I participated in my first anti-war demonstration in 1964. Johnson had just announced the first, major troop commitment to Southeast Asia, I thought he was going to drag us into an unwinnable war, so about twenty of us walked around Times Square one day after school handing out leaflets, shouting some slogans and having a good time. Everyone who walked past us was polite, a few actually took a leaflet, most said they had never heard of Viet Nam. What happened over the following nine years was that public opinion shifted from not knowing, to not caring, to being concerned and finally, to being against the War.
Know when public opinion really began to shift? When the television networks ended their nightly news broadcasts with a graphic that showed how many U.S. soldiers had been killed in Nam. The networks did the same thing again in 1980 when each night’s news broadcast ended with a graphic showing how many days the hostages had been in captivity in Iran. Remember who won the 1980 election? It wasn’t the guy who couldn’t get the hostages out of jail.
The same thing now seems to be happening when it comes to mobilizing people against the violence caused by guns. And while the major media outlets haven’t yet caught on, the ‘daily count’ has spread throughout the internet, and sooner or later it will be picked up by the networks as well. Or it won’t matter whether the numbers make CNN or MSNBC because increasingly we depend on ‘alternate’ internet media for our information anyhow.
The granddaddy of in-your-face gun violence calculators is the Gun Violence Archive, which was first mounted in 2013. Mother Jones has presented data and graphics over the years, ditto the Center for American Progress. Joe Nocera and Jennifer Mascia kept up a running count for The New York Times. But the Gun Violence Archive was the first attempt to go beyond media anecdotes and try to assemble a comprehensive, real-time analysis of all violence committed with guns. And this is an important point, because the data from government agencies like the CDC and the FBI is either several years behind, or skewed in ways that don’t give a true picture of the damage caused by guns, or both. What you get from the GVA is a comprehensive picture of the toll of gun violence; no ifs, ands or buts.
The GVA has been joined by a crowd sourced website, the Mass Shooting Tracker, which counts all shootings in which four people are hit by bullets, whether any of them are killed or not. This is an important element in the gun violence debate, because the FBI only counts mass shootings if four or more people are killed at the same time. Not only does the FBI definition seriously underestimate the carnage and costs of gun violence, but it also doesn’t count shootings in which one of the victims is the shooter himself. But this is an absurd and arbitrary way to analyze gun violence, and the MST sets it straight. You can read a good story about GVA and MST by Jennifer Mascia in the current issue of Trace.
Leave it to the pro-gun gang, of course, to try and come up with reasons why the gun-violence calculators are nothing more than “pure propaganda,” as one red-meat story claimed. It turns out that the MST mistakenly listed 2 shootings out of 498 in 2013 involving pellet guns. If this is the best example of the MST “padding” its numbers, the pro-gun crowd better look somewhere else.
The biggest problem facing the GVP community is enlisting and mobilizing the ‘average’ person in the debate about guns. These websites will help turn the tide because numbers really do tell a story that goes beyond words. When I handed out anti-war leaflets in 1964 I didn’t imagine that CBS would ever run a daily tally on how many U.S. troops had died. But they did. And the war came to an end.