I raised concerns about the PBS Frontline episode, which aired last night, after reading a lengthy piece on the same subject at the Hartford Courant, its partner in this probe of Sandy Hook mass killer Adam Lanza and his mother. Yesterday I pointed out, further, that the NYT review of another PBS show, which aired just before the Frontline piece, found it to be weakly even-handed on the national gun debate. Alas, these fears were realized, I decided after watching the two-your block last night.
The Lanza segment was excellent on the boy's troubled upbringing and afflictions, and some of the questionable moves his mom, Nancy Lanza, made on his schooling and failing to join support groups. One of Adam's former teachers questioned her decision to take him to target practice. But it completely failed on two major points--crucial in exploring this tragedy in the context of the new gun debate (which, indeed, was the subject of the final one-third of the program). It never explained why she suddenly decided to buy the four weapons used by Adam in his rampage, or why she felt she needed an assault rifle--and it did not detail where and how she kept the guns in her home, within easy reach of her son.
These are absolutely central to the issues raised about the currentoverkill in gun sales, so-called "responsible" gun ownership, and the Second Amendment, that PBS purports to probe this week. In fact, the program was framed by the question: Is Nancy Lanza the forgotten "victim" of Adam's crimes? Hardly, given the evidence. If anything she was the enabler of those crimes.
As for the program on the gun debate in America: It was "balanced" to the point of worthlessness. Every time a critic raised a question about the staggering number and lethality of guns in our society we heard reverent references to hunting (which only 5% of us practice), American's historical gun "identity" or "gun culture"--it's just the way we are. Hell, we also have a "drinking culture" and "drug culture" but we severely (try to) regulate them. (Remember when our proud "identity" of lighting up cigarettes anywhere we want seemed like it wouldn't, and shouldn't, be curtailed?) We heard a brief reference to guns "streaming" into Chicago, where they are outlawed, but not where they come from--that is, from the gun-loving South in the main.
On assault rifles there were no questions about why anyone really needs them, let alone needs eight of them--beyond a claim that they sure are fun to use at target ranges. They visited gun shows but did not focus on the insane and the criminal who can easily buy weapons at these sites. There were frequent references to the need for guns for self-defense, but again, no explanation of why some people possess an arsenal in their homes. And there's the claim by the narrator that the "fear of mass shootings" is what's driving the upsurge in gun sales in the past few years and not a word about right-wing paranoia, survivalists, anti-Obama sentiment, or other issues. Again: It's just the way we are. Can't we all just get along?