Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Why Are They Surprised?

If you don’t watch the nightly news on TV, you may be missing how much gun violence there is in your city and how far that gun violence reaches into almost every age group and neighborhood.

In Houston, where I live, fully the first 10 minutes of each night’s broadcast follows a too-familiar formula:

Last night/this morning/earlier today a man/woman/child/shopper/bystander/convenience store clerk/intruder was shot by an estranged spouse/former employee/angry driver/homeowner/toddler/business owner/teenager.  The shooting happened in the victim’s home/in a parking lot/inside a store/at the grandparent’s home/across the street from the school.”

The reporter, standing in front of crime scene tape and the blurred lights of ambulance or police cars, puts the microphone up to a distraught neighbor/teacher/mother/coach/employer/cousin/friend dismayed that such a violent act could happen in this neighborhood/park/school/shopping center/hospital/family’s home.   The victim was a great guy/a caring mom/a loyal employee/a trusted friend. The shooter is described as no one we would ever suspect/a loner/a quiet neighbor/someone always talking about his guns/an angry man/a troubled teen.  The suspect got away/is in custody/has no prior record/is well known to police/said he didn't know why he pulled the trigger.

It would be easy to dismiss these police-blotter news leads as sensational journalism.  But the shootings are too numerous, the stories too similar. The formulaic reporting is evidence of the frequency of these shootings: the daily occurrence of gun violence that takes human life, destroying the lives of the victims and their shooters.  The reporters have a formula for their stories because we have not yet come to grips as a society with the scale, scope and harm done by guns in America.  We have not created those “special protections”  of smart laws to control guns, to work out peaceful ways of resolving conflicts, to create social stability essential for protecting each other – and our communities – from a gun culture that becomes so “normal” that a reporter just has to fill in the blanks to get the latest shooting ready for the 10 o’clock broadcast.    

In case we forget, here is how big the problem is and why as parents and teachers and neighbors and voters, we can’t let it continue:

2015 statistics
There were 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870 people.  A total of 13,286 people were killed (excluding suicide) in the US by firearms in 2015, and 26,819 people were injured.

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