Last week reminded me of that old saying: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?” Except last week it was more like, “If a mass shooting happens in the nation’s capital and the media doesn’t give it full-court press, does it really matter that much?” Last week’s shooting at the naval facility in Washington, D.C. was tragic on all accounts, including the way the nation and the media reacted. I was also rather horrified by the way that I reacted to something that happened mere minutes from where I now sit. Had we reached some sort of tipping point in covering gun violence? Or do only certain types of violence rise to the level of having all the morning shows send at least one anchor to the scene of the carnage?
I’ll start with my own reaction first. After the initial shock of seeing what was unfolding on my TV and being worried for friends who worked in the area, my next thought was, “thank God it wasn’t kids this time.” As if the killing of 12 people was somehow less horrific because they were over 18 years of age. And the sad thing is that I know I wasn’t the only person who felt that way.
I’m not going to let the media off the hook here, but I think several factors played into their seeming lack of interest. For one, I think the fact that it happened at a naval facility made people think that it was a military issue. People can be forgiven for not understanding that this wasn’t on a base and was in a neighborhood with thousands of civilians around and many schools. But the media should know better.
My biggest issue with the media is that they play into the tired old trope of demonizing everything about D.C., lumping the dysfunctional Congress in with the 630,000 people who actually live and breathe here. We are not caricatures; we are real people, with real families, doing our best to get ahead just like the rest of the country. And we bleed just like everyone else when shot. And as one of my friends said last week, the dysfunction in Congress is more a representation of what’s happening in the 50 states than it is here. After all, we didn’t send those guys to Congress, y’all did.
Sadly, the D.C. shooting wouldn’t be the last awful gun-related thing to happen last week, as 26 were shot in Chicago last Thursday including 13 in one setting. In a city that has been plagued by gun violence all year, this was particularly egregious, and actually managed to make it on the national news…before we immediately moved on to something else.
So I’ve asked the question before: What will it take to get any sensible gun legislation passed through Congress? The great work of the ESSENCE Guns Down initiative and that of my colleagues at CAP can only do so much when members are afraid to pass something as simple as background checks. And please don’t come at me with “that bill wouldn’t have stopped this particular crime.” Yeah, maybe not, but it can prevent others, so I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to do nothing.
But do nothing is exactly what it seems we’re poised to do. Another thing that surprised me about my reaction to last week is how angry it made me. I was angry that no one really seemed to care that 12 innocent people lost their lives. But I’m also angry that Congress still won’t do anything. Twenty innocent children and six teachers were gunned down in their school and we couldn’t even get a bill on the floor. If the media wants to demonize something about D.C., demonize that.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Senior Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123