Washington Post Panel: The AR-15

January 24, 2024 1:42:43
Kaltura Video

The Washington Post examines both the devastation caused by AR-15 assault rifles as well as its allure for segments of American society, in a 14-part series. January, 2024.


0:00:01.1 Lynette Clemetson: Thank you for coming out this afternoon. I'm Lynette Clemetson. I'm the Director of the Wallace House Center for Journalists. And I'm here in two capacities today: One as myself, and one representing my friend and colleague, Dean Celeste Watkins-Hayes, who was scheduled to moderate today's event and who was under the weather. So I will be filling in for her as well with our esteemed panel. And it's... As for any of you who have been to our events before, you know that Wallace House and the Ford School are close partners on campus, because the issues that journalists explore are issues that public policy analysts and experts grapple with and move forward in society.

0:00:49.3 LC: And when we do events together at Wallace House, part of our purpose is to bring to the public transparency into how and why journalists do their work. Journalists, thank you for whoever just adjusted the mics. You can hear me now. And if ever at a point during our conversation you can't hear one of us, wave at us and we'll know to adjust. But we present public programs because we want to increase the level of media literacy in society. We want to bring transparency to how journalists do their work. And one of the things we always want people to understand, especially when pursuing subject matter like this is journalists don't start out with an idea of what they are necessarily trying to achieve with reporting. They are seeking to put a framing around an issue and leaving it to the public to move forward, and that's a lot of times where policy people come in.

0:01:53.1 LC: And so we're really happy to have this conversation in this space today. We are also streaming this event. So for those of you watching on livestream, thank you for joining us and we will incorporate your questions. In the room, you may have walked past I think at the post coming down the aisles, these cards. If you scan these cards, it will allow you to submit questions. We have Efrat Lachter, a Knight-Wallace fellow here who's gonna be monitoring questions when we get to the part of the conversation where you engage with the material, which we will want a lot of today. Efrat will be following both the questions coming from in the room and on the livestream.

0:02:39.7 LC: So please feel free to submit your questions. If you don't have a card and you see them, please feel free to grab one, or someone, or raise your hand and someone who bring one around to you. So we need to leave a lot of time for conversation because there's a lot to get through today. So I want to introduce our panel, my colleagues from The Washington Post. Several months ago, when I first saw the first story from this series that caught my eye, I consume a lot of journalism every day, as you might imagine. And I remember seeing parts of this series where I stopped and I found myself going back to look at it all day long, and to think about it and go back to it at night, and the next day, and the next day. And after the final story ran, one of the last stories ran, I texted Kainaz Amaria here who is the... She oversees immersive visual storytelling for the national desk at The Washington Post. She is also with Dean Watkins-Hayes, a member of the Wallace House Board, and I texted her and said, "Kainaz, this is amazing. When can you all come to talk about it?"

0:04:03.5 LC: And so, thank you [chuckle] for being here. Before joining the post, Kainaz was Vox's first ever visuals editor. Before that, she and I were colleagues at NPR where she had multiple roles, including managing producer, photographer and videographer, and a project manager for NPR's multi-platform work. Kainaz began her career as a local newspaper photographer and has done every kind of journalism imaginable from all over the world. Peter Wallsten on the end here is Senior National Investigations Editor at The Washington Post. He's led or helped oversee four Pulitzer Prize-winning lines of coverage as an editor on The Post's National staff. Most recently, he shepherded the Post's abortion coverage in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that struck down Roe v. Wade, which won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting.

0:05:03.7 LC: Before becoming an editor in 2013, Wallsten was a White House correspondent for The Post and a political reporter for the Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, and the St. Pete Times. No slouch. [laughter] He's reported from everywhere as well. Reporting from everywhere is gonna be a theme for these three. Silvia Foster-Frau is a national investigative reporter for The Washington Post who explores the impacts of America's changing racial, ethnic and cultural demographics.

