The Gun Report was a New York Times blog that chronicled daily shootings across the country in an effort to highlight victims of gun violence between mass shootings. Brooke talks with Jennifer Mascia, the blog's co-author, about her experience compiling the records of who gets shot in America.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last Sunday in Connecticut, five people were wounded by a gunman outside of a nightclub. On Wednesday in Kentucky, a man was killed by a gunman at a welcome center before the shooter shot himself. On Thursday in Los Angeles, two people were killed and one wounded by gunfire in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. These are just a few of the dozens of shootings that happened just this week. Mass shootings dominate the headlines but you rarely hear about gun deaths like these. There was, however, “The Gun Report,” a New York Times blog that chronicled the everyday shootings in America. It was launched by Joe Nocera, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, inspired by the mass shooting of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and it was co-written by
Jennifer Mascia, an editorial assistant. The blog ran from January 31st, 2013 until June 5th of this year, after more than 350 posts, and it was a widely-known feature of the Times. It even made it to the Senate floor, twice. Here's Illinois Senator Dick Durbin on May 15th of last year.
SENATOR DICK DURBIN: It is one thing when you hear the dry numbers about 87 Americans killed, 200 wounded every day by gun violence, but Joe Nocera's Report goes beyond the numbers. It shares some of the details about the news reports of these shootings. For example, Mr. Nocera's Report for Monday describes shootings that took place over this last weekend. The tally of shootings in America goes on to fill 19 paragraphs. Let me read just some of the descriptions of the shootings that took place over this last weekend…
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mascia wrote about her experience with “The Gun Report,” in an essay titled, “Who Gets Shot in America: What I Learned Compiling Records of Carnage for the New York Times.” She says Senator Durbin's recitation was a big moment.
JENNIFER MASCIA: It really hit home, how much of a reach this was starting to have. It's depressing reading. I know that not everyone is going to read every detail, and that was his point on the Senate floor: 19 paragraphs in one weekend, one shooting per sentence that’s a lot of shootings.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How did you choose among them?
JENNIFER MASCIA: Well, I would google “shooting,” “man shot,” “woman shot,” “child shot,” “teen shot” and “accidentally shot.” You know, this was all day one coverage of shootings, so a lot of times the details aren't flushed out. If there was no name and scant details, I had to skip over those. So each day, there’d be about 35 to 40 shootings that I would present. The children I always put at the top of the column. I hate to be cynical; those draw our readers in. I'd include just a few lines each. I wanted to give readers a snapshot of who these people were and how they came to be shot.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How much time did it take you to put this together?
JENNIFER MASCIA: Every day it took me four hours, from start to finish. I’d pick a topic to talk about, a kind of news analysis to top “The Report.” And on the weekends, it took me 10 hours because that included Friday, Saturday and Sunday shootings.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You do some news reporting on the issue. It didn't start that way but it sort of morphed into that, right?
JENNIFER MASCIA: This whole thing started very small and it grew organically. And Joe would give me the opportunity, for which I'm very grateful, to start writing some intros, and about a year ago he ceded the project to me. He said, there you go. He taught me how to write in a Times voice, keep my opinion out of it, don't get too emotional. And it helped a lot because when you step back and just let the story tell itself, it just flows.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what did you learn that you didn't know when you were doing this?
JENNIFER MASCIA: There is an economic component to this. A lot of cities that used to have bustling manufacturing hubs, for instance, are in decline. The suburbs are in decline. You have cities like Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Indiana, towns that are not like Chicago; you would not associate them with gun violence. But the economy is in decline, people are fleeing and what's left behind are a lot of people who feel powerless, especially young men. One way to retain some power is to be packing heat.
What surprised me most was a lot of gun victims were the result of arguments, a lot of times alcohol-fueled, and mostly between the hours of 11 o'clock at night and 5 o'clock in the morning. A lot of arguments that led to shootings happened in bar parking lots, strip club parking lots. Things escalate very quickly. People go to their car, grab a gun and they don't even realize the consequences of what’s gonna happen, until the bullet leaves the chamber.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What were some of the most difficult entries for you to write?
JENNIFER MASCIA: Well, any time we had a mass shooting. The domestic shootings - there was one instance where a man who’d just been diagnosed with cancer was in his bedroom and he was about to kill himself and his wife came in. Her sister was listening on the other side of the door, and he shot her in the head and killed her. And right before he shot her, she said, “Don’t do it, Phil. I love you.”
