Last week local papers in New York City were captivated by yet another senseless killing. A 46-year old Indian immigrant, Sunando Sen, was pushed onto the subway tracks as a train was pulling into the station by a woman standing nearby. He was killed by the collision and initially, the woman, with whom he had not visibly communicated in any way, fled the scene. The city was left asking what many communities affected by senseless violence ask: Why?
Interviews with police after the perpetrator’s capture indicated that she harbored hatred toward Muslims and Indians since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Immediately the fingers of blame settled on Pamela Geller, the creator and funder of controversial subway ads about Muslims earlier this year. Her detractors called them incendiary and warned of potential violence; this incident was the moment they were waiting for–a chance to say “I told you so.” And they did.
The decision of a newspaper in New York’s Westchester County to publish an interactive map that allowed readers to discover the names and addresses of owners of legal guns is generally being debated as one about whether the Gannett-owned Journal News showed good judgment. It didn’t, but the problem goes a lot deeper than whether or not a newspaper ought to publicize information that is legally available to the public in this manner. The controversy goes to the heart of the entire discussion about guns in this country.
No matter what those behind this stunt say, this wasn’t about the safety of the community or the right of the public to information. Rather, this was about the desire on the part of some in the liberal mainstream media to stigmatize legal gun ownership and to whip up sentiment for not just tighter controls but an eventual ban. This makes it easier to understand why the National Rifle Association fiercely resists even the most reasonable gun control measures. If even those who have jumped through the not inconsiderable hoops erected by the authorities to gain a legal gun permit in New York are now to be treated as if they were the moral equivalent of sex offenders, it’s clear the goal of the anti-gun media is not just to focus discussion on assault weapons and large ammunition clips but to ban individual gun ownership altogether.
The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York has a fine piece on how journalists, including news anchors like CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Don Lemon, have become fierce advocates for gun control.
In his column Mr. York quotes Frank Sesno, a former CNN reporter and Washington bureau chief who is now director of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, who said there should be a “media agenda” on guns to push the issue until government action becomes a reality. “The media themselves have a huge opportunity and power and responsibility to channel this,” Sesno told CNN’s Howard Kurtz. And the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg–an NRA critic who wrote an intelligent article on the case for more guns and more gun control–pointed out, ”Reporters on my Twitter feed seem to hate the NRA more than anything else, ever.”
A few thoughts on all this:
The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.
A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:
National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre doubled down on his defiant stance in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre yesterday by defending his proposal for a federal program to put armed guards at schools around the nation on the Sunday talk shows. On “Meet the Press,” he said, “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.” He’s right to the extent that there is nothing foolish about a discussion about strengthening security in schools. But NRA members who have lashed out at anyone who had the temerity to criticize LaPierre for his tone deaf response to Newtown after a week of silence, as I did both here at Contentions and in the New York Post, should realize something else. LaPierre’s idea may not be crazy, but it also isn’t conservative.
If there is anything at the heart of the modern conservative moment it’s the impulse to push back at the liberal drive to increase the power and the reach of the federal government at the expense of the states and local communities. Nothing is a greater threat to our individual liberty than giving federal bureaucrats the ability to impose their fiats on the nation through unfunded mandates and regulations. Yet that is exactly what LaPierre’s hare-brained scheme to make school security a federal program would do. After decades of furiously and rightly resisting attempts by liberals to bypass local resistance to gun control laws via federal legislation, the NRA is now playing the same card. If the group wants to know why most congressional Republicans have given the idea a chilly reception, it’s not only due to the public relations disaster that resulted from the group’s Friday presser; it’s because nationalizing school security is a liberal concept, not a conservative one.
Turn on virtually any talk show heard or viewed in the mainstream media this past week and it’s clear that most of the chattering classes are convinced that the Newtown massacre marks a turning point in the history of American culture. According to this narrative, the country’s understandable shock and horror over the slaughter of innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is the equivalent of Pearl Harbor or 9/11 in that it has fundamentally altered the political correlation of forces that has prevented gun control. More to the point, they believe this sea change is so profound that it will effectively silence advocates of gun rights so as to render them incapable of stopping whatever it is that Vice President Biden’s task force comes up with.