0:05:34.3 LC: She's also covered several mass shootings. It's amazing to me as somebody who's been in the business for a long time that it's become a beat of sorts, and that Silvia is the kind of reporter who has experience on this beat. She's covered shootings in Sutherland Springs, which I know we'll talk about today, Atlanta, Uvalde, Nashville and Allen, among others. She joined The Post in February 2021 from The San Antonio Express News, where she covered immigration and border security, winning the Texas APME Star Reporter of the Year award in 2019. She's vice president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, DC Chapter.

0:06:15.8 LC: So Kainaz, Silvia, Peter, thank you for joining us. They will tell you that they are here representing a very large team of reporters who worked on this, and that's part of the story today. I am gonna go and sit on that far end there. I'm gonna ask Kainaz to come up because we are going to move through the work today. I wanna say this, specifically for people in the room, because this is a difficult series, this series has 15 parts at least. It is multimedia. The series for you... Peter, can I just see the... So we have for everyone in the room, one portion of the series, one of the later installments called Terror on Repeat that is available in print. But I have to say that it is easiest to engage with this material digitally because so much of it is immersive and we are going to move through the material today. Part of why we have them here is that it is difficult subject matter.

0:07:34.5 LC: The presentation of the subject matter is difficult. And so I want to let you know that before we start. So I'm gonna go sit down. Kainaz, if you could come up and we're gonna start our conversation. So Peter, I want to start with you. First of all, thank you all and your entire team for this comprehensive reporting. We're going to walk through the series, but I think we wanna start the conversation with the understanding that for most people in the room, they maybe are not familiar with the series. And so if we can do some grounding about what is this series, how it came about, why you decided to do it.

0:08:28.6 Peter Wallsten: Sure. Thank you everyone for being here and for watching, and thank you, Lynette, this has been a great visit for us. And so many of us at The Post have been covering or thinking about mass shootings for a long time. When Uvalde happened in 2022, we had a conversation, which is that we... When can we find a new way? How can we find a new way to cover these things? It had started to feel like we did the same thing every time there was a shooting, we would send a bunch of reporters, we would write about the weapon, the shooter, we would write about the victims. It's all very important coverage, but it began to feel like the same thing. And so we asked ourselves and we sort of challenged each other, is there a way we can take a fresh approach? Can we find a way to bring new information to the public that might somehow shake loose this debate, this debate in the country that just felt like the same thing again and again?

0:09:33.4 PW: And we spent a fair number of... A number of weeks hashing it out, talking it through, debating, and we finally settled on the idea of an entire series about the AR-15. And obviously, if you think about gun violence, the gun violence epidemic nationally of the AR-15 is responsible for a fraction of the total number of gun deaths. But it had taken on a life of its own as a symbol, a political symbol, a cultural symbol. Members of Congress were wearing it on their lapel pins. People had hats with AR-15s. It had also been the weapon that was becoming the most commonly used weapon in the deadliest mass shootings.

0:10:17.0 PW: And after Uvalde, which was an elementary school shooting, it was hard not to think about how a decade earlier, there had been another elementary school shooting in Sandy Hook also with an AR-15. So we began to envision an entire series about the AR-15 because there were so many angles. First of all, just the history of that weapon, we realized as we started to research it, that we just hadn't really known it. How did it come to be that a weapon designed for combat suddenly was a bestseller on the consumer market? Why did that happen? We wanted to answer that question. How did it happen? We wanted to explore the impact on police, on society as a whole, on schools, on the whole, sort of our whole American culture where all of these public places that we all go to all the time felt vulnerable.

0:11:12.3 LC: And when you say... You mentioned the outsized profile, this particular gun. In many places, you see this series referred to as American icon.

0:11:27.6 PW: Yeah.

0:11:28.7 LC: Can you talk about that positioning in talking about the AR-15?

