Emotional Anecdotes Trump Reasonable Arguments in NYT's Gun Coverage

When it comes to pushing gun control, the New York Times reliably relied on emotional outbursts over reasonable argument every time. Witness Sheryl Gay Stolberg "report" in Saturday's paper, "Gun Victims Vow to Press On in State Legislatures and Political Campaigns."

Moments after the Senate defeated gun legislation this week, Patricia Maisch, a 64-year-old Tucson woman who helped stop the 2011 massacre there, stood up in the gallery and shouted “Shame on you!” at the lawmakers below. The next day, still furious, she recorded “robocall” messages for the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Mrs. Maisch has no background in politics. But she does have a passion for gun control acquired on Jan. 8, 2011, when she grabbed an ammunition clip away from the gunman who fatally shot 6 people and wounded 13, including her congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords.

“A lot of our legislators have blood on their hands,” Mrs. Maisch said Friday before leaving Washington on a train for New York, where she was scheduled to appear on a weekend talk show. “We will work to remove seated senators who choose to be the shills of the gun lobby.”

Mrs. Maisch, whose gallery outburst prompted Capitol police officers to escort her from the building, is among dozens of gun violence survivors and family members who descended on Washington to push for a measure to extend background checks on some gun purchases. Now that their lobbying blitz is behind them and the legislative debate is over in the Senate, the victims’ advocates are forging ahead with new tactics and plotting their next moves. They hope to revive the bill, while pushing for new state laws and campaigning against politicians opposed to gun control.

Stolberg eventually pointed out that:

Not all the victims of gun violence and their families favor tighter gun laws. At least one Newtown parent, Mark Mattioli, whose 8-year-old son was killed, sided with the National Rifle Association in opposing the background check measure. But at least a dozen of the victims and family members who fanned out across the Capitol complex this week -- organized by groups like the Brady Campaign and Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- said they believed that the bill would have been a good first step.

They had arrived in Washington in an optimistic mood. The Newtown parents had practically shamed senators into bringing the background check measure up for a vote, and after decades of gun control losses, many believed that they were on the verge of a big victory. But they were soon reminded that in the complex gun politics of Washington, being a victim is not enough to get legislation passed.

What Stolberg never pointed out: None of the laws rejected by the Senate would have stopped Newtown killer Adam Lanza's rampage. Instead, Stolberg piled on the emotional anecdotes by the victims families.

For Mr. Read, that lesson was searing. Wearing a gray business suit with a picture of Mary Karen on his lapel, he arrived at a vigil outside the Capitol on Tuesday, the sixth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, to recite the names of the dead -- including his own daughter, a clarinet player and an aspiring educator who was 19 when she died.

Hours later, traipsing through the hallways with other parents and victims, he stumbled on Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona. Mr. Flake had just announced his opposition to the background check measure, and when the senator cited Black’s Law Dictionary in explaining his stance, Mr. Read grew testy.

“I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not a senator, and I don’t have Black’s Law Dictionary,” Mr. Read told him. “But I do have this picture of my daughter.”

Stolberg returned to Maisch for the emotional finale.

“Those senators disregarded the will of the people,” Mrs. Maisch said. “I feel like my disregarding that one small rule was nothing compared to what they disregarded.”

Joe Nocera's Saturday column also used a gun violence survivor story to excoriate the liberal bogeyman known as the National Rifle Association in "That Spineless Gun Vote."

On April 20, 1999, Katie Lyles, a high school sophomore, was taking a math test when she heard a popping sound. “I assumed it was a prank,” she says.

It wasn’t. The fire alarm soon went off, and a teacher shouted, “This is not a drill. Go, go, go!” Katie and several classmates ran through the neighborhood, seeking shelter. All around them, they could hear the screams of sirens and the whir of helicopter blades

Finally, a woman answered their frantic knocking. “Are you all from the high school?” she asked. When they said yes, the woman invited them in. That is where they learned that two of their fellow students at Columbine High School had gone on a murderous spree, killing 13 and wounding 21, before turning their guns on themselves.

Lyles became an activist after Newtown and was in Washington when the Senate, including four Democratic senators, voted down all the gun control proposals. Why? You guessed it.

Of course, we all know the reason: The four Democrats -- along with many Republicans -- quake in fear of the National Rifle Association. In 1994, Baucus voted in favor of the assault rifle ban -- and then nearly lost his re-election bid. He never again stood up to the N.R.A. Yes, his phones were undoubtedly jammed this week. Still, it seemed to me that his unanswered phone was a potent symbol. I could almost picture him cowering in his office, waiting for us to stop asking why he sold the country down the river.

I loathe single-issue politics, but maybe this is what it has come to. Maybe it is going to take senators like Max Baucus losing their jobs because they wouldn’t stand up to the N.R.A. Maybe it is going to require the majority of Americans who support sensible gun laws to turn themselves into an avenging political force. I wish it weren’t so, but nothing else seems to move them -- not even the sight of 20 slaughtered children in Connecticut.