The principal target of this effort is, of course, the National Rifle Association that sensibly stayed silent for several days after Newtown and has only just started to make its voice heard. Most liberals are assuming that the low profile the group has had since then is just the start of a new era in which its influence will be curtailed. The assumption is that anger about Newtown is so great and the impulse to try to do something to prevent another mass shooting is so widely supported that the NRA will no longer dictate to Congress. But, as the Pew poll cited earlier by Alana shows, support for gun rights may yet survive Newtown.
I certainly agree with Peter’s post that Piers Morgan is a first-class jerk. His vicious, insulting tirade against Larry Pratt should, at the least, have gotten him severely reprimanded by CNN. If you invite a guest into your house, you don’t treat him that way. But Peter makes an interesting point:
Morgan embodies an attitude that we’re seeing more and more on the left. It’s a nasty combination of supreme self-righteousness and reflexive demonization. Piers Morgan can’t accept that people of good will and decency might hold views that are very different than he does on gun control. And so it’s not enough to say Pratt is wrong; he has to be portrayed by Morgan as moronic and a moral monster.
The Pew Research Center released a poll today that found Americans support gun control over gun rights, 49 percent to 42 percent. A shift in favor of gun control would be expected after last week’s horrific shooting in Newtown. But Politico is reporting on this as if it’s a major attitude change:
More Americans prioritize gun control above Second Amendment rights by the widest margin since President Barack Obama took office, according to a new poll released Thursday in wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
Forty-nine percent of those polled said it’s more important to control gun ownership, compared to 42 percent who say it’s more important to protect Americans’ rights to own guns, according to a Pew Research Center Poll.
The Pew poll showed a slight shift toward gun control that wasn’t apparent following a July shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. Following that shooting, 47 percent thought it was more important to control gun ownership and 46 percent said it was more important to protect gun rights, according to Pew, within the poll’s margin of error.
On Tuesday night, CNN’s Piers Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America. Anyone who has watched Morgan knows he has an obsessive dislike for America’s gun culture. He’s a fierce advocate for gun control, so it didn’t take a genius to predict the interview would be confrontational. But it turned out to be much more, and much uglier, than that.
Mr. Morgan was furious, insulting, and childish during the interview. He called Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man,” “dangerous,” accused Pratt of being a liar, said, “You shame your country,” and for good measure added, “You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America.”
On Morgan v. Pratt, I have three observations to make. The first is that you would think that if Mr. Pratt was as stupid as Morgan said, Morgan could easily best him in a debate. But he didn’t. And I say that as someone who has disagreements with Pratt on gun control.
Today President Obama announced an interagency task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, to guide his administration’s response to the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School. Politico reports “it will follow a call on Friday for ‘meaningful action’ and his Sunday pledge to use the White House to ‘engage’ Americans to prevent mass shootings. According to a White House official, the president likely won’t make significant policy announcements but will instead explain how his administration will determine what to do next.”
The president is well-known for asking groups of people to gather to discuss problems of national importance, including task forces on: working families, the middle class; Guantanamo Bay, commercial advocacy, Hurricane Sandy rebuilding, interagency ocean policy, childhood obesity, Puerto Rico’s status, federal contracting opportunities for small businesses, climate change adaption, financial fraud enforcement, and many, many others. A search on the White House website for the words “task force” yields 86,000 results. What exactly have these task forces accomplished? What legislation has been put forth? What executive orders have been put into effect? What do they do besides issue reports?
On the morning of October 1, 1997, 16-year-old Luke Woodham of Pearl, Mississippi slit his mother’s throat, grabbed a rifle, loaded his pockets with ammo, and drove his dead mom’s car to Pearl High School. There he opened fire, killing two kids and injuring seven others. Woodham then got back in the car with the intention of heading to nearby Pearl Junior High, where he planned on becoming his own copycat. But he never got there. Woodham crashed his car when he saw another gun trained on him through the windshield. That gun belonged to Pearl High’s vice principal Joel Myrtle, who had got his Colt .45 out of his truck at the first sound of shots fired. Myrtle managed to subdue Woodham until police showed up.