0:11:33.3 PW: That is what we call the series, American Icon, because it is a uniquely American phenomenon and it is an iconic symbol. It's as we had in the headline on the first story, on one of the main stories we published, sort of the narrative history of AR-15, it's a weapon that is reviled and it's revered, depending on where you come from. I mean, we... It's a weapon that strikes fear in the hearts of millions of Americans. It's also beloved by many Americans. And we also wanted to understand that. It was very important to us to understand, for readers to understand why it is that it's such a popular weapon. And so among the story... Several stories stood out in the course of the series. The ones that... Lynette referred to Terror On Repeat, which we can talk to and we'll talk about in a few minutes. Another story called The Blast Effect, which showed using 3D animations the impact of bullets fired by AR-15s on a human body, which are different than bullets fired by traditional handguns.

0:12:36.1 PW: But we also did a poll of AR-15 owners so we could explore and explain why it is that many people buy them for self-defense. They buy them for recreation. There are reasons why millions of Americans, now there are more than 20 million AR-15s, I believe, should be out in the country, and it's the bestselling rifle in the country now, it has been for several years.

0:13:00.0 LC: And so we're not going to have time to go through every story in the series today, but can you... I think one of the things that stands out as a work of journalism is that it did step back and try to examine with a broader lens, these issues, or something that we've become very used to, not just as reporters, but as readers. How did you decide what stories you were going to approach and how the series would come together?

0:13:43.4 PW: We mostly decided through reporting, and then we began... We didn't begin imagining 15 stories of series or 15 pieces. And over the course of time, our team grew from a few reporters to a dozen reporters, to visual journalists, to journalists from across our newsroom. We ended up with a team of more than 75 people, I believe, all told who worked on these stories. And we had one round of stories that ran initially in the spring, and then we had a few more stories come out over the course of the year. So it sort of built on itself based largely on what we learned through the reporting. I mean, a big question for us at the beginning, and we challenged ourselves, does everybody already know everything they need to know about the AR-15? And as we proceeded over time, we realized that there was a lot we actually didn't know that were the things that were revelations to us.

0:14:36.7 LC: And there may be people who came today because this is a conversation about guns, but what also struck me about the reporting is it's not just a conversation about a gun, it's a conversation about politics and the economy, and business, and social psychology and all of these things. And so, how did you decide, here's how we're going to break this up.

0:15:06.3 PW: A lot of that happened organically. But we did know... There is one story in the series called, The Gun That Divides A Nation. It's a story that covers politics and business and culture. It's all of those in one. But then we did break out a few elements, but it all is related. The AR-15 really started becoming increasingly popular in the '90s, and then especially after the expiration of the assault weapons ban in 2004, and there was a rise in the love of military culture post in the wake of 9/11 as American troops were in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the gun companies realized at that time that they could tap into those cultural changes and they marketed this weapon to fit what was happening in the country at that time. And as we recorded, the popularity of the AR-15 would spike during any sort of political instability or any major political change, the election of Barack Obama, his re-election, the Sandy Hook shooting, when talk turned to a possible new ban on assault weapons or other limits. Any time that would happen, the popularity of the weapon would increase. And that's directly related to political changes and a sense of social unrest.

0:16:35.4 LC: Great. So I wanna bring in Silvia. So as an editor, you're helping to frame the work and how the narratives that you're gonna put together to present. Silvia, I mentioned in the introduction that you're someone who has been a beat reporter who's been sent out over and over and over again to cover shootings. When you came into the conversation about participating in the series, what did you feel was essential to include? And then I wanna jump into one of your stories.

0:17:12.9 Silvia Foster-Frau: Yeah. I was actually really grateful for the opportunity to kind of take a step back. A lot of times in journalism when these kind of national breaking news stories happen, when a mass shooting has occurred, we get dispatched and we're turning in stories every single day. It's high adrenaline and it's quick turnover stories. And over time, these have become so common, like you mentioned, Lynette, people have kind of formed almost like sub-beats. No one that I know of has an official title as like a mass shooting reporter, but a lot of us are essentially that in a lot of ways. And it does become very rote and routine. Who are the victims? Who was the shooter? What are the laws in the state? And then it happens all over again and again.

