This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the effects of violence and trauma on the community.
Does the media in this country do a good -- or even an adequate -- job of covering gun violence? How can it improve its performance? And how do the current laws on the books affect the task of journalists who cover mass shootings and daily violence? These were just some of the questions on offer last week at a forum on gun violence in San Francisco.
The forum, called "Truthtelling: The Media's Role in the Conversation on Guns" was put on by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco-based organization that bills itself as "the only national law center focused on providing comprehensive legal expertise in support of gun violence prevention and the promotion of smart gun laws that save lives." (I was one of four panelists asked to participate in the discussion.)
Mark Follman, a senior editor at Mother Jones magazine who is gathering data about large-scale gun massacres in the United States, pointed out that the number and severity of mass shootings in America has been rising in recent years, with roughly 30 percent of the worst shootings occurring within the last seven years.
Kris Hundley, an investigative reporter with the Tampa Bay Times, talked about her work investigating the so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida, which lay at the heart of the Trayvon Martin shooting, but also over 200 other cases in recent years, many of them involving gang or drug-related shootings. Hundley said she spoke to a defense attorney who told her, "This law wasn't intended for young black males, but it has helped a lot of young black males." According to national statistics, young black males are roughly 16 times as likely to die from gun-related violence than their white counterparts.
And Bob Egelko, a veteran reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, talked about how despite the epidemic of mass shootings in America, both presidential candidates have largely ignored the issue of gun control in this year's election cycle.
I pointed out, as I have in these pages before, that while mass shooting garner a lot of national attention, the number of young people dying from routine gun violence on a daily basis is far larger and, arguably, more worrying for policymakers, police and citizens. I also urged the audience to consider that long-term exposure to gun-related violence can lead to significant and long-lasting changes in the physiology of the brains of both victims and perpetrators, which could have important policy repercussions down the road.
Afterward, an audience member from a 2nd Amendment advocacy group called The Pink Pistols pointed out that 75 percent of National Rifle Association members support background checks, a fact that may surprise many given how vociferously the NRA leadership has fought that perception in recent years. He asked the panelists what more could be done to "find common ground" between ordinary people who support the right to bear arms, but want to see more sensible laws enacted to make it harder for criminals to obtain weapons of war.
This month Oakland began the Ceasefire violence prevention program, which has had notably positive results in other cities like Chicago, Boston and Cleveland. To work in Oakland will require commitment and dedication by police, religious groups and community members for a sustained period of time. After last week's panel, someone asked me whether the NRA supported Ceasefire in Oakland, or would do so if asked. I didn't know the answer. I wonder if anybody can tell me?
Contact Scott Johnson at 510-208-6429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.