By Kevin Casey
SPRINGFIELD, Ma. — The Newtown, Connecticut tragedy has stimulated a tremendous amount of talk about guns in America. Usually it is one of those topics — like abortion — that hosts and programmers try to avoid because there are seldom new angles and little give and take between sides. Sandy Hook has changed that. It is this week’s number one talk radio topic. So, how have talk hosts and stations been handling this issue?
Premiere Networks and Fox News Channel superstar Sean Hannity says, for him, it’s about more than the isolated issue of America’s gun laws and his programs are approaching it from a larger perspective. “On the specific issue itself for me it is simple; we protect our money with armed guards, we protect our elected officials with armed guards, and our “Hollywood stars” with armed guards. If we really want to keep our children safe in school, why not hire retired armed police officers? Do they deserve less? Many college campuses already have such guards. The other huge issue I am focused on is the abuse of power and an emerging imperial presidency. The Constitution is America’s rule of law, we have co-equal branches of Government, separation of powers etc…Obama making recess appointments when the senate is not in recess; Obama using executive orders to adopt amnesty provisions of the failed Dream Act; Biden threatening that executive orders will be used to bypass Congress on the Second Amendment. Imagine if George Bush tried to bypass Congress on a First Amendment issue! Pelosi and Democrats are encouraging the president to use the Fourteenth Amendment to bypass Congress and raise the debt ceiling. All examples of an executive branch power grab. I am also asking one simple question. If, God forbid, somebody breaks into your house or place of work, how will you protect yourself?
Fox News Radio’s Alan Colmes tells TALKERS, “Generally, hot-button issues like gun control and abortion bring more heat than light, and they’re a too-easy way to make the phones ring and fill time. But Sandy Hook, being one of a succession of such tragedies, has altered the national zeitgeist. As the country grapples with how to approach sensible public policy, talk radio can finally bring light to the heat. We have done so on my show first by just letting listeners vent. The emotional chord this has struck has made talk radio an important forum, affording those passionate about gun safety and gun rights to be heard, often without vitriol on either side. We also strive to bring on guests from Congress who have different ways of how to approach it legislatively and again give our listeners a chance to interact with these lawmakers so they know their voices are heard. This is an opportunity to use the medium in a healthy, productive way.”
KMJ-AM/FM, Fresno program director Skip Essick says his station is dealing with a local angle on the story as well and tackling it head on. “It’s certainly topic #1 here. Add to this the school shooting we had here in Central California yesterday, it’s even more of a hot topic. We’re looking at every possible angle to the topic: the politics, mental health issues, the early release of prisoners, and the loss of cops on the streets because of budget issues. This is more than just a gun control topic. There are possible constitutional issues, too. You can’t get away from this one right now.”
Nationally syndicated talk host Doug Stephan – whose “Good Day” program is heard in early morning and morning drive across the country – says he’s expanding the discussion on his program because he believes making it just about gun laws narrows the reality. “I’m approaching it with more of a focus on the whole problem. For a change, Obama got it right, in that he suggests strongly that the problem is threefold: guns and their usage; real effect the videos and games have on the psyche of the young (or all, as far as that’s concerned); and the biggest problem of them all, the overuse and inappropriate use of drugs to curb what some think is inappropriate behavior. News/talk is avoiding, or abridging the important discussion in favor of the one that is the easiest target emotionally, and in that way, missing a chance at having a strong, effective involvement as a conduit for change, which is going to happen, like it or not.”
Multi-media star Lionel – seen on TV on New York City’s WPIX and heard on WWIQ, Philadelphia in AM drive, as well as on LionelMedia.com – says the issue is too complex for the average citizen to grasp, making it very challenging. “The biggest impediment to rational discussion is twofold. The first problem is trying to explain to the audience that the Second Amendment is not about hunting. Second, most people are far from conversant with guns in the first place. Hence most are clueless on a series of levels.”
KXL, Portland and Compass Media Networks talk host Lars Larson echoes Lionel’s comment about knowledge of the issue. “Our biggest responsibility as talkers is to speak out on behalf of American liberties. The founders put the Second Amendment in the constitution because they feared a tyrannical government. Today our government poses a great threat to our liberties including, but not limited to, gun control. I’ve been an uncompromising advocate for American citizen gun ownership all along. Unlike a lot of talkers, I carry a gun daily, I own guns and I hunt. But the purpose of gun ownership is a constant reminder to government that the people won’t tolerate a government which takes their liberties. I’ve used the show to speak out for gun freedoms, to interview those who would restrict their freedoms and for callers on both sides of the issue to debate it. I’ve corrected many of the inaccuracies that come in a flood from news reporters who seem to know very little about guns, the law and what’s likely to make mass murders like Sandy Hook less likely. I invite naysayers to come on my two shows and debate the current proposals from the president and Senator Feinstein.”
Progressive talk host Thom Hartmann tells TALKERS the issue has been a huge one on his program since the Sandy Hook shooting. “My position has been that we should treat guns and gun owners like we do cars and car owners. Register the gun, insure both the gun and the owner for liability, including liability if it is stolen or lost and someone else uses it, and have the owner tested and licensed for competence. We do this for cars because they are capable of killing people. We should do the same for guns. And I don’t believe this is at all inconsistent with either the Second Amendment, or recent Supreme Court rulings that have expanded the Second Amendment. Additionally I agree with Gen. Stanley McChrystal that weapons of war should be on the battlefield and not in civilian life. While a hunting rifle and an AR-15 may be technically similar, the big thing that differentiates them is that you can’t buy a high-capacity clip for a hunting rifle. As a sport shooter myself, I want the rights of sport shooters to be protected. But we also have to protect the whole of society at the same time.
“Free Talk Live” co-host Mark Edge – whose program is very libertarian in nature – says the issue has been discussed but has not been all encompassing. “I approach it like any other prohibition: It doesn’t work and creates unintended consequences. Banning guns will be as effective as banning drugs or alcohol. We can see what will happen if guns are banned, people who want to have and use guns will be criminals. If guns are bad, why do police have them? A gun can be useful in a circumstance when seconds count and police are minutes away. Many of the pundits and politicians that are advocating for gun control have armed security for themselves and their families, thus making this a class issue, also.”
Nationally syndicated XtreMedia talk host Kevin McCullough says, “From Los Angeles to New York and almost every market in between, my listeners are expressing supreme disagreement with the idea that the president might invoke executive action to usurp law-abiding citizens on the issue of guns. My listeners are also endlessly curious that the government’s proposed solutions continue to focus on law-abiding people changing their behavior instead of focusing on creating a culture where character once again is cultivated!”
Cumulus Media SVP of corporate programming Mike McVay tells TALKERS, “Our talent are addressing the subject in a fashion that is consistent with their position on all major “flash point” topics. Consistency is what’s important in satisfying an audience and engaging them in a point/counter-point fashion. There is no argument that incidents that take place in situations like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary are tragic.”
Kevin Casey is vice president and executive editor of TALKERS. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.