Should The Virginia Tech Tragedy Be Sparking The Gun Control Debate?

(AP)
In the New Yorker this week, Adam Gopnik wrote this: "The cell phones in the pockets of the dead students were still ringing when we were told that it was wrong to ask why."

The why, Gopnik suggests, is our gun control laws, which are less strict than those in countries like Britain, where gun laws were tightened after a gunman killed 17 people, most of them children, in a school in Dunblane, Scotland.

The debate over media coverage of the tragedy has focused largely on whether or not the Cho manifesto should have been shown. There has been far less discussion about whether the press corps should be taking up the gun control debate.

To some extent, that decision isn't up to the press corps. Journalists report the news, after all, and the news has largely been the tragedy and its victims, not the policy debate.

There's a reason for that: politicians who would prefer tighter laws, usually those on the left, don't want to talk about the issue -- it's considered a losing one for Democrats. Politicians on the other side, meanwhile, don't want to stir a debate that has largely fallen off the national radar, particularly so soon after a gun-related tragedy.

There has been some discussion about closing the loophole in the law that allowed someone like Cho Sueng-Hui to get guns -- a discussion the "Evening News" covered last night -- but little wider debate about to what degree America regulates its firearms.

As this latest tragedy once again illustrates, however, the availability of guns is a major issue in this country. The press corps doesn't need a debate in the halls of Congress to recognize that. Certainly, the international press corps has focused on the issue in the wake of the shootings; the British-based Economist, for example, put an American flag in the shape of a gun on its cover and proclaimed that the country's "politicians are still running away from a debate about guns."

In America, meanwhile, many media outlets have been either ignoring the gun control issue or urging citizens to "[l]eave the debate for another day."

But what day would that be? In order to delve into a big issue, the media usually needs what's known as a "hook" – a news event that focuses people's attention on larger questions. The tragedy at Virginia Tech is such an event.

There were reasons not to take up larger issues and assign blame in the immediate wake of the shootings – those first few days needed to be about how people were dealing with the horror of what had taken place. But some time has now passed, and I'm hard pressed to think of a better time for the media to focus on a huge issue that isn't going away anytime soon.