The similarities between the Pearl High School shooting and Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook are strong. Depraved minds are rarely original. But the central difference between the two tragedies is important. Woodham, unlike Adam Lanza, was stopped mid-rampage by a law-abiding citizen with a gun. We can’t know how many innocent young lives the quick-thinking vice principal saved. While this doesn’t constitute an air-tight case for the availability of guns as defense against gun violence, it does remind us that such a case exists. It is a thoughtful case for saving lives, not ending them. Its defenders can adduce mounds of supporting data. And it is a case grounded in constitutional rights.
In the aftermath of the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we’re seeing a groundswell of support for stricter gun control laws.
The impulse is understandable. The public, and particularly the political class, feel like they need to do something to address killings like we’ve seen in recent years at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colorado, and now Newtown, Connecticut. A great evil has been perpetrated–and a great nation has to respond. There is an imperative to act. “You can’t just curse the night,” is how Fox News’ Juan Williams put it. “You have to do something.” CNN’s anchor Don Lemon went even further, saying, “It doesn’t matter if gun violence is down… We need to get guns and bullets and automatic weapons off the streets. They should only be available to police officers and to hunt al-Qaeda and the Taliban and not hunt children.”
The danger, then, is that the powerful emotions of this moment lead us to act in ways that don’t actually address the problem–but do give the appearance of having achieved something worthwhile.
It has long been argued by psychologists and political scientists that most suicide bombers are not mentally ill and most aren’t inherently suicidal. Rather they are indoctrinated or brain-washed by terrorist organizations to perform high-profile attacks with a political or religious motive. Adam Lankford, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, seeks to dramatically revise our understanding of this phenomenon with a new book which he adapted into a New York Times op-ed today. He argues: “For years, the conventional wisdom has been that suicide terrorists are rational political actors, while suicidal rampage shooters are mentally disturbed loners. But the two groups have far more in common than has been recognized.”
His arguments would radically revise our understanding of terrorists and their motivations–if they were true. But his evidence is, to put it charitably, less than convincing.
There is little doubt that the Newtown killings have materially changed the discussion in this country about guns. The shock and horror about the murder of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School has created a demand for some sort of action by the government that will assuage the public’s need to believe that another school massacre can somehow be prevented. The result is that President Obama has the opportunity to pursue an assault weapons ban or restrictions on ammunition without having to worry very much about the usually vociferous opposition to such measures from the National Rifle Association and its many supporters.
That such measures are unlikely to prevent mentally unstable persons from obtaining weapons is almost beside the point. Governments cannot legislate the abolition of the sort of evil that led a disturbed individual to kill children in Connecticut last Friday. Nor is it likely or even desirable that Washington seeks to restrict the rights of Hollywood or video game makers that produce the sort of violent entertainment that creates the culture of violence that may also contribute to crime. Sadly, there is little likelihood that any of this will lead to a push to give more funding to the sort of mental health issues that do lead directly to violence.
Having said some critical things about former Governor Mike Huckabee in the context of his comments about the Newtown massacre, it’s only fair, I think, to point out that Huckabee’s tone was much more reasonable and less offensive yesterday morning. It’s worth pointing out that Huckabee, perhaps aware of some of the criticisms he has received, went out of his way to say, “I’m not suggesting by any stretch that if we had prayer in schools regularly as we once did that this wouldn’t have happened.”
That is, of course, exactly what Huckabee suggested in his comments on Friday. There’s simply no other way to interpret these comments on the day of the killings:
We ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we do not want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police, if they catch us, but we stand one day before a holy God in judgment… Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end and we would not have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.
