Watchdog Blog

Barry Sussman: A Boy, 5, Shoots His Friend, 4. Ho-hum

Posted at 3:25 pm, July 3rd, 2011
Barry Sussman Mug

Last fall and winter the Washington Post ran as good an assortment of articles on guns, gun control, assault weapons, the NRA, gun shops, tracing guns, guns on the Mexican border, police-killer guns – you name it – as I have ever seen. In addition to strong reporting by distinguished reporters, it had videos, documents, telling graphics. It started months before the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson and continued afterward.

The series, called “The Hidden Life of Guns,” was the result of a year-long effort. It was imaginative and thorough.

That was then.

On Thursday, June 30th, there was a horrific shooting in Hillcrest Heights, MD, just outside Washington. A 5-year-old shot a 4-year-old in the back. The Post’s story on Friday said the 4-year-old “is expected to survive.”

The children were said to play together frequently in the playground where the shooting occurred. Some details are murky. It’s not clear where the little boy got the gun.

Afterward, the 5-year-old, scared, ran to his family’s apartment and hid the gun, the Post’s story said. An uncle said no guns were kept in the apartment and that people “at the scene told him that his nephew found the gun outside.”

The story ran 374 words. It appeared in the Metro section on Page B6. That’s what you call not very much play at all. Not front page, not even Metro front page (where there was only one news story that day, along with a big feature story about a street corner that has seen its share of murders over the years, and three other items). Even so, the shooting of one tike by another drew 128 reader comments by Saturday morning.

I looked at the Saturday and Sunday Post for a follow-up. Did the 4-year-old survive? If yes, how was he doing? What about the other little boy, and what after all was the story behind the gun? Any adult charged in this incident? I didn’t see any story in the paper, and nothing online, either.

In January after Giffords and 18 others were shot, six of them fatally, a Post columnist wrote that the tragedy was unlikely to result in stronger gun controls because the force of public opinion wasn’t strong enough. By running stories like the shooting of a 4-year-old by a 5-year-old on Page B6 – and not following up on it – the Post is doing its part to ensure that prediction.

The Post’s gun series was masterful. But what’s that got to do with covering the news?

15 Responses to “A Boy, 5, Shoots His Friend, 4. Ho-hum”

  1. Darlene says:

    I live in Tucson, Arizona. I am appalled at how quickly the horrors of gun proliferation was forgotten after the shooting here. Our idiots in our legislature even spent weeks on deciding what our state gun would be. I found it shocking and depressing that they did so after the tragedy in my home town.

    The powerful NRA must be stopped and meaningful gun legislation must be enacted. We are a violent country. That is a sad commentary to make on our patriotic holiday. Our country started with a war and we just can’t seem to stop; one war after another and one shooting after another. Sad.

  2. Mike H says:

    Hey Mr Sussman: FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS!

  3. Myra MacPherson says:

    Very good and sad piece. Did the Post ever answer your questions? The strangle hold the NRA and other pro gun efforts have made it impossible to get good legislation from politicians who check their spines in the congressuonal cloak room.

  4. Mike H says:

    Hey Myra, it has nothing to do with spineless politicians who wont pass “good legislation” .. its called the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, or maybe you missed McDonald v Chicago.

    Now go back to writing hagiographies of your favorite Soviet spy IF Stone.

  5. ellen sweets says:

    the fact that mike h can characterize izzy stone as a soviet spy says all that needs to be said about the declining level of civil discourse in this country, the sad level of intelligent debate among some gun lovers, and people who only see trees, not forests.

  6. Mike H says:

    @ ellen sweets … tis not I that characterizes Stone as a spy, its his former taskmasters in Moscow who are doing that. Guys in the know like Alexander Vassiliev are the ones who make the charges.

  7. Myra says:

    Hey Mike–you are very warped in your knowledge.. I have dissected all that and answered it numerous times. But you are clearly not interested in learning anything.

  8. Mike H says:

    Myra, regurgitating old talking points doesn’t get around the fact that Stone’s work for the KGB has been documented by academics and historians and recently verified by former KGB officials. You are entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts. Now go have some pancakes.

  9. Don Greenwood says:

    While the story of the five year old getting hold of a firearm and accidentally shooting another child is tragic, such cases are relatively rare – there is no epidemic of this type of tragedy. However, it would have been appropriate for the Post to provide follow up.

    Approximately 650 cases of accidental deaths due to firearms occur annually in the US. There are about 30,000 deaths each year involving guns; over half are due to suicide, about 40% are the result of homicides.

