gun control

Beyond covering vigils and funerals: What’s the Catholic church’s position on guns?

Beyond covering vigils and funerals: What’s the Catholic church’s position on guns?

I have attended many vigils and funeral services in my years as a news reporter. I did so primarily as a general assignment reporter covering crime in New York City throughout the early 2000s.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I attended dozens of funerals for firefighters and other first-responders who perished during the collapse of the World Trade Center in the biggest terror attack on American soil.

There is a new terror threat that faces our nation. The rise of domestic terrorists with easy access to guns have made even a routine weekend trip to the mall something to fear. Those memories of covering vigils and funerals — many involving children and teens shot and killed in senseless gang violence — came flooding back to my mind this past weekend.

The back-to-back massacres — one at a Texas Walmart on Saturday and another in an Ohio nightclub the following day — cast a pall on our nation at a time when many families are enjoying time at the beach.

Again, the violence had to do with guns. As flowers and candles piled up at both scenes of the tragedy, the political response was all about finger-pointing and racism. It was yet another example of our country’s increased political (and news media) polarization. Mainstream media news coverage could be summed out this way: Democrats blamed President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, while Republicans pointed the finger at mental illness and violent video games.

The news coverage was predictable, boilerplate even. As usual, it lacked any real focus on religion, either in the many main news stories of the first few days or the sidebars that evolved. You would think the aftermath of two major tragedies wouldn’t lack talk of faith. Instead, the focus was politics — both regarding the motives of the shooters in each case and the need for gun control.

It’s a topic that comes up each time there is a mass shooting. And each time the coverage lacks any real consideration for what faith-based organizations are doing to try and stop future incidents. That is, have religious leaders offered more than prayers.

In this case, what the Catholic church has done to reduce gun violence has gone largely unreported or underreported the past few years.

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Lucy McBath's victory: Press still hasn't noticed this is a Democrat who believes in God

Lucy McBath's victory: Press still hasn't noticed this is a Democrat who believes in God

In early August, I wrote a post asking if Lucy McBath, the Democratic nominee for Georgia’s sixth House District, was the new religious star of the Democratic Party.

She had a compelling life story about losing her 17-year-old son, Jordan, to gun violence in 2012 and she used her grief to become a national spokeswoman for gun control. Then she decided to run for office against a heavily favored Republican incumbent, Rep. Karen Handel.

So I wrote about how McBath’s deeply Christian faith has been a guiding factor in her decision to run and how every media outlet except Mother Jones ignored that factor. When I went to bed Tuesday night, it appeared that McBath had lost.

When I woke up Wednesday, McBath had pulled ahead, finally winning in an election that took a day and one-half to decide. Handel finally conceded last Thursday morning after McBath bested her by less than 3,000 votes. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said:

The 6th District race was Georgia’s most high-profile upset in a year that drew near presidential-level turnout. Until a few weeks ago — and even leading into election night — many political handicappers did not list Handel among the lawmakers most in danger of losing their seats.

But sky-high turnout sparked by the state’s marquee gubernatorial race, simmering suburban dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump and major outside assistance from groups linked to mega-donor Michael Bloomberg all helped McBath eke out a win over Handel, allies of the Democrat said in interviews this week.

But the McBath campaign and its allies also attribute the Democrat’s win to the candidate’s powerful personal story, which they say helped her cut through the political noise and connect with voters.

Her powerful story? That sounds like a potential opening to the faith factor in this story — if a journalist was willing to dig into that.

However, it is clear that gun control was the winning factor in this campaign.

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Is Lucy McBath the new religious star of the Democratic Party?

Is Lucy McBath the new religious star of the Democratic Party?

Unless you live in Georgia, you probably don’t know who Lucy McBath is. Yet, she is the Democratic nominee for Georgia’s 6th congressional district, facing incumbent Karen Handel.

On July 24, she beat another Democrat to be the party's nominee. She has an appealing story and several publications have tried to tell it. But only one mentioned her faith, and that was Mother Jones.

When CNN did a piece on her, there was no mention of her faith. Neither did the Washington Post nor did the Atlantic. So here’s what Mother Jones ran.

