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With Gun Control, Talk is Not Cheap

Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly

While the Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony this week on gun violence and a bipartisan group of senators drafted legislation to require background checks for all gun purchases, some gun control advocates say talk is not only not cheap, but it is critical to getting something done.

“Every day a nation waits before talking about gun control substantially lowers the likelihood that any progress will be made,” Rollie Williams, a blogger for Upworthy, wrote.

Williams provided a chart that showed how the national conversation spikes in the wake of a mass shooting, but that as time goes on and talk dies down, so does response to the incident.

“Could this phenomenon account for the lack of gun control legislation over the past 12 years?” Williams asked.

His conclusion was that if the public wants to see gun control measures put in place, it needs to keep the discussion on the front burner.

The chart plotted the number of news stories including the phrase “gun control” based on a search of more than 500 news outlets in the “U.S. Newspapers & Wires” index of LexisNexis, according to Danny Hayes, co-author of Poli-Sci Perspective, a blog that runs weekly in The Washington Post.

“Just two weeks after the (Newtown) shooting, gun control looked like it was headed to the dustbin of history again. In particular, the fiscal-cliff debate (and the attendant congressional f-bombs) sucked almost all of the oxygen out of the Washington media air. In the week surrounding the new year, ‘fiscal cliff’ appeared in the news four times as often as ‘gun control,’ ” Hayes wrote.

“But coverage shortly moved on to a third phase. Whereas gun control had evaporated from the news within about a month of the earlier shootings, in the case of Newtown, it surged back in mid-January.

The initial uptick — in the “three weeks after” period — took place after Vice President Biden announced on Jan. 9 that President Obama “is going to act.” The surge continued the following week, on Jan. 16, when Obama announced and signed 23 executive actions to put reforms in place. According to LexisNexis data compiled by George Washington University undergraduate Sean O’Connell, the president’s announcement generated more than 800 gun-control stories in one day, more than any single-day total since the Newtown shooting.

On Wednesday the issue got another bump when former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was nearly killed in a mass shooting in 2011 at a shopping center in her district, told the Senate committee, “We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”

“We’re working on it,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told the Wall Street Journal. “We’re going to do a criminal background check, and we’re going to do a mental-illness background check. We’re not going to do anything that leads to potential registration of guns.”

The idea of a national gun registry is a touchy subject, although many states and local jurisdictions have their own rules on gun registration. There is something that feels invasive to many law-abiding gun owners about having to report to the federal government whether they own a firearm.

Even Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, said they own guns.  At Wednesday’s hearing, Kelly called for a “careful and civil conversation about the lethality of the firearms we permit to be legally bought and sold,” rather than an outright ban on certain semiautomatic weapons.

Kelly also talked about reducing the size and/or availability of magazine clips for such weapons. Smaller clips, he argued, could buy time in an attack if the assailant has to stop and reload. It was what finally brought an end to the shooting that critically injured his wife, when the gunman stopped to reload and bystanders were able to block him.  Had there been fewer rounds in the clip, Kelly said, fewer people would have been injured or killed that day, including a 9-year-old girl.

The discussion is front and center and it is likely that those who want to see genuine, thoughtful change may drive the issue.

To be sure, the NRA will press for as little regulation as possible, but when gun owners step forward to call for what Kelly called “a common sense” conversation, the tone and tenor of the debate can move away from an all-or-nothing approach.

As long as the parties keep talking, there is always a chance for genuine change.

Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”



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