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article imageOp-Ed: Some facts are not true, and that’s a fact

By John David Powell     Dec 22, 2012 in Crime
Hash Brown, down at Sparky’s Diner, likes to tell the story about his buddy who handed out a fistful of dollar bills to the good-looking “exotic” dancer, only to find out she was a he.
Hash says his buddy learned the hard way that not everything is what it seems, no matter how up close and personal you get.
The idea that facts are not always the truth is a lesson journalists never seem to learn, and the bigger the story, the more we seem to fail the test.
The live coverage of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School murders in Newtown, Conn., is an example. The situation quickly became one where reporters interviewed reporters who reported on the reports of other reporters.
At some point, we learned police identified Ryan Lanza as the killer. Unnamed sources at the time confirmed the shooter’s name based on an ID card found on the body. We now know the shooter, Adam Lanza, was carrying his brother’s ID.
Once the name Ryan Lanza went on air and online, folks in newsrooms across the country (including mine) scoured the Web in search of images of the monster. It did not take long to find his Facebook page, which carried enough facts to confirm it belonged to the right Ryan Lanza. Thousands of other people who are not working journalists also found the page, and under the cloak of anonymity posted vile and hateful messages.
But, the facts and the truth were not the same, prompting Ryan Lanza to post that he was not the same Ryan Lanza who was dead in Newtown. He soon realized the awful truth, as did members of the international news media. When they did, they “updated” the story with “new information,” and blamed the mistake on the confusion that goes with covering a fluid situation.
God forbid we let facts stand in the way of truth when competing for a scoop.
Before the sun set on that dreadful day, the media sought out proponents of stricter gun control laws, a valid sidebar to the story. The information presented as fact was not always true, however; and the same holds for the debates we hear today.
It is a fact that 2012 has seen several mass killings, defined as the murders of four or more individuals, most recently 12 patrons in a Colorado movie theater, six worshipers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and 27 children and adults in Connecticut.
And, it is a fact that in this country we average around 20 mass murders a year. But, regardless of what people say, the truth is that the number of mass killings in America is not increasing.
Grant Duwe, a resident scholar with Baylor University and a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, says mass killings in America peaked in 1929. In his book "Mass Murder in the United States: A History", Duwe notes that we had fewer mass killings in the first decade of this century than we had in the last decade of the twentieth century.
That’s backed up by James Alan Fox, a criminology law professor at Northeastern University. In August, Fox wrote in his blog for the Boston Globe that even though it is true that we are not seeing an increase in mass killings, and certainly not an epidemic, we cannot minimize the pain and suffering of the survivors.
That brings up the truth that mass killings comprise individual victims whose survivors care more about the crime committed than the weapon used. The man who killed my wife’s sister used a butcher knife.
Here’s another truth. Of the 12,664 murders committed in 2011, the FBI says 728 people died from hands, fists, feet, and other “personal” weapons. That’s more than deaths from rifles and shotguns combined.
The report also says knives or other cutting objects accounted for 1,694 killings, while 496 people died from blunt objects like clubs and hammers.
On the same day as the Sandy Hook killings, a man went to a school in China and used a knife to slash 22 children and an adult. No one died in that attack, but at least 20 children in China have died since 2010 at the hands of killers using knives, a meat cleaver, and an axe. A knife-wielding man killed eight kids in an elementary school in March of that year. In May, a man used a meat cleaver to kill seven children and two adults at a kindergarten. In August, three kindergarteners and their teacher died from stab wounds. And in September 2011, a man used an axe to kill two children and four adults on a city street.
The truth is that killers do not need assault weapons or hand guns to commit murder, particularly mass murder. In 2001, Andrea Yates of Houston drowned her five kids in a bathtub.
In China, the Communist government highly restricts private ownership of firearms, but the truth is that people bent on committing mass murder use anything they can get their hands on. And that is the truth the members of President Obama’s newly appointed panel must keep in front of them as they consider recommendations for new gun control legislation.
Mass murder is not an opportunity to score political points, but a chance to have a thoughtful debate resulting in meaningful legislation based on truth.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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