Never underestimate the power of major city newspapers like the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe to drive the public debate over public policy issues, and to drive it in a common direction. Even as the American public shifts to other sources of information in cyberspace, these bell-cow newspaper still have the power to influence public opinion and policy makers in Washington, DC, or state capitals. Usually in lock step on a topicall three newspapers cited above proudly maintain sterling anti-gun credentialsthey can influence newspaper editors in smaller markets as well as TV and radio media to sway millions.
Major media now focused on resuscitating anti-gun cause
September 15, 2011
by Joseph P. Tartaro
Frustrated by a lack of movement in the gun debate during the first three years of the Obama White House, they apparently have figured its time to apply CPR to the gun issue, and they have taken slightly different approaches to bring the gun debate back to life.
The Boston Globe, for instance, recently ran a lengthy commentary by gun-debate guru James Alan Fox, on guns and gun laws, which focus on a recent upswing in criminal use of firearms.
“As a criminologist,” Prof. Fox wrote, I was drawn to the interactive map of this year’s Boston homicides that was featured in boston.com earlier this month (August). The concentration of murders in the city’s poorest neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan is obvious yet hardly surprising. These areas of the city have long been ‘hot spots’ for violence.
“To me,” Fox said, “the far more intriguing pattern to this year’s homicides lies in weapon use, identified in the list of cases just below the boston.com map. The overwhelming majority of murdersjust over 85%was by firearm. And, unlike the stable geographic pattern, the weapon distribution in Boston homicides has shifted over the past few decades. … the percentage of Boston homicides that involves a gun is now at a record high. And the costs to families and society, in general, are staggering.
“Before jumping on the Chicken Little bandwagon, it is important to note that the recent surge in the share of shooting deaths has occurred at a time when the overall homicide rate is low relative to the bad old days of the early 1990s when Boston’s gang problem was at its worst. Even so … the raw number of gun-related murders has doubled since 2000. Meanwhile, the number of non-gun homicides has exhibited a gradual decline.”
One can only speculate, of course, as to the reasons for the divergent trend in gun and non-gun homicides, Fox continued, before blaming Gerge W. Bush, congressional action, and the anti-gun movement’s favorite current whipping boy, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS). Tiahrt’s amendment limiting non-police use of ATF gun-trace data. In addition, Fox attacks the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act as preventing the kind of liability law witch-hunting that he supports.
Taking a direction pointed by Boston Mayor Tom Menino and his New York City counterpart, Michael Bloomberg, in 2003, former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), sets out to tar and feather Tiahrt editorially, by linking him to “significant NRA support,” Tiahrt, he says, quietly slipped an amendment into an appropriations bill that “suddenly limited public access to ATF crime-gun trace data.”
Fox claims those ATF tracing records tended to implicate certain licensed firearms dealers as common source points in supply chains for illegal gun trafficking. Several analyses of trace data, including his own, had shown that 1% of licensed gun dealers were linked to a majority of firearms recovered from criminal enterprises. While most of these traces may have involved legitimate transactions, many unscrupulous merchants were easily flagged.
Then he turns on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which he noted proudly was opposed by the entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation, saying it “thwarted attempts by cities and other entities around the country to litigate as a strategy for compelling the gun industry to act more responsibly in their marketing and distribution practices.”
Then Fox gets to his policy recommendations.
“It is indeed time to remove the Tiahrt provisions that shield corrupt or careless gun dealers whose substandard practices fuel the illegal gun trade,” Fox says, and continues, “It is also time to permit and enforce an ATF requirement that licensed firearms dealers maintain accurate accounts of inventory. And such steps will in no way infringe on the rights of legitimate gun owners.”
Fox closes his recent policy statement by saying that “Unfortunately, the pro-gun posture in Washington has carried over into the Obama Administration. Despite his campaign pledge to repeal Tiahrt and focus on the illegal gun problem, President Obama has failed to follow through and take on the powerful gun lobby.
“Obviously, Obama has much bigger problems on his hands, national priorities far greater than gun violence. However, the lack of political will in Congress and the White House to confront the illegal gun problem hardly helps the growing list of Bostonians who are confronted by an assailant and the wrong end of a loaded gun,” Fox concludes.
Timed almost to the day of the Fox article’s publication in the Boston Globe, came a story from CBS New York, that claimed “New York City’s overall crime rate could increase for the first time in decades, driven by alarming spikes in murder, rapes and robberies in many neighborhoods.”
The CBS report claimed that “A 400% increase in murders in tony Williamsburg; a 400% increase in rapes in Sheepshead Bay and a 250% increase in killings in Washington Heights are all troublesome statistics that have Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police officials concerned,” and Bloomberg promptly was quoted expressing that concern. So Boston and New York are suddenly claiming an increase in violent crime, which the FBI has reported is down in most of the country, and are using it to renew their traditionally broad attack on private gun ownership.
“Although crime has fallen an enviable 35% since Bloomberg took office, in the past year it has risen in 34 of the city’s 76 precincts, and alarming spikes in some neighborhoods could lead to the first city-wide increase in decades, CBS noted before city official city data.
“According to the NYPD:
- “The 100th Precinct in Rockaway, Queens has seen a 37% increase in crime;
- “In the 34th in Washington Heights it’s up 24%;
- “In the 77th in Crown Heights it’s up 21%;
- “In the 113th in St. Albans, Queens it has spiked 17%, and
- “In the 76th in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn it’s up 11%.”
Just one day before the CBS report, the Washington Post ran an article that suggested that while the pro-gun movement won in the Heller and MacDonald Supreme Court cases, it has been losing ground in the lower federal courts every since.
“A funny thing has happened in the three years since gun rights activists won their biggest victory at the Supreme Court, The Post began. “They have been on a losing streak in the lower courts.”
“The decisions (in Heller and MacDonald) were seen as a green light to challenge gun restrictions across the country, and the lawsuits have come raining downmore than two a week, according to the anti-gun Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“But it is the Brady Center that is crowing about the results,” The Post claimed, without a careful analysis of what is really happening in the federal district courts and courts of appeal.
Whether the media can reshape public opinions remains to be seen, but they certainly are trying to stir the pot as Congress returns to Capitol Hill.
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