In the aftermath of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, surviving students started the March For Our Lives movement and called for universal background checks and other common-sense gun control measures. The movement propelled serious gun control debate to a national stage. As a result, 67 gun safety bills were passed in both Democrat-controlled and Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country.
However, nearly two years after Parkland, the gun violence epidemic still rages in urban areas where majority minority communities are plagued with tragic gun deaths. In Indianapolis last week, Jalen Roberts, Marcel Wills, Braxton Ford and Kimari Hunt — all 21 or younger — were killed by a gun in a quadruple homicide. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is still investigating, and there are no known suspects at this time.
This mass shooting went largely unnoticed outside the Indianapolis community. Unfortunately, the lack of outcry for gun control after incidents of urban gun violence is the case in many cities around the country. Media outlets need to move beyond reporting for shock value and report incidents of urban gun violence in a way that provokes constructive debate on guns as seen after the Parkland shooting.
In order to develop an adequate governmental response to gun violence, the media must do better at framing the issue of gun violence.
“When all we do is focus on mass shootings, we don’t fully understand the problem,” said Paul Helmke, an IU professor and former president of the Brady Campaign, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control.
Helmke, who is the former mayor of Fort Wayne, stressed that gun violence in America is interconnected. “People always say it’s happening on the other side of town, so we don’t need to pay attention,” he said.
Because of how guns often cross state borders, instances of urban gun violence must be considered from a national perspective.
We need to pay attention, he said, because guns in Indiana end up linked to gun homicides in Chicago. We need a national response to an issue that transcends state borders. At the very least, it must involve national rules to make it harder for dangerous people to buy guns.
Although there is no widely accepted definition of a mass shooting, both the FBI’s and the Congressional Research Service’s definitions designate a mass murder or a mass shooting as four or more murders.
Anytime there is a mass shooting in a predominantly white community, many in the media question the mental health of the gunman, which creates a sense that the behavior is completely unconscionable from those in the community. However, when shootings occur in urban areas, the media often jumps to conclusions about moral shortcomings of the victims that put them in a dangerous situation.
Despite the severity of the Indianapolis mass shooting, there has been no national news coverage about the incident, and even the local news coverage reveals very little about the victims’ lives before the shooting.
Whereas in 2018 when a student opened fire and injured three people at Noblesville West Middle School, a majority white school in the outer suburbs of Indianapolis, it made national headlines.
This disparity is even more striking when one examines gun death statistics. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that out of 12,979 U.S. firearm homicides in 2015, and 81% occurred in urban areas. From 2012 to 2014, the annual firearm homicide rate for black children was nearly 10 times higher than the rate for white and Asian American children.
From solely examining media coverage it seems that school shootings and urban gun violence are separate issues. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If we took all gun violence more seriously, the young victims who died in Parkland two years ago and in Indianapolis last week may still be alive.
Ian Nowlin (he/him) is a sophomore studying law and public policy. He has minors in Spanish and Arabic.