They’ll have to pry the agenda from the media’s cold, dead hands (UPDATED)

Whenever the issue of guns or gun violence pops up, the Australian media* jettisons any idea of objective reporting and lunges straight into outright advocacy. Read, listen to or watch any news story and you enter the realm of absolutes rubbing shoulders with caricatures. There is no inkling of the reality of a serious debate going on (or indeed desirability of such a debate), no acknowledgment of the complexity of the issues involved, no critical assessment of proposed solutions, and no realisation of the likely limits and limitations of any collective action to address what is a multi-faceted problem. In a truly Manichean fashion, there are those, the enlightened majority, on the side of goodness, common sense, and virtue, and they are pitted against a bizarre and repulsive minority of gun nuts who, at most charitable, are crazy, but really are but the bloodthirsty accessories to and enablers of the slaughter. (*I suspect this is not just the case of the Australian media, but virtually all of the non-American media – and much of the American media too.)

Take this story from today:


While acknowledging this about the NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, “To her credit, Ms Loesch did have the guts to show up to CNN’s forum, knowing she would face a hostile crowd,” Killalea then proceeds to blame her for focusing on the particulars of the case (as opposed to the general debate about guns and gun control), before portraying the local sheriff as a speak-truth-to-NRA-power hero:

The other guest on stage, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel – whose police force had to deal with the massacre – eventually jumped in and issued a scathing slapdown.

“I understand you’re standing up for the NRA and I understand that’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said. “But you just told this group of people that you are standing up for them. You’re not standing up for them until you you say: ‘I want less [sic] weapons.’”

The crowd responded with a standing ovation.

Sheriff Israel said stricter gun control needed to be introduced.

“Eighteen-year-olds should never have a rifle,” he began, referring to shooter Nikolas Cruz.

“An 18-year-old kid – they’re not adults yet. They’re in high school. These kids should not have a rifle.”

The legal age to buy a gun under federal US law is 18. The minimum age to buy alcohol is 21.

“Bump stocks should be illegal,” he said. “They should be outlawed forever. Automatic rifles should be outlawed forever and anybody who says different, I don’t know about other people, but Emma [one of the vocal students] and I, we’re calling BS on that.”

Now, all that is fine and well, but any serious reader would no doubt benefit from actually knowing why Dana Loesch was interested in specific the facts of the case and why the sheriff arguably wasn’t:

  • “In November, a tipster called BSO [Broward Sheriff’s Office] to say Cruz ‘could be a school shooter in the making’ but deputies did not write up a report on that warning. It came just weeks after a relative called urging BSO to seize his weapons. Two years ago, according to a newly released timeline of interactions with Cruz’s family, a deputy investigated a report that Cruz ‘planned to shoot up the school’ — intelligence that was forwarded to the school’s resource officer [security officer; see below], with no apparent result.”
  • “Just months before Nikolas Cruz killed 17 at his former high school in South Florida, the host family who had taken him in immediately after his mother’s death warned local law enforcement that the 19-year-old had ‘used a gun against people before’ and ‘has put the gun to others’ heads in the past’.”
  • In fact, the local law enforcement authorities have had 39 (!) interactions with and visits to see Cruz in the seven years prior to the massacre. FBI too has failed to follow standard procedures: “As recently as January, the FBI received a tip about Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz and his “desire to kill people,” but the information was never forwarded for investigation… In a written statement, the FBI said a person close to Cruz contacted the agency’s tip line Jan. 5 to report concerns about ‘Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting’… ‘Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life,’ the FBI said.”
  • “Parkland massacre gunman Nikolas Cruz was able to escape the Florida campus undetected because security guards were watching surveillance footage on a 20-minute delay. The confusion caused police to believe that Cruz was still on school premises, even though he had already left and was on the way to Subway and McDonald’s.”
  • Last, but perhaps, most disturbingly, “A school campus cop heard the gunfire, rushed to the building but never went inside — instead waiting outside for another four agonizing minutes as Cruz continued the slaughter… Peterson — named school resource officer of the year for Parkland in 2014 — was in another building, dealing with a student issue when the shots sounded. Armed with his sidearm, Peterson ran to the west side of Building 12 and set up in a defensive position, then did nothing for four minutes until the gunfire stopped.”

The Parkland school massacre was a culmination of a series of monumental stuff-ups and negligence by the law enforcement of all levels – federal, local, and school. It’s very easy to have a go at NRA, whose mission is to protect the constitutionally-guaranteed right to bear arms – and it is very easy for Sheriff Israel to be delivering “scathing slapdowns” and calling for stricter gun control, because it distracts from the facts of his own department’s dismal role in this tragedy. Virtually every mass shooting in the US, which inevitably brings more calls for “gun control” and to “do something”, i.e. to enact more and stricter laws, turns out to involve circumstances where the laws currently on the books were not followed and enforced in the first place by those tasked to do so. This case, sadly, is not an exception.

Sure, if we could somehow magically make the 350 million firearms in the hands of American citizens disappear, we would not have any more shootings, mass or otherwise. But this is not going to happen. And precisely because this is not going to happen, we need the media which will honestly report about the world as it is and not as it wants it to be.

P.S. “Automatic rifles” are for all practical purposes already outlawed.

P.P.S. The story just gets keeps getting worse and worse:

When Coral Springs police officers arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14 in the midst of the school shooting crisis, many officers were surprised to find not only that Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, the armed school resource officer, had not entered the building, but that three other Broward County Sheriff’s deputies were also outside the school and had not entered, Coral Springs sources tell CNN. The deputies had their pistols drawn and were behind their vehicles, the sources said, and not one of them had gone into the school.