0:17:55.3 SF: And so, for me, the opportunity to take a step back and try to do something that almost felt... It felt a little more solution-oriented because you're able to connect the dots of all of these mass shooting spanning all of this time period. What is something they have in common? What is something that everyone should understand about why these keep happening over and over again? And also, particularly for my story, which focused on one community in Sutherland Springs, Texas where 26 people were killed in a small church in rural Texas, I got the opportunity to go back five years after a mass shooting happened to see what the community was like then. And that was another kind of gap, I felt like, that existed in our journalism was kind of following up on these threads of breaking news to see, what are people's lives like five years after they experience something that's horrific?

0:18:51.3 SF: And what we found in the case of Sutherland Springs was a community still in... Almost like the tragedy was extending itself through the years of their life. People suffered from lead poisoning because of the fragments of the bullet that embedded in their skin and that created infertility problems, constant visits to the hospital. People were still paying insane medical bills. Folks who had basically become paralyzed for life and what that meant for their families in terms of moving into a place with an accessible house, what that meant for having to raise their kids when they're all in wheelchairs. I spoke with a man who lost nine of his family members, so children, his wife, his parents, his grandparents, his brother, his brother's daughter, all were killed in the shooting. And so really being able to take a bigger picture look from these AR-15 shootings at the lasting damage, both the immediate impact, which we'll get into in Blast Effect, but also kind of the long-term effects that these have in communities that continue to grow every day in this country.

0:20:06.2 LC: And so when you were moving through the reporting and threads of stories and narratives were making themselves clear to you, and this is I think where I wanna bring Kainaz into the conversation, how did you decide... Peter, you mentioned a question, what don't people know? What are we missing in our regular coverage of this? And I know from a conversation that we had last night at Wallace House, that it was actually visuals that started to bring to the group, here's something that I think we've missed. Here's something that people may not be thinking about, a common thread, in addition to this is the weapon that was used, but a common thread that ran through the reporting. Kainaz, can you talk a little bit about how the visual work flowed into this series?

0:21:06.7 Kainaz Amaria: Sure. I mean, I can specifically speak about Terror On Repeat, but I wonder if it's better to first talk about Blast Effect, 'cause that was the story that inspired the next installment.

0:21:19.7 LC: So Peter, let's talk about Blast Effect. And should we stop. Do you wanna talk a little bit about it first and then move people through the animation?

0:21:30.1 PW: Sure. So this was in the original grouping of stories that we published. It was part of... It was the result of one of, I should say, the discussions over what to bring out that might be new that we don't realize. I think experts have known for a long time, emergency room doctors, first responders, there are a lot of people who know that an AR-15 shooting leaves a level of damage, human damage and carnage. But because there are no pictures really put out in the public, all we knew is that there was this constant line in news coverage where people would say, especially after Sandy Hook, and that we saw in Uvalde again, that the children needed to be identified using DNA samples.

0:22:20.8 SF: And it's on... That leads a lot to the imagination, but one thing you don't get from that is an understanding of exactly why these weapons... What makes these weapons different. And so we... Using autopsy reports and testimony from experts and court records, we started to piece together what it actually looked like and how to describe the damage brought by bullets fired by AR-15, so that's what Blast Effect is. We use 3D animation. The top of the story is generic. It's not a real person. It just shows the bullet entering. And then as...

0:23:05.1 LC: This image here, this is not a real person.

0:23:08.4 PW: And then... But as you start scrolling through and learning the mechanics of the weapon and how the bullet is fired and how it enters the body, we decided ultimately that it was really important to show two specific cases. We initially had a version of the story that was all generic, but it didn't seem like it quite got to the real story. And so we focused in on two victims; one from Parkland in Florida, and one from Sandy Hook, two children. And I should say that we took special care with the story. It was the start of... This was one of the stories. And our goal was to do something different to push the bounds of journalistic norms and try to change the public conversation. And so this story, we started treading in areas that we don't normally go as journalists, because it was important that we show real people, but we wouldn't... We didn't... We decided that we wouldn't do it without the permission of their families.