On a Friday morning in December, a freak storm has sent snow billowing down the wide streets of Marietta, Georgia. But despite icy roads and an accident-related traffic jam near her house, Lucy McBath comes walking through the ’50s-style double doors of the Marietta Diner, a smile spread across her face.

As she settles into a booth beneath Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling, it’s clear no storm will stop her. “I have 100 percent security in the fact that God will lead me where I need to be,” she tells me. “I will continue to go through any door that he opens for me because that will allow me to make the best and the most important impact for serving people.”

The past five years of McBath’s life have been a series of doors opened by a terrible tragedy. The day after Thanksgiving in 2012, her 17-year-old son was shot while sitting in a car with a group of friends at a gas station following a dispute with another driver over the volume of the teens’ music. The gunman, a 45-year-old white man named Michael Dunn, fired 10 shots at the teenagers. Jordan Davis was hit three times. His best friend tried to pull him away from the gunfire, but Jordan’s body just fell into his lap. He died at the scene.

The teens were black, and the shooting happened nine months after another black teen, Trayvon Martin, was gunned down by neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman, causing national outrage. The week after Jordan’s death, McBath’s ex-husband got a text from Trayvon’s father: “I just want to welcome you to a club that none of us want to be in.”

A deeply religious woman, McBath spent the next year seeking justice for the son she had named for a biblical crossing of the Jordan River.

What’s fascinating about this woman is how her grief helped her to become a national spokeswoman against gun violence. In 2015, she appeared in a documentary co-starring a conservative evangelical Protestant minister.

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One year later: BuzzFeed feature gets the 'miracle' details in GOP baseball shooting

One year later: BuzzFeed feature gets the 'miracle' details in GOP baseball shooting

Did you notice that Rep. Steve Scalise returned, to the best of his abilities, to the annual Congressional Baseball game the other night?

It has been a year since that stunning mass shooting, when an angry liberal Democrat came close, close, close to gunning down most of the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here is a link to a nice NPR update on how Scalise is doing, using the 1-year anniversary as a news hook,

Sure enough, the word "miracle" is a key part of the story.

The anniversary reminded me of a magazine-length piece at BuzzFeed that has been buried deep in my GetReligion folder of guilt for several weeks. This happens, sometimes, with long, long stories. They are hard to critique in a short post and, well, they rarely draw responses from GetReligion readers. We are all rather busy, aren't we?

Anyway, the BuzzFeed story focused on two primary angles of the near massacre -- one political (and rooted in journalism) and the other is religious. This is the rare case in which the religion angle was handled better than the political one. The massive headline on this piece proclaimed:

THE 9 MINUTES THAT ALMOST CHANGED AMERICA

How The Congressional Baseball Shooting Didn't Become The Deadliest Political Assassination In American History

The political angle?

Why wasn't this bizarre and troubling event a bigger deal -- a bigger news story -- than it was? Why did the story slide on A1 so quickly? This story almost, almost, almost was one of the biggest events in the history of American politics. BuzzFeed noted:

What is certain is the disquieting way June 14 slipped beneath the news so quickly. The shooting felt much further away by July, August, September than mere months. If people joke about how the weeks feel like years in the current era, there’s an unsettling truth behind the joke -- the way anything can lose scale and proportion. Two dozen members of Congress were nearly killed one morning last year, and the country didn’t change very much at all.

Was the problem blunt politics, including bias in newsrooms?

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Blessing the AR-15s: So this was a 'mass' in an ordinary church linked to famous 'evangelist'?

Blessing the AR-15s: So this was a 'mass' in an ordinary church linked to famous 'evangelist'?

If you want to understand the current cyberspace freakout about those church rites to bless AR-15 rifles (or something like that, that were based on the Bible, or something like that), please watch this CBS News video.

If you are a journalist who works on the religion beat, you are going to want to place coffee cups or other beverage containers far, far away from your computer keyboard or the glowing-screen device of your choice. Try to stay calm.

Did you watch the video? OK, now let's proceed. Based on the contents of this video, answer this: Who are these people and what kind of church is this?

Apparently, these are run-of-the-mill Christians at a normal church. Right?

