Gun Control and How the Media Effects It
Gun Control is controversial issue in the United States today. The fact is “according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over three fourths of homicides involving 10- to 24-year olds involved a firearm in 2001. Given these alarming trends as well as recent schoolyard shootings, parents and policy makers have been pleading for tougher gun control laws in this country”(Smith et al.). The issue of gun control should be addressed, but not by the media. Media coverage of gun control, and gun related crimes is often misleading or focuses on aspects of issues that are not relevant to the cause. The media has had a negative effect on gun control and gun control issues for too long! The media is constantly misrepresenting the facts about gun control, and million mom marches in support of gun control. There is much controversy about gun control in the media. But the media is actually exploiting the topic of gun control. Reviewing several cases where the media or media personelle has misled the public about gun control and people against firearms.
The media always has something to say about gun control. Often times the media blames the media for contributing to violence among school age kids. But facts are facts and the truth of the matter is gun control is as big of a problem in the United States as it uses to be.
Since 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the number of federally licensed firearms dealers in the United States has plummeted by 80 percent. Kmart no longer sells guns, Wal-Mart just recently stopped selling guns at one-third of its stores and tens of thousands of other gun shops have gone out of business. With all the talk of recent legislative success by the National Rifle Association, it is winning some battles but may be losing the war. The gun-control movement may ultimately be winning where it really counts (“Firearms Sales and Red” A19).
Gun control as a concept has been modified in recent history and many more stipulations have been applied to a person wishing to purchase a fire arm. This is very rarely mentioned in when the media portrays gun control.
In a controversial press release, “A Million Mom March” was to be held in Washington D.C. All fingers pointed to a mother, who worked in a grocery store starting the march against gun control. This created nationwide empathy and support for the march. The March was a success and three women were even interviewed by Diane Sawyer and credited for starting the “Million Mom March”. But the truth of the matter is the march was started by “former Democratic Senate staffer — Donna Dees-Thomases — who currently is a publicist for the David Letterman show and who has familial ties to Hillary Rodham Clinton” (Barr 44).
Republican Representative Bob Barr has a valid point concerning parents marching against gun control. “It is understandable when parents touched by tragedy or concerned about their children let their emotions guide them to advocating simple solutions that won’t do a thing to stop criminals from using guns”(Barr 44). Barr goes on to mention that people against firearms have the right to march and state their point, but the media should not be there to exploit it or say it is something it is really not. This march was created by a democratic representative to state her personal opinion and have others support her cause. It is astonishing that someone in a position with so much prestige and power needs to create a story to have people support her opinion.
The media hype surrounding the school shootings that have occurred over the last fifteen years is haunting. The media has exploited these tragedies and turned them into gun control frenzy. Take for example the reality of the shootings at Columbine High School.
The first thing that struck me about the media’s coverage in Denver, and on national TV, was that although both of the shooters were obsessed with Hitler, the media treated this as a symbolic thing apart from any specific references. In other words they never made the connection between the shooters’ racism in shooting the black student Isaiah Shoels, and this obsession. They preferred to focus on the students’ interest in a German rock band, again without any description of what that band did, or what their lyrics said. Instead poor Marilyn Manson and video games were trotted out as the symbol of all that is horrible, and that the killers embraced (Weissman 29).
The Columbine shootings, as horrible as they were, were a stairway for the media to exploit gun control and highlight other outlets, such as punk rock or religion. Two of the young women shot at Columbine were asked if they believed in god immediately before they were shot. Both young women answered yes and then were murdered (Weissman 29). “The conservative-religious movement seized on this (opportunity), making these poor young women martyrs to the cause, murdered by the villainous anti-Christ killers. The fact that one special ed. kid and the African-American youth were equally singled out somehow didn’t seem to resonate in the same way for the media” (Weissman 29).
The Columbine shootings have a strong relationship with the gun control issue in the United States today. But they also show inconsistencies with media coverage. The question needs to be asked; Does the media only focus on the facts that they believe will get ratings? “The slaughter at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., was ghastly, and there have been similar awful episodes, with television covering each as luridly as if it were the end of civilization as we know it. But these school shootings are not epidemic or anywhere near, though eagerly invoked by gun-control zealots to ratchet up demands for more regulation” (West 48). It is apparent that the Columbine Shootings, the first of several school shootings, struck close to home with many American families. The shootings most certainly triggered the issue of gun control in the United States. But, “The issue of gun control seems to have been totally turned around by the Columbine shootings. State and national officials (jumped) off the NRA bandwagon and advocating restrictions on the availability of guns, at least for children” (Weissman 29). Restrictions for gun control for children is a serious issue, and this should have been the main concern of the media during this terrible time in American history.
