New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof found something else to blame for the killing of two journalists in Roanoke, Va., besides the actual killer: America's gun culture.
Tone-deaf Kristof is notorious for using tragedies for political gain, like he did after the Boston Marathon bombing, tweeting this out an hour or so after explosives went off near the finish line:
explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment
Kristof backed off the tweet after criticism.
There was no stopping Kristof this time. He quickly moved to exploit the tragedy, writing a full column on the Wednesday morning murders, broadcast live, of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two journalists who worked for station WDBJ in Roanoke. The killings were committed by a former reporter colleague with mental problems who went by the name Bryce Williams. Kristof's column appeared in Thursday's edition.
The slaying of two journalists Wednesday as they broadcast live to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons.
The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Three quick data points:
■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.
■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.
Kristof also cited Hemenway in a very similar column he wrote in January 2011 after the shootings in Tucson, AZ. Kristof even recycled Hemenway's suggestions from 2011 -- "Limit gun purchases to one per month per person, to reduce gun trafficking" and "follow Canada in requiring a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun" – for Thursday's piece.
And one wonders which countries a good cosmopolitan liberal like Kristof would dare to call "undeveloped"?
Kristof glossed over the killer's insanity. There's little mention of the bizarre ramblings in Williams' suicide-note-by-fax that lauded mass killers and revealed a persecution complex and other evidence of a diseased mind.
Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina church -- an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped Wednesday’s killings and then posted them on Facebook.
“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,” Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.
Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented -- not least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people waiting to go boom.
Kristof is at least sensible enough to see that confiscation is a non-starter, though he partially contradicts himself later with a factual evasion:
The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?
Kristof suggested restrictions on 2nd Amendment rights that he wouldn't dream of putting on the 1st Amendment (except perhaps campaign financing):
We need universal background checks with more rigorous screening, limits on gun purchases to one a month to reduce trafficking, safe storage requirements, serial number markings that are more difficult to obliterate, waiting periods to buy a handgun -- and more research on what steps would actually save lives. If the federal government won’t act, states should lead.
Australia is a model. In 1996, after a mass shooting there, the country united behind tougher firearm restrictions. The Journal of Public Health Policy notes that the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.
Australia's overall homicide rate (including all methods of killing, not just those evil guns) dipped rather more modestly, according to my reading of these charts.
And Kristof left off that Australia actually confiscated firearms through a mandatory gun buyback program, a scheme Kristof had himself earlier admitted would not happen in a constitutional republic like the United States.
The paper also rushed out an editorial that appeared in Thursday morning's edition: "‘I Filmed the Shooting See Facebook.’
While initially noting the story's horrific social media angle, suggesting "the outlet provided by social media appears to have whetted his murderous appetites," the Times quickly retreated to familiar anti-gun ground while glossing over the gunman's mental troubles, as Kristof did, to uncloak the real villain: America's gun culture.
Many politicians will focus on the gunman’s troubled personality and try to cast this shooting as a summons for better mental health care, certainly not gun control. Yet that ignores a grim reality: the estimated 300 million guns in America owned by a third of the population, far more per capita than any other modern nation. Guns are ubiquitous and easy to acquire, as statehouse politicians, particularly Republicans, genuflect to the gun lobby to weaken, not tighten, gun safety.
We all know no change is likely, for all the social media grotesquerie. The woeful truth underlying this latest shooting is more mundane than alarming. There are too many guns, and too little national will to do anything about them.