Why We Might be Telling the Wrong Stories in the Gun Debate

Friday, April 12, 2013


As the Senate debates gun control for the first time in decades, we’re awash in stories we might never have heard but for Newtown. Brooke speaks with New York Times op-ed writer Joe Nocera, who's tracking gun violence daily on his blog The Gun Report. And Bob speaks with reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg about why we're stuck with anecdotes instead of data in the gun discussion.


Lúnasa - Killarney Boys Of Pleasure


Joe Nocera and Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone

Comments [11]

Will Caxton

"... a campus full of Lone Starians blasting away." There's one example of bias showing. Every state except Illinois has some provision for concealed carry of firearms (even Illinois allows carry by off-duty police, retired police, and retired military). Millions of people have concealed-carry permits. So where's all the "blasting away"? There's George Zimmerman (a story that barely made national news, according to On the Media) and -- who else?

"There is no central database of gun transactions." Okay, so explain how and why that's a problem, for those of us who want data instead of assumptions. What would be the value of such a database? What could be done with it that can't be done now?

"... the threat posed by lax gun controls ..." What is this threat? Explain the threat. Try to get past your own assumptions and find some facts. There is violent crime, including gun violence. The problem is that there's no evidence that the violence is caused by lax gun controls.

"If, as the NRA believes, using data to draw conclusions about guns is somehow unfair ...." That's a really large, illogical leap. A national database of gun transactions or ownership is not the only possible source of data. The FBI has data on crimes; various state agencies have similar data. Their data show that crime, violent crime, and gun violence have been decreasing for most of the past 20 years. Apparently the CDC is prohibited from collecting "gun safety" data; that seems like a bad policy which might be due to NRA influence.

Apr. 17 2013 10:29 PM

After you spent a month of what you called "soul searching" (I called it "navel-gazing") you concluded that NPR was most emphatically NOT biased in its reporting. At the time I wrote a comment that I could think of one realm where your reporting most assuredly was biased -- guns. Thank you for proving my point.

Apr. 15 2013 08:28 PM
Will Caxton

The picture of someone shooting a handgun on the front page ("credit: Joe Raedle / Getty") looks like a bad grip. The offhand (left) thumb is in a position that risks injury from the slide.

Apr. 15 2013 01:27 PM
Duane Fish from warrensburg ny

washington hands off of my guns.

Apr. 15 2013 08:59 AM

"Why We Might Be Telling the Wrong Stories in the Gun Debate" might have been better titled "Why We Tell Stories of Only One Side of the Gun Debate." ALL the anecdotal material you covered had to do with somebody getting shot or killed accidentally or intentionally, as if the only time a story about guns is relevant is when they're discharged. I've noticed a significant increase in the number of national media reporting local stories about gun homicides and accidents that six months ago would have never made national news. Perhaps that has to do with what political scientists call "bandwagon effect," in this case to reinforce the impression that gun availability inevitably results in tragic consequences.

The fact is that firearms are used more than 2 million times a year for personal protection and crime prevention, in many cases without ever having to fire a shot. But you have to go looking for those stories because the national media a) is completely ignorant of them, b) ignores them because they don't bleed, c) feels they're so common compared to the number of gun deaths that they're not news, d) suppresses them because they don't fit their agenda, or e) practices a combination of all of the above.

Your question really isn't about telling the "wrong" stories, it's about which side they're "wrong" for! Unfortunately, you never analyze why only one side -- the tragic consequences and the perceived need for gun "safety" legislation -- is getting all the attention, and diverting the public's focus away from solutions that could have averted mass shootings.

Apr. 15 2013 07:06 AM

Last week on The Takeaway, host John Hockenberry did a lengthy on-air look at the gun debate and prefaced his interviews and reporting with the comment that the show was traveling to Portland to "get away" from the discussion on guns "back east."

About that journey, Mr. Hockenberry said this: "...as we left our comfortable public radio station bubble in New York City, our offices full of some -- it's fair to say I think -- left-leaning gun control advocates who haven't spent much time pulling triggers..."

John Hockenberry is in my view a very great radio reporter. He's also -- it's fair to say I think -- one of those left-leaning gun control advocates. Like the staff at OTM, who presumably share space with the staff of The Takeaway.

There is no mystery and not confusion as to why gun anecdotes now proliferate in the news media. It is not confusing. It all could not be clearer. It is because those left-leaning gun control advocates populate not just the offices of WNYC, but also NPR, the New York Times, CBS, NBC, ABC, the Washington Post, Slate, Salon, The Huffington Post, The New Yorker, and regional newspapers from Miami to Detroit to Seattle, etc., etc., etc. And all of those like-minded media elites are thinking about guns exactly the same way that the Obama White House and the Democratic staffers on the Senate Judiciary committee all think about gun control.

