It’s absurd to mock other news outlets for making news out of the news as writers of a newspaper column about the news ourselves. But in light of how many commentators and pundits across the political spectrum stopped their own presses to praise or slam the New York Times for running a page one editorial about gun violence—their first such front-of-the-book appeal on any issue in 90 years—we felt it was appropriate, as a voice that week in and week out explores the roots of both urban violence and political chicanery, to lampoon the neoliberal geeks who use token mass shootings to draw attention to themselves. That goes from grandstanding individuals on Twitter to the Gray Lady. If we now fall in among the showboats out of default for mocking this trend on our own cover, so be it. At least we’re not reactionary fools.
We don’t endorse the National Review’s now-viral rebuttal of the aforementioned page one manifesto, as the magazine slips into some ugly xenophobic territory in its attack on the Times. Nevertheless, the conservative rag’s umbrella criticism—that the newspaper of record makes a “shallow argument for gun control,” and that last weekend’s “embarrassing” stunt amounts to “Pay Attention to Me!” theatrics—feels irrefutable. At the least, calls by the Times for “halting the spread of firearms and … eliminating some large categories of weapons and ammunition” ring like the voice of an editorial board whose drones have never left Manhattan. We’re city slickers to the core here in progressive Boston, and are appalled by the shamelessness of NRA tactics and the organization’s stranglehold on Congress, but we are also reluctant pragmatists who find baseline facts about firearm use in this country more compelling than the urge to leverage intellectual aptitude over actual evidence.
We hate to participate in the cherrypicked statistical showdown that is raging online right now, so we’ll limit ourselves to quoting a single October column from—brace yourself—the New York Times. Titled “Gun Deaths Are Mostly Suicides,” it reads, “The problem of gun suicide is inescapable: More than 60 percent of people in this country who die from guns die by suicide,” while “suicide gets a lot less attention than murders for a few reasons,” including “that news organizations generally don’t cover suicides the way they do murders [since] there’s evidence that news attention around suicide can lead to more suicides.”
Our point isn’t simply that more attention should be paid to suicide and mental health than to banning assault rifles, which would not feasibly have much impact at all on this most dangerous outcome of gun violence, since people aren’t likely blowing their brains out with AK-47s. The point is that with its page one spectacle, the Times implies firearm rights are among the biggest issues facing our country right now, and that such a suggestion is ridiculous enough to match virtually any of the lies or propaganda on this topic coming from the maniac conservative right. Watching publications like the Times ignore the elephant at the gun show—that there are far less firearm deaths in the US now than there were two decades ago—is like watching Fox News cover any number of issues, only worse since we went in with higher expectations.
It truly sucks to have to say this stuff, as we will certainly be attacked by any number of well-meaning liberal college activists and other Democratic sycophants who will fail to understand that we also believe this country has a significant gun problem, and that it’s tragic how so many people fail to mature beyond their days of playing with G.I. Joe dolls. That’s OK though, because when the mainstream left humiliates itself to the point of holding up the federal “no-fly list” as a credible compendium, it often takes a force to their extreme left to knock some sense back into them. Furthermore, unless Bernie Sanders gets a crack at the Oval Office, we don’t give a damn which of the candidates pull through in 2016. The Times editorial board sure does though, so unless they want their progressive readers to push more of the moderate gun-owning population toward voting for the GOP, its writers should probably pull back the rhetoric and use their platform for more practical purposes.