0:24:16.7 PW: And so we went out and we... Our reporter, Nick Kirkpatrick, who led the way on this piece to open the line of communication to those two families, and over time, they gave permission. And these animations were put together, like I said, using autopsy reports and with the... We consulted experts and medical experts and medical examiners and so forth.

0:24:44.5 LC: Kainaz, can you start at the beginning of this animation? Because I think we can't read what's in the small blocks that guide people through. And just go through one.

0:24:55.8 PW: And it is difficult. I mean, this is not... There's not blood in these. These are animations, but they can be difficult to look at.

0:25:10.0 KA: Peter was shot 13 times. Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 he bought legally and fired at least 139 rounds. Here are the wounds that killed Peter. Peter was running down the hallway when he was shot. He was struck once in the foot, twice in the thigh, once in the torso, five times in his arms, and finally four times in the head. One of the bullets that hit his thigh fractured his hip bone, then broke partially apart before exiting through his abdomen.

0:25:43.5 PW: The idea of the Blast Effect, which again was one of the concepts that was a revelation to many of us, the Blast... We took the headline because that's the name of the phenomenon that doctors... That's how doctors described it, that these bullets enter the body at such an extreme velocity and they create essentially a ripple effect within the body that just eviscerates organs, can break the bones and just... It really does sort of creates... In a way, the body implodes. And that's just one bullet. But oftentimes in these shootings, there are multiple bullet wounds.

0:26:21.5 LC: Can you continue?

0:26:23.2 KA: Four bullets that obliterated Peter's head were the last four he received. Medical Examiner, Wendolyn Sneed, who performed the autopsy, testified at Cruz's sentencing trial last year. Surveillance video showed that Peter's legs were moving as the killer came closer to him and fired rapidly.

0:26:43.2 LC: And you said, Peter, that you wanted to expand the boundaries of journalistic norms. I think it's important for the room to have some discussion of, what are the journalistic norms in the United States about what we show when there's been an act of violence like this?

0:27:04.3 PW: So that's a really important question. We show very little. And there's a couple of reasons for that. One is we really don't have access to these. In the United States, when there's a mass shooting, the area is immediately cordoned off, the police don't allow access to journalists. So photojournalists don't have the ability to take pictures of the crime scenes. The only people who take pictures of these scenes are the police, and those photos are basically never released. And then even if there are photos of dead bodies, and typically these organizations do not publish this, they're seen as dehumanizing or will turn off readers, or there is a concern that that just crosses a boundary that news organizations typically don't wanna cross.

0:27:58.8 PW: So we were operating within those norms and that... But there's a lot of, there's a big public debate about that and that really, a lot of comments we got after we published Blast Effect were, "This is great, but why don't you show the pictures?" And there are a lot of people on both sides of that question, including advocate... Not every advocate for restricting guns supports publishing the pictures. A lot of families of victims oppose it, but others support it. It's just a very active debate. But we did feel after Blast Effect that there was probably more we could do.

0:28:43.2 LC: There was something that felt particularly effective that, with Blast Effect in particular, that walking through and explaining, "He was running, he was shot in the ankle, here's what happened, here's where the bullet went, here's what it did," that if you had just shown a picture, actually as a reader, I wouldn't have spent any time with it because it would have been too hard and I just would have scrolled past or move to the next thing. And there's something about the animation here that allowed me to absorb the information. And we'll talk to the audience, I'm sure there are a lot of different feelings in the room. But I think that this particular approach... Did the family... Do you know if they engaged with this after it was published?

0:29:45.7 PW: We don't believe they did.

0:29:47.5 LC: Yeah.

0:29:47.6 PW: But we actually, in addition to getting their permission to do this, we offered them the option of looking at it before we published, which is also... That's something we would never normally do, but in this case, we did do that. They chose not to take that. So we don't think that they went to see it.

