Reader: Your criticism of Rep. Kevin McCarthy was disappointing ("McCarthy's tired talking points on gun violence," Aug. 7).
You rule out video games as a factor in gun violence because the American Psychological Association and the Supreme Court haven't found it. Yet. Never mind that the growth in such video games corresponds pretty closely with the increase in gun violence, and many of those games are both interactive and bloodthirsty. True, many people play those games but do not commit violent crimes. But the problem does not lie with normal citizens. Wouldn't it be useful to know if any of the mass murderers were "video game loners" who also expressed sociopathic tendencies?
You rule out mental illness since according to the CEO of the American Psychological Association, "People with mental illnesses are generally not violent." That they are "generally" nonviolent is small consolation to the victims. The killers in Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton, Parkland (and others) were clearly mentally unbalanced and some had made their illness known to many people well in advance of their attacks. That mental illness is a factor in mass murders is patently obvious.
But when it comes to gun ownership, well, that's a different story. Never mind that gun ownership in the U.S. has been widespread since the country's inception — perhaps even more widespread in earlier times than it is now — but mass murders are a recent phenomenon. Never mind that many Americans own guns but do not commit acts of violence. Instead, you introduce the "tired talking points" of the anti-gun lobby as the cause. However, that's opinion, not fact.
The country is faced with a problem, no question about it. Banning guns won't solve it. Profiling, identification and interdiction of likely perpetrators seems more effective. Punish the individuals responsible, not the public at large.
One other thing. Please reserve the front page for news, not editorials. We get enough editorializing from the national "news" services.
— Kent Goble
Reader: Just wondering why your Aug. 7 column is not on the editorial page. Your opening headline, "McCarthy's tired talking points on gun violence," is very pejorative. It should be on the editorial page.
— Larry Hallum
Price: I haven't suggested a blanket ban on guns, if that's what's you're saying, Kent. The point I tried to make in last Wednesday's column is that, while many factors may play roles in this escalating horror, firearms — especially so-called assault weapons — are at the center of it all. It seems absurd to even have to defend that observation.
To quote the Second Amendment, we, the militia, must be "well-regulated." It strikes me as necessary and appropriate that we as a people decide what "well-regulated" means in today's world.
As for these "tired talking points":
The U.S. is in roughly the middle of the pack in per capita spending on video games among developed nations; countries where video games sell better have much lower firearm-related murder rates. In fact, those countries tend to be some of the safest in the world. So, while I believe overexposure to violent video games can be damaging, the video-game-as-root-cause talking point doesn't hold up.
The U.S. is indeed a depressed country, third in the world behind China and India, so it's fair to characterize mental health as a likely factor — and, intuitively, that makes sense. But then shouldn't China and India have correspondingly higher rates of gun deaths? You'd think so, but you'd be wrong. The U.S. had 10.6 gun deaths per 100,000 population in 2016; India's rate was 2.1 and China's 0.2. Clearly other factors are at work, such as access to guns.
You're right that rates of gun ownership have been fairly steady over the years. In fact, they're the same today (43 percent) as they were in 1972. A 2002 study published in the William & Mary Law Review found guns in 54 percent of American households in 1774. What has changed, other than the advent of the full-service grocery store and the presence of British soldiers, is the immense firepower of available guns and the concentration of ownership. Three percent of U.S. households own 133 million of the nation's 393 million civilian firearms. Can you say "arsenal"? Gun ownership numbers might be generally unchanged, but potential lethality has gone off the charts.
As for the placement of an opinion column in a spot other than the Opinion section: Where was this objection when I was writing about the consequences of a census undercount or the virtues of ending daylight saving time?
My Wednesday and Sunday columns are almost always on the front page and they often convey a strongly held opinion. We have tried to train readers to recognize that, and I think we have been largely successful. This is what Price does: He writes front-page essays that express his personal point of view.
The argument for restricting my column to the Opinion section is that readers too often confuse objective news reporting with subjective opinion, and moving the column back with the letters to the editor will help alleviate that. Except it won't. We still hear from readers who complain that Leonard Pitts or Rich Lowry are injecting their Opinion-section articles with personal bias. Well, of course they are. That's what they do.
What those readers are objecting to, of course, is the writer's opinion — not the fact that he's expressing one. I suspect that's the case with you, too, Larry and Kent.
Columns aren't the only opinion articles that sometimes land on the front page. Newspapers have on occasion placed editorials — unsigned essays that reflect the views of the newspaper's ownership or editorial board — on the front as well. As long as the editorials are clearly labeled as such, I endorse the practice when the topic is sufficiently urgent. That in-your-face placement sends a bold, impactful message. Just this week, the New York Post — which has generally sided with President Trump — published a front-page editorial urging the president to “ban weapons of war” in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Did anyone mistake it for an objective, balance-seeking news story? I doubt there were many.
Nothing in the headline "McCarthy's tired talking points on gun violence" was remotely pejorative or disparaging, Larry. It simply, aptly summarized my message: We've had enough of politicians repeatedly blaming gun violence on discredited or overplayed factors. Many of us have, anyway.
