[Part One in what I hope will be an ongoing series on this subject as it seems far too large and important a topic to cover in one day. Also, I want to thank the users of Reddit.com who made it easier to research for this piece.]
I’ve been debating whether or not to add my two cents on the horrific events of this past Friday. On one hand, I feel like just about everything that could be said about Aurora has been said. On the other hand, I’ve found myself becoming far too angry over the ridiculousness of some of the commentary I’ve seen over the last few days not to say anything.
For those who have been living under a rock, here’s a brief summary of what happened on Friday morning: At 12:38 AM (local time), 24 year-old Ph.D dropout James Eagan Holmes entered theater 9 of the Century 16 cinema in Aurora, CO, dressed in full body armor (complete with gas mask) and armed with several weapons including a 12-gauge Remington Model 870 shotgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle (with 100-round drum magazine), and a .40 S&W Glock handgun as well as tear gas canisters. Over several minutes of carnage, Holmes killed 12 and injured 58 more. Seven minutes after he began, he was apprehended by police in the parking lot, reportedly surrendering without resistance.
I’m not going to do a full-blown analysis of this tragedy. I just want to add a few things of particular importance to me.
First, I believe in having a sense of decency when it comes to talking about events like this one. I honestly don’t know what the appropriate amount of time is to wait before debating the causes of, and solutions to, such a tragedy, but deep down, I feel like it’s pretty damn insensitive to start pointing fingers within 24 hours of a massacre. I admit that I have trouble defining why it’s insensitive, but here’s the closest I feel I’ll get to an adequate explanation: As much as I’d love to believe that the media (any and all sources) only intended to report the tragedy for its value in the ongoing debate on gun control, I can’t help but feel that it was largely done for entertainment value.
Yes, you read that right: “Entertainment value.”
Whenever a shooting like this happens, the media (regardless of the source, but for the sake of argument, let’s say pretty much all the major television and radio networks, newspapers, and political commentators) seems to extract the juiciest information they can find (much of it false) and put it out to the public to increase viewership.
I mean, think about it… In 2010, firearms accounted for 8,775 murders in the United States. On average, that’s about 24 gun-related murders per day.
So, why is this news? Why doesn’t the media spend any other day covering gun-related deaths?
Because if it’s 24 average joes or janes getting shot around the country, that’s hardly news. Actually, that’s hardly surprising. It might be easier for Americans to assume that 24 unrelated murders by firearms scattered across the United States can be chalked up to the victims getting caught up with the wrong crowd or doing something stupid or just an unfortunate anomaly.
But with mass shootings, there’s a far greater element of fear involved. It would be more than a significant stretch to assume that Holmes knew every person he shot inside that theater. More than likely, he didn’t know anyone he killed or injured. The act seems so random and gruesome and, well, oddly and nearly-repulsively fascinating that the media isn’t going to ignore the opportunity to drive viewership up by exploiting people’s interest-by-fear in the wake of such a tragedy.
There’s almost 8,800 gun-related deaths a year, and the media always waits for a mass shooting to start discussing why they happen and what should be done about it.
It’s my belief that they don’t care. It makes for good television, radio, and print (but mostly good television), and that’s all that really matters to the vast majority of the media.
Otherwise, you’d think this would be an ongoing conversation in our country, but allow me to break it to you if you don’t already know: In a month (tops), the gun conversation will go away. We’ll probably hear more about Holmes and his trial, but the debacle over why this happened and how it can be prevented will be old news.
That is… until the next mass shooting.
But let’s take a second to look at all the wonderful commentary out there on what happened. Chances are that you have an opinion on whether or not the United States needs stricter gun control policies to prevent tragedies like one from happening, and you wouldn’t be alone; more than 90% of Americans do.
And that makes for great debate. In the aftermath of these tragedies, regardless of opinion, everyone seems to emerge as experts on the Constitution, gun-related homicide, etc.
Okay, that might be unfair, not everyone but it sure as hell seems like everyone.
