EXCERPT: <i>The Last Gun: How Changes In The Gun Industry Are Killing Americans And What It Will Take To Stop It</i>
Today, The National Memo brings you an excerpt from The Last Gun: How Changes In The Gun Industry Are Killing Americans And What It Will Take To Stop It by Tom Diaz. Diaz a former congressional staffer who was once a proud member of the NRA and a gun rights supporter, until his work led him to interview victims of gun violence while drafting gun legislation. Now he is a gun safety advocate and up until recently a senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center. A timely read, The Last Gun aims to expose how the gun lobby has deceitfully influenced society and created a political environment where any type of gun legislation, even something as widely accepted as background checks, won’t stand a chance.
Our Daily Dead: Gun Death And Injury In The United States
Nobody knows what happened within Michael E. Hance’s interior life between 1978—his senior year of high school, when he was chosen Most Courteous because of his “consideration and good manners toward everyone”—and about eleven o’clock on the morning of Sunday, August 7, 2011, when he took deliberate aim with his recently bought Hi-Point 45 caliber semiautomatic pistol and shot eleven-year-old Scott Dieter below the terrified boy’s right eye. Scott Dieter was the last of seven people whom Hance, armed with two handguns, calmly hunted down and shot to death in the archetypical white, middle-class suburb of Copley Township, Ohio. An eighth victim, Rebecca Dieter, Hance’s longtime girlfriend and Scott’s aunt, was severely wounded; she was hospitalized but survived. A policeman shot Hance dead moments after he killed young Scott Dieter. The entire episode from first shot to last took less than ten minutes.
“Unclear in all of this is the motive for these killings,” Summit County Prosecuting Attorney Sherri Bevan Walsh noted in her report clearing the police officer of wrongdoing in shooting Hance.
What is not “unclear” is that in spite of Hance’s long-term and increasingly bizarre public behavior, his angry interactions with his neighbors, the judgment of several members of his family that he had severe mental illness, and a 2009 incident report by Akron police that concluded he was a “signal 43,” or, as a police lieutenant later explained, “basically . . . crazy,” Hance was easily and legally able to buy from a pawn shop the two handguns with which he fired more than twenty rounds at his fleeing family and neighbors. In addition to the Hi-Point pistol, which he bought five days earlier from Sydmor’s Jewelry, a pawn shop in neighboring Barberton, Hance used a .357 Magnum revolver that he bought in 2005 from the same store. He also bought several ammunition “reloaders” that he carried with him.
In the days between the time he bought the Hi-Point pistol and the morning that he unleashed his fury on his family and neighbors, Hance visited a local shooting range several times to familiarize himself with his new gun and practice shooting it. Hi-Point asserts on its website that it “offers affordably-priced semi-automatic handguns in a range of the most popular calibers,” and that its guns “are very popular with recreational target shooters, hunters, campers, law enforcement and anyone seeking an affordable, American-made firearm.”
Events like that Sunday morning in Copley Township have become quintessentially American. They are damning proof that modern guns not only kill people, they kill many people quickly. Variously called a “shooting spree,” “shooting rampage,” “mass shooting,” “mass killing,” and “mass murder,” such carnage has become so common that a pattern of breathless but ultimately feckless ritual emerges from the news media’s reporting.
The ritual starts with a “breaking news” alert (that often misstates both the circumstances and the actual number of deaths and injuries). “And, as we deliver the information to you, it is quite shocking,” said a CNN news reader on the afternoon of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, in which thirty-two victims were shot dead and seventeen wounded. “Because, when we first started reporting this, this morning, it was simply a shooting on campus. We didn’t know if anyone had been injured.”
After police gain control of the shooting scene, high-ranking police officials and politicians give interviews and press conferences, ostensibly to assure their constituencies that the event in question was an aberration, the horror is now over, and the community is safe. Mayor Buddy Dyer, for example, told reporters after a mass shooting in an Orlando, Florida, office building, “the gunman has been apprehended so the community is safe.” Bill Campbell, then the mayor of Atlanta, “took an accustomed role Thursday after a shooting rampage left nine dead in two midtown office buildings, briefing the media and updating the city on the police’s investigations in press conferences that were carried live nationally,” the Associated Press reported, adding that “Campbell took the role usually handled by at best a chief of police and normally just a normal spokesperson.”
Other events at this stage include such ironic gestures as both houses of the U.S. Congress observing a “moment of silence” after news broke of the slaughter at Virginia Tech—as if the Congress has in recent years been anything other than silent on gun deaths, gun injuries, and gun control. Perhaps even more bizarre was U.S. Representative J. Randy Forbes’s pronouncement to CNN on the afternoon of the Virginia Tech shooting that “the state [of Virginia] has done a wonderful job in terms of dispatching plenty of police officers, state troopers and other people to make sure everyone is [sic] there can have a degree of safety and feel safe while they are on campus.” The presence of “plenty of police officers” after the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, a student, had committed suicide, must have been small comfort to the thirty-two other dead and seventeen wounded he left in his wake. Not incidentally, Forbes is a hard-liner on “gun rights.” He enjoys a coveted A rating from the NRA. In a press release announcing the gun lobby’s endorsement of Forbes, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris W. Cox, praised “Forbes’ unwavering commitment to preserving our Second Amendment rights.”
Even before the numbers of dead and injured are confirmed, the media scramble for “color” in column inches and broadcast time through interviews of neighbors, survivors, and random acquaintances of the shooter or his victims. This reportage invariably includes statements of surprise that a mass shooting could happen in the community involved. “Well, we of course all see things happen on the news and think that we live in a safe and quiet community and nothing like that certainly would ever happen here,” a witness to a shooting in Binghamton, New York, told CNN after thirteen people were shot to death and four others wounded in a community center. “So everyone is shocked and amazed and still trying to grasp the whole import of it.”
There are also frequent observations that the shooter never seemed dangerous. “Mike was strange,” a neighbor told a reporter about Hance, but added, “I wouldn’t think he’d go to this extreme.” Judy Gren, described as a “longtime friend” of another mass shooter, Carey Hal Dyess, said he was “a very nice man, very kind. He loved animals. He helped you with anything you needed. We used to go horseback riding together.” This “nice man” Dyess shot to death his ex-wife, her lawyer, and three of her friends, wounded another of her friends, and then shot himself to death.
The next ritual station is a ponderous exploration of “why?” This inquiry typically ignores almost entirely the looming significance of the single objective fact that is common to all “shooting sprees”—the use of an easily available and almost always legally obtained gun, usually a handgun. Rather, the media pick speculatively through the mysterious lint of the shooter’s alleged, possible, potential “motivation” or likely mental illness. “Fighter Pilot Murder Mystery; Did Elite Navy Pilot Snap?” ABC’s Good Morning America asked after a Navy pilot shot to death his roommate, the roommate’s sister, and an acquaintance of the two, then shot himself to death. What neither ABC in this case, nor other media in other cases, seriously address is whether the ubiquitous presence of guns makes a crucial difference in the outcome when someone like a highly trained, elite “Top Gun” pilot “snaps”—in this case, in a jealous rage.
Copyright © 2013 by Violence Policy Center and Tom Diaz. This excerpt originally appeared in The Last Gun: How Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What It Will Take to Stop It by The New Press Reprinted here with permission.