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Opinion: An honest conversation about guns

 

An angry young man with a gun approached a city nightclub, with the intent to settle a dispute with violence. Firing into the crowd, he struck the first victim, and then the second. As he continued firing his weapon a third person was hit and the fear of violent chaos swept over. It’s a familiar story, sure, but with a different ending than many may be used to. Nearly three weeks ago, an active shooter approached the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and killed 49 patrons and injured dozens more, ruining lives and shattering families in an act of senseless violence. It seems all too often, shootings like this rob so many of their innocence. But this is not that story.

Last Sunday, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a shooting began at the Playoffz Nightclub, resulting in the non-life threatening injury of three patrons. The fourth potential victim was able to act before his name or any others could be added to a tragic list. He pulled out his own concealed carry weapon and stopped a potential mass shooter short of another tragedy. At 3:30 a.m. the shooting incident began after an apparent dispute involving Jody Ray Thompson, the suspect of the incident, took a turn for the worse. The argument apparently lead to Thompson pulling out his illegally possessed gun and firing indiscriminately into the crowd as he attempted to kill the person he was supposedly arguing with. The concealed carrier was able to stop Thompson with a shot to the leg, and remained on the premises to cooperate with responding authorities.

If this is the first time you are hearing about this incident of a shooting in South Carolina, or if you have heard of this incident but only from one of those “gun-advocate” sites, don’t be too distraught. You are not ill-informed. The only news site that seemed to report on it was the local ABC news outlet, WSPA 7. No story really took the national news circuit, and instead the report of the incident was relegated to social media sites and the various gun advocacy forums. One has to wonder why. Here are two very similar scenarios, each with a shooter firing into the crowd of a nightclub during the dawn hours. The difference in the result seems to vindicate a common argument made by gun advocates, that ‘if only someone else with a gun was allowed to be there to stop the shooting, it wouldn’t have gotten so bad.’

Discussing gun violence and policy is without a doubt one of the most divisive topics of discussion. This is certainly not written to make light of the far worse tragedy that came out of Orlando just two weeks before, but to begin to deconstruct an issue that may be far more complicated than we realize. There seem to be two basic arguments, that breakdown as such: Guns kill people, therefore less guns will mean less death, the rudimentary take on the logic behind efforts to establish control. The other argument states that people are randomly violent and hard to predict in that violence, and the only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, therefore, more guns would increase the likelihood of a good guy with a gun being present to stop a bad one. This is the argument in favor of keeping gun rights un-infringed. Here they are, stripped of all nuance and taken to their most primitive points.

My point is not to decide who is correct in this argument. Gun violence happens so often, as do the instances of justified defensive gun use. Writing this article can do nothing to physically prevent another deadly shooting, nor can it ensure that there are more armed heroes to stop the next tragedy. But if our country is going to carry on with a discussion about what to do with our second enumerated right, we need to do it honestly and in good faith.  It doesn’t seem to be an honest discussion when the large portion of the media is active for days reporting on one tragedy and then utterly silent the moment a similar tragedy is avoided. It doesn’t seem like an honest discussion when less than a day after the Orlando shooting, gun control laws or being pushed through, as if they were just lying in wait for the moment to ride the coattails of mass hysteria and highly emotional fear. In this media driven age, it seems no tragedy can go unexploited. Again, my point is not to decide which law should or should not pass, but to simply bring up a point that the lawmakers and the media act exhaustively when it fits one convenient narrative, but fail to give any recognition to the countering scenario.

Some of the laws that have been proposed to counteract these tragic effects are done in good faith. When we see a tragedy, we are right to want any solution that will prevent a new one from happening. For example, the recent Democrat sit-in at the House of Representatives seemed like a pretty empowered effort to refuse to let this issue go without some solution. But ultimately the lawmakers stood back up and carried on with their day. Solutions await consideration and some seem at first to provide a rational middle ground. Take for example the proposal to ban the possession of guns by those whose names are on the terrorist no-fly list.

The left gets to appease its supporters who are racked with fear about when the next gunman will attack. The right gets what it wants too, as the proposal would combat the terrorists and deny our enemies. The idea is even gathering serious support. It seems like a good one. I might have even agreed if my own brother, a currently deployed Marine, hadn’t been placed on the no-fly list when he was just a 14-year old kid. It was a clerical error that was eventually resolved, but it’s no random thing either. Mickey Hicks, an 8-year-old kid from New Jersey was found to be on the TSA watch list, and if that Cub Scout possessed any Terrorist affiliations, they were never found. Reports of the wrong people being put on a terrorist watch list are more common than you might think. Consider any person who is on the no-fly list for an actual reason, and then consider the dozens more per who share the same name yet have absolutely no affiliation with any wrong doing. The popularity of an idea that would ensure a limiting of terrorist attacks, and prevent guns from falling into the hands of people we already know are bad, seems terrific, yet entirely misses the whole right to due process and fair trial before the loss of other rights. This bill would strip away a person’s second amendment right without ever seeing a proper criminal process or giving the accused their day in court. Even the normally left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union sees this potential gun control law as an obvious infringement on rights. What seemed like such a good idea upon first glance, quickly fell apart into what clearly shows as a violation of rights. And again, we are left without the solution we want.

Recently, there was another shooting. Or so it seemed. Andrews Air Force Base was thought to be threatened by an active shooter who attacked the air force base hospital. I remember the chaos of sitting in a newsroom, trying to handle the scenario in real time and the effort to do the best to get the story straight. All hands were on standby, for this one story, the next tragedy. I would guess that most of us were expecting a repeat of the Naval Yard Attack of 2013, another terrible shooting. Instead, after an hour and a half of disarray, the reports cleared up that this was just a misunderstanding from an active shooter drill to test emergency preparedness.

The experience confirmed something in my mind that I’ve been considering for a while. Praise to the media for its tireless efforts to get the true story to the audience, but to be honest, first guesses are never perfectly correct and sometimes it takes a few days for the information to clear up. Sometimes it takes a while for us to step back and see the full picture. After the Orlando shooting, the left and the right made a game of who the bad guy is: an evil gun owner who should have had background checks, or an Islamic Extremist with ties to ISIS. Both answers were only partially correct, at best. Only after taking a few steps back to do we start to begin understanding who the shooter really was and what really happened that night.

When we report about a shooting on an air force base, without getting enough information, we make a media charade of what should have been a non-event. When we report about a mass shooting like the one in Orlando, we get too political too quickly in assigning blame, often because there is some bill waiting for enough blood and enough fear to make it to law. When we propose a law that might even seem to solve the problem, we get too excited to look at the potential blow-back. When we look at and widely report one story that matches a narrative and fits itself for an easy answer, while widely ignoring another story that begins to detract from our plans, we start to push forward for a solution that may not work.

It doesn’t work to have strong gun opponents and those who fear-monger about terrorism making the laws that affect our rights. The trenches have long been dug on the political narratives that surround guns, violence and terrorism. Without taking a look at all aspects of the issue, no politicians or advocates will be able to find the answer, and without the media doing a fair job of reporting both types of story, we can’t expect them to.

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