How media distorts gun violence in America
The tragedy that occurred three weeks ago from the senseless killing of nine students at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, was just that – a tragedy. As were last year’s shootings at UC Santa Barbara, Sandy Hook Elementary School and Aurora, Colo. Many more incidents of bloody massacres, grieving families and national loss come to mind.
Because all of these events are noteworthy and tragic in their own right, it feels unjust to simply gloss over any one.There are the firearm homicides not committed in the midst of a mass shooting, the suicides and accidental deaths we hear about only occasionally. Those must not be forgotten. But how many of those happen?
Following the Umpqua shooting, a YouGov/ Huffington Post survey showed that a wide range of responses to that question bring a median guess of about 5,000 firearm deaths in the United States per year. The other 48 percent had no clue about the number, not enough to even venture a guess – they simply responded with “I don’t know.”
Unfortunately, the respondents who elected to answer aren’t very close to the true number. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 32,888 people were killed by firearms in the United States in 2013. Of these men, women and children, 21,875 took their own lives; 11,208 were intentionally murdered; and 505 perished from an accidental gunshot. Of those homicides, 502 were committed as part of a mass shooting.
The total amount of gun-linked homicides in the United States dwarfs the amount of people killed in mass shootings. About 31 people are murdered with firearms every day in single shooting events, 29 of whom die outside of mass-shootings.
Why don’t we hear about the Americans who are victims of single-shooter deaths? Why did CNN devote practically 24 hour coverage to Roseburg, Ore. on Oct. 1, without any mention of the 29 others who lost their life to guns that same day? Why did our President, in his strong political statement following the Umpqua tragedy, fail to also extend his thoughts and condolences to those forgotten 29?
Statistically, those 29 people were mostly men, between the ages of 18 and 30. They were African-American, Hispanic, impoverished and inner-city inhabitants. So were their killers. Unlike the largely white, middle-class mass shooters, whose profiles are ardently dissected by cable news, these killers aren’t the victims of mental illness. They are instead the victims of a much more pervasive illness, one not as sensationalist and appealing to viewers. They are the victims of fractured households, poverty, poor education, bad role models and the appeal of gang culture. They are the products of income inequality, institutional racism and damaged inner city values.
But CNN won’t get the ratings it needs by profiling these 29 victims. It’s much easier to pity and fear a mentally ill kid that lives in a middle-class neighborhood. President Obama won’t pack the same political punch by describing the plight of these 29 other families who experienced loss and tragedy on Oct. 1. It’s much easier to relate and grieve for the middle class victims of mass-shootings at universities and movie theaters. This is understandable. Most Americans are middle class. Most Americans have either been in a university or a theater.
Yet the other 29 warrant, at the least, a mention. Even if the cable television demographic can’t relate to these deaths, news is meant to do more than simply elicit grief and sympathy — it is meant to inform Americans about issues. It is hard to blame ourselves and our fellow countrymen for our gross underestimate of the amount of life lost at the behest of firearms, when media refuses to talk about the other 29.
On a political level, knowledge of these deaths and more responsible media coverage would create a better informed electorate. Issues like institutional racism and inner city poverty, the issues that affect the 29, should be brought up for debate and discussion. Armed with facts and a truer perspective on firearms, Americans would make wiser political decisions with their ballots, and their elected representatives would respond accordingly. Perhaps a more informed public would provide a jolt to the gun policy debate, which has stalled for so long.
On a moral level, the 31 Americans who are murdered by firearms everyday all deserve acknowledgment, not just the two killed in circumstances most can relate to. No one unjustly killed in this country deserves to be glossed over. So today, tomorrow and until the day our national bloodshed ends, join me in extending thoughts and prayers to all those killed.