Word control


Sydney B. Griffin, Puck US magazine, 1888

What a week in Alaska journalism, and it’s only Thursday.

First we get the KTVA cowboys staking out an aggressive mama moose on the Glenn Highway bike path for more than an hour so they can finally ride to the rescue of the unknowing cyclist they’ve been hoping would come along.

The moose startles him. He falls off his bike. The KTVA SUV storms onto the scene like something out of a promo for “action news.” It’s all caught on camera.

And the television station then pats itself on the back with “KTVA saves the day after this bicyclist gets charged by a moose while LIVE on Facebook.”

Yes indeed, LIVE on Facebook!

We’re from the media, and we’re here to help you.

Instead of chasing the late Princess Diana’s limo so as to be first on the scene to pull her out of the wreckage to claim fame, the local paparazzi wait for someone to run into an obviously belligerent mama moose so they can be heroes.

Fortunately, the heroes got lucky. They didn’t hit the moose or either of her calves when they went four-wheeling off the highway up onto the bike trail, and they didn’t spook the moose or the calves into a highway busy with 65 mph traffic.

Wouldn’t that have been pretty.

But wait, there’s more. The moose rodeo was only Monday.


The Anchorage Daily News weighed in on Wednesday with a provocative story about Fairbanks photographer Kate Wool’s art. There is nothing wrong with provocative, and Wool’s art is certainly that.

The art is photos of children wearing targets on their chests. For anyone schooled in fundamental gun safety, especially for those who have had the first rule of gun-safety beaten into their heads since childhood – “never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot” – the mixed message inherent in the photos is disturbing.

But it’s art. There’s a long history of art that disturbs and offends, and in a democracy it’s important to maintain the freedom to disturb and, yes, even offend.

It is, however, equally important, probably a lot more so, that journalists be honest, and there the ADN wanders off into the woods. Wool, in the view of the ADN, is a “gun-safety advocate” who the newspaper/ website goes on to describe this way:

“Alaska has a high rate of gun ownership, and she stressed that she isn’t advocating for gun control, but instead she wants more gun safety, such as encouraging people to lock up guns in homes with kids, encouraging parents to ask other parents if guns are secured before children come over to play, and a bill that stalled in the Legislature that would have allowed police to temporarily confiscate the guns of people who were likely to harm themselves or others.”

And this is how Wool herself describes her views in a letter to the editor in her hometown newspaper, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

“There are many things lawmakers can do to make our communities safer. They can require training, licenses and gun locks for everyone that purchases a gun, similar steps to obtaining a driver’s license. This can slow down the process of buying a gun, and improve gun safety by education alone. They can make background checks stricter and ban known and convicted criminals and domestic violence offenders from owning guns. You can also limit gun ownership for people with mental health issues. You can ban assault rifles and all of the gadgets that go with them, or at least make the cost astronomical.”

Gun control

Wool might now call herself a “gun-safety advocate,” as the ADN labeled her. She might even believe she is a gun-safety advocate. But the reality is that she is an advocate for gun control.

There is nothing wrong with that. People are entitled to their views. But licensing gun owners and banning the “assault rifle” – a weapon for which it is hard to come up with a definition –  are the cornerstones of gun control.

And much of the rest of what is on Wool’s list – guns locks required of everyone who purchases a gun, longer waiting periods, stricter background checks,  more restrictions on access to guns for people with possible mental health issues – are on the gun-control checklist, though there is no evidence to support the idea that many of them really work that well.

Everyone can now make their own guess as to why the ADN misidentified Wool as a gun-safety advocate. Nobody could spell G-O-O-G-L-E?

Everyone can also guess about why ADN did the story at all. Click trolling online? Trying to state an opinion on gun control without stating an opinion? The newspaper thought there was merit to a story of no substance even though the substance does have merit?

Wool has some ideas on gun control. Maybe they actually deserve some discussion and some thought. Let’s see:

There are gun locks. You could certainly make someone buy a gun lock with their gun, but you can’t make them use the gun lock. OK, next.

You can also make someone wait longer to buy a gun, but if the recent school shootings are any indication, that might just provide a mass shooter more time to invest in a misguided fantasy of what he plans to do.

