Adam Gopnik has penned a beautiful piece for The New Yorker that gets to the heart of the American gun problem:
And so the real argument about guns, and about assault weapons in particular, is becoming not primarily an argument about public safety or public health but an argument about cultural symbols. It has to do, really, with the illusions that guns provide, particularly the illusion of power. The attempts to use the sort of logic that helped end cigarette smoking don’t quite work, because the “smokers” in this case feel something less tangible and yet more valued than their own health is at stake. As my friend and colleague Alec Wilkinson wrote, with the wisdom of a long-ago cop, “Nobody really believes it’s about maintaining a militia. It’s about having possession of a tool that makes a person feel powerful nearly to the point of exaltation. …I am not saying that people who love guns inordinately are unstable; I am saying that a gun is the most powerful device there is to accessorize the ego.”
We should indeed be as tolerant as humanly possible about other people’s pleasures, even when they’re opaque to us, and try only to hive off the bad consequences from the good. The trouble is that assault weapons have no good consequences in civilian life. A machine whose distinguishing characteristic is that it can put a hundred and sixty-five lethal projectiles into the air in a few moments has no real use except to kill many living things very quickly. We cannot limit its bad uses while allowing its beneficial ones, because it has no beneficial ones.
Last month, I noted an article by The New York Times‘ Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff, in which the two reported a long-term, steady decrease in gun ownership. They explained:
The findings contrast with the impression left by a flurry of news reports about people rushing to buy guns and clearing shop shelves of assault rifles after the massacre last year at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
“There are all these claims that gun ownership is going through the roof,” said Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “But I suspect the increase in gun sales has been limited mostly to current gun owners. The most reputable surveys show a decline over time in the share of households with guns.”
In my post, after providing three examples of recent Times articles (here, here, and here) that had noticeably contributed to the aforementioned “flurry of news reports” about people rushing to buy guns, I concluded:
One can be forgiven for reading The New York Times and leaving with the impression that, yes, the entire country is stampeding its nearest weapons shops and loading up on anything with a trigger. This is just the latest in a long line of examples of the media helping to create a story, then reporting on the fallout from that story from a detached perspective, as if the press had nothing to do with the preceding whirlpool of artificially manufactured “news” in the first place.
Guns shops were jammed. Gun manufacturers were angry. Gun-control advocates were thrilled. Many legislators were torn.
But as President Obama on Tuesday announced a visit to Connecticut next week in the wake of an agreement on a far-ranging package of state gun legislation, Connecticut was bracing for the consequences, intended or not.
The most immediate result of the agreement, which came more than three months after the massacre of 26 children and educators in Newtown, was a run on gun shops on Tuesday, following months of already brisk sales. Gun owners are rushing to buy weapons, ammunition and magazines in anticipation of limits on their sale and possession.
Vic Benson, co-owner of the Freedom Shoppe, a gun shop in New Milford, said that his store was not usually even open on Tuesday, but that he opened its doors in anticipation of panicked buyers, and also to get rid of inventory he thinks he will be unable to sell after lawmakers vote on Wednesday.
The only indication in this entire article that all is not as depicted is the muted phrase “Gun owners are rushing…” — meaning that it is current owners, and not prospective gun buyers, that are leading the proverbial charge.
Look, the point isn’t that the Times shouldn’t cover news. And to some extent, delirious gun enthusiasts rushing their nearest weapons depot for a recharge so they can continue to shoot their high-powered guns with impunity even after stricter gun control legislation is passed is news.
Nevertheless, I would venture to guess that the Times‘ venerable voice is not well-utilized by devoting significant space in at least four articles in just over three months to the wildly exaggerated fears of armed paranoiacs. Perhaps, for example, some of those column inches could go towards additional coverage of shooting victims. Or of car dealerships, baseball, or whatever. After awhile, one starts to get the point: a lot of people love guns, and the Times is all over it.
But the larger point is that it’s ludicrous to continue covering these gun shop rushes on the one hand, while simultaneously remarking — as Tavernise and Gebeloff did — on the misleading “impression left by a flurry of news reports about people rushing to buy guns and clearing shop shelves of assault rifles,” as if the Times itself had nothing to do with creating this perception.
This paradox is especially concerning precisely because of what Tavernise and Gebeloff point out: gun ownership is decreasing. So publishing article after article portraying gun shops as overwhelmed by the demand for their products not only makes for boring reading, but doesn’t really present an accurate picture either.
Robin Kelly, a Democratic candidate in the Illinois special election to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. in Congress, just won her primary today — and is now a shoe-in to win the seat. The Timesexplains part of how this happened:
Riding a wave of “super PAC” spending that helped catapult her to the front of a crowded Democratic field, Robin Kelly, whose campaign called for tougher national gun laws, clinched her party’s nomination Tuesday in a special primary election for the House seat vacated by Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr.
The outcome of the contest, which had been unexpectedly cast into the center of the national gun debate, was welcome news for Michael R. Bloomberg, the mayor of New York and a staunch gun-control advocate. He poured more than $2.2 million into attacking Ms. Kelly’s chief opponent, Debbie Halvorson, this month.
