What makes some mass shootings more equal than others?
On December 29, 2019, just a few days after Christmas, a gunman walked into a Texas church and started shooting–and, I promise you, the news articles about that shooting will stop running before the New Year. You already know the reason why: Because the bad guy with a gun was stopped by two good guys with guns. What’s more, the fact that armed citizens ended this attempt at a mass murder was part of the initial reporting, so mainstream news editors had no option to bury that information in the seventh paragraph. So how can you tell whether a mass shooting will be the centerpiece of op-eds and political campaigns for months or years to come…or whether it’ll disappear without a bang or a whimper? After all, a human life is a human life, right? Wrong. Here’s how the guys in the smoke-filled back rooms make their decisions.
1. Identity Politics: The Shooter
The first and most important factor is the shooter’s sex, race, and political opinions. Yes, this is actually a bigger deal than the body count. If the shooter is a member of a minority or protected class, the shooting is almost certainly going to disappear from the news in a day or two. If the shooter is politically leftist, the shooting is almost certainly going to disappear in a day or two. Finally, if the shooter is female, you can expect to see a couple of “whoa, we have a female mass shooter, this is really rare” types of articles, but then it will disappear.
Let us refer to the graphic we used at the beginning of this article. In it, Michael Ian Black, an actor of little note and even less talent, resolved to “politicize the f*ck” out of a mass shooting that took place at YouTube headquarters in 2018. And yet, that InstaTweeBook post of his was the last one. Why? Because Nasim Aghdam was a) female; b) had a Muslim-sounding name; and c) was an animal-rights-style vegan. The minute her motivations became public, the story died.
2. Identity Politics: The Victims
The second most important factor that determines whether a mass shooting will feature front-and-center in a Bloomberg speech or whether everyone will have forgotten it by tomorrow is the identity of the victims. If the shooter was a member of a protected class and their victims were not, the story will be gone immediately. If both the shooter and the victims were members of a protected class, the story will drop off a little bit more slowly, but it will go. If the victims and the shooter were not members of a protected class, this story has legs. If the shooter is not a member of a protected class, but the victims are, that mass shooting will be the centerpiece of some proposed legislation within a couple of weeks.
There’s only one exception to this rule, and that is…
3. What Kind of Gun Was It?
If the firearm that the shooter used was a semi-automatic black rifle, the shooting will be in the news for a minimum of a week. If the firearm that the shooter used was tricked-out in some way, whatever modification it had will be the next gun-banner’s bugaboo. Here’s a case in point: the 2017 Las Vegas MGM mass murder. Both the shooter and his victims weren’t members of protected classes–in fact, many commentators assumed that since the victims were attending a country-music concert, said victims were all “gun-toting Republicans” who “didn’t deserve sympathy.“ So, according to the rubric I’m building here, it should have dropped off the news fairly quickly, despite the breathtakingly high body count.
Except that the shooter used guns that were modified with bump stocks that allowed him to fire at a rate significantly faster than normal semi-auto action. No anti-gunner could resist that kind of low-hanging fruit, and so therefore they didn’t.
4. How Did the Shooting End?
The final piece of the puzzle is how the shooting ended. If the shooter was stopped by an armed citizen, the story will immediately disappear. If the shooter was stopped by an on- or off-duty police officer, the story may last longer. If the shooter either surrendered or killed himself while the on-duty police officer who was supposed to stop him was cowering outside, the story will have major legs.
5. What Doesn’t Matter?
Once upon a time, the fifth factor would have been where the shooting occurred. If it happened in a state that restricts its citizens’ Second Amendment rights, like California or Massachusetts, you could expect that the shooting would disappear from the news fairly rapidly. After all, it’s hard to use a tragedy to push for more restrictions when there aren’t any more restrictions to push. Of late, however, it seems that gun-grabbers have largely abandoned that tactic and simply use shootings of that type to blame neighboring states whose gun laws aren’t as strict. So if there’s a shooting in San Diego, the news can blame Nevada. If there’s a shooting in DC, the news can blame Virginia.
Is this article quite possibly the most cynical thing you’ve ever read? Yes, it is, but I challenge you to keep it in mind the next time something like this happens. Chances are, you’ll see the pattern, too.
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