The last article I wrote, one in which I detailed why a key argument in the American debate over guns makes no sense in the modern world, was published very shortly before the massacre in Aurora, Colorado took place. Since then, there has been worldwide wall-to-wall coverage of the event and its aftermath in the media. However, while news agencies like Al Jazeera and the BBC freely question what this will mean for American gun laws, many pundits on American news agencies like Fox News and CNN insist that this is not the time for the debate. Time must be given for grieving and healing, they claim. Because of all this, I have debated whether or not to tone down or pull my article. But, no, after some reflection, I have realised that this is precisely the time to reawaken this debate in America.
Michael Grunwald had a good piece on this issue in Time’s “Swampland” Blog. Grunwald mainly takes exception at how crass and lowbrow political dialogue has become in America, and his point is that American politicians should use this tragedy to bring the debate back onto policy. However, one paragraph of Grunwald’s article especially stands out:
“It’s telling that the people who get paid to analyse politics recoil at the notion that its practitioners should connect it to real-life pain. They think they’re covering a sport, an entertainment. But politics matters, because policies matter. “Obamacare” and “gay marriage” are not just issues that might play badly with swing voters or turn the tide in Virginia they’re issues that affect people’s lives. Gun control and the Second Amendment are issues, too, and now seems like a pretty good time to talk about them.”
But my point is slightly different. In reality, tragedies like Aurora are being capitalised upon anyway, but, not for the general good and not in any meaningful way. The media has utilised this tragedy to the fullest. They have gone well past their mandate of informing the masses about the important events of the day, of presenting important evidence and facts, and providing analysis and expert opinion. The media are not covering the story as if the central elements are the psychopath who committed his heinous crime, how the situation is evolving at his booby-trapped apartment, what drove him to do it, or what weapons and equipment he (legally) bought and used. The story has become a human-interest story. The media have turned the event into a three-ring circus. We have watched as victims and their family members are being forced to relive the event with cameras shoved in their faces. We are being treated to superfluous, and, often irrelevant information, as the media attempts to tug on our heartstrings and get us emotionally involved. The media, as it does whenever a tragedy unfolds, is capitalizing on the situation in order to garner better ratings, and, in turn, greater profit. Why can’t policymakers also capitalize upon the tragedy?
Both sides of the gun debate in America believe that something should be done in the wake of this tragedy. Gun proponents argue that laws and policy should be changed so that more people are armed, and, therefore, if a similar situation arose in the future, someone would be in a position to fight back. Gun opponents are arguing that restrictions should be tightened so that the ability to procure assault weapons, larger magazines, accessories that allow such rapid firing, and such large quantities of ammunition, is no longer possible. I come down on the side of the latter, but right now I make no judgements on the relative merits of either side of the debate. The point is, as the media does, the policy makers and the public should be able to capitalize on this situation. They should be allowed to leverage it in order to bring about effective and useful change. While this tragedy is still fresh in our collective consciences, both sides of the debate should be allowed to connect the gun control debate to the “real-life pain” that Grunwald describes.
Too long has America’s gun debate languished in abstract terms, as policymakers are forbidden to conduct real debate on gun control in the wake of issues it deeply affects. Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Gabriel Gifford’s shooting, and, now, the Aurora, Colorado Massacre, some of these events might have been stopped or the carnage might have been lessened if a reasonable debate had been allowed to be carried out in the wake of previous tragedies. Here is an opportunity once again to connect a real world tragedy to a real world problem, Americans can have a real debate, and, possibly, change the next event for the better. By all means yes. Politicize the tragedy. It might help.
Originally posted @ Sakalabujan Magazine