As a country we have been through this too many times. 

— President Barack Obama responding to the Newtown school shooting

This week everybody was talking gun violence

We had two mass shootings: the Clackamas Town Center Mall shooting just outside of Portland, Oregon on Tuesday, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.

I’m not going to compile my own account of either event; that’s something the mainstream media has done at great length. I do want to make a few one-step-back comments.

1. Don’t put too much stock in early accounts and explanations. A review of Dave Cullen’s book Columbine. observes:

Cullen goes into extensive detail about just how wrong the news reports were, not only in the immediate aftermath but for months and years afterward. … [M]ost of the inaccuracies sprung from the nature of on-the-spot, live, eyewitness reporting. The massacre itself lasted barely an hour, but news helicopters circled overhead with no information all day. That’s a lot of time to fill.

Already by Thursday, Slate’s William Saletan was debunking early Clackamas reports:

Thanks to mobile phones, Twitter, and instant publishing, you can read all about the latest mass shooting within minutes. But much of what you’re reading, even days afterward, is false.

There’s no shame in carrying a bunch of false information in your head. Everybody does. But before you use events like this to support your Big Theory of Everything, double-check that the details you’re relying on are real.

2. This is becoming normal.

The Nation lists 16 mass shootings in 2012, about one every three weeks. That list includes the Dark Knight massacre in Aurora, Colorado and the Sikh Temple massacre outside of Milwaukee. Mother Jones provides a map, the graph above, and a list going back 30 years.

3. “Let’s not politicize this tragedy” is itself partisan rhetoric.

This point became a separate post. (And Ezra Klein made the same point: “Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not.”) Let me also combine it with the previous point: If we can’t discuss gun control in the wake of a shooting, and if shootings happen every three weeks, then we can never discuss it.

4. Gun violence isn’t just a legal problem, it’s a cultural problem.

Think about cigarettes. When I was a kid (in the Mad Men era), smoking had a glamorous, sophisticated image. Cigarettes never became illegal, but a considerable amount of effort went into making them unfashionable. It worked, and I think that has had a lot to do with smoking’s overall decline.

Now envision a future America where owning a military-grade arsenal isn’t considered manly. Even with the same laws, I’ll bet it would have a lot fewer guns and a lot less gun violence.

5. Gun violence is also a mental health issue.

Dave Cullen believes that about half of mass shooters have depression problems. (Literally true at Columbine: One shooter was a sociopath and the other depressed.) Screening high school students for depression and getting treatment for the ones who need it could prevent a lot of future violence.

Unfortunately, the cut-government-spending drumbeat pushes in exactly the opposite direction. Detecting and treating teen depression is easily branded a “nanny state” policy.

… and this is also is worth your attention

Jonathan Chait explains Why Republicans Can’t Propose Spending Cuts.

When the only cuts on the table would inflict real harm on people with modest incomes and save small amounts of money, that is a sign that there’s just not much money to save. It’s not just that Republicans disagree with this; they don’t seem to understand it. The absence of a Republican spending proposal is not just a negotiating tactic but a howling void where a specific grasp of the role of government ought to be. And negotiating around that void is extremely hard to do. The spending cuts aren’t there because they can’t be found.

They need Obama to propose the cuts, so they can accuse him of protecting all the real waste, which their propaganda says has to exist.

How can a humor magazine cover tragedy? By telling the unvarnished truth that the rest of the media varnishes, as the Onion did after the recent mall shooting: “Fuck Everything, Nation Reports: Just Fuck It All To Hell“. How many people do you think had that thought this week? And did anyone else report it?

A humanist cadet resigned to protest the unconstitutional Christian evangelism that West Point condones.

Dan Froomkin: The media missed “the biggest story of the 2012 campaign”:

the [Republican] party’s most central campaign principles — that federal spending doesn’t create jobs, that reducing taxes on the rich could create jobs and lower the deficit — willfully disregarded the truth.

A Unitarian Universalist minister responds to Lindsey Graham’s insistence that same-sex marriage should require a constitutional amendment:

The Constitution does not state that anyone has a right to marry. … Men and women have been marrying each other in this country for over 200 years without the Constitution saying a word about their right to do so.

… and finally

If you have a tradition of giving money away during the holidays, think about adding journalism to your list of good causes. I’m planning to send a donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, whose Wikipedia I use many times every day. Also Grist, where most of the Sift’s environmental coverage comes from.

Journalism’s broken business model means that a lot of advertising-accepting publications are essentially charities now, even if they look like businesses. The Nation is a consistent money-loser that couldn’t survive without Nation Builders, a voluntary association of its readers. Mother Jones is published by the Foundation for National Progress and accepts donations.

DailyKos, the largest liberal online community, is free to use and accepts advertising, but would also like to get voluntary subscriptions or donations.

If you want to promote a possible future for journalism, take a look at the Banyan Project, which was started by my friend (and former editor) Tom Stites.

The Weekly Sift itself falls on the hobby side of the job/hobby line I defined last spring, so I’m not looking for donations. It just costs me time, and I enjoy doing it.

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  • velvinette  On December 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Already the info in Mother Jones, for example, is not complete. They only cover “mass” shootings. The shooting at my old school in 1992 “only” killed two people. So there must be many more at that level they are not describing.

  • Mark Norton  On December 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    > The Weekly Sift itself falls on the hobby side

    Perhaps so, but all of us benefit from your hobby, Doug. Thank you for being a voice we can listen to – one that at least tries to make sense of it all.

    – Mark Norton

    • weeklysift  On December 19, 2012 at 7:49 am

      I receive compliments gladly. Checks, I would have to explain to the IRS.

  • liquid  On February 23, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Hello to every one, it’s truly a nice for me to pay a visit this website, it contains important Information.

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