The New York Times has today published an editorial on the front page of the printed issue, demanding an end to the gun epidemic in America. This is apparently the first time since 1920 that the NY Times editorial has been on the front page, and this is apparently a sign that the editorial is Very Serious. The seriousness of the placement is slightly weakened by the fact that the last such decision – in 1920 – was to publish an editorial about the decision to select a presidential contender no one has ever heard of – a newspaper publisher who became a popular president but whose legacy has been undone by a scandal so puerile it is named the Teapot Dome scandal. On such stern foundations are NY Times front page editorial legacies built.

The editorial’s seriousness is much more seriously undermined, not by the history of liberal East coast blathering, but by the weakness of its content. This editorial purports to be a strong statement on gun crime, and is being sold as such by the NY Times itself and by various news agencies across the nation, but what it offers is nothing more than platitudes and grandstanding. Specifically, it doesn’t do any of the following things.

  • It doesn’t lay out a specific program: Although this editorial demands legislative action to end gun crime, it doesn’t specify anything. What should be done? It mentions the desire to end the sale of semi-automatic weapons but it doesn’t give any concrete plans about how to remove these weapons from circulation and use. A call for action on such an issue should either reference existing campaigns that have concrete plans, or lay out a set of plans of its own. At the very least the USA is going to need an assault weapons buyback scheme, but this isn’t mentioned.
  • It doesn’t attack the Republicans: In the third paragraph the editorial twice mentions how “America’s elected leaders” have rejected gun control legislation, but doesn’t single out the party primarily responsible for this problem and doesn’t make any effort shame them for their constant rejection of sanity. “Both sides do it” is a journalistic trope but it’s completely invalid in the US context where the majority of opponents of gun control are Republicans, and high profile Democrats have repeatedly and vociferously called for national lawmakers to grow up on this issue.
  • It doesn’t attack the NRA: Those three letters don’t appear anywhere in the editorial, even though everyone knows that the NRA’s power to hijack electoral processes is at the core of the legislative gridlock on this issue. How can an editorial on gun control in America be hard-hitting and serious if it doesn’t mention the pervasive and pernicious influence of this insurrectionist and racist movement? At the same time as this editorial was published Igor Volsky was running a high profile Twitter campaign to expose the influence of NRA money on Republican politicians, and the issue of “thoughts and prayers” was prominent in national media, but the NY Times couldn’t even look sideways at this aspect of the debate …
  • It doesn’t demand repeal of the second amendment: No one is going anywhere on gun control in the USA until the 2nd Amendment is repealed, but the only reference to the amendment in the editorial is the ridiculous claim that “It is not necessary to debate the peculiar wording of the Second Amendment.” Quite the contrary: given the impossibility of debating the wording, the only choice is to abolish it. Given that this amendment suggests the existence of a “well-regulated” militia that in the modern American context is obviously incapable of even poor regulation, the only option is to abolish this amendment. Why is it hard for the NY Times to say this obvious fact? Because if they did so they wouldn’t be “serious”. “Serious” newspapers claim that both sides do it, and look for leadership to cross the partisan divide, and realistic solutions. But none of this applies to gun control: only one side is doing it, leadership won’t help, and realistic solutions are currently impossible. This means that media organizations who fancy themselves to be activists need to transcend the usual journalistic bullshit and say something serious about the real problems the country faces. Apparently the super-serious NY Times can’t rise to this simple journalistic challenge.
  • It doesn’t name and shame: The very first comment on the article is a demand for a list of legislators who have been bought off by the NRA, consistent with Igor Volsky’s Twitter campaign. The NY Times cannot name a single politician (even “machine gun bacon” Cruz) who should be singled out for opprobrium about the horrors that have been perpetrated in America in the past year. Why should politicians who stand opposed to simple, reasonable checks on mass murder get a pass from the newspaper of record? Because it is a weak rag that prefers grandstanding to solutions. Publish the names of those who oppose gun control measures, and publish the full details of their political donations and support from the NRA. Furthermore, suggest a legislative and activist agenda to solve this problem. The NY Times can’t do either.

Achieving gun control in America – or, alternatively and more realistically, reducing gun deaths significantly – is going to require detailed, serious work on legislation and public health initiatives. The NY Times has offered nothing in support of the actions that might change the situation in the USA. My personal opinion is that gun control alone is not going to be successful in the USA, because there are so many guns in circulation and so much opposition to giving them up. Solving this problem in the USA is going to require innovative solutions, which I think will include:

  • Gun buyback schemes that will be expensive and probably not very successful
  • Major changes to the way the criminal justice system and law enforcement personnel deal with criminals, especially black criminals, to reduce the risk of reoffending and improve reintegration
  • Special laws holding gun companies accountable for crimes committed with their weapons, even those sold years ago, so that they are held responsible for their recklessness
  • Campaign finance reform so that the NRA cannot dominate elections
  • Criminalization of the NRA as a hate group
  • Tax changes so that guns and ammunition become prohibitively expensive
  • Voluntary (or, if that fails, mandatory) guidelines for media organizations that stop them broadcasting any details of mass shootings, thus discouraging future mass shootings
  • Revocation of the Dickey Amendment that prevents federal funding of research into gun crime
  • In place of or in addition to that, private foundations such as the Clinton foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) need to commit serious funds to not just research into gun crime, but also supporting candidates who support gun control. BMGF should commit to funding election campaigns at a rate 10 times that of the NRA (this will probably require constitutional changes at the BMGF) and fund gun crime research to a level that precisely replaces what the government would have funded
  • Personal liability laws that make individuals responsible for the cost of injuries from their guns, including guns accidentally fired by children, and the requirement of all gun owners to have insurance
  • Strict laws holding insurance companies liable for failure to protect citizens injured by gun owners covered by insurance
  • Public information campaigns to shame gun owners and make them unmanly
  • Divestment campaigns forcing pension funds, investors and foundations to get rid of any investments they have in gun companies
  • If possible, stricter rules on investing that make it hard for gun companies to raise new funds

If you can’t ban guns, you can make them uncool, expensive and risky investments. You can embarrass individuals who like them, and make the cost of owning them financially and socially prohibitive, then offer financial remedies for people who want to turn in their guns. Even if you can’t ban them, you can make owning them difficult, expensive and embarrassing.

Or you can grandstand for effect, and achieve nothing. The New York Times obviously thinks the latter is easier and more rewarding than the former.