Angela Dales’ murder and the legal machinations surrounding her shooting; the willingness of law enforcement officials and commonwealth’s attorney to play fast and free with the emotions and feelings of the victim’s family goes far beyond the bounds of decency. The sobering truth is that what happened in Grundy after the shooting may not be different from what is happening today throughout the country; may not be any different from what has happened, is happening, and will happen to the families of other school shooting victims.
It is certainly no different from what happened here in Virginia in the case of the Virginia Tech massacre. (I will go in to the parallels between Grundy and Blacksburg in detail in future postings.)
One reason the media may have wanted to avoid delving into the murders of Angela Dales, Professor Blackwell, and Dean Sutin is that sort of investigative reporting would run afoul of the Virginia-based NRA. Questions would be raised that few want to address such as: “How can a man who abuses his wife and is known to do so by the courts, still get his hands on a gun?” Just to ask that question rouses an irrational response from otherwise well educated, well-balanced individuals.
When I raised this question with a member of my family, he immediately fell back on such platitudes as, “We can’t restrict hunters from their right to hunt.” What does that have to do with a school shooting? Most hunters have children and if you were to ask them, I’m sure these hunters would say, “Yes, keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and emotionally unstable. Keep guns out of the hands of spouse abusers.”
The media, particularly the media here in Virginia, won’t raise these questions even in the most circumspect way. They back away from addressing the subject of whether there is any merit to restricting the access to guns—even for individuals known to have a history of domestic violence.
The bias that prevents laws restricting unstable and dangerous individuals from owning guns is in fact, a bias on the part of individuals who are either unwilling or unsuited to deal with the real world. This bias has prevented laws being considered, much less passed that would block individuals with ties to or sympathy for terrorist groups from buying weapons.
There is only one way to change a flawed bias once it has taken root, and that is through exposing ourselves to new information and objectively weighing that evidence against our mindset. If we have only half-truths and fragmentary evidence, and are not exposed to all sides of the argument, we come up with conclusions that make us feel comfortable in our prejudice, but we are woefully lacking in all other aspects of reason and logic. We fall prey to sound bites and clever playing with words. The sad truth is that most of us accept sugarcoated words in order to avoid truth, in order to avoid reality.
The choice of words—the need to be ethical in what you say and write, and the need for accuracy—recently came up in a course I was teaching, an analytical writing course for a member of the Intelligence Community. To my dismay, one young intelligence analyst (a lawyer) said that in official publications, she could not use the word “genocide” in describing the widespread killings in Bosnia. The reason given was international law. To write and call the execution of thousands of innocent civilians “genocide” in official U.S. publications would trigger some aspect of a UN treaty. She explained that under international law, if the term “genocide’ is used, the UN and its member states must take action to stop it. I have no problem with that. Isn’t that why we signed the treaty?
Furthermore, the members of the Intelligence Community give their analysis to policymakers; they do not set or make policy. Anytime you prevent members of the Intelligence Community from using the correct word to describe a situation or a problem, you do a disservice to not only our elected officials, but also the American public.
Instead, the U.S. government, and the news media called what was happening in Bosnia “ethnic cleansing”—never mind that there are examples in history of “ethnic cleansing”—where groups of people are forcibly moved from one area to another without anyone losing his or her life. This, too, was “ethnic cleansing.” This lack of precision in language describing an atrocity undercuts the whole idea of getting at the truth. Yet, this type of word game is what the lawyers are forcing on us—whether it involves the murder of Angela Dales, or the mass murder of thousands of Muslims in Bosnia. (To be continued)