Gundamentalists: Talk to the armed law students
In the week following the Virginia Tech tragedy, I read articles in two daily newspapers and the Sunday New York Times about gun control in the United Kingdom and heard quotes from shooting victims at Columbine; Dunblane, Scotland; and the University of Texas.
I've read a dozen calls for more stringent gun control– a concept that I favor– and learned how much the National Rifle Association received in donations in February.
What I haven't read, or heard on television either, is anything about the 2002 Appalachian Law School shootings– also in Virginia– where two students used their personal firearms to disarm a demented man who murdered three and wounded three.
Tracy Bridges and Mikhel Gross– who, oddly, given our violence-crazed "entertainment" media, would be faux heroes– have apparently not been approached by any mainstream news organization for their take on the murder of 32 innocents. Since it's possible that their actions may have prevented a Virginia Tech scenario, it seems a newsworthy decision to interview these men.
My wife tells me not to write anything about the issue because I will immediately be labeled an NRA gun nut who wants to take America back to the days of the Wild West.
On Sunday I heard an Egyptian use the word "cowards" to describe Muslim businessmen who don't say loudly and clearly that they abhor the "gunadmentalists"– his term– who are warping their beloved religion. And as a former journalism and communications professor, I can't sit silent in a culture that, allegedly, promotes "freedom of speech."
Though you can't prove a negative, something is wrong with our news media coverage when intelligent, thoughtful human beings like my wife say, "Don't say anything." This conspiracy of silence, the stifling of truly "fair and balanced" coverage in our media, is the beginning of the end of democracy.
If our belief that "our way"– whatever that is– is the only way leads us to exclude other opinions, democracy will crumble.
I don't think concealed carry permits are a good thing. I've never given a dime to the NRA or any pro-gun organization, and the only time I went hunting– killing three innocent quail in 1974– I realized that shooting was something I never wanted to do again.
But our First Amendment– those amazing 45 words that allow rappers to call women "ho's," lobbyists to spend unlimited sums of money, 30-second commercials to defame people who have made difficult decisions, anti-war activists to put on plays like Get Your War On– must apply to all voices.
The whole concept is messy– I hate the fact that my grandchildren can click on "cumshots.com." But– at least on the news side of media– there must be a "free marketplace of ideas" for truth to prevail. That's the theory behind the First Amendment.
We– those of us with the "right answer"– must remember the wisdom of Voltaire: "I disagree with everything you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it."
We must recognize the equivalent brilliance of Lord Acton: "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." We are not immune.
"Gun nuts" are not "gun nuts." They are people with an equally valid opinion about the right to bear arms. It's just that in our opinion, their opinion is wrong.
We can, and should, look for the holes in their arguments. We should pick apart the writings of people like Dr. John Lott Jr., who argues that gun ownership decreases violence.
But we must realize that this issue, like all issues facing America, is complex and difficult. Not simple. Not coverable in a minute and a half between commercials. Not approachable on a bumper sticker or t-shirt. We must demand full coverage from our allegedly "mainstream" news media.
I don't listen to, or like what I know of, Rush Limbaugh. Or Ann Coulter or Al Franken, for that matter. But those people make no pretense of being objective.
The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Charlottesville Daily Progress, the Associated Press, Newsweek, CNN, MSNBC– and I didn't listen at all to Fox– do. Yes, I could have missed the words of Tracy Bridges and Mikael Gross, who likely saved lives at the Appalachian Law School, but why should I have needed to search for them?
The law school in Grundy is three hours away from Blacksburg, two jet rides closer than Dunblane. The Grundy shooting was in this century. Both Bridges and Gross, as well as unarmed Ted Besen, who also helped apprehend the gunman, are still alive and living in the same time zone.
Every single news value indicates that Bridges and Gross should have a say in this discussion before anyone from Austin, Colorado, or Scotland.
"Democracy is the worst form of government," Winston Churchill once said, "except for all the others that have been tried."
Those of us who love it, I think, must stand up now. The "gundamentalists" are indeed out there.
Randy Salzman, a former communications professor, is a Charlottesville-based freelance writer.