After a moment of silence, Newtown shooting demands hard work from science reporters.
Before we says anything about Newtown, a moment of silence.
As science reporters sit down at their desks on this very sad Monday morning (I'm sure I'm not the only one still in the emotional grip of this thing), we need to get to work. It's essential that we do not hand over this story to the political reporters, who will be interested in which party has leverage on gun control, how the NRA is mobilizing, what the prospects are for passage of a gun-control bill, and whether opponents of a bill will predicate their support on cuts in health care or entitlements or another unrelated issue. Political reporters are more likely than science reporters to repeat, without challenge, the myth and misinformation that will surely bubble from politicians' mouths.
There is plenty for science reporters to write about here. Why are the killers so often young adult men? What is it about schools that has led them to replace post offices as frequent scenes of mass murder? What do we know, and what do we need to know, about preventing such crimes?
Which particular weapons or accessories are likely to lead to such crimes, or to make them worse? Is it the bullets? The clip? The kind of gun? The cost of the gun? What can we learn about preventing violence from other countries where gun violence is far less common? What do we know about the world gun trade?
Would strict gun control in the U.S. reduce the frequency of mass shootings? Would it reduce the number of people who are killed when these incidents do occur? What is the best way to restrict guns? Registration? Banning certain weapons? Waiting periods? Background checks? Are there new ideas?
Who are the people who buy guns? Why do they buy them? What do they do with them? Why are some people so strongly opposed to gun control, even if, say, it leaves exclusions for deer rifles?
Here are a few links to encourage more thought about these questions:
Ezra Klein at his Washington Post Wonkblog compiles 12 facts about guns and mass shootings, including such things as this: 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States; Finland was in second place with two. For a few tips on the politics, see "The six most important people in the looming gun-control debate" by Aaron Blake at Chris Cillizza's Washington Post blog, The Fix. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has compiled studies and reports on gun violence here. Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker wrote an intelligent analysis of mass shootings after the Aurora, Colorado shooting last summer. It links to his piece about the Virginia Tech shooting, and we can suppose he'll be writing another one this week.
Many smart people have looked at the issues surrounding mass shootings, individual shootings, and gun control. Whatever their thoughts about guns, enterprising reporters can find good stories here, and perhaps help to erase some of the misinformation about guns that will soon emerge from Washington.