0:30:07.5 LC: Yeah. And so after this story, there were people who said, "Well, if you are really trying to show people what happens, why not just show it?" What were the conversations that happened in the newsroom after that?

0:30:24.9 PW: So we went to our executive editor and other top editors and talked about how maybe we could do more, and Sally Buzbee, our editor, to her credit, I mean I was quite... She was very skeptical at first, as she should have been, but she gave us the opportunity to explore it and to see what we could find. We didn't even know if we could get access to the images. And then...

0:30:55.6 LC: So this is an important place to stop. I mean, Silvia, you're someone... I wanna make sure we don't just run past this. Because you said in the United States, these crime scenes are cordoned off and reporters typically can't get very close. And so even obtaining these reports, you have to file Freedom of Information Act request, right? Can you talk about the process of getting this information?

0:31:25.4 SF: Yeah. We went to a variety of sources in different places to try to put together as much information, as much content, as many visuals as we could. So we filed 30 Freedom of Information Acts across the country. We looked at thousands and thousands and thousands of photos. We went through body cam footage from different police officers responding to shootings and watched hours of it. And so we spent a lot of time just poring over and attempting to collect as much of that as we could. My colleague, Arelis Hernandez, who's based in San Antonio had also obtained a trove of leaked images from law enforcement of the Uvalde school shooting there in Texas.

0:32:14.3 SF: And another colleague, Holly Bailey, had also obtained images from inside the Sutherland Springs Church shortly after the shooting. And then there was footage that The Post had obtained in the past but had chosen not to publish that we basically decided to re-examine and open up that question again, of whether there was merit in publishing that imagery. And so we had meetings every other week that developed into every week that developed into every day, kind of going over which of those kinds of images we felt like was important for the public to see.

0:32:48.9 LC: How much editorial time was spent before the first story came out?

0:32:55.3 PW: Before the first story of the series or before Terror on Repeat?

0:32:57.4 SF: This was all for Terror on Repeat is what I'm describing.

0:33:00.7 LC: Oh, right. Yeah.

0:33:01.4 SF: Yeah. And we spent months.

0:33:02.0 LC: Months before getting to the step of what is the merit of really showing these images.

0:33:08.4 SF: Yeah. And I think it played off each other. We were wondering the merit at the same time as we were looking at the photos and kind of gauging our response to what we saw as part of... Like informing whether or not we felt like it had merit. Because we saw things that we had never seen before and we started to wonder, "Shouldn't everyone see this if it's happening in our country because of the laws that our country has put in place? Is this something that, as a public service, people deserve to know?"

0:33:37.4 LC: And I imagine there were as many views in the newsroom as there would be in this room, or if we walked out on the street and started asking people.

0:33:45.0 PW: Mm-hmm.

0:33:46.7 SF: Yep. We had a lot of conversations. I think there was kind of a status quo that we don't often publish graphic images of people and especially children in this country. And so we... It required a lot of conversations to be able to kind of push the envelope the way we did, for sure.

0:34:05.7 LC: And so then the editorial process becomes, "Okay, if we're gonna consider this, what is the bar? How do we decide... " If you're having a discussion about merit and about what benefits the public, what's the framework for determining that? And so now we're gonna move past Blast Effect to Terror On Repeat. What was that discussion?

0:34:39.3 PW: Well, I can start, and then I want Kainaz to talk a little bit about that too, because she has a lot... I mean, the... We started with just the question of whether there's more to show. I mean, Silvia mentioned we were starting to see things that we had never seen before. So the question all along is, can we advance the public's understanding of this important issue, of this important phenomenon? And we started with hundreds and thousands of pictures, and as we began to see things that we had never seen before, we then asked the question, "Well, what is the story we want to tell? And is there a framework here?" And there was a sort of... There was a really important moment in this process after, I would say it had been maybe three months or so of just meeting and sifting through photos and watching Silvia and Nick and Kainaz watching many, many hours of body cam footage. I think that there was a moment with Kainaz, as she described, because she really envisioned it, imagined it, sort of what the story was after looking at so many of these things.

