Barry Mills: Tucson, Guns, and the Media

Barry Mills reflects on the shootings in Tucson.

It has been a very quiet week at Bowdoin. A few hundred students are here playing on athletic teams, working on campus, or working on honors projects or independent studies, but most students are on break for one more week. The campus seems so peaceful with a thick and deep blanket of snow from Wednesday’s storm. There is nothing more beautiful than the Bowdoin Quad in the middle of the winter covered with fresh snow on a blue-sky day.

The serenity of Bowdoin seems a bit surreal though, as we think about recent events in our country and around the world. This week, we have all been focused on Saturday’s horror in Tucson, when a disturbed young man took the lives of six people and injured many others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. We all grieve with the families who lost loved ones, and we pray for the speedy recovery of those who were injured. The fact that these horrible acts occurred while an elected leader and her constituents were exercising their responsibilities in our democratic tradition makes this unspeakable act of violence all the more dramatic and sad for our society and our country.

Of course, there are hundreds of tragedies that go unrecognized by all of us each and every week. I remember reading in one of the middle-of-the-paper stories in The New York Times last week (on the Web you have to hunt for these stories) about four people who were murdered in separate incidents in New York City during a six hour period on a single evening. Regrettably, ours is a violent society with close to 15,000 people murdered each year in the United States. Most of the time, only the victims’ families, friends, and neighbors grieve and pay attention. And just as in Tucson, most are killed with handguns.

What do we learn from incidents like the violence in Tucson? Of course, these shootings warranted our attention, given the circumstance and the identity of the people injured and murdered. But does the incessant media attention, finger pointing, and second-guessing on network and cable news, in newspapers, and on the radio really help us better understand the state of our nation?

President Obama was certainly correct when he said Wednesday evening that we will likely never know for sure what motivated the murderer. We may never know if his childhood, his education, video games, cable TV habits, political views, a chemical imbalance, or some other reason drove him to commit these terrible acts. In fact, there may not be a reason—other than insanity.

All of us condemn violent acts such as this, yet we also continue to debate whether it is wise to allow people like Jared Loughner ready access to handguns like the Glock he used on Saturday—a weapon that has the capacity to kill and maim with efficient ferocity.

I know that raising this issue will increase the blood pressure of those who believe in free access to firearms. I understand the right is embedded in our Constitution, but I wonder whether all weapons have to be available to all people. Perhaps even the most conservative among us can agree that some of these modern automatic weapons might fall within the purview of reasonable regulation and restriction. I understand that people kill, not guns; but the evidence of violent crime in America versus other countries must lead us to consider the issue more thoughtfully.

The other issue before us as a result of the Tucson shootings is the tenor of our political discourse in America and the role of the media in that discourse. I admit to being a “media junkie” who surfs the channels to listen to viewpoints from across the political spectrum. Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Jon Stewart—all are networks or shows I regularly absorb. This week, I was nothing short of appalled at the media circus and shallow analysis common to all these folks as they battled for viewers. The pandering to all sides and the melodramatic lectures and debate were disheartening. Did we really need to have six people murdered and many others seriously injured to instigate a debate on the standards of our political discourse?

Cynically, I actually don’t believe the media actually cares much about these standards. With the exception of Jon Stewart, whose show is about comedy and entertainment, our media has become the news equivalent of “Survivor”—so-called “reality TV.” Whether it is these terrible shootings, the latest comment from Sarah Palin, or a snowstorm, the airwaves are filled with bloviating designed to entertain and titillate. So, from my perspective, this isn’t about whether our discourse is civil. The issue and the question is when will our society demand serious and thoughtful discussion?

So, what does all of this mean for Bowdoin and our other educational institutions? I think the condition of our national debate only reinforces our job of educating an informed electorate. It goes to the point I made earlier this year: our form of education is focused on ideas and facts, debate and controversy, good values and judgment—all of which are at the heart of our democracy.

The good news for me is that after this week, I am now a reformed cable news junkie who has gained a number of hours a week to read and think and work for Bowdoin.


In the coming weeks, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on here or on the Bowdoin website.


  1. Don Doele '59 says:


    Very thoughtful response and fair. Jon Stewart,aka Jonathon Liebowitz, was my shortstop on my 13-15 year old Babe Ruth team. He was a good shortstop, but used to convince me to let him pitch. He was a lousy pitcher, but fun to have on the bench. We could use more of his satire. One of the sadder pieces of knowledge to come of this tragedy is the congresswoman owns a similar Glock pistol and knows how to use it. As news comes from DC we are reminded of how many of our congress folks are gun bearers/supportors, admitting to even carrying concealed weapons.