What would appear to help, given what is known about the most recent mass shootings, is constant vigilance by friends and family, and a willingness to act when it appears someone might be a threat to themselves or others.

So a state law that would give the police the power to temporarily confiscate guns (governed by proper judicial oversight) might indeed be a good idea. So to actual safety training, not because it eliminates gun violence but because it helps eliminate accidental shootings of which there are too many in this state.

The National Rifle Association has been pushing gun safety training for decades. The NRA on its website declares its devotion to safety training:

“The NRA is recognized nationally as the gold standard for safe firearm training, developing millions of safe, ethical, responsible shooters and instructors. Whether you’re a new gun owner in search of training, or an experienced marksman looking to support others, the NRA has a course for you.”

I am neither a supporter nor a member of the NRA. I don’t join organizations other than those devoted to shopping like Costco and REI. It’s a journalist thing.

But I  would encourage everyone to consider one of the NRA gun safety courses if you have not yet been trained in firearms safety. Guns are everywhere in the 49th state, and you don’t have to spend more than a few minutes around people with guns here to witness a lot of unsafe gun handling.

Wool and the NRA might well share common ground on gun safety, but it’s hard to believe her photos will help them reach it. Her art isn’t about thought and discussion, let alone common ground.

It’s about emotion and confrontation. It’s meant to vilify guns, to make it appear the guns themselves go looking for targets.

They don’t. People do. People with problems. People deep in the worst of human fantasies.

Sick art

That’s the creepy part of Wool’s art. Its easy to imagine one of the deeply disturbed focusing on her images as targets. We know now that those who commit mass violence usually work up to it.

Parkland, Fla., school shooter Nickolas Cruz was obsessed with violence for years before he went on his rampage. He once put a gun to his mother’s head. After her death from pneumonia, he moved in with a woman who reported his fixation with guns and violence to the police. He “researched” the Columbine (Colo.) High School mass shooting online in the lead up to his own attack, the Miami Herald reported. 

The latest shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, sounds frighteningly similar. The shooter there outlined his plan in his journal. Then he took his father’s .38 caliber revolver and a Remington 870, 12-gauge pump shotgun to school and killed eight fellow student and two teachers with “firearms that even gun-control advocates generally regard as utilitarian,” the Chicago Tribune later reported.

“The reality that weapons not included in proposed assault-rifle bans can still exact a double-digit death toll further complicates a wrenching national debate about how to prevent future tragedies.”

This is where we are at today.

The Chicago Tribune worries that an obvious weapon of choice for a mass killing complicates the gun debate (it was so simple when assault rifles were the only danger), and the ADN claims photos of children holding targets over their chests are about “gun safety.”

There was a time when journalism tried to bring substance to discussions of public policy. Yes, that sometimes still happens, but less and less and less. Now, journalists would rather become the story by riding to the rescue of a downed cyclist when they could have just pulled over on the side of the highway, opened the rear door of their SUV and told him to get in.

But hey, the visuals wouldn’t have been nearly as good.

Or they want to write about someone’s tasteless art as if it were something of a good thing without ever saying why it could be a good thing. Hint: the only good thing that could come out of that art is further gun control.

The media heralds the meaningless and the tasteless , and frets over how a weapon well known for its lethal, close-quarters killing power can be as deadly as an assault rifle with its threatening appearance. And then the media types wonder why Americans hold such a low opinion of most of us in the journalism business.

Like a rational human couldn’t imagine a standard hunting firearm being involved in a school shooting in this country? Like some teenager was incapable of discovering that “few close-combat weapons are as devastating as the combat shotgun,” as Leroy Thomspon writes in the first line of the introduction to his history of “U.S. Combat Shotguns.” 

The only thing surprising about the Santa Fe shooting is that some troubled kid didn’t figure this out sooner. But now that information is out there for the next kid, what do we do?

Do journalists devote weeks to covering protesting school children, the sages of these times, calling for a ban on pump shotguns? Or double-down on the demand government just do something, anything?

