The Sandy Hook massacre: Obama makes martyrs of the dead as media fetishises grief and fear
THE Sandy Hook massacre features on the cover of the UK press.
In March 2012, 16 Afghan civilians were killed by U.S. Army Soldier Robert Bales, allegedly.
Can you name them? Did President Obama weep on the TV? Was it front-page news in the UK?
The Sun leads with news of the massacre in Sandy Hook. But how can it justify such intense coverage? The US is accessible. We share the same language. America invented rolling news and burnished news anchors and reporters into personalities, dispatched to deliver not the facts but news the audience will enjoy. Last week the news was obsessed with the death of Jacintha Saldanha, the “Royal nurse” who had committed suicide. This week we’re invited to gawp at terrible events in small town in Connecticut.
The Sun just wants to stare. But that would be rude. It needs something that will chime with its readers. So. It’s called “AMERICA’S DUNBLANE“.
On 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School and shot dead sixteen children and one adult before committing suicide.
In 1996, Michael North, whose daughter Sophie was killed at the mass shooting in the Primary School at Dunblane, Scotland, wrote the following comments in the Sunday Times:
“It is time to turn the tide against gun culture. Hand-guns were designed for one purpose only – to kill. They weren’t banned after Hungerford (a previous UK mass shooting) because of the pressure of the gun lobby. Public safety was sacrificed to preserve a privilege for a minority who have had a disproportionate influence on our law-makers. Campaigning for a total ban on hand-guns will ensure that this country becomes a safer place.”
The campaign was successful and a shocked UK Government rushed through a total ban on hand-guns licensed for use by the general public. Restrictions were also introduced relating to possession and storage of rifles and shotguns which are still widely used in rural areas for pest control.
So. Will “America’s Dunblane” leads to curbs on guns ownership in the US?
The Sun goes for the heart. Its front page is punctuated with 18 thumbnail photos of murdered children. The dead are not just a number, as they are when a bomb goes off in the Middle East or Afghanistan. They all have faces. On pages 4 and 5, the children each get a biography, a small obituary with quotes taken from Facebook postings and other sources:
Jessica Rekos, 6: “Brunette Jessica’s mum is a sixth-grade teacher…”
We are invited to look at the murdered child’s hair. The dead child was a brunette. The Sun wants us to see the photo and know the fact.
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, is “cute“.
Avielle Richman, 6, was also “cute“.
Emilie Parker, 6, is the child “with blue eyes, blonde hair and freckles…”
This fetishising of grief, the mourn porn, is not universal. The Sun has no pictures of two of the victims: Allison Wyatt, 6, and Madeleine Hsu, also 6. Their parents didn’t want the children’s pictures broadcast around the world. Private grief does not always have to become orchestrated and public. If you need pictures of weeping parents and murdered children to make you empathise, you’re lacking something. If you just want to stare, then the TV cameras are happy to help.
The Sun then writes:
THESE are the innocents of America’s Dunblane — each smiling face a heartbreaking plea for the nation to give up its guns.
We are now reading the minds of the dead children. Maybe if the guards at the school had have had guns – it was a gun-free zone – “polite” Adam Lanza would have been shot before he reached the innocents? He forced his way into the school with legally owned firearms.
US pundit Geraldo Rivera told Bill O’Reilly on the latter’s show:
“This is the worst thing ever and there’s a scene I can’t get out of my mind. You have these babies who had never seen evil, who are in the flower of innocence, and here’s a grownup dressed in camouflage and he’s killing the children and he’s reloading… I want an armed cop at every school, we have to protect these children as if they were gold.”
A lockdown at schools is an improvement? Surely not.
If the Sun wants guns banned it should ask why its owner Rupert Murdoch can have armed bodyguards. Will guns be only for the rich and powerful?
President Barack Obama last night hinted he is determined to end the lunacy, speaking at a vigil for victims of Friday’s rampage by Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut. He suggested he is considering a radical move to ditch America’s historic right to bear arms in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
The Times has a different take. It quotes Barack Obama saying:
“I have been reflecting on this and the answer is no. We are not doing enough. We will have to change. Since I became president this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a community that has been torn apart by a mass shooting. There could be no excuses for inaction, he said. “We cannot tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. To end them we must change.”
But that for later. This is about the victims. As Obama said:
“God has called them all to him. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”
God called the dead children to him?
Now out those words in the mouth of militant Islamist in Afghanistan as he buries the victims of a misplaced drone attack.
