The "Gun Nut" Narrative
February 2nd, 2013 | R. Rados
It's true that if 10% of what Alex Jones says is true, we're in trouble. That doesn't change the fact that 90% of what he says is impulsive, paranoid babble. It's also true that a vast majority of the global population doesn't take 90% of what he says seriously. This discernible fact begs us to ask why a legitimate, mainstream network like CNN would invite him to be a guest on Piers Morgan Tonight. Furthermore, we have to ask why Piers Morgan would choose to actively and seriously engage the practicing clown for longer than five minutes on the subject of gun control. The answer is simple and infuriating. Alex Jones is a loose cannon and he fits perfectly into the media's ongoing narrative that portrays advocates of the 2nd Amendment as unhinged, fanatical, and paranoid.
The word narrative is used a lot by pundits, journalists, and personalities to explain how media organizations create storylines and patterns to build and reinforce perceptions about certain subjects and people. One of the common narratives is that gun advocates and proponents of the 2nd Amendment are insane. The only major American televised news network that doesn't feed this narrative is Fox News (they feed their own narratives). There is no better way to keep the “gun nut” narrative relevant than by exhibiting the utter madness of America's right wing. By exhibiting Alex Jones' lunacy on live television and subjecting viewers to what was the equivalent of a clinical meltdown, Piers Morgan was able to link paranoid conspiracies and insanity to the 2nd Amendment. In one single moment, CNN was granted a reel of footage that could be played over and over again, be linked to other gun advocates, and be used as an example of why people shouldn't own guns.
During the two weeks following the notorious Alex Jones interview, Piers Morgan referred to the interview seven times. Each time, he attempted to link Alex Jones to other supporters of gun rights. One of those people was Breitbart's Ben Shapiro, who struck down Morgan's attempt to refer to Jones during his interview by saying, “Don't lump me in with Alex Jones”. Other guests before and after Shapiro weren't as skilled or assertive enough to shut Morgan down. For days prior, CNN replayed snippets of the Jones interview in advertisements and linked it to captions and other programs about gun control. The interview was even featured as news during various other CNN programs, like CNN News Room. Piers Morgan continued for days by expressing concern over Alex Jones and his 5 million followers. Alan Dershowitz, as a guest on Piers Morgan Tonight, stated how frightened he would be to see a gun in Jones' hand or in the hands of his followers. What both men failed to realize is that they had given the paranoid lunatic more exposure and introduced him to more potential “followers”. In their attempts to use Alex Jones as an example, they may have inadvertently expanded his audience. Out of every hundred people, at least one is destined to cling on.
Despite the difficulties in trying to convince some people that there are television networks (other than Fox News) that are dedicated to a particular narrative, the evidence speaks loud and clear to anyone who's willing to listen. Unfortunately, every time another mass shooting takes place, the narrative is reinforced and media relentlessly overexposes the events and the people involved. Each and every time it happens, sadness ensues. When the sadness subsides, anger sets in. These are the things that media feed on.
Audience is a keyword in the debate about gun violence in America. First, it's important to look at the statistical facts. In 2010, there were over 30,000 gun related deaths in America, but more than 19,000 of them were suicides. That means that only 36% of the gun deaths in America – that year – were homicides. In 2012, the media had us believe that a sudden epidemic of mass shootings had popped up, seemingly from nowhere. There were, in fact, 7 mass shootings last year and 72 people died as a result. It's also important to note that some news organizations and blogs may have a different definition of “mass” shooting. Here we'll keep it to 5 or more deaths and leave it up to the reader to see this list of mass shootings compiled by Mother Jones. It's clear that, although 2012 did have a higher rate of mass shootings, prior years saw between 3 to 5 mass shootings.
What does all this mean? Nothing. It doesn't justify or invalidate anything in any way, but news media and bloggers will always jump to statistics to prove some sort of point. The statistics can be viewed and interpreted by almost anyone and explained to mean almost anything....to anyone. The fact is that emotions will always run high anytime news programs interview victims and cover such events. As a result, someone, somewhere will want to pass a new law or regulation. Mainstream news networks have a very wide and consistent audience compared to “new media”, like blogs and internet programs. Television is an expensive business, making it exclusive to the ultra rich and established. This also means that most mainstream news networks are consolidated under just a handful of wealthy owners. What does this mean? It means that mainstream news media has a higher capability (than blogs and websites) when it comes to swaying public opinion. This doesn't necessarily hint at a conspiracy, but it does reflect a serious lack of diversity in mainstream news, which could result in one, single point of view being expressed across what appears to be several “different” news networks.
Every narrative deserves a compelling and perplexing character. When the narrative is the same across the board, a single person can see a lot of exposure. Jared Loughner, James Holmes, and Adam Lanza all achieved notoriety and were portrayed as deranged villains; the kinds you might find in a comic book. They had dark pasts that audiences became eager to eat up and absorb. The media fed this hunger and did exactly what the villains wanted. Overnight, nobodies became somebodies.
