Thursday, May 1, 2008

Op-Ed Gun Control

Gun control isn't the answer
Why one reaction to Virginia Tech shouldn't be tightening firearm laws.
By James Q. Wilson

JAMES Q. WILSON teaches public policy at Pepperdine University and previously taught at UCLA and Harvard University. He is the author of several books, including "Thinking About Crime."
April 20, 2007

THE TRAGEDY at Virginia Tech may tell us something about how a young man could be driven to commit terrible actions, but it does not teach us very much about gun control.

So far, not many prominent Americans have tried to use the college rampage as an argument for gun control. One reason is that we are in the midst of a presidential race in which leading Democratic candidates are aware that endorsing gun control can cost them votes.

This concern has not prevented the New York Times from editorializing in favor of "stronger controls over the lethal weapons that cause such wasteful carnage." Nor has it stopped the European press from beating up on us unmercifully.

Leading British, French, German, Italian and Spanish newspapers have blamed the United States for listening to Charlton Heston and the National Rifle Assn. Many of their claims are a little strange. At least two papers said we should ban semiautomatic assault weapons (even though the killer did not use one); another said that buying a machine gun is easier than getting a driver's license (even though no one can legally buy a machine gun); a third wrote that gun violence is becoming more common (when in fact the U.S. homicide rate has fallen dramatically over the last dozen years).

Let's take a deep breath and think about what we know about gun violence and gun control.

First: There is no doubt that the existence of some 260 million guns (of which perhaps 60 million are handguns) increases the death rate in this country. We do not have drive-by poisonings or drive-by knifings, but we do have drive-by shootings. Easy access to guns makes deadly violence more common in drug deals, gang fights and street corner brawls.

However, there is no way to extinguish this supply of guns. It would be constitutionally suspect and politically impossible to confiscate hundreds of millions of weapons. You can declare a place gun-free, as Virginia Tech had done, and guns will still be brought there.

If we want to guess by how much the U.S. murder rate would fall if civilians had no guns, we should begin by realizing — as criminologists Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins have shown — that the non-gun homicide rate in this country is three times higher than the non-gun homicide rate in England. For historical and cultural reasons, Americans are a more violent people than the English, even when they can't use a gun. This fact sets a floor below which the murder rate won't be reduced even if, by some constitutional or political miracle, we became gun-free.

There are federally required background checks on purchasing weapons; many states (including Virginia) limit gun purchases to one a month, and juveniles may not buy them at all. But even if there were even tougher limits, access to guns would remain relatively easy. Not the least because, as is true today, many would be stolen and others would be obtained through straw purchases made by a willing confederate. It is virtually impossible to use new background check or waiting-period laws to prevent dangerous people from getting guns. Those that they cannot buy, they will steal or borrow.

It's also important to note that guns play an important role in selfdefense. Estimates differ as to how common this is, but the numbers are not trivial. Somewhere between 100,000 and more than 2 million cases of self-defense occur every year.

There are many compelling cases. In one Mississippi high school, an armed administrator apprehended a school shooter. In a Pennsylvania high school, an armed merchant prevented further deaths. Would an armed teacher have prevented some of the deaths at Virginia Tech? We cannot know, but it is not unlikely.

AS FOR THE European disdain for our criminal culture, many of those countries should not spend too much time congratulating themselves. In 2000, the rate at which people were robbed or assaulted was higher in England, Scotland, Finland, Poland, Denmark and Sweden than it was in the United States. The assault rate in England was twice that in the United States. In the decade since England banned all private possession of handguns, the BBC reported that the number of gun crimes has gone up sharply.

Some of the worst examples of mass gun violence have also occurred in Europe. In recent years, 17 students and teachers were killed by a shooter in one incident at a German public school; 14 legislators were shot to death in Switzerland, and eight city council members were shot to death near Paris.

The main lesson that should emerge from the Virginia Tech killings is that we need to work harder to identify and cope with dangerously unstable personalities.

It is a problem for Europeans as well as Americans, one for which there are no easy solutions — such as passing more gun control laws.

Week 16 Summary

Tuesday -
- We discussed opinion writing: editorials, editorial cartoons, letters, op-eds, columns, guest columns, and reviews.

