Jon Stewart. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini.)
Yesterday was just another gunapalooza day in America. A prosecutor was shot down in the street in Texas by two men in tactical vests, who got away. And another school shooting, this time at a middle school in Atlanta. Slate.com and the Twitter feed @GunDeaths continue to chart fatal shootings since Sandy Hook, and today that count is up to 1,478—but that’s only a partial tally, as they do not have access to all accounts.
As I noted earlier this week, the media, in contrast to the aftermath of previous gun massacres, have stayed on this issue pretty closely, so far—helped along by periodic statements from the White House and, this week, hearings in Congress and in Newtown itself. Still, there’s no guarantee that this will continue for much longer, and then there’s the question of how accurate and probing the reporting will be.
To date we have seen, in too many places, the typicial he said/she said kind of journalism Jay Rosen calls “the view from nowhere.” You know: Gun critics have their facts, and the NRA and their alllies have theirs. Report them equally and let the public walk away confused and helpless.
At this week’s Senate hearing, former Representative Gabby Giffords, one of the nation’s most famous victims of gun violence, said to lawmakers: “Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.” She could have just as easily addressed this to the media.
So it was refeshing to see an editorial in The New York Times today bluntly contradict the oft-repeated claim that the assault weapons ban, now lapsed, did not do much at all to control the problem—worthless, as Wayne LaPierre said again this week.
Of course, the ban was allowed to lapse partly due to such propaganda. The Times provides ample evidence to the contrary. “The false statistics,” they point out, “comfort members of Congress who fear the gun lobby or their more conservative constituents, or both, and are blocking a new and stronger ban on assault weapons proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein.”
Just a sample of the facts:
The information is there if Congress is interested. After the ban expired, 37 percent of police departments reported noticeable increases in criminals’ use of assault weapons, according to a 2010 report by the Police Executive Research Forum.
In Virginia, the number of guns with high capacity magazines seized by police dropped after they were included in the 1994 weapons ban, but then rebounded sharply after the ban expired, according to a 2011 study by The Washington Post. Maryland enacted its own more stringent ban on assault weapons ban in 1994, and a 55 percent drop in assault pistols from crime scenes was reported by the Baltimore police.
And leave it to Jon Stewart at The Daily Show to provide his own fact-checking for the media on this issue, in two strong segments last night. He even catches LaPierre in making a call for universal background checks back in 1999. Meanwhile the media—led by CNN’s Jessica Yellin—seem obsessed with whether Obama will release a photo to prove that he does, indeed, like to shoot skeet at Camp David.