MINNEAPOLIS (MintPress)–Earlier this month, a network news entity presented its strongest argument to date in the gun violence debate. NBC News prepared an interactive map that displayed all the non-accidental, not self-inflicted gun-related accidents and deaths that took place over the three-day Inauguration weekend.
The map showed Christopher Cotton of Buffalo, N.Y., who was killed while sitting in his car at an East Side intersection. It showed 24-year-old Allen Green of Tillamook, Ore., who shot his 16-year-old girlfriend, Kayla Ann Hendrickson, to death over an argument. It showed Debby McGaughy, a mother of four, who was shot multiple times when her home was invaded. It showed a 14-year-old McDonough, Ga. boy who shot his 15-year-old brother while handling his mother’s handgun.
During the weekend that concluded with the remembrance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — whose life was committed to peaceful co-existence — and where a newly re-inaugurated President Obama told America: “Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished and always safe from harm,” at least 91 people died from gun use.
The United States has a gun problem. As of 2009, there are roughly 283 million guns in civilian control in this country. Each year, approximately 4.5 million firearms — of which, approximately 2 million are handguns — are sold in the U.S. each year. There are more than 30,000 firearm-related deaths per year in this country. More than 30 people are shot and murdered each day; half are between 18 and 35, a third are under the age of 20.
Gun violence is the leading cause of death among African-Americans ages 15 to 24 and is the second-leading cause of death in the general population for ages 15 to 24. The United States has the largest death rate due to gun violence of any nation in the world — currently at war or at peace.
Zeke Bambolo is a youth activist against gun violence. He tells Mint Press: “The media has a phenomenal opportunity to shape this dialogue in its truest form (purposeful objectivity) rather than biased smoke and mirrors.”
Problems with reporting
If there were more than 91 gun-related deaths over Inauguration weekend, why weren’t they mentioned until a full month after the fact? NBC News admits that — in its calculations and analysis — that the map presented does not reflect all of the deaths that happened during that weekend, just the ones that were covered by the major press.
There is no census of deaths or murders available, but if one was to take the average rate of gun deaths per day in America (approximately 86 deaths) and multiply it by the three days of the weekend, the total death count for the weekend would be about 258 deaths.
This means that just over a third of all gun-related homicides were covered by the news.
NBC News tries to explain the discrepancy. “The main reason is that hardly any suicides get reported in the media. Suicides by guns are twice as common as gun homicides. Some homicides don’t get any publicity either. Unless a killer chooses a public place, annihilates an entire family or shoots up a Wal-Mart, he might not even get on a website, in the newspaper or on TV, not on a holiday weekend competing with the festivities in the nation’s capital and the Ravens-Patriots and Falcons-Seahawks games.”
The news media has traditionally been called “the people’s eyes,” for it is the role of the reporters and journalists to see what the average person can’t, and report it to the people unbiasedly and accurately. However, the business side of the news has became more apparent in recent years — especially in light of increased competition from 24-hour news feeds and “as it happens” Internet-based news coverage.
The shooting of 20 first-graders and eight adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. fueled the media’s drive to portray gun violence as an epidemic. Since Sandy Hook, news reports of gun violence has increased, giving the impression that gun violence has escalated in recent months. In reality, it hasn’t. The gun violence rate today is roughly the same as it was last year.
The Sandy Hook shootings reflected a spillover. As stated in Gregg Lee Carter’s “Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture and the Law: Volume 1” — “Gun violence has disproportionately affected the African-American community. For much of American history, firearms were used as a means to subjugate African-Americans and deny them full economic and political rights. While overall crime rates, including gun-related crime, have declined among the general population during the past decade, gun violence has increased among African-Americans.”
Systematic discrimination, racial targeting by the police, frustrations about economic disparities and a general sense of hopelessness have made the gun a needed symbol for a people desperate to push back, but unable to do so. Young Black men, in particular — who are more likely to face employment discrimination, police abuse and aggression from other equally frustrated Black males — are more likely to look at a gun as a necessity for survival.
This has led to a situation in which African-American males are three times more likely to be the victim of handgun violence than their Caucasian counterparts. African-American youth are four times more likely to be the victim of firearms violence, with the rate of Black-on-Black gun violence increasing threefold from 1985 to 1992. This has resulted in a fourfold increase in the African-American population in prison from 1980 to 2001. As of the 1990s, one in four African-American males have in the past or now are serving time in prison.
As almost 90 percent of all gun violence suffered by African-Americans was committed by other African-Americans, and as such a large portion (more than three-fourths) of the gun violence in this country is Black-on-Black crime, much of the nation felt justified in ignoring it, as it didn’t affect their communities.
The tragedy in Newtown was different. It wasn’t different because of the age of the victims — of the 91 gun victims presented on the NBC News map, 20 were under the age of 18 — but because of the socioeconomics of the victims. They were not from the inner-city, and they did not fit the mold of the “typical gun victims.” These were kids from an affluent suburban area. As was said throughout the initial coverage of the tragedy — “They could have been our kids.”
The problem in reporting only what sells is that the narrative of the story becomes slanted or biased from the realities of the situation. Gerry Souter is an award-winning writer, producer, director and media project manager. The author of “American Shooter: A Personal History of Gun Culture in the United States,” Souter has been an eyewitness to some of the more chaotic events in modern American history.
In conversation with Mint Press, Souter points out the problem with the media’s historic coverage of the gun violence situation. He says that editors — when choosing stories to cover — must take into consideration both the readers’ and the media owners’ take on a story. No one really wants to hear the same story told over and over again; it will just perpetuate negative stereotypes.
