6 — 252. So, allowing for an uptick in gun violence that often occurs during the summer months, the number of mass shootings in 2022 could be similar to 2021. Hopefully not. But the bottom line is that the number of mass shootings this year is so far not significantly different from last year — and hopefully there might be fewer by year’s end.
But that’s not the narrative coming from most media outlets, which have made the determination that every local shooting incident will now be a national story if it fits the definition used by the Gun Violence Archive and others for a mass shooting: “A minimum of four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter who may also have been killed or injured in the incident.”
Why? Because Congress is debating new proposals and we have a media dominated by journalists who want to see more measures taken, as evidenced by the overwhelming majority of columns, editorials and commentary at our leading mainstream news outlets condemning “Republicans and the gun lobby” and demanding “something be done.” And so every day brings more headlines about the latest shooting incidents — including many stories that previously would not have made national news — leaving the appearance that gun violence has erupted like never before.
Of course, not all mass shootings are comparable. There are those that are planned and carried out as in Buffalo and Uvalde. Then there’s what happened in Philadelphia on Saturday, where two men apparently got into a heated argument, pulled guns and began firing away, leaving three dead and 12 injured. It qualifies as a mass shooting, like Buffalo and Uvalde.
But the New York Times article detailing that incident also goes on to include others:
Just a few hours later, in Chattanooga, Tenn., a mass shooting outside a bar sent people fleeing in panic. Three people were killed there, too, including one who was struck by a vehicle, and 14 were hurt, most of them with gunshot wounds. And at parties in Phoenix, Chester, Va., and Summerton, S.C., celebrations turned tragic in mass shootings that resulted in a total of at least three deaths and 22 people who were injured, many of them children.
Every shooting incident, especially resulting in death, is a terrible thing. People should not shoot people, and we should be outraged at the people who do it when it happens. Oddly, there are people who get more outraged at the guns that are used than at the people who use them. When the shootings involve children as victims, everyone is naturally even more outraged. All shootings are despicable, but causing injury or death to children is especially heinous.
It’s unforgivable for people to shoot people for any reason other than self defense. And some cities, like Chicago, have allowed the number of shootings to explode and people to get away with it for far too long.
As mentioned, from 2014-19 — before the spike in mass shootings in 2020 — the U.S. averaged 348 mass shootings per year. Even back then, at that pace, the national media could have highlighted a mass shooting nearly every day of the year during that span. The Gun Violence Archive only goes back to 2014, but it’s likely that there has seldom been a weekend in the last 30 years where the national media couldn’t have packaged together mass shootings from across the nation to make it appear that gun violence had suddenly erupted out of nowhere.
Just search the details in the data base of the Gun Violence Archive, and you could easily piece together stories from any given one or two-day period at any time since 2014 to write about deaths and injuries from what were technically mass shootings — incidents that usually did not make national news, and often were just blurbs in local news pages.
Some might argue that the national media should have always highlighted what were technically mass shootings. That’s a fine debate. But that is most assuredly what’s happening now, in a clear effort to create public alarm and pressure lawmakers. Let’s don’t pretend that’s not the plan.
As an aside, the language used to report on gun violence should be accurate and precise. The Journalist’s Resource, part of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy of the Harvard Kennedy School, provides “7 Things Journalists Should Know About Guns.” Every journalist writing about guns should read this primer. One standout reminder deals with the term “assault rifle,” which is too often misused to describe semi-automatic rifles. I’ve made the mistake, which I’ll try to avoid in the future. As the tip sheet explains:
An assault rifle, by some definitions, is a military firearm capable of fully automatic fire, meaning it can fire without pause until empty. AR-15-style guns are semi-automatic, meaning they fire a bullet for each pull of the trigger.
Organizations such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a firearms industry trade association, refer to AR-15-style guns as sporting rifles and warn against confusing them with military rifles such as the M-16. “These rifles are used for many different types of hunting, from varmint to big game,” the organization explains on its website.
The Associated Press updated its Stylebook in 2020 with new guidance on weapon terms. It suggests newsrooms use the term “semi-automatic rifle” when referring to a rifle that fires once for each trigger pull and reloads automatically for the next shot. Newsrooms should avoid the terms “assault rifle,” “assault weapon,” “military-style rifle” and “modern sporting rifle” as they “are highly politicized terms that generally refer to AR- or AK-style rifles designed for the civilian market, but convey little meaning about the actual functions of the weapon,” the Stylebook recommends.