There are a lot of people in that camp. Here’s Wool in her own words again:

“To all of the lawmakers, locally and nationally, you are out of step with the majority of your constituents. We want you to do something, or try something, instead of doing absolutely nothing.”

But what if nothing is the only sensible thing to do? “Primum non nocere” as it goes in the Hippocratic oath.

What if all the attention only fuels more mass shooters, a phenomenon researchers discovered when they took a close look at suicide clusters. 

How about  before anyone does anything, we have a real discussion about what actually might work? Is it possible this is as much about us as about guns? Could it be we could make a difference if we each shouldered  the burden of that old cliché that says the price of freedom is constant vigilance?

Maybe the price of safety is the same.

And maybe the media could help by returning to the important role of furthering the discussion instead of promoting ideologies and obfuscating the facts in the process.

None of this, it must be added, should be taken as a criticism of Wool. It’s easy to understand where she is coming from as it is easy to understand the view of all gun-control advocates. They are afraid. It’s easy to be afraid. It happens to all of us.

It not as easy to understand where the ADN is coming from. The first rule of journalism is simple: Just be honest.

Doing otherwise only damages journalism going forward.

Wool is a gun-control advocate. She created some art to try to promote gun control. It’s her right. Why try to dress her up as a “gun-safety” advocate even if that’s what she wants to be called?

Her idea of gun safety is gun control. Few other people equate the two.

And it is possible Wool has the right idea. It’s possible that if we banned all multiple-round, repeating weapons – revolvers, pump-actions, lever-actions and semi-automatic shotguns, rifles and handguns – (they’re all potential assault weapons) we might be able to put a small dent in firearms deaths someday. If not now, sometime in the future.

But a such a gun ban probably isn’t realistic, especially in Alaska where a fair number of people still depend on firearms to help feed themselves.



13 replies »

  1. One only has to look to any “Blue” state to see the disease called “Liberalism”. Once that “control” parasite takes hold, it will consume at a rapid pace.
    Let me just point to liberal gun-free Chicago, Baltimore, NY, Los Angeles, etc..
    Usual failed leftist policies.
    Do your best to keep liberal, leftists, yes, Democrats out of Alaska.
    As always, it isn’t the weapon but the shooter who is the long known problem.

  2. Demographics are gonna take care of so-called ‘gun control’. Whatever anyone thinks about that is immaterial because it’s as plain to me as the brown spots on the back of your hands and forehead. The NRA ain’t the NRA I was a member of until, coincidentally, G. H. Bush and I quit for the same reason. Get rid of that fuckwit Pierre and stop with all the TACTICAL shit and I might come back, but I doubt it. One can get in front of it or eat dusty memories.

  3. Craig, give yourself an “A”.
    You knocked that one out of the park.
    Looking forward to more, like the fun you might have with Anchorage’s brand new $100K energy coordinator.

  4. For anyone truly interested, psychologist Peter Langman has been looking at the shooters themselves for years and has rafts of information, both on US and foreign (yes, they do happen elsewhere) documenting the contagion effect, similarities among shooters (uniformly not kids from stable families who “go bad”), the mostly unsupportable blame placed on medication, and even a listing of how/where they got their guns.

