As some people know, i follow an account on Twitter that isn’t commonly associated with the pro-gun community of which I am a member. The @GunCrisisNews crew reports on incidents of gun violence, predominantly in my hometown of Philadelphia but also around the country. They are passionate about reducing the carnage that plagues some of our roughest neighborhoods, discussing themes of community organizing, conflict resolution, and violence prevention. For the most part, however, the @GunCrisisNews feed is an ongoing stream of reports about shootings and the like.
While I sometimes question the merits of this constant trove of dismal news, facts are facts and I can appreciate their impetus to highlight the suffering and anguish of so many of our city’s citizens when lives are lost to gunfire. The rate of violent episodes some weeks truly does rise to the level of a “crisis” in parts of this town.
However, something that has frustrated me (and continues to) is the Gun Crisis team’s inclusion in their twitter feed of non-newsworthy events which fail to meet almost any criteria for being labeled with the designation of “crisis” (and so often, that is the hashtag used in reporting them). One such tweet caught my attention:
Police: Vendor shoots woman at Pennsylvania gun show ow.ly/yzF74 #guncrisis
That news story reported how “a vendor accidentally shot a woman in the leg while demonstrating a gun and holster at a gun show in central Pennsylvania.” It contained no evidence that there was malice or intent, but rather it was merely an isolated episode of negligence.
I cringe just a little bit inside when I see tweets like this. I cringe because I know how the people on my side of the fence tend to react to this. Many pro-gun voices dismiss gun control advocates if they (the anti-gun folk) are seen as “pumping up” their argument with either inflated numbers or excess data. And tweets like this fall squarely into that category in the eyes of many people.
Accidental and negligent discharges (see my post here about how those terms are sometimes misused) are always awful, and they can indeed be tragic if there is gross harm or loss of life… but I and many others like me cannot see them as part of a “crisis” in virtually any sense of the word.
I responded to the Gun Crisis News account and the following dialog ensued:
@GunCrisisNews another link to a non-news story about some goof being negligent? this detracts from real topics and clutters your timeline.
@GunCrisisNews … more than anything, it badly dilutes the impact of the term “crisis” and causes readers to not take the topic seriously.
I appreciate your diligent feedback, but what are you boundaries for relevant negligence?
@JimMacMillan @GunCrisisNews nothing in the sphere of negligence rises to the level of “crisis” because they are freak accidents not…
@JimMacMillan @GunCrisisNews … prevented by new policies. Illegal gun use, gun crime… those could be “crises” in some sense.
Not a crisis in itself but sometimes part of the larger crisis: bit.ly/1mUj5AE
That last tweet from Jim MacMillan (one of the Gun Crisis News reporters) linked to a news story about two children who were among the victims of a wave of recent violent that claimed various lives. Jim feels that there is some parallel between these awful crimes (for that is what they are, crimes… events during which the perpetrators exhibit verifiable mens rea) and pitifully stupid acts of negligence. I do not.
My comments above in the twitter conversation explain much of why I feel this way. And, hopefully, it explains why I feel treating them as equal undermines so much of what the Gun Crisis project is attempting to accomplish.
A “crisis” is something to be met with our best and brightest minds… something to be fought against and passionately met, addressed, and overcome. The malicious gunfire that erupts out of anger or territory control or general lawlessness is indeed such a crisis. And it will take many innovative methods of community organizing and actions of the criminal justice system to stem the tide of this violence.
Negligent gun injuries, however, are not a crisis. Not only are the infrequent, but even more relevant is the fact that they are not something that can be addressed or prevented by means of new policies or legislation. You can’t legislate away stupidity.
Most of all, however, I am displeased over the way in which such tweets actually undermine what the Gun Crisis project is trying to do. They want to raise awareness of a genuine problem and position themselves as a voice of guidance and information for the public. Lumping in non-issue stories opens them up to criticisms of grandstanding and needless fanning of flames. If too many non-crisis stories appear in the GunCrisis news feed with the hashtag #guncrisis, then their message becomes painfully diluted and critics can more easily lump them in with the more lunatic fringe of the anti-gun movement.