- We discussed the elements of a good opinion piece: strong lead, strong kicker, research and reporting, statements backed up by evidence, choosing direct words, short sentences.
In short: to prevent an opinion piece from being a mere rant in print, draw upon the skills you have learned for good reporting and writing. Know your subject and know what you want to say about it. Write a point form outline mapping out your logical flow. Try to relate your ending back to your beginning.

ASSIGNMENT: Everybody is to write a review of 600 wds (maximum 800 wds), due Tuesday, May 6th.

Thursday -
- We finished opinion writing by analyzing an op-ed on gun control (to be mounted on the blog site). We then discussed the two columns that had been sent out by email: sports and women.

- the second half of the class was a lecture on international communications (global reporting), with real life stories from Nomi's time as a foreign correspondent.

- the format of the final was dicussed.

READING: To begin studying for the final, please reread carefully Chapters 1,2,7, 8.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Weeks 14 and 15 - Summary

Week 15 –

Tuesday: Class was cancelled Tuesday due to the guest speaker on Monday, Rip Rense, a veteran of the Los Angeles Daily News and others.
Those who were unable to attend must submit their pitch on a profile of Rip Rense, by this Tuesday.

Thursday: We went over the last quiz. We discussed everybody’s newspaper submissions. The last half hour of class was taken over by the instructor evaluations.

READING: Assigned reading is the Briefing on Media Law at the back of the AP Style Book.

This coming week we will do opinion writing and global journalism.
Please take the time as well to get caught up on prior assignments and reading.

Week 14

- This week we had a short class on Tuesday due to Multicultural Day. I did remind everybody that the reason we practices descriptive writing and colorful writing and narrative leads and analyzed features was so that you could USE that practice in your features story. Those of you still revising, please try to apply those principles we discussed. Mostly importantly, make sure you cover all the bases in your research and represent more than one side of the story in your writing.

- Please remember to listen to NPR a few times between now and the final. NPR radio can be found at FM 88.3, 89.1, 89.3, 89.9 and possibly others, depending where you live. And there's always their website to listen...

- Thursday was very productive: we completed discussion of the web and practised adapting stories to the web. Please keep your end of year handout. And remember my phone number is: 907-8029.

- Reading: no text reading this week. Put the energy into making your stories good enough for submission to real world publications. You can also get caught up on reading you haven't yet gotten to. You have the list!

- Assignment: All must submit their stories next week and report on that process on Thursday.

- Note: I have emailed several bonus story ideas, two are arts, two or three are hard news (election, education rally), and the others are speakers etc. The opportunity is there to raise your grade!

Friday, April 11, 2008

WEEK 13 – Summary

Tuesday –

- Lecture and discussion on broadcast journalism as compared to print. Last half hour was lab writing, page 249, Question 2.

ASSIGNMENTS – Feature story was due, as was story to submit to the Student Voice

READING – Ch. 11 on broadcast if you hadn’t done it. Ch. 12 on web journalism.


CLASS WORK – Lecture and discussion on web journalism and how it differs and overlaps with both print and broadcast journalism.

Like writing for broadcast, writing for the web is less formal, more conversational, and shorter than newspapers and magazines. But like traditional print journalism, the text portion of web news packages are written in AP style, with the same quote format, attributions and structures: such as the inverted pyramid, nut graphs and summary or anecdotal leads.

Two key terms to understand in relation to web journalism are:
non-linear structure

In the second half of class we worked with partners to convert a previous news story from print style to broadcast style. We will continue on Tuesday to convert a previous story from newspaper style to web site style.

ASSIGNMENTS – Anybody who has not turned in the first draft of the feature and the story to submit to the Student Voice must do so by Tuesday. On Thursday and Friday of the coming week, you will each approach the editor about your submissions.

READING - Page 501 to 513 of the textbook. There will be a quiz. And it will not be open-book this time. Make sure you read the Ch. 13 on Web journalism very carefully, and the above pages, which are an appendix on style. If you were absent and do not think you are able to explain the term “non-linear structure” as it relates to the web, please call me over the next four days. This will be on the quiz.

- We have exactly three weeks of regular classes left and we have a lot to cover and review. If you are behind in the reading, this weekend is a good time to start catching up on previous chapters so you don’t have to cram the entire book the weekend before the final exam.

- This week, classes are as scheduled. But the following week we will meet at 11:30 am on Monday, April 21st, instead of Tuesday April 22nd. Don’t miss it. Attendance or an alternate assignment will count in your grade.