At the same time, Souter continues, failing to report a story as it is distorts the news. So editors have to make editorial decisions concerning the extent a story will be covered. It could be a matter of managing perspectives — meeting negative stories with “feel good” stories and tempering reader “burnout” by limiting the stream of negative stories. However, this editorialization — not reporting about gun violence and then suddently flooding the bandwidth with gun violence stories give the impression that guns are solely to blame.
The truth is much more complicated.
The real problem
It has once been said that the impetus to kill does not originate in the weapon, but in the killer himself.
According to 2000 data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and 2007 data from the National institute of Justice, “no background check” sales account for an estimated 40 percent of all gun sales in the U.S.. Guns sold as part of a multiple units sale to a gun dealer is 64 percent more likely to be used in a crime than a single unit sold gun. In a single year, more than 30,000 guns are reported “lost” from gun dealers’ inventories.
Despite universal background checks being supported by most Americans, passage of such a bill (or any gun control measure, for that matter) through Congress has proven to be difficult. As it stands now, guns purchased from Virginia or other lenient background check states can easily flood a more stringent state with tons of “third-party” guns.
But, even this may be off-base. In stopping violence, it is always better to mitigate the reason for the violence in the first place. If you were to take away all of the easily-obtainable weapons from an angry person, the person is still angry. Removing the weapons do not preclude that the angry person will not seek other ways to act upon his anger.
Souter argued that the gun debate is actually a question of social engineering. While the guns themselves are not the problem, guns offer a false solution to other social issues, such as personal isolationism, crippling poverty, disenfranchisement, and denial of opportunity. Solving the gun problem requires tackling these issues head-on.
Bambolo concurs. “ When I was a child my father owned a gun and my siblings and I knew exactly where he kept it as well as the ammunition, behind the door to his bedroom and not a locked safe,” Bambolo said. “Never did it cross our minds to go and touch it for the purpose of hurting someone or something. We were overrun with guns and drugs by a civil war for several years,” “AK-47 rifles and more were being thrust in our faces daily. Full access and invitation as testosterone filled young teenage boys to a license to kill, loot, pillage and destroy lives. Not a single one of my siblings and I ever took the bait.”
“The media needs to speak clearly that the matters of daily gun violence our culture sees, beyond high profile Newtown, Conn. or an NFL player, is not a systemic issue of gun control. If so it should be knife or rock control because people are killed with those and more. The proper focus and resolution should be focused on the individuals and their families, as well as the general breakdown of family values that have led to these issues. The issue is people. The media, with its responsible use of the influence it has been gifted, needs to objectively call it what it is as oppose to let the ‘lack of truth’ drive this conversation. The media is challenged ‘for such a time as this’ with driving effective solutions to the problem.”
President Obama, at a stop in Chicago during his post-State of the Union tour, echoed Bambolo as he spoke about the absence of his father, “There’s no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for us reducing violence than strong, stable families, which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood,” Obama said.
“You know, I — don’t get me wrong. As the son of a single mom who gave everything she had to raise me, with the help of my grandparents, you know, I turned out O.K.,” he continued. “But at the same time, I wish I had had a father who was around and involved.”
A nation afraid
Then-candidate Barack Obama, in response to a posed question at Wartburg College in 2007, spoke about the nature of fear in American politics.
“We have been operating under a politics of fear: fear of terrorists, fear of immigrants, fear of people of different religious beliefs, fears of gays that they might get married and that somehow that would affect us,” he declared. “We have to break that fever of fear … Unfortunately what I’ve been seeing from the Republican debates is that they are going to perpetuate this fearmongering … Rudy [Giuliani] gets up and says, ‘They are trying to kill you’ … It’s absolutely true there are 30,000, 40,000 hard-core jihadists who would be happy to strap on a bomb right now, walk in here and blow us all up. You can’t negotiate with those folks. All we can do is capture them, kill them, imprison them. And that is one of my pre-eminent jobs as president of the United States. Keep nuclear weapons out of their hands.”
While attempting to question the use of fear in politics, Obama used fear to explain his point. Fear is the ultimate motivator. It lends strength in desperate situation, it makes the impossible possible.
It allows rationale people to accept irrational concepts.
It has been proven that fear—particularly, fear based partially on truth—can and have been used to sway voters and draw attention from other seemingly important factors, such as intelligence, vision, and competence. “In politics, the emotions that really sway voters are hate, hope and fear or anxiety,” says political psychologist Drew Westen of Emory University, author of the recent book “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.” “But the skillful use of fear is unmatched in leading to enthusiasm for one candidate and causing voters to turn away from another.”
The key word here is “skillful.” Recent studies have shown that voters react better when probed by fear, instead of hit head-on. Traditionally, fear has been used to emboldened the minority; Southern Democrats made outrageous statements about African-Americans to justify oppressive legislation, settlers called the Native Americans “belligerent savages” in justifying pushing them onto reservations, and modern-day conservatives paint the Islamic community in harsh tones to justify support of Israel and xenophobic attitudes.
As reported by The Daily Beast, “The effect of fear is not limited to obvious issues such as homeland security. It spills into other political judgments: fear drives voters to cling more desperately to all of their core values. For example, in one experiment volunteers who identified themselves as political conservatives were given reminders of mortality. After that prompt, they rated gay marriage, abortion and “sexual immorality” as greater threats to the nation than they had before the reminders. “When you remind people of their mortality, they defend their world view more strongly and reject those who challenge it,” says Greenberg. By laying a foundation of fear and then raising cultural issues, the GOP in 2004 got more traction from the latter than they would have without the former.”
Ultimately, getting rid of the guns will not help if the fear is still there.