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J.J. McCullough

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The Media's Straight-Shootin' Approach to Gun Violence

Posted: 07/23/2012 8:07 am

I'm not one to crack jokes in the midst of tragedies, but can anyone deny that there's something darkly comic about Toronto police chief Bill Blair's quipthat Monday's Scarborough shooting was "the worst incident of gun violence, in my memory, anywhere in North America"? A classic example of Torontonian bragging, said Jonathan Kay at the Post, and his words have only become truer with time. We now know that Scarborough wasn't even the worst incident of North American gun violence that week.

Friday's monstrous, senseless killing spree in Colorado obviously sucked the whimsy out of the news cycle this weekend, and even a cynic like me must concede that the Canadian press has largely responded with a rarely-seen abundance of dignity and restraint. There have been no obnoxious editorials about gun control, no ill-timed rants about Canadian superiority in the face of "yet another" symptom of American dysfunction. Perhaps this is the unavoidable humility that comes with suffering a domestic killing spree of one's own mere days prior (the universality of crazies with guns has certainly never been more apparent) but insecure motives or not -- the results have been graciously thoughtful.

The Globe and Mail editorial board, for instance, opens their Saturday op-ed with the sombre concession that there simply "is no magic formula to end gun violence," and then denounces some of the most
popular. Guns aren't going away any time soon, they say, nor are the psychotic talents of those dangerous folks who procure them. In the end, all the Globies can weakly concede is that politicians "should meet, experts should be consulted, and communities -- and indeed individual families -- need to reflect," but spoken in the context of such overbearing apathy you can't help but applaud even that much optimism.

The Ottawa Citizen, similarly, chooses the side of cautious pragmatism by running a guest editorial from American criminologist Dr. Grant Duwe, another voice bearing a great deal of contempt for those who dismiss killing sprees with easy answers. These unique horrors are not byproducts of "the availability of guns" and aren't caused by people who "just snap," says the doc, but rather are usually the isolated, complicated conspiracies of a few men on society's fringe, many of whom suffer from mental illness.

Thankfully, he notes, such sprees are also quite rare, and are actually declining thanks to "the same complex web of macro-level factors ... that have been linked to plummeting crime rates since the mid-1990s." A comforting insight indeed -- just don't expect it to make the banner headline of your favourite tabloid anytime soon.

Despite its conservative bona fides, it was the National Post that weirdly chose to react to Aurora in the most alarmist fashion, printing a rather fearmongery editorial by Iman Shiekh about the "alarming increase in extreme physical violence as a dispute resolution mechanism at the movies."

It's an old trope among journalists that a reporter need only scrape up three examples of something before diagnosing a "growing trend," but this is usually in reference to stories of the "Gilles Duceppe sure is wearing a lot of funny hats lately" variety. Crime trends are a vastly more serious allegation, and not only require occurrence examples of the crime in question, but also satistical evidence proving how these troubling incidents disturb the pleasant slope or stagnation of the satus quo.

Needless to say, Iman's column doesn't do any of this, and merely fixates on the idea that because he was able to Google a few isolated (and exceedingly disparate) incidents of people getting stabbed or shot in movie theaters over the last couple of years, he's somehow stumbled onto a full-fleged "phenomenon."

Perhaps old man Shiekh should grab a copy of the Citzen so he can read Dr. Duwe's analysis of actual crime trends. Or, better yet, he could just flip a few pages back in his own newspaper and read this Post interview with the good doctor himself, where Duwe blames senationalistic media-types for stoking public fear about murder trends that simply don't exist. Hint hint.

***

Judging by sheer ink split, the second-most relevant story of the last couple of days was clearly the re-election of Shawn Atleo as president of the Assembly of First Nations, an occurance of such apparent magnificence that almost every single paper o'er the land was inspired to churn out a celebratory editorial.

Why does Shawn matter so much? Well, see if you can spot a trend. The Toronto Star praised his "conciliatory tone." The Gazette likes his "moderate, collaborative approach." Marni Soupcouff at the Post says he's "stable, reasonable, and moderate." Everyone agrees he's much better than all those extremists nuts who ran against him.

There's an underlying irony to all this, of course. Assuming that the assembled editorial boards of this country represent a leading braintrust of the Canadian establishment, their endless adulation of Atleo largely confirms the Lawn Jockey caricature peddled by his partisan opponents. In such an embarassing context, Atleo now has every political incentive in the world to be the precise opposite of what his media fanclub expects -- namely, obstinate and aggressive -- lest he confirm the worst suspicions of his own already skeptical electorate.

And why not? After all, one imagines Canadian aboriginals long ago gained a healthy skeptical of white folks who seem just a little too eager to praise them for making the right decisions.

 

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