The Numbing Toll of 'Daily Gun Deaths'; Plus, 'Obama Overreach'?

This morning I was on the "Domestic News Roundup" hour of the Diane Rehm Show, on WAMU in Washington. The topics naturally started with the latest gun-safety proposals and went on through Chuck Hagel, the economy, the Dreamliner, and so on. 

Here's a message from a listener in the Midwest, who objects to the way the gun discussion unfolded on this show and in most other political/media forums. Emphasis added:
This panel, and the rest of the media nearly always misses two points that are critical.  
      - Daily gun deaths [not the big massacres] are the real killer.  
      - The shooters are most likely to be either pissed off and jealous or perfectly rational with a heavily distorted value system, not mentally ill.  And mental health experts state whenever they can that it is very hard to determine which patients will become violent. Most will not, and that is certain.

The neglected mental health workers are glad to hear that they can get some attention and funding ... and the NRA is glad to put the blame on, of all things, lack of government funding for mental health.

Here in tea party country, my cousin, the local outspoken liberal, is afraid to write to the paper about guns.  Me, too.  We are rightfully afraid of being shot.  After all, the gun nuts don't have to be mentally ill to pull the trigger, just pissed off, and Limbaugh and Beck have that service covered.

This is an opportunity to mention again Dina Rasor's powerful article about the toll of the "daily gun deaths" as opposed to the too-frequent but not-quite-daily newsmaking mass killings. Previous discussion of it here.

Bonus point: I also argued on this show that Barack Obama's long-standing success in luring his critics and opponents out onto extreme, hard-to-defend positions applies to several items in the news now. This is what Andrew Sullivan has often called the "meep-meep" effect, and what Chuck Spinney identified this way immediately after then-nominee John McCain chose then-phenom Sarah Palin as his running mate:
I am beginning to sense that McCain behavior is destroying himself and that Obama has the good sense or instinct to take a deep step back and let McCain dig a hole so deep he can not get out.
I think of this as "Obama overreach" in reverse: he has found a way to bait, lure, outwait, and in other ways entice his opponents to overreach themselves. And I think we see this now with:
  • the GOP threat to bring on a financial crisis by not raising the debt ceiling, a position from which the party is even now in evident retreat;
  • with differences in degree, the GOP positions on immigration, abortion, gay rights, etc: popular with a minority, very difficult to sell to a 51% majority;
  • the Wayne LaPierre-style angry counter-response from the NRA, which in the long run will put the NRA in a difficult position. (Though it will probably win this year's legislative battles.)
  • the over-the-top attempt to disqualify Chuck Hagel from Cabinet consideration by preposterously labeling him an anti-Semite rather than straightforwardly opposing him on policy grounds. This manifestly did not work in dissuading Obama, and if anything it rallied support for Hagel -- and increased denunciation of the groups and people leveling the charges. On the other hand, I agree with John Norris in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration has gone way too far in "vetting by trial balloon." That is, letting a potential nominee's name be "mentioned" and seeing how the pro-and-con goes.
These past five-plus years we've seen the mismatch of Obama playing long-game against opponents with a shorter-term focus. That has helped Obama long-term -- comfortable re-election, powerful demographic prospects that favor Democrats nationwide -- but has left Republicans with significant short-term blocking power and immediate victories (2010 elections, gerrymandered current control of the House). It's a leitmotif for the next few years.
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In