News is news and something as tragic as a shooting should be reported. Most shootings are reported, but it's not as often that we see the media pick apart a person's past and create a compelling backstory that fits perfectly into a common narrative. With roughly 30,000 gun deaths a year, mainstream news selectively covers only a few per year as extensively as it has the Newtown and Aurora shootings. Mass shootings deserve more coverage than single shooting incidents, but they, too, don't always receive extensive coverage.
In 2011, Chicago saw an increase in gun violence that resulted in an average of nearly 41 deaths in a single month. The media selectively chose not to cover the shooters and victims for longer than six minutes a piece. Again, most of the shooters were either criminals or lacked any real history of mental instability. In these shootings, typical handguns and automatics were used. Several of them were drive-by shootings, enabled by cars.
The people involved in mass shootings often appear to be the focal point for media, but under the elaborate fabric of the narrative there sometimes exists a secondary villain. The most obvious emphasis within the traditional narrative of gun violence in America isn't always on who the shooters are, but about what kind of weapons they used.
Newton and Aurora had two major secondary villains: assault weapons. Although only 0.012% of gun deaths in the US are caused by assault weapons, mainstream news media were able to make it an issue. As a result, US senators were compelled to introduce a proposed ban on assault weapons while thousands of citizens were compelled to rally for gun control in Washington DC. If media ever chooses to make an issue of the 90 people who die in car wrecks per day in the US, cars could face similar protests and bans. They are, after all, large killing machines. According to the DUI Foundation, twice as many people are killed by cars than by any weapon. “The only difference between a vehicular homicide and other homicides is the use of a motor vehicle,” states their website. Over 40,000 people are killed in the US each year as a result of vehicular homicide. Despite these stats, we will never ban cars and the argument will always remain ridiculous as long as people continue to believe that they need cars more than they need guns.
Most pro-gun-control advocates will argue that guns are designed to kill. Advocates of the 2nd Amendment will argue that guns were designed for self defense. Both are probably right. The invention of the first gun opened Pandora's Box in the same way the Manhattan Project did. As a result, guns are here to stay and there isn't anything we can do about it. As a matter of fact, 90% of gun crimes in the US are committed by criminals who are legally barred from purchasing guns in the first place. Like drugs, they end up in the hands of criminals whether they're illegal or not. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post makes mention of this in his piece, “Twelve Facts About Guns And Mass Shooting In The United States”.
There was a time when news was just news. That time has long passed. News was supposed to be about reporting objective facts, not pushing narratives. There are so many violent crimes that it would be impossible to report them all and afford them equal coverage – or so they say. News has devolved into entertainment, or as some would call it “infotainment”. Plots and characters are chosen for entertainment value and the quality of information has deteriorated beyond repair. Dead children receive more coverage because they're American, certain forms of violence are ignored because they don't trigger a desired response, and news stories are written to produce outrage, instill fear, and stimulate negative emotions. Sometimes it's done to bolster support for an agenda, sometimes it's done for ratings. This is the way it is.
The current narrative on guns implies that restrictions should be put on firearms to prevent them from falling into the hands of lunatics. It also implies, quite maliciously, that people who disagree with gun control might have a few mental disorders of their own. Paranoia, quick tempers, and conservatism are routinely intertwined and linked to supporters of the 2nd Amendment. The media and their aggrandizement of troubled mass murderers inspires other fame-seekers to act on their maniacal fantasies, but it never earns enough criticism from the choir. Banning and outlawing behaviors isn't the answer to anything, but it is an automated response during times of intense anger and sorrow. Media feeds the misconception that governments are benevolent and incorruptible, while sprinkling gasoline onto the flames of outrage. A ban on assault rifles should apply to everyone, including law enforcement officials and military personnel on American soil. Unless there is an impending invasion, soldiers and police have no business carrying such weapons in public spaces and neighborhoods. If a ban is passed, it must apply to all citizens. It's just that simple. The narrative that sanctifies governments and law enforcement equates all typical Hollywood fables. A government of the people, for the people, doesn't accept double standards. Double standards are not supposed to be the status quo.
True villainy is rooted in the inequality amongst leaders and their people. The narcissism of government and media has corrupted nearly every meaningful tradition in North America. The entire principle of equality has been distorted by political agendas and redefined to mean something entirely different. There are few tyrannies throughout history that would have survived at the hands of a heavily armed public. There are several atrocities that could have been prevented had the subjects been given the same rights as their leaders. It would have been nearly impossible to force six million armed Jews into gas chambers, but that doesn't seem to cross the minds of those infatuated with the idea of big, benevolent governments. Perhaps if the audience learns to appreciate truth over cheap emotional thrills, the current narrative will change.