Daily Organ: Going Postal in the USA

Posted on March 8, 2012

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Three dead in Ohio but “going postal” is just plain boring now. Would gun control stop US school shootings?

Photo credit: Emily Stanchfield

Buried in the middle of The Times recently, you might have missed the small column on a school shooting in Chardon, Ohio last week. Three students killed, two more seriously wounded, all at the hands of a 17-year-old gunman – TJ Hart, who is now in police custody awaiting trial.

We, in enlightened Europe, already have a well-worn news narrative for this. Small town American lunatic brought up on action movies and Christian retribution, takes a firearm (easily available, thanks to federal gun laws) and lights up his local school.

TJ Hart was no different. The media got hold of his pictures along with the tell-tale Facebook message:

Now! Feel death, not just mocking you […] but inside of you. Die, all of you.

True, Chardon was a smaller shooting than incidents in recent years; Columbine (13 dead), Virginia Tech (32 dead) or Tucson (6 dead) last year, which left Democrat Representative Gabrielle Giffords with severe head wounds. But how many more times can ordinary Americans keep “going postal” before something changes? And when did it all become so horribly normal?

According to forensic psychiatrist Dr Park Dietz, maintaining low profile is the right approach. In an interview on BBC’s Newsnight, following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, Dietz offered his advice to the world’s media:

If you don’t want to propagate more mass murders: don’t start this story with sirens blaring, don’t have photographs of the killer, don’t make this 24/7 coverage,” he said. “Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero, do localise this story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market.

When American news broadcasting looks and sounds more Hollywood each week (The Situation Room, anyone?) and the tragedies on it like unreal disaster movies, perhaps this new policy of media silence is exactly what we’re looking for?

Unfortunately not. Because last week’s editorial silence was based on a chilling brand of cynicism: three dead bodies is not enough to roll in the 24-hour news crews, to attract the international commentariat or to warrant a lengthy feature on Newsnight. Three dead bodies is boring.

Understandably newsworthiness is, in part, dictated by what has come before it (i.e. three dead at Chardon is not such a big story when a much higher number died at Virginia Tech), but journalism has a responsibility to interrogate as well as report. And very few people seem to be doing that.

The obvious answer here is to ban gun ownership: an oldie but a goodie. It’s worth remembering that the pro-ownership lobby is more nuanced than Europeans like to think (try reading the late, great Joe Bageant’s book, Deer Hunting with Jesus), but that doesn’t mean we should disagree with it any less.

The Second Amendment, which codifies gun ownership, states:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Is the National Rifle Association (NRA) this “well regulated militia?” Or is the Amendment a mere anachronism? Either way, there seems to be a fair dose of imaginative interpretation in implementing the law.

Remove guns from the streets, and you reduce the number of deaths in heated arguments gone too far, misjudgement and – most importantly – “going postal.” There is always the possibility of speedier, and more fatal, escalation of violence in America today because of the Second Amendment.So repeal it.

In the meantime, the global media should change the way it reports high school massacres and workplace shootings. By limiting the media profile of a killer (no provocative pictures, bare bones biography and delicate reporting), “anti-hero” atrocities become less aspirational to the kind of alienated American mind that might consider them.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Organ.

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Posted in: Politics