Gun ‘conversation’ largely a waste of time


At 9:40 a.m. on Dec. 14, America’s attention was turned en masse to Newtown, Conn., where 20 innocent children and six adults were gunned down in an elementary school classroom.

The nation was grief-stricken; President Barack Obama arrived two days later operating as consoler-in-chief; and the dialogue immediately commenced on steps to prevent another Newtown.

Shortly after 9 p.m. on Dec. 27, Chicago police found the body of Nathaniel T. Jackson outside of a convenience store, marking the 500th homicide of the year in the Windy City, most of them due to gun violence.

No pictures of Nathaniel were shown on national TV. Flowers and teddy bears didn’t populate the scene. The national media, except for the basic acknowledgement that he represented the city’s 500th murder, has largely ignored his death. I’m not even sure if his name was mentioned.

Think about this for a moment. Our world stopped in the wake of the Newtown massacre and rightfully so. Those killed, including the gunman’s mom, were innocent victims gunned down by a mad man. But Chicago alone has experienced 25 Newtowns, a little more than two a month. And move about our daily lives as if Nathaniel’s murder doesn’t mean a thing.

It is because of this that I’ve been angered to watch TV, listen to radio and follow these senseless, emotional and one-dimensional debates about gun control in the United States. Newtown, Aurora and Chicago didn’t happen just because of guns. There were conditions that preceded these heinous acts that deserve our attention.

Instead, the tragedy has allowed the usual suspects to separate from one side or the other. It’s either pro-Second Amendment or pro-gun restrictions. Few attempts have been made to put this gun violence epidemic into the proper context.

Dr. Cornel West and Rush Limbaugh sounded stunningly similar notes by suggesting that because the victims of other gun violence didn’t look like the Newtown victims, the national media essentially didn’t care. I personally know West has tried to address the issue; nothing tells me Rush really cares other than to score a point against “the liberal media.”

That’s a reasonable issue to confront and analyze, but it’s not the only one.

Mental illness has been discussed, but it has been a distant second to the loud voices championing a ban on assault weapons, more background checks or closing gun show loopholes. Very few media sources have done extensive reporting on mental illness budgets in their cities and states, only making passing references.

Yet we can’t examine Newtown without dealing with Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and other states. We can’t say reinstate the assault weapons ban and not talk about whether strict gun control laws actually work. The gun violence issue is multi-layered. Access to guns is one thing; what we do with guns is another.

We kept taking solace in saying that the FBI says overall crime is down, but according to GunPolicy.org, 14,159 people were victims of homicide in 2010.

It is true that most people who possess guns don’t go around shooting people. But the number of homicides due to guns should be alarming to everyone, even the most ardent Second Amendment advocate.

If we are going to keep saying, “let’s have a conversation,” then let’s do it. Right now, we are seeing advocates, pro and against guns, try to score points and demonize the other. The conversation has too often been a shouting match led by hosts expressing righteous indignation, rarely giving the opposition a chance to talk. That’s not a conversation. It’s an exercise in futility.

Issues such as education, poverty, income disparities, anger, violent video games and images, and a host of others must be looked at if we want to come to grips with America’s deadly infatuation with guns.

Again, not everything is a direct cause. But any psychologist will tell you that a variety of factors lead to someone killing one person or 20.

For my media brothers and sisters, we have done a weak job at making this conversation broad and in-depth. We can’t give it short shrift and think that one, seven-minute panel will do the trick. We can’t put so much attention on Newtown and ignore Chicago. It’s not just about what happens in Washington, D.C., but also in the state houses, commissioners courts and city halls across the land.

If we continue at this rate, Newtown will be an afterthought, another missed opportunity to address a major epidemic in America.

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Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author.