The day before the GOP presidential candidates were on TV ignoring the issue of gun violence, there was another attack in a theater in Tennessee. We saw the now standard scenario unfold: ID of assailant unknown. First reports –assailant is white male and 51. Killed by police. Theatergoers injured, but alive.
Then as details came out we found out the assailant was a 29 year-old white male who had been committed four times for mental illness. He used pepper spray in the theater and had an Airsoft gun, not a real one. Details from The Tennessean here
What struck me about his story was the response of one of the survivors. He asked the media to leave him alone. It got me thinking about how people cope with the media blitz following a shooting. I wrote a post on the issue (below) and then asked some experts.
— Spocko (@spockosbrain) August 7, 2015
Following big shootings the media swarm to get comments from survivors, witnesses and officials.
When there is a high body count the official NRA spokespeople lay low. In comments sections or on twitter people suggesting anything but prayers are scolded, “It’s too soon to push any agenda, the bodies aren’t even cold!”
However, the one group of people that it is deemed appropriate to hear anything from following an attack are the survivors. Because of their involvement they are expected to answer questions, first to the authorities, and then to the media.
In the case of the recent Tennessee theater attack, one of the survivors had seen how shootings play out and asked the media for anonymity and wants no questions beyond his statement. (See video)
In it he:
- Praises the police for their rapid response
- Asks people to pray for the family of the man involved who, “obviously has some mental problems.”
- Asks the media to leave him and his family alone,
- Says he didn’t do anything to bring this on,
- Is grateful no one else was injured,
- Thanks the EMTs who helped him and his daughter when they were pepper sprayed.
- Thanks the citizens who gathered around to help, “That kind of gives me a little more faith in humanity again.”
Following violence involving guns (or gun-shaped objects) in public leads to the “What is to be done?” question. Since Steven doesn’t want to talk anymore, who will fill in the void? First, the professional “Guns Everywhere” people.
I’ve said before how skilled the PR and lobbying people for gun manufacturers are. Not only are they the best in the county at creating arguments and counter arguments on an issue, they effectively spread them to their followers. They also create great bumper sticker slogans while attempting to churn out Constitutional scholars.
They actively work each event, stoking preemptive fears that lead to more gun sales. “This time Obama is REALLY going to take your guns!”
They spin scenarios of the wonderful world of polite armed people everywhere (more sales!) They ignore the successful cases of places without guns like Australia.
Understanding how they work is important if any change is to be made.
I have a Ph.D in Argueology! What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ don’t you understand?
In last weeks Virtually Speaking my friend Cliff Schecter and David Waldman (Daily Kos Radio, Kagro X in the morning) had a great discussion where they demonstrated responses to the various gun and constitution arguments and counter arguments.
Cliff even suggested questions to pose to the guns everywhere crowd and how to counter their rebuttals. It was great to hear and learn from them, but frankly I don’t want to spend time arguing with the guns everywhere people.
Here’s the deal, people who believe the answer to gun violence is more guns spend a tremendous amount of energy, thought, time and money to work the issue and push their views.
When someone does spend the time to look at the arguments and counter arguments they find that they can be dismantled rather easily. Which brings me to yesterday’s attack.
We saw a traumatized person who may now have a new view about guns, but he hasn’t had the time to incorporate that information with his experience.
We don’t know what Steven thinks about his states’ laws for dealing with people with a history of violent mental illness. We know that the attacker didn’t have a real gun, does that mean that he was on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System list and was denied one?
Does that mean that because that part of the system worked, he had to use pepper spray and an ax instead of an automatic weapon with a 100 round clip?
If the media could look into the state of Mental Health Reporting in Tennessee from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence but that is boring.
If Steven later decides to engage in the media whirl, he will be listened to because he was a survivor. But that doesn’t mean he will instantly become an expert in arguing about guns in society, public policy or the Constitution.
One of the reasons that the gun lobby’s views keep winning, even after tragic events, is a combination of the passion of their supporters, the cleverness of their sloganeering and the emotional appeals of freedom and liberty to certain audiences.
These are all powerful tools, another is when the guns everywhere believers are encouraged to challenge those who don’t share their views.
For some people this is great fun. That is why they like to do it. They like to argue and bait others on issues. They like to “win” the conversation, even thought it doesn’t mean any minds were changed. If they lose on one point, they shift to another and another and another.
I like to educate, persuade or influence people. I like to get people to see things from a different point of view. I like it when people act based on the concepts and ideas that I have convinced them is the right thing to do.
However other times I also want to “win” the conversation. That involves learning all the tricks and techniques of the arguers. “Yes, I know it’s a magazine not a clip. Let’s talk about gun show loop holes.”
Overall I want to reach the people for whom the issue only comes up when they are watching the news, which as we have seen, is not the place to talk about gun policy unless you are a survivor.
If I wanted to provide the media with insight on a shooting where no survivors are ready to talk, I would want to parachute in former survivors of shootings who are now educated on the issues. That person’s opinion is relevant, and they can point out all the weakness with the arguments made on the internets that someone wouldn’t make to the face of an educated survivor. (BTW, if the TV station really wanted to some intense TV they could put the two on camera together.)
But I know how the media works, unless you can quickly provide a compelling narrative, one will be assigned to you. Right now the narrative “you need more guns to stop guns” and “there really is nothing anyone can do” is being driven by the people who make money selling guns.