Editorial: Forewarned Is...Forewarned

It is almost impossible to avoid shooting references when talking
about the current debate over gun violence, from Vice President
Joe Biden’s “no silver bullet” mention to talk about “targets”
and “taking aim.” And while there is nothing funny in what has
prompted the renewed interest and attention on the causes of
societal violence and the recent spate of deadly shootings, Stephen
Colbert, as usual, is able to make us both smile and think seriously
at the same time.

Colbert’s show last week on the eve of the vice
president’s recommendations to President Barack
Obama on a comprehensive approach to preventing
tragedies like the Newtown, Conn., shootings made
an important point about the potential for derailing
the “conversation” about violence by turning it
into a monologue attempting to deflect blame by
pointing " ngers at someone else, or by portraying
the effort as a witch hunt aimed at one, well, target.

Colbert also did a great job of skewering gun
rights extremists. But while we were laughing at
The Colbert Report host disguised in a camouflage
suit to keep the feds from grabbing his guns, we
were also thinking seriously about the chance that
the national debate we ought to be having is in
danger of being sidetracked once again.

Media companies should be forewarned that
gun advocate extremists, when they are not playing
a game of “pin the blame on the liberal donkeys,”
could try to shift the focus of attention to
video games, movies or TV shows.

The point of this proposed national exercise in
collective thinking about the possible causes and
cures of societal violence and what action should
be taken is that there is no smoking…ahh, single
factor, but likely a combination. That is why we
were so encouraged by the willingness of the National
Cable & Telecommunications Association,
National Association of Broadcasters, Motion Picture
Association of America and others to be part
of that conversation rather than
simply trying to protect their
turf. We were pleased to hear
that their meetings with the vice
president appeared to be cordial
and constructive. The White
House will not help if it starts
scapegoating any industry.

The moment the process of
self-examination starts devolving
into protecting one’s own
turf while scorching someone
else’s earth is when all of us lose
the opportunity to do more than
wring our hands for a while, pay
lip service to the tragedy and
then move on as the news cycle
wheels toward Lindsay Lohan’s
next meltdown.

The Republican-led House
Energy and Commerce Committee
pledged last week to look
into the violence problem over
a range of issues under its purview,
but talked only about mental health, one
of the issues gun lobbyists have been particularly
focused on as opposed to, say, regulations on
guns. Mental health must be part of the inquiry, of
course, as must guns, as must societal factors like
portrayals of violence in the media, though we
again emphasize that this does not mean pointing fingers. We don’t know the answers, obviously, or
kids would not keep killing kids.

We don’t have, for example, an easy way to
determine how many people don’t commit real-world
violence because they have an entertainment
outlet that allows them to work out their
frustrations or aggressions in a virtual world.

Our concern is that those passionately opposed
to having their own ox gored will use their power
and influence to blame others. Lobbyists are paid
to protect their industries from regulations that
could be costly to the industry, or to advocate for
regulations on others that could give their industry
an advantage. It will be to no one’s advantage to
treat Newtown like political business as usual.