19 December 2012

We're not having a discussion about Newtown. We're having several.

Like so many people, I continue to struggle with my own feelings about the horrible tragedy in Newtown last week.  I've seen several people talk about the need to have that "difficult discussion" about gun control or mental health or our culture of violence or [insert silver bullet here].  I saw Nate Silver's interesting piece about how this discussion is getting framed, and I saw the coverage on the sudden silence of the NRA.

Frankly, I don't think the lack of a discussion is a problem.

The lack of listening is.

I skip around the internet a lot, looking at the discussions in various online communities.  Each community I visit has been talking about this.  However, once again I see the scourge of homophily - the more civil and thoughtful discussions are essentially taking place among like-minded people, while the much-less-frequent discussions between those with differing opinions seem to be taking place in relatively brief, often heated exchanges in comment threads on social networks.

I dusted off my old "discussion clouds" trick to see what the chatter looked like in the various communities I watch a lot. Basically I grabbed a bunch of the more popular blogs in my feeds who covered this issue, and pushed their posts through the cloud generator at Wordle.  It's by no means a scientific analysis, but here's what I got.

The Moms: Liz Gumbinner, Joanne Bamberger, Catherine Connors, Kristen Chase, Erin Kotecki Vest, Julie Marsh, and Rachael Herrscher.

The Science Crowd: Emily Willingham, Daniel Lende, Chad Orzel, John Horgan, Drug Monkey, Keith Kloor, and Mark Hoofnagle.

The liberals: John Aravosis, Josh Micah Marshall, Pam Spaulding, Markos Moulitsas, Oliver Willis, Matthew Dowd, and Dave Brockington.

Conservatives: Glenn Reynolds, Ann Althouse, Megan McArdle, Michelle Malkin, Erick Erickson, Eugene Volokh and Peter Tucci.

Notice anything about these?

Moms aren't talking about guns. They're barely mentioning guns.  They're talking about kids. They're putting themselves in the shoes of the parents at Sandy Hook.  They are showing empathy.  Scientists are looking not specifically at guns, but at violence, what may or may not cause it, and what may or may not correlate with it.  Liberals are talking about how easy to get guns - I note my pal John's post asserting it's easier to buy a gun in the United State than real French cheese.  Conservatives are looking much more at the perpetrator of the specific crime in this instance - it's not a gun problem so much as it's that the alleged killer (Lanza) was evil.

But one thing is also clear after looking at all the posts - the communities aren't talking with each other.  (the liberals and conservatives are reading each other and arguing, but in many ways that's a larger "political community.")  And I know Megan McArdle's piece (linked above)wasn't written with an audience of moms in mind:
I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.
Yes, this is an actual suggestion and was NOT intended to be sarcastic.

I don't have the words.


Emily Willingham said...

I'll just point out that I am a mother and a liberal and a science writer, and that the reason I mentioned guns and weapons and violence so much is because the news media linked a condition my son has--Aspergers--with exactly that. From the moment I heard about this horrific shooting, I was gutted at what these losses have done and will do to the families and haven't looked at my own 6yo since without thinking of them with tears. Yet because of these irresponsible reports linking autism and planned violence, I have also spent the last four days working as hard as I can to dispel these myths and this derailment of our national grief.

Emily Shaw said...

I agree that the "parents" or "moms" groups superficially seem like appealing nodes of advocacy, but they aren't really "groups," especially in the sense of political action. They aren't used to thinking of their parenthood as a political identity. They might collectively end up having preferences, once they are presented with options, but they aren't going to be out ahead of political actors in terms of generating national or even state-level solutions.

This will be a more meaningful question once "moms" or "dads" or "parents" are asked about political options in a poll. Even then, there will be a lot of opinion divergence because parenthood is only one identity among many - it will be interesting to see how political independents who are parents describe their preferences.