By Andrew Merkle
Ingham County Chronicle Staff Reporter
Guns have a negative connotation for many Americans these days. Most news reports Americans see about guns describe the most recent mass shooting on United States soil or terror attack overseas. These stories can create the perception that gun crimes are on the rise, and sometimes the media is blamed for stirring the pot.
In Michigan, however, gun crime is not on the rise. In fact, gun crimes have dipped in the past decade.
According to annual crime reports released by the Michigan State Police, the state of Michigan has seen a relatively consistent dip in reported weapons offenses since 2005. There has been an even more noticeable decrease in the number of murders in Michigan throughout the same time period.
There are some Michigan residents, though, who feel there is more work to be done.
“It bothers me that self-defense is an acceptable reason to many people for why citizens should be allowed to own guns and why any discussion about gun reform is taboo,” Stephen Oliphant said. “While I am not suggesting ridding the country of guns is a plausible or even necessary solution, I think there are many opportunities we should be pursuing to pass common sense gun reform.
“I think the first step would require fixing the loopholes around purchasing a firearm. I don’t think guns should be sold online, nor do I think they should be sold without extensive background checks under any circumstances. These measure will certainly not solve the gun violence issue in our country entirely, but if they can potentially save even a single life, I think they are worth pursuing.”
Oliphant, a Kalamazoo College graduate, was in Kalamazoo on Feb. 20, the night of a horrific series of shootings that led to six innocent citizens being killed.
“It was terrible,” Oliphant said. “For something like this to happen so close to where I went to school, it’s very upsetting.”
Bob Wheelright is a Michigan resident with quite a different opinion. When asked if there are too many guns in America, Wheelright had one thing to say.
“Absolutely not,” Wheelright said. “I think the second amendment to the constitution is the first one after free speech for a reason, and that’s because of how important our freedom to own guns is.
“I own a lot of guns, and in all my life I’ve never seen a violent gun. Guns aren’t violent, people are. We don’t have a gun problem, we have a people problem. Nobody respects human life anymore. If someone wants to hurt another person, whether that be with a gun, baseball bat, a hockey stick or a knife, that person is going to do it. Guns are used as a scapegoat.”
Wheelright went on to say that he thinks the media’s coverage of gun violence is erroneous.
“It’s a complete embarrassment,” Wheelright said. “Media is completely agenda-driven and they say things about guns to try to scare citizens into believing America needs more gun control.”
Dr. Steve Chermak of Michigan State University’s Criminal Justice Department is an expert in media coverage of crime, as well as domestic terrorism.
Chermak said that while the national media’s coverage of extraordinary gun crimes such as mass shootings are sometimes criticized for being sensational, he did credit them for being the leading cause behind promoting legislative action when it comes to guns.
“The media’s depictions of these mass shootings don’t always prompt immediate action, that’s not quite how media works, it’s not always an action and reaction ordeal,” Chermak said. “But what is noticeable is that these media broadcasts are usually the prompter of proposed legislative action.”
As for the media’s accuracy in portraying gun violence, that isn’t an exact science either, according to Chermak.
“About two-thirds of the nation’s homicides each year are gun-related, and about half of those aren’t even reported in the news,” Chermak said. “Sometimes it takes these extreme circumstances for the media to even pick up a homicide story.”