The Media Has Become Defeatist in the Face of Regular Mass Shootings — That’s a Problem
“Another mass shooting and no one cares to do anything” is no longer an apt comment to explain apathy and tragedy fatigue that follows such a heart-wrenching event.
No, after the events of the past weekend, that awful cliché must now be updated, absurdly, to a plural form: “More mass shootings and no one cares to do anything.”
Nonetheless here we are. A feeling of national self-loathing born from recognizing both just how awful the climate has become (for many disparate yet connected reasons) and how helpless we all feel to do anything about it. And that helplessness, sadly, is fueled by the defeated attitude that our political leaders — and commentariat — promote by openly admitting that the cause is lost, or that there is next to nothing we can do in the face of more innocents being murdered at random.
After the massacre in Las Vegas nearly two years ago that saw more than 50 concert-goers die at the hands of another crazed and confused gunman, there was a string of conservative pundits who all seemed to shrug their shoulders. Signaling to their American viewers that this is the new normal.
In what I hyperbolically called “the scariest part” of that tragic ordeal, was that the pro-Gun rights message was that nothing could be done to fix this problem, essentially killing an important and necessary conversation before it could start.
Bill O’Reilly bizarrely called the underlying circumstances of the Las Vegas shooting the “cost of freedom.” Fox News’ Laura Ingraham claimed that it’s not the role of government to prevent such a crime instead of blaming America’s decaying moral values for the attack. “Is there a government solution to every human problem? I would say no,” Ingraham said. And former House Speaker Jason Chaffetz said, “I don’t know of a single thing that could have prevented this,” before adding that “I wish there was something that I could do to go back in time and just make sure that it never happened.”
It’s still early in the aftermath of the weekend mass shootings, but tune in to prime time cable news programs tonight, and you will be sure to hear very similar notes. Nothing could have changed the events of the past weekend, so why try anything at all?
But it’s not just conservative commentariat that promotes this very dangerous defeatist attitude. We see something very similar — though still materially different — from many on the progressive side of the political spectrum.
From the left, we hear how “after Sandy Hook” we knew that we’d never be able to do anything, or, as the common refrain goes, “once we were okay with first graders being gunned down so senselessly,” we will never have the courage to make any material changes.
It often seems that liberal commentators are more interested in the constant drumbeat of how many elected officials are in the NRA’s pocket (a truth, no doubt) instead of providing meaningful and realistic solutions to what can fairly be called a national crisis.
Yes, there are exceptions — MSNBC and CNN will occasionally feature segments about “what can be done.” Though these feel more like thought exercises at a tony dinner party instead of realistic and workable solutions. And as a result, none of these theoretical solutions gain any traction. Nothing happens.
But Americans are truly sick of this awful trend. And the defeatism on nearly constant parade on cable news shows a real disconnection between media and the real body politic.
Former GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy got a lot of deserved attention for his Sunday appearance on Fox News. The former congressman — and now Fox News contributor — got remarkably emotional in calling for action after mass shootings, saying the right to bear arms doesn’t matter if you’re dead. But before you heap too many laurels on Gowdy’s apparent call for action, he ended with a defeated “show me a law” that will work, which seemed a clear euphemism for “no proposed law will work” So why even bother?
The last time I wrote such a column I was invited on to Tucker Carlson where he and I battled about serious actions to be taken. Carlson thought I was “virtue signaling” in my column because, accusing me of a lack of knowledge on gun reform. My point was — and still is — that we should all be willing to have at least a reasoned and dispassionate conversation about how to move forward.
But to get ahead of Tucker’s expected animus, here are reasons to be somewhat optimistic on making even a little bit of progress on this troubling issue.
First of all, let’s give the conservative side of the debate proper respect. It is true that we will never end mass shootings. It is not a perfect world, nor will it ever be.
But the goal is not the complete eradication of mass shootings, just like we can never eradicate other forms of evil. The goal should be lessening the frequency of mass shootings. Anything that can be done to bring real abatement to their unprecedented numbers should be seriously considered.
Secondly, mental health is a real issue, as is largely unmonitored internet communities that have become the digital province for individuals that fit the profile of mass shooters. Another crucial problem, as I see it at least, is the isolation that so many feel — websites like 8chan and video games like first person shooters are only the preferred pastimes and symptoms of this problem. Better identifying the isolated characteristic will help us find and help those before they go down such a violent and awful path.
Third? Things that have been proposed before, and too often, in the wake of these consistent tragedies. Reinstitute the Assault Rifle Ban? Absolutely. There is a reason mass shootings shot up in frequency once that ban expired.
High capacity ammo cartridges? Regulate them. Why the hell does anyone need a 100-round cartridge, as was used by the gunman in Dayton. No one is hunting for a 100 deer herd. Limiting ammo capacity is an easy win that will undoubtably reduce fatalities.
Deeper background checks? If Facebook can serve you a contextual ad just minutes after you Google a product you are interested in purchase, surely we can improve psychological profiles available to gun sellers. Yes, there is the concern of a Big Brother panopticon, but if it doesn’t bother us with pedestrian consumer items, why should it bother us with high-powered weaponry? By the way, President Donald Trump is into this idea, he just needs some political support to push through. Oddly, he’d likely need Congressional support from the left — could such a coalition work? Worth a shot.
Finally, it is fair to say that the NRA has had an outsized influence on this conversation, as they have put a line the pockets of too many politicians who have placed reelection efforts ahead of reasonable policy that the majority of Americans yearn for.
But here’s the good news: the NRA is in complete disarray. Reports of possible financial troubles, infighting at top levels of the organization and the end of the awful NRATV project all suggest that the NRA is in contraction. So too, it stands to reason, is their influence.
In sum, it is understandable to have had a defeatist attitude regarding reasonable gun reform over the past decade. But the promotion of the “glass half empty” assessment only encourages inaction at a time we can ill afford.
There are plenty of very good reasons for those who want effective change and lessen the frequency of mass shootings to believe things can get better. And understanding the opportunity before us, and embracing it, is the first step towards willing it to be.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.