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“Two teenagers, one just 14-years-old, were killed by gunfire this weekend in northeast Omaha. Etienne Burns, 14, and Dejuan Johnson, 19, were killed within about a six-hour span Saturday night.” I detest passive construction, especially when writers use it to describe shootings and negligent discharges (a.k.a., accidents). In this case, not only is the phrase “were killed” inelegant, it hides the truth of the matter. In truth, “Gunmen murdered two teenagers this weekend in northeast Omaha. The killers shot Etienne Burns, 14, and Dejuan Johnson, 19, within about a six-hour span Saturday night.” This is not simply a question of Hemingway worship and hopeless pedantry . . .

By making the slain teens’ ultimate fate the focal point of the lede, rather than pointing an editorial finger at the actors who created the carnage, writer Kevin Cole shifts readers’ attention away from those responsible for the teens’ death. To wit, the headline: Gun Violence Kills Two Teens.

What pray tell is “gun violence”? A violent act by someone using a gun, obviously. As in shooting someone. But you don’t need to be a gun rights advocate to know that gun violence is a loaded term (so to speak) that contains a hidden agenda.

For one thing, the vast majority of journalists deploy the term “gun violence” only when reporting a firearms-related injury or death perpetrated by an inner city gang banger. Sorry, a “disadvantaged minority youth.” For another, writers use the term “gun violence” to create a more-often-than-not unjustified sense of the shootee’s complete innocence.

People “killed by gun violence” are not killed by people who lack respect for laws and law and order and their fellow man’s right to remain un-shot, un-stabbed, un-beaten, etc. Nor are they civilians who failed to avoid the rabbi’s advice to “avoid stupid people in stupid places doing stupid things.” They are “victims.”

From there it’s a short step to removing the word “violence” from “gun violence” and blaming the gun itself. Hey, why not? No gun, no gun violence; no gun violence, no victims of gun violence. Problem solved. Not to put too fine a point on it, “gun violence” is shorthand for “This wouldn’t have happened if the killers didn’t have ‘easy access’ to guns.”

Truth be told, the gun control movement hearts gun violence. Not the violence itself, semi-obviously, but the phrase. It embodies the idea that firearms-related injuries and death could be reduced or eliminated by reducing (or eliminating) the number of guns in the hands of violent people—through stricter gun control (‘natch).

Here’s a press release from Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG):

The coalition members offered four concrete steps the administration could take without Congressional action to better enforce existing gun laws, reminding the President that over 6,100 Americans have died from gun violence since the Tucson shooting.

I don’t know about you, but I reckon locking-up the trigger man or woman who shot one or more of those 6100 Americans is first on my list “How to reduce the number of firearms-related fatalities.”

MAIG and other gun grabbers know that the term “gun violence” removes the gunman from any subsequent debate about crime prevention. By pre-deleting criminal culpability, they can highlight the “need” for gun control without raising an entire range of moral, ethical, cultural and political issues that would “cloud the issue.”

Hence the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Stop Gun Violence, States United to Prevent Gun Violence, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Women Against Gun Violence, etc.

Insidiously, organizations campaigning against “gun violence” are, by implication, OK with non-violent gun ownership. (Just as one supposes that the Mayors Against Illegal Guns are not against legal guns.) In fact, they are not OK with guns, period. The Brady Campaign was formerly Handgun Control, Inc. and the National Council to Control Handguns. Need I say more?

Just this: journalists who wish to avoid bias should avoid using the term “gun violence.” Instead they should tell the truth about guns. They should make sure that the person behind the trigger is at the forefront of any story about the resulting carnage. Anything less risks the possibility that society will deny the victims of their actions the genuine justice they deserve. Even if they don’t.

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  1. Virtually all mass media journalists, editors, and the publishers could care less about bias, objectivity, and balanced comprehensive reporting. They present and angle stories with sensationalism to carry on their preconceived political and social agendas while throwing on tidbits of alternate news to masquerade their gamesmanship. I don’t think the mass media is concerned about victims or justice. The mass media, along with government and other leading national cultural institutions, have done their share in transforming western societies over the years. This transformation of society has resulted in situations and environments that have created victims and injustice.

  2. I hate the phase “gun violence” its not the gun being violent its the person be hide the gun. Its not “gun violence” its “people violence” if there where no guns there would still be violence. Maybe they should start passing out history books to law maker then they’ll see man will throw rocks if they have to.

  3. So how come victims of a stabbing aren’t victims of “knife violence”? Or people who died of a savage beating are victims of “fist violence”. When people are hit by cars we don’t say they were a victim of vehicular violence, we say that someone ran them over or hit them while driving. “So and so was a victim of a hit and run (or vehicular manslaughter) this weekend when so and so was driving drunk or texting while driving” or we’ll even say that someone is guilty of something….but no one ever says that someone was guilty of gun violence

      • just a ramble: but according to the census site “theres an average of 440,000 smoking related deaths per year” then you have statments like this from “There are no known deaths caused by Cannabis/Marijuana in fact Cannabis is sort of an antibody for cancer which is the main course of smoking related deaths”. Now lets look at the law tobacco is legal cannabis is not.

  4. Passive voice in this case is called for since it emphasizes the recipient of the action the victims, not the creators of the action, the unknown killers. The sentence is created to center on their deaths, not the killers’ actions. In this rare case, I’d go with the original writer’s choice of passive voice.

    • +1.

      I don’t think folks are terribly knowledgeable about the usage issues, or even very interested. They’re only interested in their agendas.

      • There’s nothing wrong with having an agenda. Throwing away the rules of English usage in order to advance the agenda is another matter.