Also hardest was when I actually knew one of the - murder victims. There were three expatriate Iranians who were shot and killed in Williamsburg. I sat down to put the finishing touches on that day’s “Gun Report” and I opened the New York Times homepage and he was the first victim, shot in the head, execution style.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why?
JENNIFER MASCIA: A disgruntled former bandmate/friend. Nobody knows why, ‘cause then he killed himself. And that’s the hardest part, when it is a murder-suicide. There are just so many unanswered questions.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, why did “The Report” end? The head of the editorial department, Andy Rosenthal, said that it had become repetitive. Gawker and others reported that basically it folded because you asked for a promotion.
JENNIFER MASCIA: We have a very strong union, the Newspaper Guild, and somebody told me that the work I was doing deserved a much higher pay grade.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You, evidently, met the contractual requirements that would mandate a promotion.
JENNIFER MASCIA: We had very contentious contract negotiations in 2012, and this was something the company signed, if you write over 2500 words a month--and I was writing that a week, the company did not think that was higher level work. That is their argument. And when the union brought this to my attention, I actually wasn't there but they met with the company's lawyer. That was June 3rd, and two days later Joe told me he was ending the Report. The timing was - let’s just say I don’t believe in coincidences.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let's talk about the other principal coincidence, and that is that you ended up tasked with this job.
JENNIFER MASCIA: Yeah, it didn't hit me until a few months in. When I was five years old, the FBI came for my father. He had been to jail before I was born, and when I was a baby he broke his parole, and he and my mother and I ran to California from New York and lived under fake names. And the FBI caught up with us. He served eight months on the parole violation and was released, and we went about our normal lives. My father was a carpet cleaner. I knew he was in prison, but I didn't know why. And in 2000, criminal records were going online and I said, let me go to the New York State Department of Corrections website and look up his record. And even though it was from the 60s, there it was. I scrolled down and the crime of conviction was murder.
He was sick with terminal lung cancer and I didn't feel like I could come to him with it, so I spoke to my mother and she told me the story, that when he was 26 he was connected to the mob, a goodfella, if you will, not a made guy. He and his buddies ran a drug sales operation in Brooklyn and one of them was informing to the cops, and he shot the man five times in a park in Brooklyn. Right before my mother died, she confessed that my father had actually killed others, and he wasn't arrested for it. And here I was, writing about victims, like his. I thought, “This is some kind of an atonement.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You wrote that you are not an anti-gun absolutist.
JENNIFER MASCIA: People do a lot of irresponsible things with guns. However, there are sensible gun owners out there who keep them locked up. And I understand, as a single woman living in New York City, that if somebody were to burst into my apartment my first thought would be, where’s a gun?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In one of your posts, you say, you know, and here’s an actual case of self-defense, women who had a gun who shot an intruder with a rifle who'd pushed his way into their house.
JENNIFER MASCIA: That does happen, where a, quote, unquote, “good guy with a gun” stops a “bad guy with a gun.” But many times, a home intruder will grab the gun and shoot the homeowner. You really can't predict that you're gonna be an expert marksman your first time out. Even police officers shoot themselves and each other by accident.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you've chronicled that too. Do you know how to shoot?
JENNIFER MASCIA: I went skeet shooting. It turns out I was an excellent shot.
I hit five out of five, but the shotgun got very heavy and I couldn't continue the streak.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you experience now that “The Report” is finished?
JENNIFER MASCIA: Right after “The Report” was pulled, two officers in Las Vegas were killed by anti-government extremists, who then committed suicide. There was a shooting at Seattle Pacific University and at a high school in Oregon, and it absolutely burned me not to cover it. But there are people who are filling in this gap. One such entity is the Gun Violence Archive, which is an almost real-time accounting of injuries and deaths, and they’re sounding the drumbeat, statistically speaking, not anecdotally speaking always.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you have the numbers but the details, that was part of what was provided by “The Report” and now you get that, if you want it.
JENNIFER MASCIA: Anyone can find it. It's all out there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jennifer, thank you very much.
JENNIFER MASCIA: Thank you very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jennifer Mascia is an editorial assistant at the New York Times and the author of, Never Tell Our Business to Strangers.