By: Peter Suciu
There are many common factors in today’s mass shootings – including the fact that typically they are committed by a lone individual with some mental issues.
What is also all too common is that mass shootings tend to be the lead story in the evening news, while the media tries to play up the “regular” occurrence of these events. If you were to listen to the reporting on the network news, read the stories online, and believed what liberal politicians have to say, mass shootings occur with disturbing regularity, and such events are on the rise across the country.
The problem has gotten so bad that President Joe Biden called these events a “national embarrassment.”
All of this reporting, though, as well as Biden’s take on the situation, are seriously flawed. Mass shootings really don’t occur that all often, and it is actually the media’s fascination with these events that has increased. Crime has decreased so much in the past 40 years that events that were once “local news” have become “national news.” While this year has seen a significant uptick in gun violence in some of the country’s urban centers, most of those are gang-related incidents involving illegally acquired firearms.
Self-Defense Gets No Play
The media seems to have a love affair with reporting on gun violence – and it is part of the way news is covered. “If it bleeds, its leads” has been commonplace for decades. The term actually dated back to the Spanish-American War, when William Randolph Hearst and other newspaper publishers would offer sensational stories of drama and violence.
Today this form of media coverage lives on with plane crashes, fires, and, of course, natural disasters. As a result, mass shootings have become all-hands-on-deck events that for inexplicable reasons require multiple reporters and even the nightly news anchors to fly out to “cover” the events. This isn’t to say that mass shootings aren’t important news events, as they are – these are tragic events that should never happen. The media’s focus on the shootings, however, could also, in turn, lead similar incidents, as those committing the crimes often seek notoriety and an infamous “15 minutes of fame.”
And then there is the fact that the media never leads with guns being used in self-defense. Never do those reporters jump on a plane to cover stories where an individual with a firearm stopped a mass shooting or a house break-in.
Writing for Real Clear Investigations (RCI), John R. Lott, Jr. noted that there are far more defensive gun uses than murders, and while some of these get the attention of local newspapers, rarely, if ever, do these events get any attention from the mainstream media. Only the highest profile cases receive any media attention at all, while “mass shootings” continue to get airtime on a national level.
“According to academic estimates, defensive gun uses — including instances when guns are simply shown to deter a crime — are four to five times more common than gun crimes, and far more frequent than the roughly 20,000 murders or fewer each year, with or without a gun.”
Even when the use of firearms defensively stops a mass shooting or other significant event, it likely won’t make the national news. This is because newsrooms report on what happened, not what didn’t happen, and stopping a mass shooting is thus not news. Even in our era of trophies for everyone and the overuse of the word “hero,” when it comes to guns stopping a crime, that simply isn’t news.
Part of it is that guns used defensively don’t play into the narrative of the reporters who are based in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. In fact, apart from firearms publications and law enforcement magazines, there is almost no reporting on guns that stopped crime apart from the very local level. And even in those cases, the smalltown papers prefer to report on how a single woman stood up against a potential intruder.
The story of the white, middle-aged guy who stood his ground legally just simply isn’t seen as newsworthy.
“Media stories cannot be trusted to accurately reflect the number or type of defensive gun uses that actually occur,” Professor Gary Mauser of Canada’s Simon Fraser University told RCI.
Mauser, who has conducted national surveys on defensive gun use, added, “National surveys find that firearms are rarely fired when used to stop a violent attack. Such cases are unlikely to be reported to the police, and even less likely to found in media stories. Relying upon media stories would greatly underestimate the true number of defensive gun uses.”
Mauser isn’t the only one to note that firearms are actually used far more often for defense than the media has reported. According to Amy Swearer of The Heritage Foundation, who cited multiple studies on the issue, Americans use their firearms in self-defense between 500,000 and 3 million times a year. Two “outlier” studies even concluded that defensive use of firearms occurs at least 100,000 times a year.
As Swearer, a legal fellow in the Edwin Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, pondered, “If defense use of a firearm goes unreported in the media and nobody hears about, does it really count?”
The answer is obvious; it didn’t happen because it wasn’t reported, which is the goal of the media. Mass shootings meanwhile will always get coverage – because if it bleeds, it leads.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.