Another performance of the national melodrama
December 16, 2012 | I turned on the TV late Friday afternoon only to find that all programming had been taken over by yet another performance of that ever-popular melodrama, Tragedy in . Fill in the blank. This time it was Tragedy in Connecticut. Last week's performane was Tragedy in Oregon. Earlier this year it was Tragedy in Colorado, Tragedy in Milwaukee. We just love this show. Or, more properly, televised media just love this show.
Act I, something awful happens — gunman slaughters many children and adults at an elementary school in Connecticut.
Immediately, television goes into "Breaking News" mode. Pictures of the scene, usually just emergency vehicles in a parking lot, are shown in an infinite loop. At this point no one really knows anything, other than something awful has happened, but "facts" are broadcast that turn out not to be facts at all. In this case it was widely reported that the gunman's mother taught at the school (photo, above).
The sense of awfulness is enhanced by photos of determined, fully-armed "first responders" on the scene. Their assault weapons confirm that the police have become, in fact, paramilitary organizations that respond as if to a battlefield.
Act II — numerous "experts" are called upon to explain the awful.
Why? Why? Why?
Whether it is the psychologist, the police chief from some other city, the newspaper reporter from a nearby town, whoever — what should be obvious is that none of these people has had an opportunity to gather facts and take the time to look for and apply precedent. It's all off-the-cuff "analysis" the current term-of-art for giving opinions. Bloviating. Pontificating.
It simply has to be the case that the producers and muckety-mucks at broadcast central know that these can offer little or nothing that will enhance our understanding. So why do they do it? It's in the script. Air time must be filled.
Act III — formalized grieving.
Candlelight vigils are held. People construct shrines of flowers and other tokens of mourning. Everyone must be profoundly — and publicly — grieving. Don't get me wrong: this was a terrible event, and it was certainly traumatic for everyone involved. But standing around with a candle in your hand, or laying flowers at a signpost, will not bring back a single slain individual.
Even the president was thrust into the role of Consoler in Chief. According to today's newspapers, he will go to Newtown tonight to participate in the community "healing process."
How long is "breaking news" breaking news? I agree that in the hours immediately following the event it was breaking news. But when I tuned in briefly on Saturday, it was still "breaking news." News it may have been, but breaking, No.
Is this the best picture that anyone could find of the poor deranged boy who slaughtered all these people? We've not been told where this picture came from, but how many photographs in the modern era are black and white?
Or was the picture chosen to reinforce the pre-ception that this is a deranged — crazy — young man.
And what about the mother? According to the reporting in the New York Times and Washington Post, she was a rather strange duck herself: She lived in a large colonial house with one son, but had no reputation of working. How did she afford to keep up that house and buy $1000 guns? She and her neighbors held a weekly dice game that rotated among the homes of the group, but never to Nancy Lanza's house. Didn't anybody think that strange? She hired a landscaper, but whenever he rang at the front, to collect his fee for instance, Nancy Lanza would come out a side door and come around to the front. It's sadly ironic that the mother was the first person killed in this rampage. By her own guns.
Although several weapons were found, the medical examiner says that all the victims were killed by multiple rifle shots — from a commercial version of the military M-16 rifle.
Assault rifles are designed for one purpose only: kill as many of the enemy as quickly as possible on the battlefield. That's where they should be used, nowhere else.
Several bits of commentary have held that this horrific incident may just be the "tipping point" that causes us to consider meaningful gun control laws. I hope that is true, but I doubt it, frankly.
Irrespective of whether Americans would like to tackle this scourge, the fact is that we have a supremely powerful lobbying organization, the National Rifle Association, that is so able to bully elected officials and others that I must consider the odds of achieving the "meaningful action" called for by Obama are exceedingly low. While a tearful Obama was making his statement on one TV screen, the press secretary was deflecting questions about gun control by saying that "now is not the time" to talk of such matters. Stupid! What better time than when something like this is etched into people's minds? That shows the bullying power of the NRA.
Amazingly, the gun freaks are coming forth with the argument that the Connecticut incident just shows that we need to have guns in school.
We Americans are the most heavily armed citizens in the world. If more guns made people safer, we should be the safest people on earth. But we're not. I am appalled by people's inability to reason from facts.
After a mass killing in 1996, Australia (under a conservative prime minister) found the wherewithall to ban rapid-fire rifles. In the 18 years before the law, there were 13 mass shootings; in the 14 years since the law took effect, there have been 0 mass shootings (NYTimes, 16-Dec-2012).
I'm equally appalled by people who say that we can't do anything about guns because people will always be able to get guns. When did the 'can-do' Americans become so passive about tackling hard problems? It's a matter of will. We devote far more attention to solving far minor problems:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has five pages of regulations about ladders, while federal authorities shrug at serious curbs on firearms. Ladders kill around 300 Americans a year, and guns 30,000.
There are lots of things that can be done to make the situation better.
For heaven's sake, we have lengthy no-fly lists for "terrorists" but even if you're on this list of suspected desperados you can still buy a gun. Or guns. How stupid is that?
Last updated on May 16, 2016