Nomi's Tips for Journalists

Accuracy + Fairness = Professionalism.

When in doubt, leave it out.

If you don't understand your material, your reader won't either.

Every statement in a news story or featuer must be backed up by evidence:
1. a quote
2. facts or figures
3. at least one illustration or example

Always make that extra phone call.

If you have covered all the bases in your research, the writing is just a matter of organizing it.

Summary: Weeks 11 - 12


- We discussed libel, privacy, media law and media ethics.
- We reviewed feature writing
- We reviewed the inverted pyramid format for news writing by doing City Council assignment, on the online Scene component of the text book.

- Chapters 13 and 14 – If you have not yet read these chapters, please do.

- There was a quiz on libel and AP style, on Thursday, March 27. Please make sure you understand all the answers to that quiz, especially if you got something wrong .
- Feature writing assignment AND submitting a story to the Student Voice. You are permitted to do the same story for both assignments as long as you re-submit a revised rewrite.


- We discussed everybody’s feature ideas and gave tips and advice on how to best execute the story
- We continued to discuss ethics
- We continued to work on City Council Meeting
- We did an analysis of the Student Voice front page story on Binge Drinking

- Chapters 11 and 12, Broadcast journalism and web journalism. Be sure to have read Chapter 11 by Tuesday, April 8 and Chapter 12 by Thursday, April 10.
- For those who were not in class last Thursday, please go on to and read the February entry on ethics from the Society for Professional Journalists.
- feature story first draft is due on Tuesday, April 8 th
- first draft of story to submit to Student Voice is due on Thursday, April 10
- News Feature analysis “Binge Drinking” (a homework assignment) is due on Thursday, April 10. Those who completed it in class are exempt.

REMINDER : Please bring your portfolio to Tuesday’s class for in class work.

NOTE: We have exactly four weeks left to cover course material and then one week of review before the exam. We are in the home stretch and will be going at a quick pace. Attending class is the best way to stay caught up.

Keep reading media!

Friday, March 14, 2008

EXAMPLE-Long feature, not time-sensitive

Please tap on this link to find one of the best long, front page features the L.A. Times has done recently. The only reason I didn't hand it out is that it is extremely long, and it looks better with the photos and graphics anyway. Please take 20 minutes to read this. You will note the elements we discussed: suspense, conflict, resolution at the end, and you may have a different view of the reporters' fairness to both sides.,0,4657893.story

Here is the story's opening, to whet your appetite to click on the above link and read more.

Maternal care — or harm?

A Redlands mother of four was accused of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, fabricating or inducing illnesses in her own children.

By Tracy Weber
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 9, 2008

It was lunchtime at Loma Linda Academy when the social workers arrived, escorted by a deputy sheriff.

They were there to collect the Udvardi children. Amid dozens of students munching sandwiches and chips, school officials found 6-year-old Esther, then Abram, 11, and Sam, 14. They got the eldest, Matthew, 16, just as he arrived at his American Lit class.

The children were hustled one by one to a white van in the parking lot, then whisked away even before their father, the school's band teacher, knew what was happening.

Seven miles away in Redlands, the phone rang at the family's modest tract home. Leslie Udvardi found a county social worker on the line.The woman was blunt: Leslie had been deemed a danger to her children. They would be in the state's care until a court decided differently.

Leslie said the social worker accused her of subjecting the kids to unnecessary and often painful medical treatments.

In fact, child welfare officials believed Leslie was the one who was sick, with a syndrome known by a long and forbidding name: Munchausen by proxy.

Leslie had read about it. It was a TV crime drama disease, a mental illness in which a caregiver, usually a mother, fabricates illnesses in a child to gain attention.

Certainly her children had been stricken by an unusual number of ailments, almost from birth, but Leslie told the woman she'd done everything in her power to help, not hurt, them.

The social worker kept talking: Leslie could drop off clothes and books for the children.Leslie barely registered the details. All she could think was: They've taken my kids.

Leslie hung up and dialed her husband's cellphone. She was "screaming in a panic," Kirk Udvardi remembered. He was being accused too, she told him, of failing to protect the children from her.

For four days, Kirk said, no one would tell either parent where their children were.

Kirk said a social worker did offer him some unsolicited advice: "You're going to really need to come out strongly against your wife. If you don't come out against your wife, there's a good chance you're not going to see your kids again."

Click on the above link to read more!