        You need to back up and think for .003 seconds. Do you really imagine that you are totally objective about firearms and it’s the media that’s biased? Does that make sense to you?

        • Nobody is totally objective. Human beings are capable of emotion, therefore perfect objectivity is an impossibility.

          I will admit that my attitudes toward firearms (and weapons in general) are based in part on my own experiences, and in part on historical and statistical data. Both of those lead me to some simple (IMHO) conclusions:

          1. Criminals, by definition, do not obey the law.
          2. By (1), gun laws will not reduce crime.
          3. A law which does not do that which it was intended to do is a worthless law and should be repealed.
          4. By (2) and (3), most, if not all, gun laws in the United States should be repealed.


          • …and therefore, you are not the most objective judge of the phrase “gun violence” in media stylebooks. That’s my point. Gun violence is a perfectly acceptable and understood phrase in current usage. That you guys don’t like it doesn’t make it bad.

            • All hail Magoo, the last defender of the English language and the H.L. Mencken of TTAG.

              Ladies and gentlemen of the
              English-speaking world, we are all totally f^cked.

      • Magoo, while I appreciate the +1, I was, in all honesty, just talking about language use, and I think that RF’s point was valid from his perspective–not from his agenda. He rightfully points out that criminals actively chose to shoot these two teens, and that is diminished with the passive voice.

  5. Oh, if only we could turn back time to when there were no guns. Then no one would ever be murdered and no wars could occur…

  6. Robert, You’re taking too many leaps there. First, speaking as one who believes gun availability is a big part of the problem, I disagree with your accusation that we want to blame the gun and leave the criminal out of it. Whenever someone commits a crime with a gun there are laws against that, he’s sought by the police, he’s recognized by all as the guilty party. We don’t suggest attacking the gun availability and lettinig the criminal get away with the behavior. These two efforts are not mutually exclusive like you keep pretending they are.

    Second, folks who are against illegal guns and gun violence are not necessarily against all guns. You keep saying that, but I honestly don’t hear it from the gun control folks. Speaking for myself, I’d like to see strict enough gun control laws so that gun violence drops, but I figure that would still leave about half the current law-abiding gun owners with all their toys.

    And you know what the disarmed half would do? Some of them would go criminal, but the disarmed ones would account for most of the gun flow into the criminal world as well as most of the negligence. The world would be a better place.

    • Criminals by nature and definition don’t follow the laws already on the books. How would adding more laws suddenly make them stop? It’s already illegal to shoot someone with a gun or threaten someone with a gun (someone that isn’t breaking into your property or threatening your life or the life of someone else). So how is adding 1 or 10, or even 100 more gun laws going to suddenly stop these people from doing what they were going to do already. The only difference might be that they would use a knife or a hatchet, or a sword, or a chainsaw. Then what do you do, outlaw anything with a sharp blade? How will we cut meat, veggies, and colorful pieces of paper for arts and crafts? If someone wants to commit a crime they have already decided to break the law, having an extra 5 laws on the books that they would also be breaking does nothing to change that fact.

      Take a look at the UK, owning a gun is virtually impossible there, yet there is still lots of crimes committed with a gun.

      • Elliotte, I don’t think you’re listening.

        The gun laws I propose would help to prevent guns from reaching the criminals. My ideas would also provide for stricter standards for folks, law-abiding folks to get guns.

        Nobody is saying anything about compelling the criminals to obey laws, so please drop that from your repetoire.

    • Mike,

      My mind is open. My heart is open. I am listening.

      Explain just how the hell you can construct and implement a law that will reduce the illegal use of guns? How are you going to have a law that will reduce or even directly address the access of to guns by individuals who will are breaking the law?

      How in the world are you going to get guns out of the hands of gangbangers? How is limiting legal access to guns by law abiding citizens going to reduce the use of guns by criminals?

    • Mike:

      Criminals don’t get their guns from the local guns store. (Unless the ATF is holding a F&F fire sale) They go to the black market where they order up 5 Glocks with their five keys of coke; or they get them from dirty cops or buy them from other non official sources. The only way you can bring down gun violence when you use gun control directed at legal citizens as your primary method is to establish a police state. When you turn over the streets to the gang bangers because you deny the law abiding citizen the ability to defend himself the price you pay when you take back the streets for the average Joe/Jane is quite high.

      What you and your cronies don’t understand is that an armed citizenry doesn’t stop crime through DGU. An armed ciizenry creates an environment that is a hostile work place for criminals. They either go elsewhere, chose another occupation or end up dead or in jail. I assure you that Northern Virginia, with it’s well armed citizenry, is a much safer place to live then any neighborhood in the District of Columbia.

  7. There is no such thing as ‘gun violence’, there is only criminal violence. Firearms have neither volition no agency. Who really believes there is no difference between the hand of John Wilkes Booth, and the hand of the Seal Team six member who put two rounds into OBL’s face? The hands of Moo-ham-ed Atta, or the hands of Sully Sullenberger? If I decide one day to ram my car into an abortion clinic, will the headline say, “Car Violence”? Was the dragging death of James Byrd ‘vehicle and chain violence’? If the intent of the being with free will has nothing to do with the outcome of whatever action purposed, then are men automatons? We have free will, and are responsible, jot and tittle, for all our choices. “As ye have done it unto the least of these, my bretheren, ye have done it to Me.” I pray that no one here, 2 seconds onto the other side tries to say, “Nay Lord, it was the fault of the sharpened pencil!” “IHS”

  8. [I]f you take all the guns off the street you still will have a crime problem, whereas if you take the criminals off the street you cannot have a gun problem.

    Jeff Cooper

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