Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mass Shootings: Victims that matter, Mother Jones and Middle America

With the recent mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and Aurora Colorado the debate over gun control has been thrust into the fore front once again. Mother Jones compiled a list of mass shootings from the past 30 years. Their numbers seem to be showing that mass shootings have been on the rise in recent years thus logically prompting a call to action.

 However their database is rather selective as it excludes: gang related violence, shootings where the primary motive was armed robbery and shootings that involved more than one shooter (although they decided to make two exceptions for school shootings). If you don't make the exclusions Mother Jones did you end up with a graph from FBI data that shows mass shootings to be nearly constant since 1976 with wild peaks and troughs of number of victims. Why the discrepancy in the data?

Some people will conclude that Mother Jones' data collection reflects their support of gun control so they came up with a data set to support an issue because Mother Jones is a liberal magazine. But Mother Jones' data is an accurate representation of mass shootings against 'victims that matter'.

I will take a moment to explain what I mean by 'victims that matter'. It is a concept that we are all familiar with. If a black teenage male shoots another black teenage male in a poor neighborhood he may be mentioned on the local news for 15 to 30 seconds. If you are a white female like Natalee Holloway you may very well generate a media firestorm by disappearing while on a vacation.

So while Newtown Connecticut is a national tragedy that deserves to be mourned because 20 school age children were murdered it is worth noting that nearly every year more Chicago school age children are killed than were killed in Connecticut. And while there are some crucial differences like the mass shooting in Connecticut happening all at once, smaller shootings in the 90s such as those that took place in Oregon and Arkansas got tremendous media coverage as well.

The difference is best described by David Dennis in his recent article in the guardian where he said
"American tragedies occur where middle America frequents every day: airplanes, business offices, marathons. Where there persists a tangible fear that this could happen to any of us. And rightfully so. Deaths and mayhem anywhere are tragic. That should always be the case. The story here is where American tragedies don't occur.

American tragedies don't occur on the southside of Chicago or the New Orleans 9th Ward. They don't occur where inner city high school kids shoot into school buses or someone shoots at a 10-year old's birthday party in New Orleans. Or Gary, Indiana. Or Compton. Or Newport News. These are where the forgotten tragedies happen and the cities are left to persevere on their own."

So Mother Jones includes 'real american tragedies' because they are filled with 'victims that matter' and exclude the poor urban blacks (who are about 50% of all homicide victims) because the readers of Mother Jones care about their own chances of being a victim of a crime but are not concerned about the murders in the inner cities. 

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