America must tackle its media before it can change its gun laws
Gun control is, for perfectly understandable reasons, an emotional and difficult subject matter to examine. Indeed, the crimes that are atrocious enough to ignite yet another iteration of the tired old debate regarding the implementation of stricter gun control laws in the U.S. are often crimes that warrant a period of political silence.
A period wherein the victims are left to grieve and communities are provided with at least something approximating peace to rebuild what such crimes destroy. This is not an attempt to weasel out of having a debate on gun control, far from it.
The point that I am trying to make is that when crimes of such magnitude are committed within such a limited span of time, it is perhaps better to enter the gun control debate with cool, collected heads and a critical eye turned towards both sides of the debate.
I say this as someone who has struggled deeply with my own position on the gun control debate-and I live many, many, many miles away from the states. How difficult it must be to remain rational and open minded in the midst of the victims emotional turmoil, hounded on all sides by dishonest media outlets, conspiracy theorists and moneyed interests, I cannot imagine.
On the surface, the case for increased gun control appears obvious
Often, after these sorts of crimes, urgent calls are made both by mainstream media outlets and by members of the so-called ‘new media’ or the ‘alternative media’ for tighter restrictions on firearms. These debates often have a tendency to shift away from the pragmatic uses for guns against the potential destructive consequences of their access into debates between differing interpretations of the Second Amendment.
I will not be focusing on the debate surrounding the Second Amendment. Although that discussion certainly has its place within the wider context of the gun control debate, I believe that it is necessary to remove oneself from the vaguer, ideological factions waging war throughout this debate. Instead, for the sake of this article, I want to look at the overall impact of gun ownership in America to determine whether the increased regulation (or even the prohibition of) certain firearms would be a rational policy to pursue.
On the surface, the case for increased gun control appears obvious. Even when one takes into account the apparent vagueness of the term ‘gun violence’, which actually includes all examples of violence that are carried out with the use of a firearm.
Indeed, when one examines gun violence with this perspective, it cannot be denied that the majority of America’s (misleadingly labelled) gun violence actually culminates from suicide as opposed to one person (or persons) inflicting violence upon another person (or persons).
It is also interesting to note that while a potential correlation might exist between gun ownership and gun suicide (although this research is far from conclusive), the majority of “malicious gun violence” actually seems to occur under Democrat controlled congressional districts.
If guns are overwhelmingly being used to prevent crime more than they are being used to carry out violent crime, is the implementation of tighter gun restrictions the answer?
Again, although suicide has its place in the wider gun control debate, it will not be the focus of this article, as the concern at the heart of the argument for increased gun control is derived from a desire to put an end to the sorts of mass shootings carried out in El Paso and Dayton. So, let us compare the violence inflicted by guns to the violence prevented by guns.
In 2018, Mass Shooting Tracker recorded a total of 426 mass shootings. Even when one takes into consideration that the criteria used by the site to determine a mass shooting is for four or more people to be shot (not killed), it is still a staggeringly high number. Yet, not as staggering as the results of a study ordered by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that stated that “Defensive use of guns by crime is a common occurrence”. Indeed, the annual estimates range from 500,000 to more than three million defensive uses, compared to 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.
Even if one uses the lowest estimation provided by the CDC, 500, 000 overshadows the 300,000 violent crimes estimated to have been committed in 2008. If guns are overwhelmingly being used to prevent crime more than they are being used to carry out violent crime, is the implementation of tighter gun restrictions the answer?
Remember, only a minority of gun deaths are the result of the type of sensationalised mass shootings that transpired in El Paso and Dayton. It was estimated in 2016 that 38,658 died as a result of gun violence in the US in 2016, 22,938 of which were suicides, 14,415 of which were homicides and only 71 of which were the result of a mass shooting.
So what is the answer?
Perhaps the truth (for once) lies with the media. According to the criminologist Jaclyn Schildkraut, the fixation of the media on the perpetrators of mass shootings sends “a message that you will be known when you kill”. In the aftermath of the mass shooting that transpired in Parkland, Florida in 2018, Schildkraut described how the media transformed the perpetrator into a celebrity.
Indeed, if Americans truly desire to bring an end to this sort of violence then they are going to have to make far more significant changes than stricter gun regulations
This concern has been echoed by Dr. Jennifer Johnson, a researcher at Western New Mexico University, who stated that “a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame. If mass media and social media enthusiasts make a pact to no longer share…or retweet the names, faces, detailed histories or long-winded statements of killers, we could see a dramatic reduction in mass shootings in one to two years”.
Although it would be incorrect to claim that media coverage is the only (or even the best) way to reduce the rate of gun violence in the US, an end to the media’s cynical exploitation of the victims of such horrendous crimes, alongside the potential drop in the particular type of gun violence we have seen so recently, would be a positive achievement.
Indeed, if Americans truly desire to bring an end to this sort of violence, they are going to have to make far more significant changes than stricter gun regulations. They must change the way they approach social media, as well as one another and those with influence in mainstream media outlets must work to prioritise accuracy, restraint, objectivity and compassion over emotional manipulation to get eyeballs glued to their talking heads.