on the stories told about guns

There will be a lot more talk after the murders in Aurora about gun control laws and the 2nd Amendment. There isn’t much new to be said about the 2nd Amendment and how to interpret it. Most of what will be said will involve recounting the stories of mass shootings like this past weekend’s, or Columbine, or Virgina Tech, among others. The general sense will be how stricter bans on guns might have saved innocent lives, although in the telling of these stories the subjunctive will be subtly replaced by an indicative, with the obvious imperative implied as the necessary solution.

In that light it is instructive to note the stories about guns that don’t get told. After the shootings at Virgina Tech in 2007, law professor Glenn Reynolds told a story about the reaction of one of his students who was prohibited by the university from carrying her legal, licensed handgun on campus, and how that made her feel vulnerable. A related situation on the Virginia Tech campus precluded a student there of taking responsibility for his own safety in a threatening situation.

Reynolds goes on to briefly mention three situations where armed individuals (two civilians, one off-duty police officer) stopped shooting sprees. Along those lines, Dr. Paul Hsieh describes two stories of that nature. In his piece he focuses explicitly on how the stories were reported, pointing out that the very different manner in which stories about criminals with guns are told in contrast to stories about law-abiding citizens with guns.

In an age when narratives and contexts are emphasized as the primary vehicles for communicating messages, it’s instructive to note not only how stories are told, but which ones are told and which ones are not. It used to be that the story of history was told by the winners. Now there appears to be a concerted attempt to determine the future by controlling how the story of history is told.

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