Newspaper editors across Canada and the United States reacted to the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting in the only way they know how – they contributed their significant resources to make a mass murderer infamous.
Many column inches and hours of air-time have been given over to the tragic event’s 5Ws — who, what, why, when, where. The recurring theme is how to prevent the next one. And just as predictably, the media declare open season on responsible gun owners while so-called “experts” announce that gun control is the obvious answer.
Each time there is a tragic shooting, the spectre of gun control is the scab that won’t heal. Responsible gun owners reveal evidence that shows anti-gun laws do not curtail violent outcomes, while anti-gun advocates say they want more gun laws because there’s nothing else we can do.
Well, perhaps there is more we can do. Mass murderers are mentally ill and willing to usher themselves and others out of this world in a blaze of “glory.” The media are conditioned to provide that “glory” with breathless reportage, photos, flow charts, pie graphs and analysis. They compete with one another to provide as much information as possible on the assailant. But, are the media actually fuelling the cycle of violence that we all want to extinguish?
Editors and reporters learned years ago that reporting subway suicides appeared to increase the frequency of subway suicides. They surmised there was some evidence of cause and effect, so they took it upon themselves to avoid reporting them. If reportage might lead to cause and effect in mass shootings, we need to know. Until we take pains to identify a possible correlation, exasperated politicians will continue to pretend that gun control is the ticket. Governments are too willing to table legislation that doesn’t actually work. They try to appear proactive to pacify the sad and angry, but lip service is not enough. Witness the ineffective firearms registry.
By their very nature, mass media create a legacy for mass murders. Reporting the news is their mandate, but could that function become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Consider this — weekend newspapers and newscasts everywhere are packed with sidebar stories on the Newtown shooter’s history, his guns and ammo of choice, President Obamas tearful speech, the victims, the reaction of police and citizens, the helplessness of parents, the action of teachers, and much, much more.
We have seen the “milestones” charts that list the details of each deadly U.S. mass shooting from the 1960s until now – replete with the names of each assailant. And so the media coverage continues to provide overnight infamy for a mentally ill man who had no profile last week. If we believe social media bloggers would continue to be a problem, reῳt assured ῭ost of them use the mass media as their main source. And even if they do discover and relῥase an assailants name, bloggers do not infamy make.
We need forensic studies to determine how this coverage resonates with other mentally ill attention-seekers. The media message is too clear – if you kill children, you can make the president cry on TV.
If a cause and effect trail is established, the solution would be a gigantic pill for the media to swallow. Would they be limit reportage of mass killings to just 4 Ws – what, when, where, why – to avoid making giving mass murders the notoriety they might be seeking?
We know gun control does not assuage the beast within because the shootings often occur where gun controls are the most stringent. We have learned that the heart cannot be legislated to enhance public safety. Responsible firearms owners are every bit as anxious to end the madness. Isn’t it time to dig for answers that might actually increase public safety?
If we don’t dig for these answers, we’ll never know.
Editor’s note: See also the article in the Wall Street Journal by David Kopel: Guns, Mental Illness and Newtown
Addendum: What the AR-15 really is: (hint: its NOT an “assault weapon”) (reposted from a few years go)
Certainly, it would make as decent a varmint gun as any .223 calibre rifle, but it is a black gun, which everybody knows is so much more dangerous than your average brown moose gun (/sarc for the intellectually challenged), so it was restricted for hunting. The gun-grabbers have a twisted circular logic in play here – they managed to make it restricted, so that it couldn’t be used for hunting, then advanced the argument that nobody needed one because it couldn’t be used for hunting, because, well, it was a black gun, don’t you know, and therefore had to be restricted, so no one needed one for hunting… [And before anyone drags out the "it was restricted because it is an assault rifle" schtick, park it. The AR-15 is a semi-auto (better, self-loading). NO semi-auto can be an assault weapon. The military definition of an assault rifle has the automatic fire capibility as a core element of what makes an assault firearm. The AR-15 would be classed as a battle rifle, like the majority of hunting rifles in Nunavut. Classifying semi-autos as assault rifles was a "trick" from the Democrats, the anti-gun Violence Policy Center, and the Brady bunch for the Assault Weapons Ban. And you can't change an AR-15 into an automatic assault rifle without changing out the entire receiver. You need an entirely different receiver casting, a prohibited part in Canada, and not available for sale unless you hold a specific licence. Prohibited firearms are very tightly regulated.]
Frequently referred to by shooters as an SUR – “sport utility rifle”, they are not the same as their military cousins, the M4 and the M16. AR-15s are not capable of automatic fire, and in Canada, magazines are restricted to 5 shot, like other hunting and sporting rifles. In use they are no different than any other sport/hunting rifle – well, they wouldn’t be if they weren’t a black gun and therefore were restricted, so you couldn’t use them for hunting because they were restricted, because they were a black gun. So if one wants to hunt in Canada, one has to use a brown gun like a semi-auto Cooey .22 or a Browning semi-auto duck gun. No 30 (or 300) rounds a second from an AR-15, as has been reported by some media hacks who should know better. The gun simply can’t do it, nor can it be modified to do it.
Editor’s note: There is no question that the recent horror would be any less a horror if something other than a firearm had been used, but then, that’s the point. Its a horror regardless of the method. The internet makes it easy to learn how to make an “effective” ANFO bomb, like Timothy McVeigh did, and for the mind bent on this type o destruction, the method really is secondary. This was not a crime of opportunity. If firearms had not been available, its remains probable that some other method would have been used, in all likelihood, equally horrific.
The world has had firearms capable of this type of damage for 150 years. The use of these for this type of event in western society is a fairly new experience. It isn’t about the guns, it’s about the society and children who will choose to use them this way. This is the challenge to solve, not the reality of firearms. As the article above tries to illuminate, we have to look at the impact of rapid global communications in its potential role in enabling these events.