0:35:50.7 KA: Yeah. We would spend, I think, every other week initially, and then every week, choosing a mass shooting and then reviewing every part of material that came out of that event. And Nick Kirkpatrick, a reporter on the story, and I, one Friday afternoon, we had all of the material in our heads. We at one point didn't need to go back and remind ourselves of what we saw. And so we sat down and what we started to do was realize that there was a language starting to develop in these photos. Even though they were 11 distinct mass shootings, we were seeing some of the same beats coming out of each shooting. There were videos of people not understanding what the gunshots were and then realizing that those sounds were gunshots. There were hundreds of images of evidence markers that would mark every single piece of evidence on the ground.

0:37:02.3 KA: There were images of the guns that were discarded by the shooters from all of the scenes. And we were tasked with finding something revelatory that we had not presented in order for people to understand how these spaces change from everyday space to when someone walks in with an AR-15. And we created a visual spine for the story that started to feel like one cohesive event made up of 11 different events. And so that spine is what we brought to the reporting group and said, "We think there's something here."

0:37:56.8 LC: And again, I wanna walk through the story. I wanna walk through it visually through the website. You all have it in this print version, but I do think that there is something to see in it as an interactive experience. And again, remember, these are 11 different shootings represented. And you can talk us through what we're seeing.

0:38:28.3 KA: So this is the beginning of the piece. When a gunman fires an AR-15, a seemingly safe, familiar place instantly transforms into a hellscape of chaos, destruction.

0:38:44.1 LC: Can I stop you just for a second, Kainaz? Because you said, when a familiar place is transformed, and that's another thing that came to you in the reporting, that one of the similarities is that these are public spaces that we all encounter all the time, right? They are churches and schools and grocery stores. And so there's something about the public nature of a safe public place that we all use, that this transformation unfolding in those spaces carries a particular resonance.

0:39:22.0 KA: Yeah. And the first part from the three photos that you see in the front, we set up the story, we did break format a little bit with the story, which is also not norms, but we... It was... The format was more of an oral history where you have first-person accounts of survivors, first responders juxtaposed next to the evidence photos that...

0:39:49.3 LC: So what you mean by that, I just wanna make sure they know as we get ready to go through, that rather than a reporter writing through what is seen, when we start moving through this, these are quotes from people involved in these shootings that are then telling the tale that we're moving...

0:40:06.6 PW: And I just wanna interject to say that even that is something that is rare. I mean, Silvia mentioned earlier the idea of going back to a shooting five years later and writing about the survivors is very unusual for coverage of these mass shootings. It's almost never done. And also, these are the voices of people who experienced them, who were in them, who are recalling what it was like. I mean, so much of the media coverage of these shootings focuses on the victims and the people who died and their stories in that, and rightfully so. But these voices are rarely heard, people describing what it's like essentially to be in an American war zone that happens upon them suddenly when they're shopping or in school or whatever.

0:40:51.1 SF: And what we noticed in all of them is that the similarities between everyone's accounts in the same way that the visuals begin to take on very similar looks, which you'll be able to see groupings from different shootings. People's accounts of what happened started to all kind of blur together because they were so similar and so specific to what happens when these types of guns and these types of weapons are used in these shootings. And so being able to weave their stories from different years, from different spaces, people from all these different walks of life and ages and religions, and painting a picture of how history keeps repeating itself in real-time felt really important to us.

0:41:33.0 PW: Voices from a synagogue and a church and a Latino community and a White community. And it's just... Yeah.

0:41:40.4 SF: We started talking a lot about museums and oral histories and what role those play in society and how this piece could also play that role.

