The Soapbox: Let's hope for more than silence on guns

Justin Crann
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President Barack Obama spoke passionately on guns Wednesday, but will anything come of it? (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

On Friday, people across the United States observed a moment of silence to honour the memory of the victims of the Newton, Conn., school shooting that had occured a week earlier.

Much has been made of the massacre, which left 20 six- or seven-year-old children, six teachers and staff, the shooter and his mother dead in what has been called one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history.

Moments after news of the shooting broke — and before any numbers or confirmed information was available apart from the fact that a shooting had occured — cries for gun control broke out on social media.

According to Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), the shooting resulted in an uproar across social media and in the opinion pages of many newspapers for reforms to American gun control laws.

The PEJ study, which examined social media site Twitter and public blogs from Dec. 14 to 17, found “gun policy discussion accounted for almost 30 (per cent) of the social media conversation examined ... within that discussion, calls for stricter gun control measures exceeded defences of current gun laws and policies by more than two to one.”

On Twitter, the study found, calls for stricter gun control accounted for 64 per cent of the discussion; opposition to new gun controls or a neutral position accounted for a combined 35 per cent.

On blogs, there were notably more neutral assertions at 32 per cent; fewer calls for the tightening of firearm controls at 46 per cent; and 21 per cent of those commenting opposed gun legislation reform.

Pew Research also conducted a survey on gun control. That survey discovered that 49 per cent of those surveyed currently support gun control, while 42 per cent say it is more important to protect the right to bear arms as codified by the Second Ammendment to the United States Constitution.

That change reflected only a two per cent increase in those advocating gun control since the Aurora movie theatre shooting in July, according to the report.

The remarks made by President Barack Obama Wednesday represented the first decisive position statement on guns by his administration.

In his speech, Obama announced the creation of “a team that has a very specific task to pull together real reforms (on gun legislation) right now,” and set a “concrete” deadline for a proposal from that team — headed by Vice President Joe Biden — in January.

While it is certainly delightful to hear that Obama has decided to wade in to the political debate, there are a handful of pertinent facts to take away here.

First, it is important to note that several of the reporters present at the speech dropped the ball. Rather than ask the president about his bold new position on guns, the initial questions fixated on the fiscal cliff — an important issue, but not the primary topic of the conference, nor the most important topic of the day.

It wasn’t until ABC’s Jake Tapper asked the president where he had been on guns that the topic was even addressed by the White House press corps.

Second, we heard a lot of gun control rhetoric on Wednesday, but apart from the creation of a committee, we have heard no concrete discussion on what is actually going to be done.

Yes, the American people — and the world at large — will be hearing about the proposal put together by that committee in January, and so anything said about the issue today is premature.

But if making the statement that it’s likely nothing will come of these talks is cynical, call me a cynic: I wholeheartedly believe the problem with guns is more of a general cultural malaise than it is an issue of soft legislation, and no amount of gun control reform is going to change that.

Third, it is pertinent to note that even in the wake of the second-deadliest mass school shooting in the history of the United States, there still exists a sizable minority of Americans who support the right to bear arms, and less than 50 per cent of the American population supports gun control reforms.

Those numbers are hardly reassuring.

Still, for the sake of our neighbours to the South, let’s hope that moments of silence aren’t the only tangible result of the Newtown school shooting.

Organizations: Pew Research Center, Newtown school

Geographic location: United States, Newton, Conn.

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