In the wake of the Parkland shooting, young people have become defacto mascots for anti-gun advocates and national media.
Putting a bunch of children on national television to discuss complex, highly-charged issues is not a good thing, in my opinion, especially after said children have experienced a traumatic, life-changing event.
We saw why recently on CNN, when a panel’s discussion steered from “common sense” gun control measures to the role of race in mass shootings.
It started when 17-year-old Zyahna Bryant suggested that white people in particular have blood on their hands.
“Who is carrying out these mass shootings?” asked Bryant, who is black. “Young white men.”
The panel’s gun advocate, a young man named Jacob Scott, accused Bryant of racism and countered her argument by bringing up Omar Mateen (aka Omar Mir Seddique), the “Islamic Soldier” who killed 49 people in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida in 2016.
“Why are you attacking white people … What about Omar Mateen?”
This is where CNN stepped in. (You can watch the entire exchange here.)
“There are exceptions to the rule, but school shooters are generally young white men,” said said CNN host Alisyn Camerota.
This comment earned the approval of Jon Levine of The Wrap, who described Camerota as “the adult in the room … objectively correcting the record.”
Well, that’s one way to look at it. But there’s a couple things wrong about this assessment, in my opinion.
First, Camerota is not exactly an objective person on the issue of gun violence. (To be fair, not many of us are.) Most viewers, even gun control supporters, I suspect, would admit her journalism on gun control crosses into the editorializing/advocacy strand of TV journalism.
For example, Camerota grills gun-control opponents with an intensity that the journalist in me praises. Yet she fails to press guests on her program who call the NRA “child murderers” who deal in “blood money.” (When she was recently called out for this, Camerota denied it. You can watch the clip below and decide for yourself.)
In her segment with the Parkland students, we see Camerota put her thumb on the scale when race comes up during the interview, which brings me to my second point.
Are white people really responsible for carrying out more mass shootings? Or more precisely, do they commit a disproportionate amount?
As the below graph from Statista shows, which is based on data from Mother Jones, there have been a total of 94 mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982 in which the shooter’s race/ethnicity have been identified.
Find more statistics at Statista
White people accounted for 56 of those shootings, or 59.5 percent. According to the most recent U.S. Census figures, whites account for 61.3 percent of the U.S. population.
The data is clear: Bryant’s claim that white people are the ones primarily carrying out mass shootings is false. The data show white people commit almost precisely the percentage one would expect. (One can forgive Bryant's mistake, considering headlines such as these: here, here, here.)
However, when the issue of race and mass shootings came up, Camerota stepped in. She covered for Bryant, who spoke of mass shootings generally, by switching to mass shootings at schools specifically.
Scott, a high school student doing his best on TV, failed to meaningfully counter Camerota. Most viewers likely scored this as a win for Camerota, Bryant, and gun-control advocates.
But did it shed more light on gun violence? Probably not.
For one, school shootings account for a slim percentage of mass shootings. As a recent New York magazine article detailed, there is no “epidemic” of mass school shootings. The perception that there is likely stems from media coverage and gun control advocacy groups, both of which tend to exaggerate the number of school shootings in various ways.
An example: Following the Parkland shooting, media and politicians ran with a figure from the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety that said it was the eighteenth school shooting of 2018. That number was false, the Washington Post admitted, unless one chooses to count as “school shootings” instances in which a man parked in a car commits suicide outside a closed school at 3 a.m.
In fact, there have been a grand total of eight mass school shootings since 1996, New York magazine reports, and school crime has been declining since 1992.
Instead of correcting Bryant, Camerota helped perpetuate the stereotype of the young, white shooter.
She failed to note that the tiny sample tells us little about race and school shootings. And she failed to note that other social factors, such as the fact that many urban schools use metal detectors and other security measures, help explain it.
Either Camerota was not aware of these facts or she chose to ignore them. Whatever the case, viewers seeking an honest and intelligent discussion on gun violence didn’t get it. In fact, they got the opposite.
But should we expect anything else when you have six children and a TV journalist with an axe to grind on national television?