One of our friends at Huffington Post just did a story lamenting the lack of public concern about mass shootings, specifically referring to an incident in Pennsylvania when another crazie shot his ex-girlfriend and three others at a carwash and then turned the gun on himself. The reporter, Melissa Jeltsen, blamed the seeming acceptance of such violence on a combination of what she calls media, Trump and ‘compassion fatigue.’ She also sources an article in The Trace, which found that the Las Vegas shooting disappeared as an issue of interest to media shortly after it occurred.
The idea that gun violence might become something less than a priority issue in the public domain has been a fear within the gun violence prevention (GVP) community ever since Sh*thead Numero Uno took the oath on January 20, 2018. After all, Trump often validated gun violence during the campaign, bragging that he could ‘shoot someone down in the street’ and still retain the support of his base. I hate to say it, but if he had actually gunned down a black guy, some in his base probably would have cheered.
Trump is no longer a candidate, he’s the President, and in that regard the Huffington piece also contained an interesting quote from our friend Shannon Watts regarding Trump’s stance on gun violence: ““Unlike President Obama, he [Trump] is not going to have a press conference about horrific incidents of gun violence, In fact, he is going to do everything he can to avoid talking about it.”
Shannon’s comment gets to the heart of concerns about the lack of public and media discussion on gun violence because, like it or not, just about every issue which becomes grist for the media mill is provoked and shaped by what is said by the guy at the top. My friends in the GVP community shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which public awareness about gun violence over the last several years was heightened by the response of the Obama Administration to what happened at Sandy Hook. It wasn’t just the multiple press conferences held by the President and his surrogates that filled up media space virtually every day, it was also the attempt to morph this talk into action by dint of a major legislative initiative expanding background checks to secondary sales.
Even though the effort ultimately failed, there would have been no Manchin-Toomey without the White House ginning up support. Compare post-Newtown media interest in gun violence to what happened after James Holmes walked into a theater in Aurora, CO just six months prior to the massacre at Sandy Hook. The kid killed 12 people and wounded 58 more, Obama gave a very forceful and impassioned speech the day after the event, and that was that. No more Obama gun control, no more Aurora, within a week the media was focused on the civil war in Syria.
I trust that what I am about to say won’t be taken the wrong way because I mean no disrespect or lack of support for the GVP. But maybe the fact that Trump’s silence on shootings tends to mute media interest in gun violence is a good thing. Because what the GVP really needs to do is develop its own voice and its own messaging about guns without depending on the occupant of the Oval Office to help lead the way. I voted for her and I worked for her, but I was never all that comfortable with the idea that Hillary was considered such a friend of the GVP. Remember Obama’s prescient comment about ‘clinging’ to their guns? It was Hillary, not Wayne LaPierre, who led the criticism of Obama for making that remark.
Like every movement for change, the GVP shouldn’t turn its back on allies or friends. But the ultimate responsibility for leading the way towards reducing gun violence lies in what we say and how often we say it. That’s something we shouldn’t forget.