By Sophie Smith
America’s new pastime: wake up to an onslaught of CNN alerts, notifying us of another horrendous mass shooting. Pretend to be shocked. Offer thoughts and prayers. Move on.
While we busy ourselves with what has now become routine, an industry of millions is hard at work to monetize our grief. There are the usual things that happen, things at the crux of the debate over gun control: gun sales skyrocket as Americans, desperate to protect their lives and their constitutional right, flock to outdoor stores to stock up on weapons. Meanwhile National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyists swarm politicians, using their influence and money to block any potential legislation.
Gun salesmen and politicians are not the only ones profiting from mass shootings. Major news networks see some of their best ratings while covering a tragedy at the scale of that in Las Vegas last week. Last Monday, when the country woke to the news that a gunman murdered 59 people at a country musical festival, Fox News Channel’s ratings spiked by a staggering 260 percent.
This increase in ratings is at no fault of the news networks. What is however, is the practice of capitalizing on these tragedies. No longer are mass shootings shocking enough to warrant wall-to-wall coverage from major networks; now, commercial breaks frequently interrupt broadcasts, as was the case during Monday’s coverage of the Las Vegas shooting. At the peak of its coverage, CNN was running ads for Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Geico car insurance nearly every five minutes. What does it say about CNN’s priorities when condolences are replaced by Coke ads? And what does it say about us, who have become so inured to shootings that these commercial breaks hardly make us blink an eye?
In a great paradox, the gun industry prospers following each massacre. Gun stock prices sank when Donald Trump was elected president. No longer are gun owners stocking up in fear of Obama-era regulations, and the markets are suffering. The earnings of Sturm Ruger, a major gun manufacturing company, fell by 50 percent in the wake of Trump’s election. However, after Sunday night’s shooting, the stocks of several gun and ammunition manufacturers showed a marked increase. Mass shootings, America’s recurrent reminder that the government has the power to implement gun regulations, send new customers out in droves to buy guns. In the era of Trump, gun stocks practically rely on mass shootings to stay afloat.
It has become impossible to discuss gun control without bringing up the National Rifle Association’s influence on legislation. Yet the NRA’s power lies in its popularity, not its pockets. The NRA only donated just over $800,000 to Congressional campaigns during the 2016 election cycle — small potatoes in the world of political campaigns. This money is pocket change compared to what TV executives are raking in when commercials air during CNN’s reporting. However, the NRA’s talking points about self-protection and the right to bear arms, are pervasive and harmful enough to be resemble brainwashing.
Squabbles about constitutionality are just red herrings disguising why gun control legislation isn’t being made. To find the real reason, follow the money. Mass shootings have created an industry in which profits funnel to the top: to executives of news networks, gun manufacturers and even soda companies. Too many powerful people use mass shootings for financial gain and will continue to do so as long as they are making money. Every time victims are murdered in a mass shooting, these are the people reaping the rewards.
So I propose we make some changes to America’s new pastime, for the next time it inevitably happens. Wake up to CNN alerts. Shock, thoughts, prayers. Once we’re done with all that we will get to work to dismantle this industry; we will not panic and head straight out to buy a gun. When politicians plug their ears and jabber about the second amendment, we’ll ask which NRA lobbyist urged them to say that. We will hold news networks accountable to cover mass shootings with integrity and sensitivity. True progress will not be made until the ties between gun violence and profits are severed.
Until then, we have no choice but to sit with bated breath, wondering just when America’s next most deadly mass shooting will happen.