Or maybe you turned to CNN for further information -- like this online report, with this headline: "Pennsylvania couples clutching AR-15 rifles renew wedding vows." Pretty far into this report, news consumers learn the following about the Rev. Sean Moon, the head of this organization:

Moon is the son of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who founded the Unification Church in the 1950s. Before he died in 2012 at age 92, the elder Moon was a high-profile international evangelist for decades. He was famous for conducting mass weddings, including at New York City's Madison Square Garden and another one uniting 360,000 couples in South Korea.
The Sanctuary Church calls itself Rod of Iron Ministries, and is a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Unification Church distanced itself from Wednesday's event, saying its ceremonies and teachings do not involve weapons.

Wait, wait, wait. Sun Myung Moon was famous because he was AN EVANGELIST, as opposed to the content of his teachings? He was an "evangelist" like, well, the Rev. Billy Graham?

Believe it or not, even that wording is a little bit better than an Agence France-Presse visual report that started like this:

A mass of unusual sorts takes place in a church in Pennsylvania, where dozens of revelers come to pray armed with semi-automatic weapons.

Wait, wait, wait. A "mass"? You mean like a Catholic Mass? I don't think so.

So what is going on here? Let's turn to religion-beat veteran Bob Smietana, who shows remarkable restraint here:

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NRA dog whistles? Israeli paper's charges have impacted American Jewish debate on guns

NRA dog whistles? Israeli paper's charges have impacted American Jewish debate on guns

The recent Florida school shooting has propelled the gun issue to the forefront of the American political drama. It's also grabbed considerable attention in Israel -- providing a lesson in how news outlets with international followings can quickly influence distant debates in our online age.

It also casts light on how a diaspora population -- in this case American Jews -- can be moved by media opinion originating in a nation, despite its distance, with which they have an historical religious or ethnic bond.

So just how did Israeli media become part of the American gun control debate?

Electrifying charges have been appearing in Israeli news media claiming that the National Rifle Association, and its Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre in particular, has subtlety employed anti-Semitic code language to rally pro-gun partisans.

Israel’s leading liberal newspaper Haaretz has led the way.

Two of its columnists, as of this writing, have bluntly asserted that LaPierre used subtle anti-Semitic language -- “dog whistles” is the common term -- in his speech at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference gathering.

Let me stress: No such charges of NRA anti-Semitism has shown up in mainstream American media reports on LaPierre’s speech.

That's understandable. Mainstream American media are loath to cast such dispersions unless it's blatantly obvious, which in this case cannot be stated unequivocally. Here, for example, is how The New York Times played the story.

American Jewish media are another matter. They display the same sensitivity toward hints of anti-Semitism as their Israeli counterparts. Within a news cycle or two after the Haaretz columns appeared, similar pieces started to appear in liberal American Jewish media.

Some needed background.

It's easy for Jews to detect even subtle anti-Semitism after centuries of overt Jew-blaming and killing. Plus, American Jews, are general liberal on domestic issues, vote Democratic, and overwhelmingly favor tougher gun controls.

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Thoughts and prayers vs. reality: New York Times offers a Rosetta Stone for gun-control news

Thoughts and prayers vs. reality: New York Times offers a Rosetta Stone for gun-control news

While working my way through what became the farewell to Billy Graham week (which will continue as the funeral approaches), I kept watching the tsunami of press coverage linked to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Frankly, I have been stunned. Faithful GetReligion readers will know that I back many forms of gun control that would infuriate the cultural right. (This is simplistic, but I would like to see guns treated like cars, controlled with a training-testing-license formula. Also, I'm from hunting-crazy Texas, but I don't see why civilians need military level hardware.)

What has stunned me is the degree to which some on the left (think CNN) seem determined to destroy any hope for serious compromise. Please read this David French commentary for one view of where all of this screaming could take us.

What does this have to do with religion and religion-news coverage?

Well, check out this New York Times story that ran several days ago under the headline: "Gunfire Erupts at a School. Leaders Offer Prayers. Children Are Buried. Repeat."

As you read it, please ask yourself this question: Is this a news story?

I have been checking, day after day, to see if the principalities and powers at the Times have retroactively put an "Analysis" or even "Commentary" label on this piece. They have not.

