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January 15, 2013

White House Gun Battle: Taking Aim with Photographs

One thing we refer to quite a bit here is how the White House uses daily photographs as a targeted form of advocacy. Those images typically contain some kind of symbolism, be it the painting on the wall or some kind of object or prop. Other times, there is something about the presence and gesture of a participant that brings with it a particular backstory and poignancy.

Certainly, the White House knows its got a tough fight on its hands to bring tougher gun regulations and legislation to the country. At the same time, the Administration knows that, in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, a rash of gun violence, the permissiveness of gun ownership and the entitlement and tin ear of the gun lobby, that the times are ripe for change.  With all that in mind, photography is one of the key tools in the White House campaign right now.  Case in point:

This photo was published a week ago on the White House blog. It illustrates a post about a meeting between the Biden task force, victims’ groups and gun safety organizations. Annette Nance-Holt’s son’s Blair had been shot and killed while riding a school bus.

Far more subtle and prominent, however, is the photo above tweeted yesterday by Biden’s office.  It’s not only a very strategic image but one the White House seems to be selling as (and might actually represent) a tipping point.

With an degree of intensity and compassion you rarely encounter in such images, the gravity of the moment is accentuated by the rare White House photo released in black-and-white. The focus of the picture is Michigan Congressman John Dingle.  Although we don’t know what he’s saying at the moment, what we generally know about the context is enough. John Dingell, 86, in his 30th term of office, is a former board member of the NRA and A+ rated by NRA, an enthusiastic hunter and long-time member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. That same John Dingell is now Vice Chairman of the Gun Violence Protection task force set up in the House last month by Speaker Pelosi six days after  the Newtown shooting. (Perhaps evident of where sentiment in trending in the Dingell household right now, Debbie Dingle wrote this op-ed in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago talking about her father trying to shoot her mother when she was 12.)

Rachel Maddow also spent some time yesterday discussing the photo, referencing  the presence of Janet Napolitano (who is staying on for a second term as Sec. of Homeland Security). Maddow noted she’s a former governor of Arizona, home of Gabby Giffords, the “out and proud” supporter of the 2nd amendment who now says reform and 2nd amendment support are not mutually exclusive. Next to Napolitano is Rep. Elisabeth Esty, Connecticut’s 5th congressional district (Newtown, Sandy Hook). In between Dingell and John Conyers is Mike Thompson (D-CA), another gun owner and gun rights supporter. Thompson recently spoke at a Mayor’s “divest in gun companies” press conference recently with Rahm Emmanuel.

It’s hard to say how things play out, but typical of Obama’s emphasis on consensus and common ground,  it’s quite the suggestion of a shifting tide.

(photo: White House via caption: VP meets with House members & Cabinet officials today at the WH to discuss efforts to curb gun violence.)(photo: David Lienemann/White House caption: Annette Nance-Holt with a photo of her son Blair who was killed riding the bus home from school, attends a meeting chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, with gun safety advocates and victims, to develop policy proposals as part of the Administration’s response to the Newtown shootings and other tragedies, in the Cordell Hull Conference Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., Jan. 9, 2013.)

  • Dave McLane

    I’ve been contemplating and commenting about what’s being called “Gun Control” where the NRA has been taking a lot flack due to it’s instance that people should be allowed to have guns according to the 2nd Amendment, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

    I’ve read the full Constitution and the Federalist papers and on top of that have spent a fair amount time doing my best to understand the various meaning of English words and sentences as a teacher for sixteen years at the NHK Culture Center in Osaka, Japan. In sum, English words, sentences and utterances — like most languages — have multiple meanings and a large part of my job was to help people understand how to deal with the ambiguity involved in trying to understand via only dictionary meanings.

    So, just for fun, consider the following. Maybe the 2nd Amendment isn’t first and foremost about guns. Maybe it’s about militias and how they need to be well regulated as they are necessary to the security of a free state where “free” means free of influence from other countries, especially England. Thus people need to be able to keep and bear arms in support of these well-regulated militias. Wikipedia says the right to bear arms means “The right to keep and bear arms (often referred as the right to bear arms or to have arms) is the enumerated right that people have a personal right to own arms for individual use, and a collective right to bear arms in a militia.” So far so good: people are allowed to have bear arms for individual use or in a militia.

    Now comes the dicey part. Maybe the 2nd Amendment is only about bearing arms in well regulated militias and has nothing to do with bearing arms for individual use. The Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787; that’s 16 years before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Can we seriously think that bearing arms for individual use — meaning killing wild animals for food and protecting one’s self and property — had to be written into the U.S. Constitution considering what life was like at that time? I hear the founding fathers laughing their heads off. Don’t be so stupid, of course not. It would be like saying you don’t have the right to breath unless it’s specifically mentioned in the Constitution.

    This is not to say that there could be some enforceable laws that might might significantly reduce the number of unlawful mass killings as at Sandy Hook. However, if you take the time to run a test to find the difference between guns with magazines larger than 10 rounds and guns with magazines with “only” 10 rounds. I did, and it takes 11 seconds longer to shoot 3 x 10 rounds (33 seconds) versus 1 x 30 rounds (22 seconds). So much for the awsome “assault rife.”

    • black_dog_barking

      Osaka huh? 16 years? Then you’re probably aware of this: Osaka school massacre. On point here because it affords us a feel for the price we Americans pay to support and maintain the right to bear arms in this place at this time. A man with a kitchen knife goes berserk in an elementary classroom in Osaka Japan in 2001 — toll: 8 dead school kids, 15 kids and 2 adults wounded. A man with a gun goes berserk in an elementary classroom in Newton Connecticut in 2012 — toll: 20 dead school kids, 6 dead adults, and 2 adults wounded. From these two similar incidents it seems the price we pay for guns is a dozen dead school kids, half a dozen dead teachers.

      Having addressed the right I’m interested in how you address the responsibility of maintaining that right and paying for it. To whom do we send the bill? Is the social benefit of guns sufficient to cover it?

  • bks3bks

    Black and white photography still has power, no? As for Gun Control, meh, waste of time.


  • davemclane

    I left Japan in 2001 and was on the road for a year or more until I settled down where I am now in Arizona. My wife grew up in Osaka and still have family there but didn’t mention the classroom shooting.

    As for how to address the responsibility of maintaining that right and paying for it, I didn’t mention that is most every place I posted that comment has only received flames. Right now, three ideas have come to me: First, Americans have a huge problem with coming together on almost everything as discussion turns into a cheap dog fight and there is no simple answer to the question you ask.

    Second, the life-styles of Americans vary widely from place to place, thus “self-defense” has a variety of meanings. More often it’s taken to mean defense against human bad-guys, but depending on where they live, for some people the bad-guys are javelina, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. I’m one of them. I enjoy — and can more easily pay for — living in the middle of open desert but the first time you go out to put the trash in the carport and get bum-rushed by 20 javelinas, you get a gun if you haven’t already done so. Not to kill them, as you need a license, but they scatter when you fire off a few shots over their heads.

    Third, my BA degree is in experimental psychology, and when I hear bad-guy shooters being called “crazy” it doesn’t sit well as there are a lot of meanings for that term. One of them is”Kick the Cat” in ordinary English where people who’ve been disrespected seek physical vengeance on other helpless people or things. Sometimes it’s only yelling and screaming, sometimes it’s hitting with hands, head and feet, and sometimes it’s with a gun. The main point is that in many cases, the person seeking vengeance can’t remember doing it.

    There’s more, but that good enough for starters. Who pays the bill depends on who does the work and before that we need to dimensionalize the problem.

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