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#NPRReads: Gun Laws And Mass Shootings

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom share pieces that have kept them reading. They share tidbits using the #NPRreads hashtag — and on Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you four reads.

From Martin Kaste, a correspondent on NPR's National Desk:

Every time there's a mass shooting, we have the predictable national pseudo-debate about guns. Gun-control advocates say the presence of guns puts us in danger of being shot; gun-rights advocates talk about the unknowable number of shootings averted because of "good guys with a gun."

Frankly, it's a circular argument that's become so frustrating — for both sides — that people are starting to tune out altogether. I think that's why there was surprisingly little debate about guns after the massacre in Charleston, S.C.

That's why this article in The Economist is so interesting. As a European publication, the Economist is firmly in the camp of "What's wrong with you Americans and your obsession with guns?" But this particular article goes beyond that. It suggests the circular nature of the gun debate may actually be a reflection of the reality of why Americans have guns.

To wit:

"Suppose, as seems reasonable, that lax gun restrictions are partly responsible for frequent mass shootings in America. Then it would be the case that mass shootings create resistance to the reforms that would reduce mass shootings. This suggests that America might be stuck in a more or less stable loop in which permissive gun laws facilitate frequent mass shootings, which in turn reinforce a felt need to preserve permissive gun laws, and so on."

That is, maybe loose gun laws and Americans' affection for guns are the cause and effect of each other.

If so, the writer posits, it may actually require a reduction in gun violence before Americans feel comfortable with gun control. <<mind blown>>

From Carline Watson, executive producer, NPR's Identity and Culture Unit:

A week ago, many Americans were surprised that less than 48 hours after Dylann Roof allegedly shot and killed nine African-Americans at a Wednesday night Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, relatives of the dead spoke movingly and eloquently in forgiving Roof. Cultural critic and author Roxane Gay wrote a compelling essay in The New York Times about her inability to forgive Roof.

She wrote:

"I am not filled with hate for this man because he is beneath my contempt. I do not believe in the death penalty so I don't wish to see him dead. My lack of forgiveness serves as a reminder that there are some acts that are so terrible that we should recognize them as such. We should recognize them as beyond forgiving."

I understood why those family members of the nine dead could speak of forgiveness — forgiveness is one of the core tenets of Christianity. As Christians, we are taught to love God and to be obedient to his word, and the simplicity of the Lord's Prayer reminds us of this as we ask God to "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." As Christians, we acknowledge that all of us have sinned, none of us is pure.

But Gay's essay spoke to me as someone who struggles with and questions my own beliefs. In the aftermath of the killings, when I was able to step away from my journalistic focus of telling the story, when I was at home and able to process fully what had happened, I found I was filled with rage and anger at such a senseless act of violence directed at a group of people who were worshipping the God they loved. And like Gay, I do not forgive Dylann Roof. I am not there yet.

From Wright Bryan, social media editor,

The world is not what it seems. That's the hinge upon which so many of our favorite stories turn, from The Matrix to Wag the Dog. But the reality of the world is such that philosophers and physicists are constantly trying to tease out the differences between our perception of the universe and its actual nature. Philosopher Mathias French dives in deep with this Aeon essay on the question of cause and effect.

"[David] Hume argued that when we seek causal relations, we can never discover the real power; the, as it were, metaphysical glue that binds events together. All we are able to see are regularities — the 'constant conjunction' of certain sorts of observation. He concluded from this that any talk of causal powers is illegitimate. Which is not to say that he was ignorant of the central importance of causal reasoning; indeed, he said that it was only by means of such inferences that we can 'go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses'. Causal reasoning was somehow both indispensable and illegitimate. We appear to have a dilemma."

Yes, yes we do. But far be it from me to understand exactly what the problem is. Suffice to say, it's fun to struggle with a piece like this because you can see the self-evident truth of the arguments shooting out of it like rays of sunshine and still not really grasp exactly what it is we don't know. To someone who just smiles at it and nods, like me, it feels like the mystery that is the relationship between classical physics and quantum physics. They both work, but how?

From Alyssa Edes, a production assistant at NPR's Morning Edition:

Frontline's investigation into the sexual abuse of female janitors on the night shift shook me. We've heard about rape on college campuses. We've heard about sickening abuse in the Catholic church. But janitors occupy a space and a position that many of us rarely think about.

As the article points out, being the person who cleans up everyone else's' mess is often a thankless job. Frontline reporter Bernice Yeung writes, "It's tough work done for little pay in the anonymity of night, among mazes of empty cubicles and conference rooms." Which is exactly what makes them so vulnerable to abuse.

To me, this story exemplifies the importance of a phrase that is undoubtedly overused, reasonably clichéd and yet indisputably poignant: "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

In that spirit, this piece profiles a person who used his comfortable position of power to take advantage of the very people he was meant to protect. We first meet one of his employees — a night shift janitor named Erika Morales. Here's an excerpt from the story:

"That warm September night in 2005, Morales was vacuuming the first floor of the bank when Vasquez appeared like a ghost, she said. He asked her to help him put away paper towels in the supply closet.

"Morales steeled herself as she entered. This time, nothing was going to happen, she told herself.

"Once inside, she said Vasquez cornered her and unbuttoned her pants. She fought him, which seemed to make him angry. He started to take off her shirt and bra. Morales said the next part was a blur.

" 'He knew there weren't any cameras,' she said. 'I would yell and nobody would hear me, nobody could see me.'

"He groped her and grabbed her by the hair. 'Don't do this to me,' she said.

"Vasquez laughed and left suddenly before he got her shirt completely off. To this day, she's not sure how she defended herself. But what had happened in the supply closet was the limit of what she could bear.

" 'That's when I said: "No more. I can't stand this," ' Morales said. A few days later, she turned in her keys and quit."

This kind of writing makes me remember why it's so important in journalism to give voice to the voiceless, to work outside the traditional narratives of the media, and to go after those stories that illuminate the lives of those we do not know.

Keep reading.

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Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.
Carline Watson is the Talent Development Manager for NPR News and Programming. In this role, she is the primary day-to-day point person for temporary staff in the News and Programming division at NPR.
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