    District of Columbia v Heller struck down the DC restrictions on firearms. However, since DC is under Federal jurisdiction, it took McDonald v Chicago to establish that states and local municipalities are subject to the Second Amendment with regard to laws restricting gun ownership. However, the Supreme Court did not abolish all restrictions.

    As a nation, we should focus our efforts on limiting access to firearms by convicted felons, minors and those with potentially dangerous mental conditions.

    A comprehensive system in Virginia would have prevented the deaths of 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech back in 2007. The shooter, had his court recommendation of mental treatment been in a background check database, would have been denied sale of the guns he used to shoot innocent people. The gun shop that sold him the guns was and is reputable and performed a background check which revealed no impediment to the sale.

  10. Rich P says:

    It’s because so many people share an outdated, brittle kind of fundamentalist belief, religious or otherwise. Why, in the face of mountains of evidence, do these fundamentalist insist the world is 5,000 years old and that evolution is wrong? Why do these people believe global warming (or whatever it’s called now) is made up when it obviously isn’t? Why do they believe the writers of the US Constitution wanted everybody to own guns? Or that the really brilliant framers of that document would have insisted on strict interpretation in a vastly changed United States with vastly changed gun technology that didn’t exist 200 years ago. Back then, a 5 year old couldn’t have loaded a musket. It was a real skill to prime a gun to be fired once. Today we can get off a thousand rounds in a minute. Enough to kill an entire town. So the arguments used against gun control are wildly, irrationally emotional, and the ones for gun control, even that of a James Brady, are downed out. Combine that with one of the most effective political lobbies that ever existed, and you got… guns everywhere, and lots of them.

  11. Mike H says:

    Why do they believe the writers of the US Constitution wanted everybody to own guns?

    Ummm … I believe its called the “Second Amendment” which states that everyone can keep and bear arms not that they have to.

    Or that the really brilliant framers of that document would have insisted on strict interpretation in a vastly changed United States with vastly changed gun technology that didn’t exist 200 years ago.

    The framers came up with this neat-o idea that the constitution could be changed via amendments. If you don’t like the second amendment and the rights it guarantees work to have it repealed. Stop pissing on the constitution.

    I really hope you aren’t indicative of what our public schools are cranking out these days.

  12. Barry Sussman says:

    A little in the way of a response:

    First, thanks for the comments. This is Wednesday; the Post story ran last Friday and I haven’t seen a follow-up yet. I once was DC editor at the Post, and also Maryland editor. This kind of omission never would have happened in those days – not on my watch or the editors before and after me. Reporters wouldn’t have let it happen, either.

    As for the 2nd Amendment: There’s not much reason to cite the current Supreme Court for legal wisdom. Authority, yes; wisdom is another story. In a New Yorker article January 17th, the writer Jill Lepore quoted two famous liberals, Robert Bork and Warren Burger, on their views.

    Bork said the Second Amendment works “to guarantee the right of states to form militias, not for individuals to bear arms.” That’s a pretty clear point of view.

    And, wrote Lepore, “In an interview in 1991, the former Chief Justice Warren Burger said that the N.R.A.’s interpretation of the Second Amendment was ‘one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word — fraud — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.’”

    If you want to find where justice and logic are in a case, a good rule of thumb might be to look for 5-4 rulings with Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito on the same side. That’ll be the give-away.

  13. Mike H says:

    Mr Sussman, that certainly is a novel interpretation of the second amendment and while the individuals you cite are certainly expert legal scholars, the courts don’t agree with them, congress doesn’t agree with them, public opinion most certainly doesn’t agree with them, and the individuals who drafted our constitution don’t agree with them.

    The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government – Thomas Jefferson

    But he didn’t go Harvard or Yale so would he know about the Bill of Rights.

  14. Don Greenwood says:

    Barry: I understand your point of view, but I’m afraid it really doesn’t get us anywhere. Any attempts at gun control or ownership restrictions merely nibbles around the edges. The gun culture is so ingrained that making a dent in the number of firearms in this country is impossible.
    Both sides of the issue cite studies of questionable value and the push and pull goes on and on.

    What truly concerns me is what do we do about preventing suicides and eliminating the poverty and destructive culture of inner cities that contribute to the majority of gun related deaths in this country.

    Additionally, lobbies such as the NRA have far more influence than their membership numbers justify, due to the loads of cash they can shower on members of Congress, not to mention the scare tactics that lobbies use to cower politicians, and stir up their support base in the process.

  15. Aiping Wang says:

    This is so horrible. I can’t imagine how can a 5 year old boy shoot his friend? this is the parents fault. the boy wouldn’t have shoot his friend if his parent is guiding him. and if the boy doesn’t have any gun. such violence is so unimaginable

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