The lengths to which many in the media are going to redirect the focus from the human element to gun control are all too obvious. The New York Times reported last month that gun deaths surged during covid’s first year, which is true and good to point out. After nodding toward the negative aspects of lockdowns and other stressors that contributed to the tensions leading to violence, the Times added this:
The rise also corresponded to accelerated sales of firearms as the pandemic spread and lockdowns became the norm, the C.D.C. analysis noted. Americans went on a gun-buying spree in 2020 that continued into 2021, when in a single week the F.B.I. reported a record 1.2 million background checks.
But what else was happening in 2020? A presidential election, with Joe Biden leading the Democratic ticket. In fact, gun and ammunition sales surge — usually not with a corresponding surge in gun violence — during every presidential election as gun owners worry that a left-leaning president will lead the charge to curtail Second Amendment rights. And after Biden won, it was natural that the gun-buying surge “continued into 2021.”
Just before the 2016 election there were worries that Hillary Clinton would usher in new gun control measures, as NPR reported:
The FBI processed more than 2.3 million background checks nationally last month — those background checks being the best available proxy for gun sale numbers. That was the most ever for the month of October and an increase of more than 350,000 background checks compared to the same month last year. Gun shops around the country are seeing record sales. Others are offering pre-election sales. Major gun manufacturers Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co. are reporting huge jumps in earnings. In its earnings report, Sturm, Ruger & Co. wrote that the "stronger-than-normal industry demand during the summer [was] likely bolstered by the political campaigns for the November elections."
The same thing happened in 2008, when Barack Obama was on the verge of victory. As reported by The Guardian:
Starting in the days before the election, gun shops have been mobbed by buyers who fear that Obama and a larger Democratic majority in Congress will restrict firearm sales. Many were stocking up on things such as assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and handguns that they think would be the most likely targets of new laws, though practically everything related to shooting has been selling more quickly.
The implication is that Americans are buying too many guns, to back up the argument that easy access to guns is the problem. But something else has changed. A lot of us remember attending high school in the 1970s when the school parking lot was populated with pickup trucks that had rifles in gun racks in the back windows. These were 16, 17 and 18-year-olds driving these trucks, mind you. No one worried about getting shot. Administrators weren’t worried, teachers weren’t worried, students and parents weren’t worried. Easy access to guns was not the problem. What’s changed since then?
If the goal is actually to protect students, fortifying schools will be much more effective than laws restricting gun purchases or ownership. In Ohio, lawmakers just passed a bill making it easier to arm school employees, while Gov. Mike DeWine announced millions from the construction budget to enhance security at school facilities.
Opposition to such things is hard to understand. Guns are used to protect the things we consider most valuable in our country, from celebrities to government institutions and officeholders to military and police installations. Don’t our children likewise deserve armed protection at their schools? Don’t they deserve levels of security similar to airports or other high-security facilities? People can congratulate themselves on new gun restrictions, but only law-abiding people will follow the law. If we’re serious about ending gun violence at schools, tighter security features and armed individuals is what it will take.
Let’s appreciate AOC for serving with such terrible people
This tweet highlighting a recent comment by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was just too much.
She’s just a lamb among wolves, apparently. So, we should all, what — send her a note thanking her for her sacrifice? Her self-absorption is no longer surprising thanks to its consistency.
Will CNN actually become the ‘fair and balanced’ outlet?
The New York Times recently reported on changes at CNN being instituted by its new boss:
CNN’s ubiquitous “Breaking News” banner is gone, now reserved for instances of truly urgent events. Snarky on-screen captions — “Angry Trump Turns Briefing Into Propaganda Session,” for instance — are discouraged. Political shows are trying to book more conservative voices, and producers have been urged to ignore Twitter backlash from the far right and the far left.
A month into his tenure as the new leader of CNN, Chris Licht is starting to leave his mark on the 24-hour news network he inherited in May from its prominent former president, Jeff Zucker. So far, the Licht Doctrine is a change from the Zucker days: less hype, more nuance and a redoubled effort to reach viewers of all stripes.
If CNN leads the way in dropping the annoying “Breaking News” labels and alerts when what they’re “breaking” is little more than a standard weather report, it will be welcome indeed. The Times reports:
According to a new entry in the CNN standards guide, obtained by The New York Times, a story must qualify as “‘stop what you are doing and watch’ news” to secure the “Breaking News” label. Even then, the guide says, the label should only appear onscreen for one hour, unless there is an unfolding live story like a school shooting, major hurricane or death of a world leader.
“Its impact has become lost on the audience,” Mr. Licht wrote in his memo, adding that CNN should be “focused on informing, not alarming our viewers.”
Here’s hoping the changes stick even if viewership doesn’t immediately show an uptick. One of our major cable news outlets dropping the sensationalism and working to appeal to people across the political spectrum — actually employing the “fair and balanced” standard that Fox liked to claim but practiced less and less — would be amazing. Hopefully, both viewers and advertisers will reward the effort.
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