    I am certainly for the right for hunters/target shooters to have their day, but I believe that there is no place for the availability of automatic weapons in our society.


  2. donald e. stanley md says:

    For an audience not immediately persuaded by President Mills reasoning it is my suggestion that he might want to quote both Justice Scalia and both dissenting (in 2008) Justices J. Stevens and J. Breyer in District of Columbia v. Heller. The public must try to understand the notion of ‘right of the people’ and “keep and bear arms’ should not, in my opinion, be interpreted as originalist Scalia does to impute what the founding fathers mean today, now, with no militia!

  3. Dear President Mills,

    Gun rights are a basic right in our society memorialized in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and reinforced in a recent ground breaking U.S. Supreme Court decision. Nibbling around the edges of existing State and Federal gun laws is not a solution. Demanding effective enforcement of the many existing laws governing gun ownership and use is a part of a realistic way forward. The real issue, however, ought to be how to prevent mentally imbalanced or dangerous felons from legally obtaining weapons as in the case of Jared Loughner. Loughner was known to his community as a mentally troubled and potentially dangerous individual. He was well known to the Tuscon police as an imbalanced and possibly mentally disturbed person. He was certainly known as such to his college professors and fellow students. His own family was aware of his behavioral abnormalities. The real question is what prevented action from any of these parties to intervene before Loughner purchased a semi-automatic hand gun, ammunition and an extended clip carrying 20 rounds. Preventing more Loughners is not a function of more restrictive gun laws. It boils down to how a family, the police or mental health workers can involuntarily commit a mentally ill person with a propensity for violence in a specific community. Let’s first resolve that issue, which is partly political, and one for which we and our representatives bear full responsibility.

  4. Dorothy DeSimone says:


    I couldn’t agree more with you. Gun control is the issue the country needs to be grappling with in the aftermath of the Tucson tragedy.
    The statement “guns don’t kill, people do” is, of course, ridiculous. People with guns kill, and far more efficiently than with any other readily available weapon. It is troubling that almost none of our leaders want to address the issue of gun control because of the power of the gun lobby and their fear of the electorate’s obsession with the 2nd Amendment. I urge your readers to look into supporting the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence.

    Keep up the good work, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the Bowdoin campus for the remaining week of Winter Break.

    Dorothy DeSimone P’10,’14

  5. Dorothy DeSimone says:

    Whoops! – Correction:
    It’s the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

    Dorothy DeSimone

  6. Bob Delaney '55 says:

    It would be nice if all gun owners were registered along with their weapons as is required in Massachusetts. I don’t understand why gun owners are reluctant if as all say the guns are for legal, personal and outdoor use. So why not ? The NRA certainly knows who you are and that doesn’t seem to bother anyone.

  7. Thank you for raising the gun issue. While I am no legal expert, I have always thought my ability to read English and understand what it meant was better than most. The Supreme Court majority proved me wrong when it ruled the Constitution’s second amendment meant every individual — negating the predicate of a “well regulated militia” — could have guns (as it did, again, when it ruled that corporations were individuals, but that is another issue). As a veteran (Bowdoin ROTC) who has been trained to use everything from 155-mm artillery to mortars and 45s, I am constantly amazed by this country’s fascination with guns. These aren’t toys, and they are not for entertainment, no matter who would like to own one. While I personally do not favor hunting as “sport”, I can understand those who do (and certainly those who hunt for subsistence) and have little problem with those who use rifles and shotguns for that purpose. However, there is no reason for any private, non-law-enforcement civilian to own a semi- or full automatic weapon; these are designed for one purpose only: massed firepower to kill people. The addition of large clips to any weapon, on top of the potential for harm which already exists, is nonsensical. It is instructional that Loughner was subdued while trying to reload, but the damage had been done; a smaller clip, or single-shot weapon would have avoided most of the grief.
    “Guns don’t kill, people do” should be amended to, “Guns don’t kill, but they allow people to kill more”. Had the deranged individual in Tuscon had a knife, the story would not have made the evening news. Killing from a distance is easier than killing up close.
    As long as we continue to have some of the most lenient gun laws on earth, we will have nuts with guns, endangering us all. While we will never be able to spot or control people and their emotional states, we can make it difficult for them to easily acquire the means to kill with guns.
    And, finally, I ask those who would have us all bear arms, where was the defense of the innocent bystanders by an armed populace in Tuscon? Furthermore, how many more people might have been killed had relatively inexperienced people opened up with their weapons and tried to stop Loughner?

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