For now, let’s not dive into the statistics. Let’s talk about the sheer amount of bullshit and outrageous stupidity circulating on the airwaves from both sides of the political aisle.
But first, two disclaimers from me: 1) I am a proud liberal on most issues and, yet, 2) For most of my life, I have been an ardent supporter of the 2nd Amendment, complete with gun ownership and oft-membership of the National Rifle Association. Obviously, this is an odd mix, but I believe it gives me a sense of objectivity. Sort of.
Let me start off with Jason Alexander (you know, George Constanza from “Seinfeld”) and his truly beautiful, eloquent, and largely inaccurate note he released through Twitter, which you can see here.
I’m not being sarcastic when I say it was beautifully-written, but to anyone who spends more than ten minutes doing a bit of online research from government agencies that track this sort of thing, there are several obvious mistakes:
1. He states that 100,000 Americans die every year due to domestic gun violence. This is false. The actual figure (8,775, as you can see in my first footnote, according to the FBI) isn’t anywhere close to a quarter of that. He later Tweeted that he actually meant 100,000 deaths and injuries per year, which is also false. He counted suicides among the deaths. I do not. I believe guns make it a lot easier, but in that moment, if people want to die, the vast majority of them are going to figure out a way to make it happen. On the other hand, I’m going to make an educated guess that gun murders are largely out of the control of the vast majority of victims.This is debatable, but regardless of where you stand on that, Mr. Alexander has not removed the original note with that first glaring error. It’s still proudly on display.
2. He implies that the AR-15 (and I’m assuming other assault rifles) accounts for a large chunk (if not a majority) of gun deaths. This also false. Most studies put it at making up just 2% of firearm-related murders.
3. His comparison of the AR-15 and the “standard hunting rifle” is also inaccurate. The AR-15 does not necessarily (and most often, does not) have a longer range, greater accuracy, “greater payload” as he put it, or fire more rounds without reload.
And that’s before we get into a debate on what exactly the framers intended with the 2nd Amendment.
However, it’s far easier for me to stomach being sloppy with statistics and knowledge on guns than it is to watch conservative commentators make complete asses of themselves when it comes to playing the blame game. Here are a few notable examples:
1. There was Jerry Newcombe, who blamed the shootings on Americans’ growing lack of respect for the idea of a heaven and hell and the “ongoing crusade of those who want to remove any vestige of the Judeo-Christian in the public arena.”
2. Fred Jackson, Director of the American Family Association, said “I have to think that all of this, whether it’s the Hollywood movies, whether it’s what we see on the internets, whether it’s liberal bias in the media, whether it’s our politicians changing public policy, I think all of those somehow have fit together—and I have to say also churches who are leaving the authority of Scripture and losing their fear of God—all of those things have seem to have come together to give us these kinds of incidents.”
3. Pastor Rick Warren allegedly blamed the shootings on teaching our children evolution, stating “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.” I say “allegedly” since he is now claiming the Tweet was in response to a letter from a father about his daughter’s teacher claiming “there’s nothing wrong with sex with multiple partners… single partner is a man-made construct.” So, yes, this could very well be true, but I’m just not buying it as he did remove the Tweet although he kept it on his Facebook page as a status update.
4. Former AZ State Senator Russell Pearce wondered on Facebook why no man had the balls to stop the shooting. When newspapers reprinted the full text of his commentary, he claimed they were “mischaracterizing” him.
I don’t care who you are… that’s classy right there. Get ‘er done, amirite?!
Of course, there were also liberal morons pointing their fingers, but as they’re all what you could call “ordinary citizens,” they don’t exactly have as large of microphones as the idiots above. If you do find evidence of a liberal celebrity, politician, or commentator saying otherwise, please send it to me, and I’ll post it here.
This is already getting pretty long, so I’ll post a “Part II,” tomorrow. In the meantime, be part of the conversation. I welcome all opinions on this blog, even if I may disagree with them.