  5. I question why hasn’t a change in school protection protocol been enacted? Who is in charge of those schools? Shouldn’t the head of each school step up to assure student/ teacher safety? Where are the inventors? Surely there is money for school safety ? America buys a lot of questionable items . School safety is not questionable and should move to front of the list . An immediate multi pronged approach is in order . Anything less is negligence. #1 vouchers so families can be economic engine for immediate change . Thus parents can pick safe quality schools. Schools with a bad record would get very little money from parents. This would force immediate upgrade for sequirity as well as better teaching protocols. #2 federal funding for safety upgrades. There are many . A good start is spray foam sprinkler system triggered by metal and or switches or appropriate methods . Combined with cameras and two armed guards in a safe room that has access to premounted tranquilizer guns in each hall and room . The two guards could aim the spray foam nozzles and the tranquilizer guns from remote location. The spray nozzles would be automatic as well, similar to a fire sprinkler system. Another option is guns with sticky netting with weights . I’m sure there are many . #3 teachers would undergo firearms training and have access to heavily locked safes containing a fire arm and or tranquilizer gun . ( tranquilizer guns so other students are not badly injured ,bullets go through walls to easy ) Two safes the front one contained the tranq gun the deeper one behind contained the firearm . Teachers would not be required to use them at all . Optional. Codes would change each morning. The 4 th option I have heard was a passive defense. Something like an overly friendly dog at each entrance . Trained to seek out and greet emotionally disturbed people in an attempt to change their feelings. Using overwhelming friendly action. Number 5 involves using some form of sensor or scanning system as each student or person enters the building. : something needs done . A lot of innocent people are dying and being traumatized. If This goes on it will damage society. The discussion shouldn’t be about the second amendment. It should be about finding a relatively non invasive solution. ASAP . Anything less is leadership negligence . I personally think children should get majority of schooling at home preferably by parents or relatives as has been done since beginning of human existence. Maybe that’s unrealistic for some families. A voucher system where parents could choose safe quality schools would solve the problem in the long run through basic capitalism and personal responsibility.

    • How about those students who chose Trump’s college? Most lost their ass and I suspect the same for k-12 schools. Who would regulate them, you? Safe, quality schools would be similar to clean coal IMO.

      • Bill drink some coffee. Wake up . You are a smart wise man . We already have plenty of schools in existence to choose from . Private ,charter , public to homeschool. Parents could choose between them more easily if they had money to give their preferred school. There is already oversite of them now . A direct voucher would make it clear to parents they had responsibility to choose and clear to schools they need to upgrade to meet parents expectations. Bill ,If you have a good productive opinion to help solve the vulnerability of schools please state it . Get people thinking about it . Your stonewalling negativity is part of the overall problem that stops needed change. How about constructive ideas from you .

      • I’ve always called them like I see them, Rayme.
        I have no problem with alternative schools but without vouchers. My wife’s family has all sent their kids to Catholic schools, on their own dime, and they’ve been happy (they are not Catholic, either). My family has all sent their kids to public schools and they are happy with results (several public school teachers involved). Both families are from Spokane, WA and my wife and I both grew up there in public schools with no problems. I suspect crime has increased there since I went to public school but I still see it as the answer. You don’t! We’ll just have to disagree, here.
        By the way, wife and I homeschooled our two kids during middle part of school year when we spent winters near Minto, AK. They were in public schools before we left after Thanksgiving and went back to public school around Easter. Schools couldn’t guarantee they’d get back into their original class upon returning but in all years that is how it worked out. We had a teacher fly out to our cabin once/month and we were able to instill in them good study habits by being involved. And because they also attended public schools part of year, they also developed social skills that may not have been available had we homeschooled full-time. My opinion of Juneau public schools is pretty good and I’ve been much involved in making sure our kids were able to move back into their classes prepared. The Yukon-Koyukuk correspondence program was also quite good but it no longer exists-I’m not sure of the quality of replacement correspondence programs.

      • On this subject Rayme, I have a good friend who raised 4 kids in Juneau public school system while she was a teacher in the system. She knew where each of her kids were in every subject the entire time and they all have college educations, now. It’s my guess that most people, even with one student in school, don’t have a clue where their kids are in their classes and when/if their kids struggle will blame the school/teacher.
        Along this same line, the teachers that get the most parents involved are the gifted/talented program teachers and during parent teacher conferences you will also see that the parents who are there tend to be also of kids who are not struggling. In fact, I know that Kenai district schools actually looked into canceling those parent/teacher conferences because the only parents who showed up were those whose kids didn’t need help (they didn’t follow through with this).
        All of this is just a look into the reasons that public schools are having problems with a lot of their students-my opinion is that in almost all cases it is because the parents are not sufficiently involved.

  6. Craig, Nice work. One thing to fix: 10 fellow students

    8 fellow students 2 substitute teachers

    Susan Harrington

    • thank you. damn, unimaginable tragedy. when i went to school in the 1960s – which was not exactly a peaceful time in America – half the guys in school had a shotgun outside in their car or truck (if they had one) so they could go bird shooting after school if they got the chance.

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