Contrary to popular belief the Columbine shootings were not the first time a mass murder had occurred in a school. But the media coverage has increased significantly over the years (Hancock 76).
· “In 1974, a seventeen-year-old Regents scholar carted guns and homemade bombs to his upstate New York school, then killed three adults and wounded eleven others from his sniper post on the top floor. Newsweek carried only a 700-word story about the mayhem, well inside the magazine”(Hancock 78)
· “In 1978, a smart, tormented fifteen-year-old in Lansing, Michigan, killed one bully and wounded a second. The story was front-page news in the local State Journal. But ninety miles away, the Detroit Free Press ran a much smaller story inside its pages” (Hancock 78).
· “In 1988, a Virginia Beach sixteen-year-old armed himself with a semiautomatic weapon, 200 rounds of ammunition, and three firebombs before entering his Baptist school. He killed one teacher and wounded a second The Associated Press sent a brief story about the murders over the wire that was picked up without much fanfare by a handful of papers around the nation. The San Diego Union-Tribune, for instance, ran a 360-word story on page three” (Hancock 78).
Ironically a double homicide that occurred nine years before the Columbine shootings did not make national headlines. “Neither MSNBC nor CNN existed when those teens opened fire. The national and international media did not descend on victimized towns and schools. Words like “rash of killings” and “epidemic” were not mentioned in the stories” (Hancock 76). This shows that without extensive media coverage, three incidents that could have defined an era in school violence did not. Thirty years ago the media could have demanded more gun control. It was not an issue then, even with the same extreme acts of violence among teenagers.
The media also portrays pro-gun organizations such as the National Rifle Association in a negative light. “The deionization of the National Rifle Association, or NRA, through the creation of a negative stereotype — “the redneck paranoid” — which could be endlessly invoked, alluded to and represented in a variety of media. Mocking poor rural whites is one of the last acceptable bigotries so, in cartoons, for instance, the redneck can be portrayed with flies circling his NRA cap, his eyelids at a beery half-mast and a smoking six-shooter in each ham-fist”(Sarracino 29). This type of negative media attention occurs quite often when the subject of gun control is a hot topic. There has even been an episode of the Simpson’s which portrays gun owners and sellers negatively. In this episode “Homer purchases a re-volver from a gun shop called “Bloodbath and Beyond” and joins an NRA group of armed nitwits led by Moe the bartender”(Sarracino 29). The stereotypes the media places on gun owners are hypocritical and do not represent the average American gun owner in a proper way. Fewer than 50% of Americans own guns (Rosen 47). It is a proven fact that “guns are much more common in the Rocky Mountain states, South, and Midwest; in every region of the country, they are most likely to belong to middle-class, middle-aged men who live in rural areas or small towns. A useful shorthand for all this demography is that the average American gun-owner, both today and in the past, has tended to be a hunter or target-shooter (Rosen 47). In retrospect guns are used for sport and for the most part are not owned to injury or kill another human being, as often shown in media outlets.
The media is one of the most influential factors in our society today. The media defines what is right and wrong and then delivers these stories to the public in a fashion that caters to that particular reporter, public relations representative, or politician would like public to see. In conclusion, “If guns are as horrible a U.S. problem as portrayed, the myriad laws already on the books at every level of governance should be vigorously and remorselessly enforced. That might help. It also would permit law-abiding gun owners to approach parity with the thugs” (West 48). Gun control is a serious issue that should be addressed. The number of guns in the United States has almost quadrupled since the 1960’s. “The total number of firearms in circulation across the country has expanded at an astonishing rate, from about 75 million in the late 1960’s to some 230 million today. At the same time, and despite the continuing predominance of the “long” guns (that is, rifles and shotguns) favored by sportsmen, an ever-increasing share of these firearms has consisted of handguns” (Rosen 47). Handguns are more often found in the hands of criminals than long guns (Rose 47). It is acknowledged that gun control is a growing problem in the United States. “As President Clinton stated in 2000, when first-graders shoot first graders, it’s time for Congress to do what’s right for America’s families” (Smith et al.). Congress should do what is right for American Families and protect them. But the media should stick to the facts and portray gun control and gun control issues for what they really are, no stereotypes attached.
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Hancock, Lynnell. “The School Shootings: Why Context Counts.” Columbia Journalism Review May 2001: 76. Questia. 5 Apr. 2007 ;http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o;d=5001002983;.
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