Reader: Your article in Wednesday's paper, where you imply that less guns means less mass murder, is way off base. The problem, as described by Media Research Center columnist Bill Donahue, is the rootlessness of our young people. The other problem that no one is mentioning is the overmedication of today's youth for things such as ADHD and depression, wherein one of the side effects of some of these meds are suicidal tendencies.
The other issue that beginning research is bringing to light is depression and mental illness and screwed-up brain development caused by early marijuana use in teens. Look up statistics on the use of marijuana in teens. Disturbing! (And the percentage of THC in marijuana these days has risen from 4 percent in 1995 to 20 to 30 percent now). We never get to hear what meds these mass shooters have been taking or their history of marijuana use. And doctors are beginning to see that antidepressants are not as effective in people who have been heavy marijuana users. Why do you and others jump on gun control when the issue is a much more deeply seeded problem?
— Carolyn Bergman
Price: The U.S. has the 34th highest suicide rate in the world and the No. 1 gun death rate. India and China, as noted, have higher rates of depression but significantly less gun-death rates. The U.S. consumes about half the amount of marijuana per capita as Canada but has six times the gun death rate.
We hear a lot about ADHD rates in the U.S. but the World Psychiatry Association says that's because so few countries recognize or acknowledge that condition. Is overmedication a possible concern? Yes, but research has produced no cause-and-effect conclusions when it comes to gun violence. Was the medication a factor, or was it simply the fact that the shooter had underlying issues, treated or untreated? It's certainly worth further study.
Are societal pressures and personal circumstances part of the problem? Of course. I believe Donahue is correct when he suggests that lack of purpose — including purpose found in faith — and connectedness are huge risk factors. It's hard to imagine many mass shooters growing up in stable, loving environments.
But for you to say gun deaths aren't significantly linked to the easy availability of guns makes no sense to me. Other factors are at work, as I wrote Wednesday, but gun deaths have one and only one undeniable commonality.
Reader: Wow! New ownership equals smaller paper, same old liberal columnists and fake news. Plus we get to pay almost a 100 percent increase in monthly costs. How are we so lucky!
— Jack Balfanz
Price: Jack, the paper has the same inch count as before the July 1 ownership change and is maybe even slightly larger. Thursday's paper, for example, had 24 broadsheet pages, which equates to 48 pages in our old weekday tabloid format. Thursdays, previously, were typically 40 tabloid pages. That's a 20 percent increase in inch count.
Yes, we have the same liberal (and conservative) columnists as before.
No one likes a price increase, but as a businessman, Jack, I would hope you can appreciate the need to remain in the black. Failure in that regard translates to zero pages, in both the broadsheet and tabloid formats.
Reader: I realize, Mr. Price, that it's getting harder for newspapers to make money in these online times. However, do the new owners actually expect an increase in subscribers by shrinking the paper down to a high school version? Now they can't even print which section the sports are in?
— Steven Ledbetter
Price: Based on a quick, cursory review, each of the last seven editions of the paper have Sports listed in the index. So we're not sure what you're looking at.
And, as mentioned previously, the size of the paper has not changed. Maybe it seems thinner because you're holding one six-page section in your hands at a time rather than an entire 48-page newspaper. In any event, we're much bigger than any high school paper I've ever seen.
Reader: On the first page of Monday's Sports section, in the largest headline on the page, which probably couldn't have been much larger, it says "DÉJÁ VU." The "a" takes a grave accent, not an acute, as in "DÉJÀ VU."
I always find it snobbishly amusing when folk want to show off their ignorance by invoking, incorrectly, a foreign phrase or a "big word" to impress the unwashed masses. Another instance of this ridiculousness was evident in the Bakersfield Life magazine article on Rosemary's, wherein the author wrote "Se magnifique." In Spanish, "se" is pronounced "say" but the French phrase, wherein the first word is also pronounced "say," is written as "C'est magnifique."
And, as Casey Stengel used to say, "You can look it up."
— Liz Keogh
Price: What can I say? We're Americans. We barely speak English.
Reader: How can anyone actually believe that social media offers an unbiased, balanced news reporting, or that the AP is biased? ("Hey, Vladimir, this guy prefers his news from social media," Aug. 3.) I appreciate and applaud your restraint in your replies to such opinions.
While I am upset by these comments, I know that I am better informed now to just how many people seem to lack the ability to critically and objectively form reasonable opinions. But, what can any reasonable person do to counter and remediate this deficiency? I don’t know if you have the answers, and certainly appreciate that having answers isn’t your responsibility. But, my God, what are we to do? I am losing hope.
I have spent nearly 30 years teaching logic and critical thinking at Bakersfield College. I have never tried to dictate what my students thought, only demanded that they think, and (hopefully) provided them with the tools to do so. However, I seem to have spent a career spitting in the wind.
Thank you for letting me “sound off” and share my concerns. Thank you for your patience with some of the writers in Sound Off. I can only imagine how much worse some Sound Off submissions might be that are not published. My sympathies and support to you.
— Kendall Maria Moya