Australia's approach to guns: Where do journalistic frameworks come from?
Yesterday, we posed that question with respect to homicides in Chicago, which are down by more than half since 1994.
Homicides are down by more than half? In many settings and situations, a change of that type would be viewed as progress.
Rightly or wrongly, Chicago's homicides are rarely viewed through that lens. This brings us to guns in Australia—more specifically, to gun deaths in that distant land.
In Australia, gun deaths are down by more than half since 1996. A headline in today's New York Times shows us how that fact is typically viewed, at least in the mainstream press:
"How a Conservative-Led Australia Ended Mass Killings"
Rightly or wrongly, the situation in Chicago is typically viewed through the lens of mayhem, while the situation in Australia is typically viewed through the lens of glorious progress.
This morning, the Times even helps the war of the frameworks along. It seems to adopt a tougher standard for an Australian "mass killing" than it did, just two days ago, for an American "mass shooting."
Recalling that five is more than four, let's take a look at the record:
On Wednesday, Sharon LaFraniere reported that a "mass shooting" occurs in the U.S. more than once a day. Her report appeared on the Times' front page.
Gloomy headline included:
LAFRANIERE (12/3/15): How Often Do Mass Shootings Occur? On Average, Every Day, Records ShowIn her gloomy report, LaFraniere adopted a rather lenient standard for a "mass shooting." A mass shooting has occurred if four people are "dead or wounded."
More than one a day.
That is how often, on average, shootings that left four or more people wounded or dead occurred in the United States this year, according to compilations of episodes derived from news reports.
Including the worst mass shooting of the year, which unfolded horrifically on Wednesday in San Bernardino, Calif., a total of 462 people have died and 1,314 have been wounded in such attacks this year, many of which occurred on streets or in public settings, the databases indicate.
No one has to die at all! In his morning's upbeat report, Austin Ramzy seems to adopt a tougher standard for a "mass killing."
Upbeat headline included:
RAMZY (12/5/15): How a Conservative-Led Australia Ended Mass KillingsRamzy defers to Australian experts. In Australia, a mass killing requires the death of five people, not including the gunman.
In the continuing debate over how to stop mass killings in the United States, Australia has become a familiar touchstone.
President Obama has cited the country’s gun laws as a model for the United States, calling Australia a nation “like ours.” On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has said the Australian approach is “worth considering.” The National Rifle Association has dismissed the policies, contending that they “robbed Australians of their right to self-defense and empowered criminals” without reducing violent crime.
The oft-cited statistic in Australia is a simple one: There have been no mass killings—defined by experts there as a gunman killing five or more people besides himself—since the nation significantly tightened its gun control laws almost 20 years ago.
As far as we know, there's nothing "wrong" with any of the reporting in these high-profile pieces. Beyond that, there's nothing "wrong" with either of those standards.
That said, these reports do help us see the way our journalists can see one glass half full, while the other glass is disastrously half empty. These reports can help us puzzle over the way journalistic frameworks are used.
Let's be clear. Chicago's homicide rate is still higher than Australia's ever was.
Let's be clear about something else. We're talking about two different sets of statistics here:
In yesterday's post about Chicago, we showed you the statistics for homicides of all kinds. In today's report about Australia, the Times is largely talking about "gun deaths," which are eventually broken up into homicides and suicides.
On Friday morning's Morning Joe, Steven Rattner ran through the statistics for Australian gun deaths. He also showed a few charts about gun ownership and gun deaths in the U.S. and other countries in the tiny amount of time he was given.
(To watch his two minutes, click here.)
Rattner stressed the decline in Australian gun deaths since 1996. A few days before, we had been somewhat surprised to see that homicides in Chicago had declined at almost exactly the same rate over that same period.
At least within the mainstream press, the decline in Australia tends to be presented as a triumph. By way of contrast, the decline in Chicago is virtually never mentioned. Within mainstream reporting and punditry, it basically doesn't exist.
One particular type of framework is built around Chicago. A substantially different framework obtains for events down under. Different definitions of "mass" seem to obtain, helping the frameworks along.
We aren't saying this practice is wrong, although on balance it pretty much is. We're saying it helps us frame a question:
Where do journalistic frameworks come from? And why are standard frameworks applied in such single-minded ways?