The New York Times has proved over and over that the institution is no friend of gun rights. But the latest from two of their reporters, Sharon LaFraniere and Emily Palmer, is a fine example of what’s wrong with the arguments in favor of gun control. Their article, “What 130 of the Worst Shootings Say About Guns in America,” attempts to analyze mass shootings in an effort to find solutions, but ends up only reiterating old errors.
One of these errors should have been easy for LaFraniere and Palmer to see—if they read the paper that they write for. According to them, the Times “examined all 130 shootings last year in which four or more people were shot, at least one fatally, and investigators identified at least one attacker.” But in an editorial from December of last year, Mark Follman of Mother Jones reported on the origin of this definition of a mass shooting. The accepted definition of such an incident has been four or more killed, not including the shooter. But a Reddit user called Billy Speed didn’t like this definition and decided, in his own words, “all by myself,” to coin the new meaning.
The duplicity here is in how the term, mass shooting, is received by the public at large. Ask an ordinary person who isn’t involved day to day in the details of guns in this country what a mass shooting is, and you’ll likely hear that such an incident involves a lot of people killed. The precise number may vary by the person asked, but colloquially, one death won’t be what is meant. To use the term in one way when it’s understood another is deception, and it’s reasonable to conclude there’s an agenda behind it.
LaFraniere and Palmer admit that “it was virtually impossible to determine whether expanded background checks would have deterred the illegally armed attackers involved in the shootings examined for this article.” This is an excess of caution, considering the fact that, as reported also by the Times, of the mass shootings that have reached national attention recently, the shooters passed background checks—and in the case of the Navy Yard and Orlando nightclub, had extra clearances—or acquired their guns illegally, as in San Bernardino and Newtown.
What is also acknowledged is that these killers, by whichever accounting we choose, give warnings in advance. The father of one killer in Georgia said of his son, “I knew something was going to happen. I figured he would either kill himself or kill us.” The son did kill two, a liquor store owner and a customer. He went on to wound his parents before being confronted by a sheriff’s deputy. The son then killed himself.
One extraordinary admission by the Times reporters is that the shooter in this case was driven from the liquor store by Todd Scott, another customer who was legally armed. Scott is reported to have said about the incident that “He [the killer] was very surprised that he was not the only one in the store with a gun. He got the heck out.”
And this is one illustration of a solution, something that the Times reporters don’t bring us to. Another should be obvious, given what has been recorded in the article. We do a poor job in this country of treating the mentally ill. In the past, they were dumped into horrific institutions, and today, they’re too often left on the streets, homeless and helpless. Police resources are stretched thin by the wars on drugs and terror, leaving the mundane conflicts and crimes unaddressed. But in targeting both of those, we’ve sacrificed basic rights—of privacy and due process most of all—for very little gain. We don’t have to give up more rights to save ourselves from mass shooters. We do have to take better care of people in need.