Huffington Post has an article up that is both frightening and revealing of the American mindset when it comes to how ordinary citizens and the media view gun violence. The article, 80 Dead, talks about how Americans have become inured to the reality of the number of people killed on a daily basis in states across the country. With the latest mass murder in Isla Vista where six young people lost their lives at the hands of the disturbed young man, Elliot Rodger, the nation became fixated on the latest of a long line of tragedies. The article’s authors note that in today’s world of mass killings, the media tends to gravitate to high profile shootings that carry national news interest. Yet, as they note, this tendency tends to play down the severity of the issue of gun violence:
“But instances such as the one at UC Santa Barbara are rare in respect to gun-related homicides. In fact, FBI data shows that there were 900 people who died in mass shootings from 2006 through 2012. By contrast, firearms were used in 11,078 homicides in 2010 alone, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
The article graphically details the fact that in the week preceding Rodger’s rampage eighty people across the nation died from gunshot wounds with a detailed list of a state by state tally (California and New Orleans the leaders). This goes on week after week, yet the media still ignores the cumulative impact these numbers have on society and families across the country. So, why do “high profile” incidents get the lion’s share of national coverage? The article states,
“And for those on the frontline of the gun control debate, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher as to how the press tends to cover instances of violence.
There’s a grim calculus in the heads of journalists about what makes a shooting newsworthy,” said Mark Glaze, executive director of the Bloomberg-backed Everytown for Gun Safety. “The total number killed and injured tends to be variable one. The role of young people as perpetrators or victims is a close number two.” Glaze argued that press coverage was actually becoming more comprehensive, with reporters “actually paying more attention to the 33 daily gun murders in America than they did five or 10 years ago.”
That may be true. But, unlike with Rodger’s killing spree, there was no national news coverage for the killings in New Orleans. Indeed, unless the shooting involved an athlete or a TV star, the only media that covered gun-related killings the week before Rodger took up arms was in the communities affected.”
The FBI designates a mass murder as four or more killings in a contained area where the deaths can be attributed to one or more gunmen, as opposed to serial killings which can cover a good deal of time and range far afield. When children are thrown into the mix as occurred in Sandy Hook or young people in the case of Virginia Tech, the “gruesome” effect hits home to a greater number of citizens who are more likely to relate to the loss of their own children.
Yet, eighty people died nationwide the week before Rodger gunned down (and knifed) six people in his horrific killing spree. This begs the question of what have we become as a society when we allow the deaths of so many to go unnoticed, yet stayed glued to the television set to see the airing of a madman’s manifesto and hear the latest spin pundits put on his actions.
This is not to say that the six dead students and their families do not deserve all of the heartfelt pity and empathy our society can offer. They, like the eighty anonymous souls lost across the nation the week before, are victims of a society that sensationalizes the big picture, yet turns a blind eye to the microcosm of our inner cities and small town tragedies that happen every day, day in day out, year after year.
So, it goes. Yet, the gun nuts, NRA and pro-gun lobbyists won’t be moved to enact sensible gun regulations. They are often too busy being kicked out of restaurants for showing up armed to the teeth to exercise their First Amendment right to bear arms, even when they scare the hell out of families and their children who have to sit in booths directly across from them.
Then there is Joe the Plumber, and his open letter to the families of the victims of Elliot Rodger. In the letter he stated:
“I am sorry you lost your child. I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But:
As harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”
“Your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights” – How comforting that must sound to the families of the dead students as they bury them to say nothing about eighty other families across the country dealing with the loss of their loved ones.