I spend a considerable amount of time and energy writing about political reality in an attempt to not necessarily become satisfied with it and complacent about it, but to use political reality as a means of changing the system from within. Ignoring reality and plowing ahead with a political agenda is sort of like trying to write a new and interesting song without knowing how to play a musical instrument. You can’t change music without knowing and embracing the basic vocabulary of music, and so it is with politics.
However, there’s one aspect of political and, in this case, social reality that continuously confounds me. Americans, including the most vocal liberal activists in social media and the blogs, have an excruciatingly short attention span.
Yesterday, David Frum linked to several statistics showing that the conversation about gun control has reverted back to December 13, 2012 levels — the day before the Sandy Hook massacre.
On the 13th, there were around 200 mentions of gun control in the news, but in the aftermath of the shooting, that number spiked to around 2,800 mentions by December 19. Of course no one expects the news media to maintain that level of coverage in perpetuity, but we ought to expect a slightly higher frequency of stories given the critical importance of the issue. Certainly the press didn’t shut up about 9/11 and terrorism to a point of reverting back to September 10, 2001 levels. Why this issue?
Maybe the answer to that question has to do with viewer demand. No, the press isn’t the only guilty party here. It turns out Twitter mentions of gun control dropped back to pre-Sandy Hook levels. Put another way, we lost interest, too, at least insofar as Twitter users are a somewhat accurate indicator of broader interest.
Perhaps it was the holiday break or the natural self-defending anesthesia that numbs us to horrors being played out in the news media. Perhaps both. But it turns out these numbers would be even lower if David Gregory hadn’t generated controversy by holding up an extended magazine on Meet the Press.
No one can force us to be interested in a topic, especially one as horrifying as Sandy Hook and gun violence, but if you’re asking yourself why there hasn’t been any serious gun control legislation in nearly 20 years, especially considering the sheer volume of mass shootings, it’s the fact that we can seldom retain enough outrage following a tragedy in order to adequately fuel positive changes. Again, that’s not to say we or the news media has to engage in wall-to-wall gun control coverage. But the numbers don’t even show a minor increase in public or media interest. It’s back to business as usual. Nothing.
Given how the news media, and social media for that matter, is perpetually starved for content, there’s no excuse why gun control can’t be shoehorned into the mix, at least until an ongoing and self-sustaining effort is underway to dismantle the gun culture. This is especially true given how Americans are being killed by firearms every day. In the relatively few days since Sandy Hook another 393 people have killed by firearms. That includes 6 children and 20 teenagers. 25 people on Christmas Day alone — two of those Christmas shooting deaths were children: Alfreddie Gipson, 10 years old, and Sincere Tymere Smith, 2 years old.
Meanwhile, the NRA never sleeps.
We can count on the NRA to exploit the predictable receding of public interest to undermine any momentum for new gun laws. Fact. Consequently, we’ll see all kinds of nonsense bills emerging from Congress regarding video games or making sure there are more guns in schools, and all of this strategic ridiculousness will be relentlessly foisted upon the public as serious responses to the problem. Yet the only response is to get the guns, and we’ll only ever get there is to give a shit about gun control — to keep up the pressure on the news media and generate the critical mass necessary for serious change.