Flooding Chicago airwaves, Mr. Bloomberg’s super PAC, Independence USA, ran a series of advertisements criticizing Ms. Halvorson for opposing certain gun control measures and endorsing Ms. Kelly as the alternative candidate.
The advertising campaign, a huge amount for a single House race, set up Ms. Halvorson’s defeat on Tuesday as a shot across the bow to other Democrats supporting gun rights, a sign of what could await future candidates who do not align with Mr. Bloomberg’s quest to change firearm laws across the country.
In the face of this frontal assault on our democratic ideal of “one person, one vote,” Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to launch political moderates back into the halls of power amounts to little more than a bandage. And it is the worst kind, because it confuses the symptom for the underlying illness: by using the very same funding tactics that helped drive the fringe into the mainstream American political landscape in the first place, Bloomberg’s efforts constitute an implicit endorsement of the post-Citizens United world. But accelerating the funding arms race is not the right long-term approach.
Every once in awhile, someone on FOX News starts feeling a little dangerous and decides to actually do the news, just to see what it feels like to be a real reporter:
In an unexpectedly lively exchange on Fox News Sunday this morning, host Chris Wallace took on NRA head Wayne LaPierre for his group’s tasteless ad calling Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for having Secret Service protection for his daughters while opposing the placement of armed guards in every American school. “It wasn’t picking on the president’s kids,” LaPierre argued, somewhat futilely. “The president’s kids are safe and we’re all thankful for it.” When Wallace pointed out that “[Malia and Sasha] also face a threat that most people do not face,” LaPierre shot back: “Tell that to the people in Newtown!” But Wallace wasn’t buying the indignation. “Do you really think that the President’s children are the same kind of target as every schoolchild in America?” Wallace asked LaPierre, adding, “I think that’s ridiculous, and you know it, sir.”
Ever since President Obama awkwardly insisted to The New Republic last weekend that, “Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” media fact-checkers (including our own DI Dan) combed through every bit of White House photographic evidence for even a single snapshot of the president in the gun-toting act. Sensing that the ensuing SkeeterGate was getting out of hand, White House officials released the above photo to theofficial White House Flickr stream this morning. “For all the ‘skeeters’,” tweeted White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, “POTUS shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David on Aug. 4, 2012.” Yet we can already predict the obligatory conspiracy theory backlash, noting that there’s not a clay pigeon in sight. Apparently we’re not the only ones thinking this. As newly-departed White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe tweeted soon after: “Attn skeet birthers. Make our day – let the photoshop conspiracies begin!”
Perhaps this is actually a brilliant strategy: depicting Obama shooting a gun is probably the only way to get Republicans to start banning them.
It is ironic that the modern-day argument for citizens to arm themselves against unwarranted government oppression — dominated, as it is, by angry white men — has its roots in the foundation of the 1960s Black Panther movement. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale became inspired by Malcolm X’s admonishment that because government was “either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property” of African Americans, they ought to defend themselves “by any means necessary.”
…The Panthers responded to racial violence by patrolling black neighborhoods brandishing guns — in an effort to police the police. The fear of black people with firearms sent shockwaves across white communities, and conservative lawmakers immediately responded with gun-control legislation.
…As MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry brilliantly described in a recent segment, the Black Panthers may not have been what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they described “a well-regulated militia” taking up arms against the tyranny of the state, but that is exactly what they represented.
Take Senator Joe “Dead Aim” Manchin of West Virginia. After the shooting in Newtown, the conservative Democrat, who has an “A” grade from the NRA and literally shot a bill with a rifle in a campaign ad, said he would support the assault weapons ban.
A month later, not so much. The New York Times checks in with Manchin today, as he sat down with his constituents in West Virginia, some of whom picketed his office after he announced he would consider such a bill. “A guy can walk through this door right here with your Beretta five-shot automatic, and cut the barrel off at 16 inches, and put five double-ought buckshots in there and kill everybody in here in a matter of seconds,” one voter explained. “And you don’t have to aim it.”
Another offered, “I can take my A.R., load it, put one in the chamber and throw it up on this table, and the only way it’s going to hurt anybody is if I miss and hit someone in the head. The gun doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s the person pulling the trigger.”
That’s pretty much all Manchin needed to hear: “I’m not there,” he told theTimes about the ban. “I’m definitely more inclined to be very supportive of background checks.” And he’s not even up for reelection in 2014, like Democrats in Montana, Alaska, and Colorado, all of whom initially expressed openness to the ban and have since ran it back.
The Democratic Party: never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The federal government can swoop up enormous databases, keep them for years, and data mine them to its heart’s content if it has even the slightest suspicion of terrorist activity. Objections? None to speak of, despite the fact that terrorism claims only a handful of American lives per year. But information related to guns? That couldn’t be more different. Background checks are destroyed within 24 hours, serial numbers of firearms aren’t kept in a central database at all, and gun dealers can barely even be monitored. All this despite the fact that we record more than 10,000 gun-related homicides every year.