New York Times' Massacre Coverage Permeated With Calls for Gun Control

The New York Times wasted no time injecting pro-gun control politics into its coverage of Friday's massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Calls for legislation permeating the paper's weekend coverage of the tragedy.

Saturday's front-page story by Mark Landler and Erica Goode tried to ignite the debate from paragraph one, "Obama’s Cautious Call for Action Sets Stage to Revive Gun Debate."

In the emotional statement on the Newtown shootings that President Obama delivered from the White House on Friday, it was a single line, spoken as much in anger as in grief, that stood out. The words were cautious and were immediately criticized for being too timid. But they may have signaled that the long-dormant debate over the nation’s gun laws is about to be re-engaged.

“We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” Mr. Obama said, listing the devastation wrought by other gun violence, from a recent attack in an Oregon shopping mall to the shootings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in July.

But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York spoke for many gun-control advocates, who have been frustrated and disappointed by Mr. Obama’s failure to embrace the issue, when he said he wanted to hear much more.


Kristen Rand, the legislative director for the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control advocacy group, said it was too early to say whether the Newtown massacre would yield different political results than previous mass shootings, including the attack that nearly took the life of a member of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

But she said she believes it would for two reasons: the victims were children, which has elicited a gut-wrenching response across the country, and the National Rifle Association proved to be a political paper tiger in the 2012 election.

David Chipman, a former special agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who is now a consultant to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said he believed the shooting was “a game changer.”

The Times tipped its hand when it said the outlook was "bleak" for gun control legislation, as if the preferred outcome would likely be thwarted.

Gun control, however, played an incidental role in the presidential campaign. And the political prospects for federal gun legislation remain bleak, analysts said, even with the national outpouring of emotion that typically follows mass killings.

Legal reporter Charlie Savage used his Sunday front-page territory ("Justice Dept. Shelved Ideas to Improve Gun Background Checks") to again defend Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder from "false" charges by conservatives regarding the Fast and Furious scandal, which the Times and other media outlets did their best to ignore.

[Around March 2011,] congressional Republicans and conservative news media outlets were carrying out a withering campaign against Mr. Holder based on accusations -- found to be false by the department’s independent inspector general -- that he had sanctioned the reckless “gun walking” tactics, not moving swiftly to interdict illegal weapons, used in the Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking case, including floating theories that it was all part of a conspiracy meant to crack down on gun rights.

Not even the Times' Mark Landler and Peter Baker could completely ignore President Obama's politicization of the tragedy at a memorial service for the 27 victims of the school massacre in Newtown.

President Obama vowed on Sunday to “use whatever power this office holds” to stop massacres like the slaughter at the school here that shocked the nation, hinting at a fresh effort to curb the spread of guns as he declared that there was no “excuse for inaction.”

In a surprisingly assertive speech at a memorial service for the 27 victims, including 20 children, Mr. Obama said that the country had failed to protect its young and that its leaders could no longer sit by idly because “the politics are too hard.” While he did not elaborate on what action he would propose, he said that “these tragedies must end.”

The speech, a blend of grief and resolve that he finished writing on the short Air Force One flight up here, seemed to promise a significant change in direction for a president who has not made gun issues a top priority in four years in office. After each of three other mass killings during his tenure, Mr. Obama has renewed calls for legislation without exerting much political capital, but the definitive language on Sunday may make it harder for him not to act this time.

The Times already foresees a political movement for gun control.

The president’s trip here came amid rising pressure to push for tighter regulation of guns in America. The president offered no specific proposals, and there were no urgent meetings at the White House over the weekend to draft legislation. Administration officials cautioned against expecting quick, dramatic action, especially given the end-of-the-year fiscal crisis consuming most of Mr. Obama’s time.

But the administration does have the makings of a plan on the shelf, with measures drafted by the Justice Department over the years but never advanced. Among other things, Democrats said they would push to renew an assault rifle ban that expired in 2004 and try to ban high-capacity magazines like those used by Mr. Lanza in Newtown. The president also said he would work with law enforcement and mental health professionals, as well as parents and educators.

The streets outside the memorial service and the airwaves across the nation were filled with voices calling for legislative action. By contrast, the National Rifle Association and its most prominent supporters in Congress were largely absent from the public debate.

They returned to the point a few paragraphs later.

While the Sunday programs were filled with politicians, mainly Democrats like Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, demanding stronger gun control, supporters of gun rights were noticeably absent. David Gregory, the moderator of “Meet the Press,” said his program invited 31 senators who support gun rights to appear on Sunday. “We had no takers,” he said.

Landler and Baker gave the Democrats a clear field to politicize the tragedy.

Attention focused mainly on Mr. Obama, who has shied away from a major push on gun control, even after events like the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson last year and the mass killing at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., this year. Some Democrats said the number of children involved in the Newtown massacre might change the dynamic but only if the president seizes the moment.

On Sunday, reporter Michael Cooper also searched for a possible turning point in "Debate on Gun Control Is Revived, Amid a Trend Toward Fewer Restrictions."