Week In News: Shooting Part Of A Tragic Pattern

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Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz is joined by James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly. They discuss the tragic pattern of mass shootings in America and abroad and the limited effect that the Aurora shooting will most likely have on preventing the next such event.


There's a tragically predictable pattern when these mass murders take place, stories of victims, then questions over how a person could unleash such barbarity on others. And then, of course, the conversation over guns. Whether the story comes from Paducah or Columbine or Virginia Tech or Tucson, the pattern is the same. And yet, each time, nothing changes and we all seem to accept the inevitability of the next massacre.

That's the subject of a blog post by The Atlantic's James Fallows. He joins us most Saturdays. And, Jim, I want to use your column today as a jumping-off point here. Is this time different?

JAMES FALLOWS: Certainly, the details are different, the horrible sort of scene setting details of showing up at the Batman movie and the scale of people who were killed. But in the fundamentals, I think everybody knows this is a situation we have seen too many times, the indication of a troubled young man who nobody saw this coming, but actually people should have seen it coming, and the initial stage of argument from people about how can this sort of thing happen.

Actually, the one thing, I think, is different now is that there's actually less discussion about guns and their consequences than we're - we've gotten used to. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney, in their sympathetic comments after this tragedy, neither of them dared say anything about guns and their role in this kind of event in America.

RAZ: In 1990, Jim, 80 percent of Americans backed some kind of gun control laws. Today, only 48 percent do, according to some polls. In some ways, I wonder how much of the way we talk about guns and gun rights are really the triumph of the pro-gun lobby.

FALLOWS: I think it partly is the triumph in the court of public opinion. I think the much more important triumph, however, has been in the realm of actual practicing politics that most people who are considering running for office know that if they take a pro-gun control stand on this issue that they're going to really encounter a lot of resistance from the NRA.

And so I think that if politicians thought there were more leeway for them to talk about this in public affairs, I think that public opinion would follow that. I think the main effect over the last 20 or 30 years has been in making candidates for public office think this is an issue they just dare not touch.

RAZ: Jim, other developed nations have experienced these kinds of massacres, in Dunblane, Scotland and Tasmania, in Norway, of course. What's different about the aftermath in those places?

FALLOWS: Mentally disturbed people exist around world, and they do horrific things, and they claim lots of victims. But what is impressive is that everyplace else, this has led to some kind of control and restriction, which has prevented recurrences. A couple of months ago, I was in Tasmania, in Australia, and I saw this very touching memorial to what they call the Port Arthur massacre where 35 people were gunned down by a disturbed young man in 1996. And in the aftermath of that, a very conservative Australian government said, we can't allow this to happen anymore, and they passed a very restrictive gun legislation. And we have had lots of mass shootings since 1996.

In fact, the Jim Brady commission put out a report of them, which came to 62 pages worth of incidents since 2005 alone. Australia has not. So there is something in the fabric of other countries, which has made them respond to these episodes, and we know they're going to continue.

RAZ: That's James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic. Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

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