Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT
Another unfolding American gun massacre has produced an avalanche news coverage, but it's coverage that continues to omit crucial context about gun violence and the rash of often public shooting sprees that plague the country. It's a troubling journalism trend, and one that seems to be getting worse. As America recoils from new shootings, the news media are casting the gun horrors in less context, not more.
It's true that the press is moving away from presenting shooting sprees as isolated incidents. The coverage of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., has been rich with references to the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre from this summer. Then again, how can reporters not connect the dots from those two rampages to a sweeping cultural and criminal problem, and one that continues to worsen and extends to all corners of the country.
But simply acknowledging the deadly trend doesn't mean the news media are providing much-needed context. For instance, each year roughly 30,000 Americans die from gun violence. By comparison, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, approximately 4,300 Americans have died in that conflict.
As Forbes' Rob Waters noted, from the period between 2000 to 2009, "If you exclude natural causes of death and consider only deaths caused by injury, [gun violence] is the second-leading cause of death over that time span; only car accidents (417,000) killed more people." And according to Bloomberg News, the number of Americans killed by guns will soon exceed the yearly number of auto fatalities, as auto-related deaths are falling and gun fatalities are rising.
To understand the larger story of gun violence in America, people have to understand the context. People have to be aware of the 30,000 figure. They ought to know, for instance, that that in the week since Newtown, an estimated 500 Americans have died from gunfire, and more than 1,200 have been wounded. They ought to know that just since the Sand Hook School massacre, approximately 50 more American children and teens have died from gunfire.
If we don't understand the saturation status we're not going to understand the steady stream of public shooting sprees.
But news consumers aren't getting that information from the media - at least not in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.