While in the Midwest for the holidays last week, I was explaining to a friend in an email that the view of certain news events in the “flyover states” was different than what we get in California. Not surprisingly, for example, there’s a lot less preoccupation with the writers strike and good deal more attention paid to the Green Bay Packers: what they ate for lunch, what they did on their day off, what their favorite animal at the zoo is… information critical to complete NFL coverage.
In a reply to that email, my friend anguished over the fact that there was no way to ascertain that we were getting complete, full, or even fair in coverage of the presidential campaign. I replied back that I was certain who the Green Bay Packers were voting for, since there had been a two-hour “Packers Pick the Next Prez!” special on the local news.
There was no such special, but it is reasonable to assert that citizens in my mother’s town have more general and specific knowledge of the Packers than they do of some things that might be more immediately crucial to their lives. To which any Packer fan might likely respond, “For example…?”
Okay, here’s an example that to me seems timely: Name the fantastic and talented quarterback of the Green Bay Packers team. Now, give me the name of the person or persons who sold guns or made guns available to Robert Hawkins and Matthew Murray. Take your time… since the media certainly is.
Robert Hawkins, 19, opened fire in an Omaha shopping mall three weeks before Christmas and killed eight people and then himself. Matthew Murray, 24, walked into a church in Arvada, Colorado during the second weekend of December and shot two people. Twelve hours later he approached another church in Colorado Springs and killed two young sisters before he himself was shot and killed by a security guard.
Anyhow, time’s up: Where did these young men get their guns? The New York Times reported that in the case of Murray, police recovered two assault rifles, three handguns, and a backpack containing 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Wouldn’t it be in some way helpful if we knew where that firepower came from? What was its source? Not to necessarily admonish or punish, but simply to know. Doesn’t it seem logical that at a time when we can go to our TV sets or computers and determine the course and speed of a hurricane, we might also somehow find out where the hardware of senseless death is obtained?
Way past blustering about how we know Britney’s sister is pregnant but we don’t have the count on dead Iraqi civilians, we’re now at a moment in what we might call the progressive disease of gun death where we should be hearing about the weapon’s source in shooting tragedies. That information should be considered as critical to our understanding of those events as having the brand names of tainted and recalled food, drugs, or toys. But we don’t get that information.
Here’s what we do get: Everything and anything that shapes the shooting into an entertaining story. The shooter left a note, he fought with his girlfriend, he got kicked off the team… he seemed moody and distant. Grab a paper bag to puke in and consider this: If the guns had somehow been provided to the killers by a female porn star and there were any photos or video of her, regardless of how fuzzy or outdated… we would see those images. Over and over.
And yet this known weakness of so-called “news” is still not what I’m wondering about. I’m asking why we don’t get relevant key points of information – specifically, where did the guns come from – and why we don’t seem bothered that we don’t get that information.
If children were made ill by a virus that had somehow entered a school, even the most knuckle-headed version of “reporting” would include either the source of the virus or information regarding how authorities were pursuing the source. We’d be stunned if there were never any mention of where the ‘bug’ came from and what was being done to eradicate it. Yet in all of the lengthy and detailed information distribution (let’s not call it “reporting”) that follows shootings on the order of the two events I cited earlier, far from any prioritization of information beginning with “Let’s first look at where he got the guns…,” there is instead an almost tangible sense that the source of the killing devices doesn’t matter.
So with a New Year approaching, let me make a modest proposal: Just as we would always hear about the source of a virus or the possible affiliations of those carrying out a terrorist act, or even possible boyfriends that got the sister pregnant… can we please make it part of the format of shooting coverage to include any information concerning the source of the weapons. Even to say, “At the current time, there is no information regarding how the shooter got the guns. But authorities are working on it, and we will get you that information when we have it… since that information may help explain the sickening epidemic of gun deaths in America.”