Do not use the word martyr. Obama and Rivera care, of course. They want action. Their reactions, however, are less than useful.
Tim Blair writes:
There are around 310 million non-military firearms in the US, basically enough to equip every man, woman and child with a deadly weapon. Close to 5.5 million new firearms are produced within the US every single year – two million more than the entire amount of firearms owned by Australians. Another three million firearms are imported to the US annually. Nearly 50 per cent of Americans have at least one firearm in their house. The market for firearms has increased constantly since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, with Smith & Wesson expecting almost $400 million in gun sales during 2012.
And the rate of firearm-related murders keeps falling.
You read that correctly. As the number of guns in the US increases, the deaths keep going the other way. “The rate of gun-related murder and manslaughter fell 11 per cent from 2008 to 2010, the most recent year for which comparable statistics are available,” Businessweek reported in October. Moreover, “the gun-killing rate has fallen a total of 51.5 per cent since 1993.”
This is not to diminish the shocking slaughter of 27 people, most of them very young children, in Connecticut. There is no moral way that a crime on this scale can be understood as anything less than pure evil.
Who has the guns?
Surveys suggest America’s guns may be concentrated in fewer hands today: Approximately 40 percent of households had them in the past decade, versus about 50 percent in the 1980s. But far more relevant is a recent barrage of laws that have rolled back gun restrictions throughout the country. In the past four years, across 37 states, the NRA and its political allies have pushed through 99 laws making guns easier to own, easier to carry in public, and harder for the government to track.
Reason’s Nick Gillespie notes:
Over the past several decades, virtually every state in the country has liberalized its gun control laws. In 2008 (in theHeller decision) and 2010 (McDonald), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an individual right to bear arms. Despite a number of high-profile gun-violence cases – including this year’s mass shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater and 2011′s shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords - the past 20 years has seen a sharp and continuing decrease in violent crime.
In 1992, for instance, the violent crime rate per 100,000 residents was 758. In 2012, it was 386. Between 2000 and 2009 (the latest year for which I could easily find data) use of firearms in violent crime had decreased from a rate of 2.4 per 1,000 to 1.4 per 1,000.
Who wants guns?
Times change. Lenore Skenazy writes:
In the end there were 38 children dead at the school, two teachers and four other adults.
I’m not talking about the horrific shooting in Connecticut today. I’m talking about the worst school murder in American history. It took place in Michigan, in 1927. A school board official, enraged at a tax increase to fund school construction, quietly planted explosives in Bath Township Elementary. Then, the day he was finally ready, he set off an inferno. When crowds rushed in to rescue the children, he drove up his shrapnel-filled car and detonated it, too, killing more people, including himself. And then, something we’d find very strange happened.
No cameras were placed at the front of schools. No school guards started making visitors show identification. No Zero Tolerance laws were passed, nor were background checks required of PTA volunteers—all precautions that many American schools instituted in the wake of the Columbine shootings, in 1999. Americans in 1928—and for the next several generations —continued to send their kids to school without any of these measures. They didn’t even drive them there. How did they maintain the kind of confidence my own knees and heart don’t feel as I write this?
They had a distance that has disappeared. A distance that helped them keep the rarity and unpredictability of the tragedy in perspective, granting them parental peace.
“In 1928, the odds are that if people in this country read about this tragedy, they read it several days later, in place that was hard to get to,” explains Art Markman, author of “Smart Thinking” (Perigee Books, 2012). “You couldn’t hop on a plane and be there in an hour. Michigan? If you were living in South Carolina, it would be a three-day drive. It’s almost another country. You’d think, ‘Those crazy people in Michigan,’ same as if a school blows up in one of the breakaway Republics.”
Time and space create distance. But today, those have compressed to zero. The Connecticut shooting comes into our homes–even our hands–instantly, no matter where we live. We see the shattered parents in real time. The President can barely maintain composure. This sorrow isn’t far away, it’s local for every single one of us…
As a result, I expect we will now demand precautions on top of precautions. More guards. More security cameras. More supervision. We will fear more for our kids and let go of them even more reluctantly. Every time we wonder if they can be safe beyond our arms, these shootings will swim into focus.
Will this new layer of fear and security make our children any safer? Probably not, but for a reassuring reason: A tragedy like this is so rare, our kids are already safe. Not perfectly safe. No one ever is. But safe.
We are not all victims. The Sun wants us to think that there but for the Grace of God go we. It could have been anyone. But it’s unlikely. We should not mistrust adults and live in fear because of rare acts of madness and “evil”. That’s not freedom…