Guns, media and the semantics of covering violence

As I trolled down my Face Book updates today, I  read about the shooting in Oakcreek, Wisconsin. Unfortunate as the news was, I tried to get more in-depth coverage of this and went onto Twitter and saw many news items from friends.

There were some who were already analyzing the news, some commentators were writing about why this has happened and the linkages with gun-control laws, while others were lamenting the usage of the word “temple” and how the goras need to be “educated” about Indian culture.

Yet another friend was mocking at the ignorance of the white man who went on a shooting spree, not knowing that the Sikhs were distinct from Muslims ( assuming that his original intended targets were Muslims).  There were also comments about how the media made a mistake by counting the shooter as one of the “victims”.

My first reaction to this unfortunate incident was ( almost instinctive) and I caught myself doing this. It was a question in my mind; or rather a concern: Was it a crazy man who happened to be Muslim ? Thankfully, it was not. But that did not take away, or reduce the tragedy or madness of it all.

While there are some concerns about how the incident has been described, as one of an “idiot” and “crazy man” and the words “terrorist” are not used; social media is abuzz with contrary descriptions of the incident. The police chief John Edwards of the Oakcreek, Wisconsin police department described this as a “domestic terrorist type” activity.

While the semantics of the discourse do not change much, there is an acute awareness among people that the perpetrator of the violence is a white male in his 30s, and that the media is likely to use a different language in describing him and the incident; without falling back on stereotypes of terrorism and cultural clash.

More details will  emerge in the days to come, but this incident has brought to the fore a few important points : the need for gun-control, the media coverage of violence, hate crimes and how they are reported.

While no words can reduce the sorrow and pain of the victims’ families, at the very least this incident, along with others in the recent past should force legislators and policy makers to re-think gun-control laws ( No state permit is required to possess a rifle, shotgun, or handgun in WI).

Source : AP images

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