Is Gun Control the Answer? A Rhetorical Analysis of the San Bernardino School Shooting

[Rhetorical Analysis of Gun Control on Genius]


On the early morning of April 10th, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a special education classroom in North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, killing the teacher, a student, and himself. As news outlets scrambled to cover the incident, the tragedy itself sparked-up the gun control debate amongst journalists and their viewers. Gun control is a very controversial topic and journalists tend to flock to one side of the political argument when these tragedies arise. As these debates start, is important that readers are able to recognize logical fallacies and rhetoric tools used by journalists and political figures in their arguments.

An editorial titled “Hoping for fewer school shootings doesn’t work. More gun control might.” from the Los Angeles Times talked about how stricter gun stricter gun laws can reduce gun violence. Doris Reed opened with a question appealing to the reader’s emotions, asking “How many more children have to be unwitting victims because as a nation we will not seriously address gun control?” This rhetorical tool is known as pathos and the writer uses this to reach parents, aiming to make them think of their own children and how no parent would ever want their child to be the victim in a tragedy like this. Reed goes on to say that gun control is about outlawing guns that are only good for “killing a lot of people.” This overgeneralization of firearms is a fallacy in their argument for gun control because it assumes that weapons categories, like assault rifles, are only used for mass shootings. Many firearms are used for hunting, shooting competitions, and other sports; to say that they are only used as a tool to kill is quite the overstatement.


Another section from the Los Angeles Times’ editorial was composed by Robert Watson and their approach was very interesting. Watson wrote about how the San Bernardino school shooting was connected to the oppression of women saying that this “reflects an insistence that women don’t have the right to choose their mates or have a life of their own.” In a nutshell, Watson is saying that women are oppressed and that the shooter killing his estranged wife proves it. While the incident was as of result of domestic violence following an abusive relationship, to say that women don’t have the right to choose their significant other is a bold statement. Domestic violence is an issue on its own but connecting the oppression of women to a school shooting is an example of false cause, a logical fallacy where two unrelated ideas are mistakenly connected.

Parents watch as busses with students pass Cajon High School in San Bernardino on Monday, April 10, 2017 as police investigate a shooting that took place near by at North Park Elementary. Two people are dead and two children were critically wounded in a shooting at North Park Elementary School in a possible murder-suicide. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)


There was an article that cropped up after the incident in San Bernardino from the news outlet, Salon, titled “When is the NRA complicit? San Bernardino school shooting comes after Republicans move to relax gun restrictions,” written by Bob Cesca. Cesca reflected on past shootings, like Columbine and Sandy Hook, and mentioned how gun-rights advocates said that mental illness was responsible for the attacks. An argument made by pro-gun advocates is that guns aren’t the only use for mass killings, using cars as an example of being used as a weapon. Cesca called this argument a case of false equivalence and goes on to say that guns “are designed for one purpose and one purpose alone: to inflict harm or death upon living organisms — too often human beings.” This is similar to what Doris Reed said in their editorial and Cesca’s argument was caught in the same fallacy as Reed’s with the overgeneralization of firearms. Cesca’s claim of false equivalence is also flawed because vehicles have been used in mass killings as well; an example being the 2016 terror attack in Berlin where a truck was used to take the lives of twelve people and injure 56 others. Cesca continued and said that anti-gun control advocates treat guns as “a kind of pseudo-religious relic to be honored and protected.” This statement makes it seem like Cesca is trying to discredit his opposing views by making them sound “out-of-touch” or “primitive” which may insult some readers.


Cesca later went to call out the NRA for being hypocrites as chief spokesman Wayne LaPierre of the organization said that the country needs a database of the mentally ill to prevent more shootings. He supported this by citing Obama’s now overturned National Instant Criminal Background Check Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 which contained a database for the mentally ill but the NRA opposed this. Cesca makes a good point but he failed to mention the reason the NRA was against the act; the NRA claimed that “the Obama administration had deemed any recipient receiving financial aid ‘mentally deficient’ and stripped them of ‘due process,’” according to Media Matters. Instead, Cesca says the most likely explanation for their refusal “is that it was authorized by a black president with a funny name.” This is another issue with Cesca’s argument because he’s implying that his opposition is racist, falling under the logical fallacy known as ad hominem. Cesca also stated that Obama’s act would’ve prevented about 75,000 of the mentally ill from purchasing a firearm, which I fact-checked and appears to be true according to The New American and Media Matters. I also noticed that after performing a distant text analysis, the word “mental” and “Obama” were the most used words and were employed majorly towards the end of the article. This showed the writer’s emphasis on Obama’s National Instant Criminal Background Check Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 and how it was designed to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining a firearm, as what the NRA wanted.


While the featured articles and their journalists had a clear bias, I could not determine that race, gender, or class had anything to do with it. I looked up Bob Cesca’s Twitter account and he appears to be heavily on the left-wing in politics, ‘retweeting’ posts aimed against Trump supporters. Cesca made good points within his article but his overall argument fell short because he failed to include both sides of the story in some cases, overgeneralizations, and the discrediting of the opposing views. Cesca did, however, correctly state facts throughout his piece which could’ve been more effective if his argument did not contain such fallacies previously stated. He established some credibility by his facts but it all began to diminish when his emotions started to seep into his words, which may have offended some viewers and caused some to stop reading his article. All in all, it is important that a journalist does not let their political bias or emotions become obvious in an argument, as well as not commit logical fallacies, because it makes their credibility go down and it often turns readers away rather than engage in the discussion.

Written by Blake Carson 5/22/17

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