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How ‘The Onion’ Became One of the Strongest Voices for Gun Control
The sorry state of mass shootings and regulating the use of firearms are perhaps best epitomized by the fact that a satirical website is getting the most attention for its coverage.
For years, the editorial page that has most fervently favored stricter gun control in America hasn’t been found in The New York Times, The Washington Post, or The Boston Globe. It’s been on the pages of The Onion, America’s leading news-satire organization.
Two days after the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub, which was carried out with an AR-15-style weapon, The Onion (which smirkingly bills itself as “America’s finest news source”) published an op-ed titled, “It’s An Honor To Continue Being Valued Over Countless Human Lives.”
It was posted under the byline of “an AR-15.”
“I can’t imagine it was always easy to hold an 8-pound aluminum-and-synthetic firearm in higher regard than the lives of your fellow citizens—after all, these are good people with rich experiences and families and dreams—but this country has always managed to find a way to put me first,” the darkly comic piece reads.
In the wake of the Pulse mass shooting, The Onion also published articles with headlines such as:
“Exhausted Nation Unsure It Has Stamina To Continue Gun Control Dialogue For Fifth Consecutive Day”
“Frustrated Obama Writes Letter To His Congressman About Need For Gun Control”
“At Times Like This, We Need To Pull Ourselves Up, Hold Our Loved Ones Close, Block Any Legislation That Would Prevent Suspected Terrorists From Buying Guns, And Say A Prayer For The Victims” (“written” by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell)
“Concerned NRA Official Rushes Out To Purchase Congressman Following Mass Shooting” and “Nation Wishes It Could Just Once Be Reminded Of Preciousness Of Life Without Mass Shooting.”
It was a rapid-fire indictment of American fetishization of firearms and the legislative inaction on gun control and banning assault weapons. And it’s a topic that The Onion has become all too familiar with covering over the past few years.
Following the 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista, California that killed 7 people and left 13 wounded, the satirical newspaper published a report titled, “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” Since then, whenever news of a mass shooting breaks, that piece is reliably given another boost on social media.
In August 2012, The Onion published a story on how America was celebrating a “full week without [a] deadly mass shooting”—only to update the story one day later with the dek “Never Mind” following news of a shooting in front of the Empire State Building.
Search the website’s “Guns” database and you will find a near-bottomless well of anti-gun-violence satire including, “The Pros And Cons Of Gun Control,” “Government To Confiscate One Person’s Guns Just To Make Rest Of Them Squirm,” or “NRA Visits Colorado Police Evidence Room To Check Up On Rifle Used In Planned Parenthood Shooting.”
The horror of the past week has led Wired magazine to declare that “only The Onion can save us now,” and for Bustle to write that the “Orlando shooting makes this Onion article more relevant than ever.” The Onion’s ongoing series of gun-related articles have also earned the comedy organization praise from the nation’s gun-control advocates.
“The Onion’s coverage captures the twisted reality of gun violence in America,” Brendan Kelly, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told The Daily Beast. “Where every day, 90 people die from gunfire. Where 92 percent of the American people want common sense legislation to keep guns out of dangerous hands. And yet where Congress does nothing.”
Currently, The Onion newsroom isn’t publicly commenting on its editorial position on firearms in American society: “Unfortunately we do not comment on these type of stories, as we prefer the articles speak for themselves,” Lauren Pulte, Onion spokeswoman, told The Daily Beast.
It is true that The Onion’s writers and editors typically do not comment on their craft, or their more scathing political coverage. For instance, editors wouldn’t talk to The Daily Beast about their seeming and uncanny ability to predict future news events.
However, in August 2013, Onion editor-in-chief Will Tracy did open up (irreverently, albeit) to BuzzFeed when asked about the news-satire site’s persistent outrage over the international community’s failure to stop the bloodshed in Syria. (“‘Syrians’ Lives Are Worthless,’ Obama Tells Daughters Before Kissing Them Goodnight,” to take just one example.)
“I wouldn’t say we’ve staked out an editorial line so much as we’ve chosen to acknowledge two equally valid points of view at once,” Tracy said in his brief and cheeky statement. “Specifically, we want to support the rebels because of our own strong financial ties to the jihadist movement, but we also want to support Bashar al-Assad because he’s been a close and dear friend of the paper for nearly two decades.”
But on the topic of gun control and gun violence, it is a political issue that Onion staffers clearly, perhaps even deeply, care about.
Joe Garden, a former Onion writer and features editor who started working at the publication in the ’90s and left in 2012, told The Daily Beast that while most of the editorial staff tended to lean reliably liberal, their political satire was governed by being “against things that we thought were stupid.”
And as mass shootings increasingly became a tragic and appalling feature of the Obama era, it also became a subject that The Onion could not avoid covering all too routinely.
“As more and more shootings happened, it became something that—as an organization that comments on the news—we couldn’t not write stories about…and it kept on growing and growing and growing to the point where [the problem of gun violence] just seemed overwhelming.”
“Any mass shooting is horrible, but when they just start happening just a few months [apart], it’s mind-boggling,” Garden continued. “And it’s terrifying that so little has been done about it.”