America and Gun Violence: A History in 13 Covers

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Newsweek's July 2015 feature on gun regulations is only the latest in a long list of covers focusing on America's gun problem. Newsweek

Just days after two WDBJ7 employees in Virginia were shot and killed at the hands of a disgruntled ex-employee, America has revived its decades-long conversation about U.S. gun culture. And while every mass shooting spurs some hope for a change in policy—on Friday, father of WDBJ victim Alison Parker called on legislators to enact stricter gun laws—the discussion itself is hardly new. Like many media outlets, Newsweek has been reporting on guns since at least the middle of the 20th century.

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June 24, 1968 Newsweek

Newsweek's first feature on gun control was published in 1968, one week after an issue commemorating the life of Robert Kennedy, who was shot by an assassin on June 6 of that year while campaigning for president. From the story:

Among the myriad strands that make up the American heritage, guns have a significant, and disturbing, importance. In Brooklyn last week, a 5-pound baby girl became part of this heritage a bit prematurely. She was born already wounded by a casual bullet that struck her mother while standing at an apartment window, and thus she became an appropriate symbol for the 100,000 or so Americans who will be struck down by firearms this year...Alone among the major nations of the world, the United States permits its citizens almost unlimited access to guns. Inevitably, it also pays a high toll for the privilege. Four American Presidents, and some of its foremost leaders, have been felled by assassins' bullets. At last count, President Johnson has said, guns were being used in 6,500 murders each year in this country. They are also involved in 10,000 suicides a year, 2,600 accidental deaths, 44,000 serious assaults, 50,000 robberies and 100,000 nonfatal injuries.

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March 23, 1981 Newsweek

Nearly two decades later, Americans remained concerned about violent crime, which was on an upswing at the time. Newsweek's March 23, 1981, cover story put guns in the conversation:

Every big city has seen it: a small argument turns ugly, guns are drawn and somebody dies because a radio played too high or a clerk miscounted some change. 'The attitude seems to be, "What's the use of having a gun if you're not going to use it?"' says Chicago gang crimes commander Edward C. Pleines.

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October 14, 1985 Newsweek

A few years later, an October 1985 cover declared "a new and dangerous phase" for American gun culture:

Guns don't kill people, criminals do. That homily, a favorite of the National Rifle Association, is true and undeniable. But it is also a fact that America's long love affair with the gun has entered a new and dangerous phase—a nationwide craze for the most exotic, most powerful and most lethal small arms on the wide-open U.S. market. Hunting rifles are passé, except for hunters, and handguns are.

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April 6, 1998 Newsweek

In April 1998—almost a year to the day before Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold would kill 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado—Newsweek ran a cover on a school shooting near Jonesboro, Arkansas. In the incident, two students killed five people and injured 10 others in a rampage at Westside Middle School.

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February 27, 2006 Newsweek

Over the years, U.S. gun culture has also extended to recreation. In an infamous 2006 incident, then Vice President Dick Cheney—an ardent supporter of the NRA—accidentally shot his friend, a 78-year-old attorney, during a quail hunt in Texas. Newsweek's cover story, by Evan Thomas, drew parallels between the accident and Cheney's background as the chief executive of massive military contractor Halliburton Co.

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January 24, 2011 Newsweek

In 2011, a Newsweek cover story by Jonathan Alter completed the circle started by the 1968 commemoration of Bobby Kennedy. The piece explored the methods and psychological underpinnings of American assassins in the wake of a January 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that injured U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who has since become one of the most recognized political advocates for gun control.

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March 7, 2011 Newsweek
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March 7, 2011 Newsweek
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March 13, 2011 Newsweek

In the past decade, gun coverage has only increased. A series of covers in 2011 called attention to gun control advocates and critics, and in a March 2013 article, Andrew Romano unpacked the rhetoric and history of gun control. That piece also referenced the Virginia Tech Massacre, a 2007 incident in which Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate campus attacks in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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January 6, 2013 Newsweek

More recently, gun coverage has turned to firearms' role in American culture, and police culture. In a 2013 cover story, Christopher Dickey used a summer of highly publicized shooting to document the nuances of gun violence in different parts of the country.

Summer is the killing season in American cities. The temperature rises and, yes, tempers do, too. And many young men who might have been in school are out in the streets taunting, hunting, and shooting at each other. Collateral carnage...is inevitable, and for many innocents it's inescapable in neighborhoods where young guys spray bullets. In Los Angeles County, with an estimated 450 gangs that have 45,000 members, about half the murders are gang related. Young men get shot again and again, and those who survive show a calm pride when they're wheeled into the trauma units. As a wide-eyed British correspondent reported last week, the doctors call them 'frequent fliers.' In Chicago, gang and gun violence is endemic, with 12 shootings last weekend and one death. And in New York, although the murder rate is much lower than the other cities, in the rougher parts of town that's no guarantee of immunity. Between Friday and Sunday the first weekend in June, 26 people were shot and seven of them killed.

"Over the last few months I've spent time with the New York Police Department and alone in parts of the city where guns are a way of life, but not in the way that pro-gun-rights partisans usually mean....The embattled streets of the city and the gunland of the heartland are wildly different places, and the failure to understand that difference, and overcome it, is the great American tragedy of our time.

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January 25, 2013 Newsweek

Not that there isn't another side to the argument. Also in 2013, David Mamet wrote a controversial piece for Newsweek suggesting that "more legal guns equal less crime," drawing a parallel between the argument that more guns equals more protection from would-be criminal shooters and the fact that President Barack Obama passed a bill extending to him and his family round-the-clock Secret Service protection. (That same week, a response posted to the Daily Beast, then Newsweek's parent company, called Mamet's article a "bizarre, inaccurate rant.")

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September 20, 2013. Newsweek

In September 2013, Colorado State Senate President John Morse authored on op-ed on gun control for Newsweek detailing his experiences advocating for gun control in the aftermath of of the 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in which 12 people died and 70 others were injured. "We must not allow the self-serving gun lobby to dictate the way our society responds to violence," Morse wrote. "We must not shrug our shoulders and act as if nothing can be done."

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Our cover story from July 24, 2015 is only the latest in a series of features sparked by gun violence in the U.S. Newsweek

And so it goes. In July 2015—just after a June mass shooting at a church Charleston, Virginia, but before a shooting at a Louisiana movie theater on July 23 and this week's incident in Roanoke, Virginia—Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald outlined the low-hanging fruit in the debate over gun regulations. "There is...a simple solution, a common-sense compromise that will infuriate both sets of extremists in the gun debate, but would place the United States on a saner path," Eichenwald wrote. His seven suggestions included banning accessories that "serve no purpose other than to transform guns into weapons of mass slaughter" (such as attachable drums that carry 100 rounds) and to outlaw the public display of weapons.

"Extremists on both sides will never get what they want—all guns everywhere or no guns anywhere," Eichenwald wrote. "It is up to the rational middle—the vast majority of Americans—to tell the fanatics that the grown-ups are taking over."