Apr. 15 2013 12:24 AM
Pastor John Maxwell from UT

Why not another national data base? We have one for fingerprints of all convicted criminals, for sex abusers in particular and one for those with suspected ties to terrorist organizations, but this would be a data base of people who haven't broken a law. How about a data base of all school teachers since some school teachers abuse their position: they haven't broken a law but they are in a position to abuse a child more readily than most. Or how about all people with a camera? You need a camera to make child porn and only those with cameras can do that. Or how about those Communists. Maybe the White Supremacists. Or all those homosexuals. You say that isn't what we want, but what happens when the pendulum swings? If one us us isn't free, none of us are free.

Apr. 14 2013 12:45 PM
Ramesh from NY

I think it is better for OTM to stay away from gun debate, and instead stay focussed on freedom of speech issues.

Just compare 'Freedom of speech' and '2nd amendment', former is much more evolved so makes it possible to discuss subtle realities like 'rights of blogger' v/s 'rights of journalist'. On the other hand '2nd amendment' has not evolved at all so there is hardly any scope for discussion.

Apr. 14 2013 11:34 AM
Andy Baxter

I am wondering why we are only hearing one side of the story. The media in this contry seams to always take one viewpoint and exacerbate it. What ever happened to unbiased media? There are millions of people in this contry that are completely against gun control. Why don't you express their viewpoint and explain the reasoning behind their stance?

Apr. 14 2013 08:03 AM
Kelly from Ohio

I take exception to the comment that the numbers of people who are now in favor of stricter guns laws have greatly increased but, ' were skewed due to the large number of women polled'. WTH!! Does that render the trend invalid? Are women still not people? That comment cast a pall on your story, Brooke. I have not heard such a caveat explained when the majority of those polled were men.

Apr. 13 2013 04:25 PM
Rational Hoplite from The Water-Margin

The tactical juxtaposition of program segments about (a) media coverage of firearms-related incidents and (b) the importance of reporting promptly and honestly illness/disease trends is troubling.

We have had our boots on the ground in Cathay for a decade. Your item does not take into account the fact that Mainland Chinese tend to flood their local hospitals for intravenous treatment for cold and flu symptoms as a matter of course. The SARS fear merely exacerbated this folkway, as it did the tendency of the Mainland gossip-mill to grossly over-exaggerate. As many critics of the WHO response to SARS have subsequently pointed out, there was neither much of an epidemic nor global pandemic, and SARS was hardly the deadly scourge the public was led to believe -- in fact, it was nothing that couldn't be managed by "chicken soup, Dayquil, and Sprite".*
The facts didn't match the hype.

In the OTM segment, China was praised for being more forthcoming about recent deaths on the mainland seemingly due to a new and possibly quite virulent strain of bird flu. This praise was against the backdrop of the assumption that governments need not only to protect their own people from (e.g.) illness and diseases, but that citizens are right to look to and to expect their governments to keep them safe. How does this connect with gun control?

Here, the facts may match the hype -- but whence the facts and wither the hype? A government can protect its people from injuries, deaths, and losses resulting from the criminal misuse or negligent misadventure with firearms by limiting or restricting civilian access to all or some firearms (and ammunition) and/or by making limited civilian access to at least some firearms conditional. The devil, of course, is in the details.

But human losses (injuries and deaths) due to criminal misuse of firearms and accident/negligent misadventure are public safety issues, and *not* public health issues. These are overlapping sets, but "gun violence" is neither a disease nor a disease-entity. Pathologizing (so-called) "gun violence" is a step in the wrong direction. The juxtaposing these two item seems like a move intended to suggest connections between disease and "gun violence".

Obiter: If the peoples of China had not been stripped by their protective and benevolent government of their firearms, perhaps Tian'anmen would never have happened. And maybe - just maybe - if the China of 2013 was a politically freer country, it would enthusiastically use some of that liberty to be a open and reassuring partner in international efforts to understand and (when necessary) help contain the spread of diseases. We'd also not be left wringing our hands about China's state supervision of the citizenry's microblogs.

* Doshi P (2011), “The elusive definition of pandemic influenza”, Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2011; 89:532-53; and www.southparkstudios.com/clips/154087/chicken-soup-dayquil-sprite

Apr. 13 2013 11:34 AM

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