That same day on twitter, another journalist (who may or may not be affiliated with the Gun Crisis project, I am not certain) spread the news of the article ‘Guns in Bars’ Bill Kicks Off in Georgia which contained some choice quotes such as the following from Piyali Cole: “We are supposed to believe that everybody walking around with a gun is normal behavior, but I reject that.”
Individuals such as Ms. Cole have repeatedly shown themselves to be disinterested in reasonable dialog on the topic of gun violence. Perhaps they once aspired to genuinely reduce harm, but (much like MADD was initially against drunk driving but later morphed into a full-abstinence, anti-alcohol organization) these activists — many of whom are associated with the group Moms Demand Action, which has itself become so extreme as to no longer be taken seriously in most conversations, sadly — do not advance the cause of serious debate and discussion.
Another example of this level of egregious vitriol came from a news story linked later that same day on Twitter. Leonard Steinhorn, a man of letters and ostensibly someone for whom academic rigor and well crafted prose should count for something, made the following disingenuous statements in his article Armed, Locked and Loaded: The Worst and Most Intimidating Gun States:
No one should feel safe in the following states. And it is time to take a stand and do something about it. … Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Mississippi. … It is legal in these states to bring loaded guns into gambling establishments, sporting events, and restaurants that serve alcohol. It is legal in these states to carry weapons into stores and shopping malls, and in some cases even onto college campuses and into bars and houses of worship. … These are states of intimidation, where every one of us must wonder if the guy over there with a gun might pull the trigger because he’s angry, under the influence, troubled, mentally ill or simply ticked off.
It is impossible for me to read words like that and not want to weep. Here we have a genuine thinker, a scholar, and a well-spoken educator… and he is essentially proclaiming, “I want to offer utterly nothing of value towards this discussion. Please disregard everything I say on this topic.”
Whenever advocates of more restrictive gun policies speak in this fashion, they are almost immediately discounted by such a large swath of the population. What is it about firearms that so panics certain individuals? Would I care one bit if someone next to me in a restaurant or a sports stadium or a bar or a mall had a firearm? No. I cannot tell why it’s anyone else’s business, or why someone like Mr. Steinhorn thinks that the mere presence of a concealed pistol magically makes him less safe.
Now, if the citizen in possession of such a gun were intoxicated or belligerent or unbalanced, then yes I would see the argument against that situation. However, nothing about being present in a bar means you are getting drunk in that bar. I have spent plenty of great nights out with friends as a designated driver.
(I have also spent nights as a designated carrier, actually… when people were thinking about getting some cocktails after a movie one time, I volunteered to hold all of their carry pieces so they would remain legal. In the state of PA one cannot carry a concealed firearm with a B.A.C. over .08, much like with driving. So by the end of the night I had no less than three other friends’ carry pieces on my person. I was thankful for my reinforced gun belt, to say the least.) 😉
Ultimately, I support any policies and laws that allow citizens maximum freedom of movement and the exercise of liberty in a manner that is safe. I grew up in a home where guns were commonplace and I was raised to mind my own business and stay out of other people’s affairs.
If someone’s behavior isn’t causing a risk to the general safety, I have no problem with anything they are doing. If someone is actively causing harm or seeking to cause harm to others, then I support the full force of law interceding in their actions.
The Gun Crisis project is a fine resource to stay abreast of the current status of and trends relating to firearm violence in America. I just hope that they try a little bit harder to stay on-message and do not open themselves up to needless criticism from those who spend so much time being attacked by un-thinking and unhelpful voices of vitriol.
The last thing the Gun Crisis project needs is being lumped in with the likes of Moms Demand Action or writers of baseless op-eds like Leonard Steinhorn’s. I hope to continue seeing their staff at community events and engaging with them on this topic in a productive way.