The killing of five of our colleagues at the Annapolis Capital Gazette and the shooting of several more is heartbreaking. Many Sun staffers once worked there, and the rest of us have collaborated with Capital reporters, photographers and editors as we bring our readers the news every day. Reports from Capital Gazette staffers about the scene — a gunman shooting through a glass door, people hiding under their desks and listening to him reload — are horrifying, and we are deeply grateful to the police who arrived almost immediately and took the alleged gunman, identified as Jarrod W. Ramos, into custody. We can only speculate about how much worse the devastation could have been without their bravery and professionalism.
Word of a shooting in the newsroom spread rapidly through the media far beyond Maryland as reporters reflected on their memories of working at the Capital or community newspapers like it and contemplated the possibility that their newsrooms could become scenes of violence, too. Police swept through The Baltimore Sun’s building as a precaution, and New York police reportedly fanned out to news organizations in the city just in case. Other media companies said they were increasing their security. At a time of political divisiveness when views of the news industry itself have become starkly polarized, many jumped quickly to speculation about whether the metaphorical war on the media had become shockingly literal.
Fox News spent some time on air Thursday afternoon dissecting the Capital’s political bent to see if any of its news articles or editorials might have incited such an incident, only to eventually conclude that it was a solid, local newspaper. Twitter filled up with references to President Donald Trump’s criticism of the media as an “enemy of the state” and right wing provocateur Milo Yiannopolous’ recent remark about vigilantes “gunning down” journalists (which he clarified after the Annapolis shooting wasn’t “serious”). Fox News host Sean Hannity disgustingly (and nonsensically) blamed the killings on California Rep. Maxine Waters. A man called The Sun newsroom from South Carolina to ask whether the Capital was a “left liberal” or “Fox News-type” paper, and he hung up in frustration at the answer that it is neither.
Journalists in other countries are murdered with shocking regularity. Before Thursday’s attack, the Committee to Protect Journalists listed 1,306 such killings since 1992, only seven of which occurred in the United States. But after seeing elected officials shot, from former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the fear that we could be targeted because of our role in public life is something most journalists have felt. That’s why so many reporters across the nation got a sickening feeling Thursday afternoon — they couldn’t believe something like this had happened, except that they could.
Police sources say Mr. Ramos had a longstanding dispute with the Capital Gazette and targeted it specifically. Years ago, he filed a defamation suit that was ultimately decided in the paper’s favor by the Court of Special Appeals. But that explanation is hardly satisfying. It never is. Killing like this is nothing but madness, no matter what terms it’s couched in. We can never understand it. We simply know that it must stop.
The fear journalists feel today is no different from the one high school students felt after Parkland or clubgoers felt after the Pulse or people at music festivals felt after Las Vegas. The truth is, nowhere can feel safe anymore. Not churches, not shopping malls, not factories, not office buildings. No one can feel sure that someone won’t target them for some reason, and we can certainly have no assurance that a madman will be stopped from obtaining a gun.
Soon, the nation will begin the ritual of dissecting how today’s murderer obtained his weapon, what type it was and whether any particular proposal for gun control might have stopped him. Enough. Whatever may prove to be the case here, we know our nation is awash in too many guns, that they are too easy to get, that we allow individuals to amass insane amounts of firepower and that our systems to keep them out of the wrong hands are full of holes. We know that with shocking regularity men act out their madness with guns, destroying lives and wounding communities. Even if no law imaginable could have stopped these killings, we know that thousands die every year from gun violence that could have been prevented.
As journalists, we have covered more mass shootings than we care to count. Today gun violence hit our family, and we are feeling its pain more acutely than we could have imagined — yet it’s a pain we know will be repeated in community after community, in shooting after shooting, unless we act. We can accept no more excuses.
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