If this is a news story (I think it is reported commentary and it should have been labeled as such), then I think it can be considered a kind of Rosetta Stone that media critics of all kinds can use to help break down and interpret much of the "reporting" that is being done linked to this torrid debate.

Once again, we see a basic journalistic formula that can be summarized as "thoughts and prayers" Americans vs. rational Americans who don't want to see students slaughtered.

Think about that. Might there be people out there who believe in the power of prayer, but who also want to see gun-control compromises take place (as well as discussions of mental health, the side effects of many medications, school security improvements, etc.) in this trouble land of ours?

Let me state this as a basic journalism question: If compromise is going to happen -- real change -- then wouldn't it be important to find voices in the middle of the armed camps on the cultural left and right?

Now, with that as prologue, what is happening in this Times sermon?

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There's more to discussions of church-security fears than guns, guns, guns and more guns

There's more to discussions of church-security fears than guns, guns, guns and more guns

If the following USA Today story wasn't real, then some journalist would have had to have made it up.

You see, coverage of shootings in churches almost always lead to mini-waves of reports about a tricky and controversial subject -- efforts to keep churches safe and secure. Yes, we talked about church security during this week's podcast, so click here to tune that in.

The overused word "controversial" applies in this whole subject because of the tension between increased calls for gun control (which I support, especially when we're talking about military-grade weapons) and people discussing the use of off-duty police and trained volunteers to protect churches.

In news media coverage, this can turn into left-leaning calls for gun control vs. people in large, almost always conservative churches packing concealed weapons. In other words, the whole thing turns into another discussion of guns, guns, guns and more guns.

Thus, the headline on that aforementioned USA Today story: "Two accidentally shot in church while discussing church shootings." And here's the heart of that story:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A man accidentally shot himself and his wife at an east Tennessee church on Thursday while he was showing off his gun during a discussion on recent church shootings, police said.
Elder members of First United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains were cleaning up about 1 p.m. after enjoying a luncheon held to celebrate Thanksgiving. They began talking about guns in churches, according to Tellico Plains Police Chief Russ Parks.
A man in his 80s pulled out a .380 caliber Ruger handgun and said, "I carry my handgun everywhere," according to Parks. He removed the magazine, cleared the chamber, and showed the gun to some of the men in the church. He put the magazine back in, apparently loaded a round in the chamber, and returned the gun to its holster, Parks said.

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Former NPR CEO visits Jesusland! Returns with sobering media-bias truths for left and right

Former NPR CEO visits Jesusland! Returns with sobering media-bias truths for left and right

Oh my. What's a GetReligionista to do?

There are so many journalism and Godbeat think pieces from the past week that I would like to run in this Sunday slot. Some of them are going to turn into daily pieces, methinks. Some are headed into my large "file of guilt" for later.

But let's start with a very unusual byline atop an op-ed essay at The New York Post. This byline is so strange that the copy desk decided to celebrate it right there in the headline: "Former NPR CEO opens up about liberal media bias."

Then again, it helps to know that former National Public Radio CEO Ken Stern is about to release a major-publisher book with this title: "Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right." An essay in the libertarian Post made lots of sense.

Now, as a non-Republican, I care little about the political language of the book title. As someone who has spent his life studying media bias issues linked to religion coverage, I am interested in the methodology that Stern used.

Brace yourselves. He went out into flyover country (also known as "Jesusland") and talked to people.

Journalists -- hopefully on the left, as well as the right -- will want to know that his stated motive for writing this book was his horror at the current state of public discourse in our nation. This is not a "Yea Trump!" essay. It's an essay by someone who is concerned about the press and its old -- now dying, I fear -- role as a fair-minded middle ground in American life. Here is a key passage:

Spurred by a fear that red and blue America were drifting irrevocably apart, I decided to venture out from my overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhood and engage Republicans where they live, work and pray. For an entire year, I embedded myself with the other side, standing in pit row at a NASCAR race, hanging out at Tea Party meetings and sitting in on Steve Bannon’s radio show. I found an America far different from the one depicted in the press and imagined by presidents (“cling to guns or religion”) and presidential candidates (“basket of deplorables”) alike.

Now, what does this have to do with religion-beat work?

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