At Tablet, Liel Leibovitz takes a look at why gun violence is less common in Israel–where many carry guns openly–than in the U.S.:
Why? In the days since 27 innocents, most of them children, were murdered in Sandy Hook Elementary School, all have been asking that question, trying to make sense of an ultimately senseless act. Simpler minds insisted that anyone who has ever argued in favor of anything but the absolute abolition of firearms was complicit in the murder of innocent children, while more astute thinkers tried to look past their indignation and heartbreak in search of sensible policy alternatives. Not surprisingly, they often ended up looking to Israel, a nation, went the argument, whose citizens are heavily armed yet rarely use their guns to shoot each other. This, more than one report noted, was due largely to Israel’s surprisingly strict gun-control legislation: Assault rifles are banned, registration is necessary, and a whole system of checks and requirements is in place to keep weapons out of the wrong hands. A popular statistic spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter: Only 58 Israelis were killed by guns last year, compared with 10,728 Americans.
In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Newtown this past week, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the Second Amendment. There has not, unfortunately, been a reevaluation of the role the First Amendment played in the tragedy.
The media’s coverage of Newtown from the outset was marred by such complete incompetence that it’s almost impossible to keep track of every incorrect detail that on-air personalities told viewers in the first few hours. Initially, Americans were informed: there were two gunmen and that one was still at large; the shooter was a father of one of the students in the school; the father of the shooter was dead; the shooter was named Ryan, not Adam, Lanza; an entire kindergarten class was unaccounted for; it was kindergarteners, not 1st-graders, that were the primary target; the classroom of the shooter’s mother was targeted, and that was where she died. The shooter’s unconfirmed autism diagnosis was discussed by multiple outlets as a possible contributing factor to the shooting, yet what was never mentioned was that those that fall on the autism spectrum are not any more likely to exhibit planned violent tendencies than the average member of the public.
The president said exactly what most Americans were thinking yesterday when he declared at the memorial for the victims of the Newtown massacre: “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” In the aftermath of terrible events such as the horrifying murder of 20 children in Newtown, we demand that those in authority do something to ensure that it won’t happen again.
But what we don’t think about in these days of shock and grief is whether the proposals floated during such times have more to do with our need to feel in control of events than a rational plan of action. The “don’t just stand there, do something” impulse is natural in politicians who always wish to be seen as having the answers. But the notion that we can legislate or preach such insane acts out of existence may reflect our unwillingness to appear helpless in the face of evil or madness more than anything else.
President Obama never said the words “gun control” during his speech at the memorial to the victims of the Newtown shooting last night. But when he said, “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction,” that was a clear signal he would use the appalling murder of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School to pursue some sort of new restrictions on gun ownership. The president said the fact that “the politics are too hard”–a reference to the ability of the National Rifle Association to tie up gun legislation rather than any difficulties associated with efforts to prioritize mental health–could not be allowed to prevent the nation from trying to prevent future tragedies.
The nation’s shock and grief over the murder of children by a gun-wielding madman makes this a propitious moment for another try at instituting an assault weapons ban. Even a staunch opponent of gun laws such as West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin said today on “Morning Joe” that he was thinking it was time to “move beyond rhetoric” about changing gun laws. Manchin said that as a hunter he never had more than three bullets in his rifle, a statement that would appear to place him on the side of those who would seek to outlaw weapons that fire massive amounts of ammunition in seconds such as the one used by the shooter. But as even the New York Times reported yesterday, the AR-15 style rifle used by the killer is, in fact, not an exotic killing machine but “the most popular rifle in America” and apparently the gun preferred by target shooters and hunters, as well as those seeking a weapon for self-defense. That will complicate the efforts of those gun control advocates seeking to exploit the Newtown tragedy.
There are few things in life more heart-rending than the death of innocent children.
It happened far more frequently in earlier times, of course. But that only makes it more difficult for us to cope when something like the tragedy in Newtown occurs, with twenty 6- and 7-year-olds gunned down by a madman. One minute they were alive, their eyes bright with eagerness, lives of limitless possibilities ahead of them. The next they were lifeless, lying in pools of blood, irretrievably lost to those who brought them into the world and loved them beyond measure.
But cope we must, each in his own way.