0:41:50.7 KA: And so there's a quote here that I'll read from Danielle Gilbert, who was a high school student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. "All of a sudden, out of nowhere, you just hear the loudest, most unbelievably piercing sound you've ever heard in your life." Another quote from David Colbath, who was a church congregate at Sutherland Springs, Texas, "I turned around and looked at the back doors, just trying to get my bearings and figure out, 'Is this some kids throwing fireworks?'" And I'll play a little bit of this video that we obtained from a concert-goer at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, which will mirror their experiences.

[video playback]

0:43:34.7 KA: The moment of realization was something that was very striking to us when we started reading the first-person account was, "I heard something excruciatingly loud." It seemed like their brains were trying to process what they could be, and then they realized that it was a shooting. You'll see some of the similarities of the spaces that were shot up. This is Sutherland Springs inside the church. This is one of the images that the authorities released in Sandy Hook. It's the lobby of the school. It's 2012. This is the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, 2018, where 11 people were killed. So we started seeing some repetitions visually across the images that were coming out. This is a bullet coming through the door of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

0:44:34.9 KA: And this is a prayer book inside the synagogue in Pittsburgh. Like Lynette said, these are extremely everyday places. This photograph really spoke to us as popcorn on a rug, blood mixed with an evidence glove, and then a small little tag. Another thing that we noticed repeatedly is the authorities ran out of professionally made evidence markers after a certain number. And so this is a business card from one of the people that they marked 126 for evidence. And they would sort of make makeshift evidence markers to keep marking the evidence in these spaces. We saw that quite a lot. I mentioned Danielle Gilbert, who also shared a video that she made in her classroom. And I'll play that for you.

[video playback]

0:46:24.3 KA: And I'll read some of the quotes in this section. "I got shot four times. I thought I got hit with a ton of bricks. So I looked behind me to try to see if there's anyone to help me, and all I could see was blood." That was Maddy Wilford in Parkland in classroom 12-13. "There's dust everywhere. There's debris. I had dust and debris coming off my hands. I was still just covered from head to toe. I only thought he got shot one time and it was five. As the police and them came to us, I just grabbed on my dad and I just kept telling him I loved him before he died." That was Dion Green, who was a bar patron at Dayton, Ohio. And this is one of the scenes from Dayton with the evidence markers.

0:47:19.6 LC: And through that, through this, one of the things I wanna point out as a design element, can you talk a little bit about... And I'll stop right here. So here, there's some text in the middle of the screen and there's space on either side of it. Can you just talk about that as an editorial element? And what does that text say? And what is this doing in the design?

0:47:47.2 KA: Yeah. We have an incredible team at The Post in design that think not only about the design of the piece, but they think about how the reader moves through the piece and moves through the information. And one of the things that we knew in the story that we had to do was bring people to a very uncomfortable place and then convince them to stay and keep reading. And we iterated off of these warning signs quite a bit. Traditionally, news outlets will give a warning, but it'll say, "Warning: Graphic content", which could be really interpreted as many things. And we thought that readers would stay longer if they knew what was coming up, and we almost held their hand as they were going through this.

0:48:40.6 KA: So, "Note to readers, the next section includes photographs where you can see the blood and destruction that remain after bodies have been removed from the scene of an AR-15 shooting." So we expanded the warnings to give our audience an understanding of what was coming ahead rather than just a blank graphic content warning.

0:49:04.8 LC: And a little bit of actual space, like seconds, like we're taking right now, right? We just looked at that last second. We just saw those videos. And you need to give people a little bit of time to breathe and move through. And so I wanna just... I have a question to ask you about the next section, but I think we need to see it.

0:49:26.7 KA: You wanna walk through the sections?

0:49:28.1 LC: Yeah.

0:49:29.2 KA: The first section was that sort of moment of realization. The next section is being actually in the room. It was called The Attack Unfolds. Do you... Should I... Do you want me to read this?

0:49:44.5 LC: Yes.

0:49:45.2 KA: Yeah.

0:49:45.6 LC: Yeah.

0:49:46.3 KA: "In minutes, injured and dead fall on the floor. Some are able to flee, others are rushed to safety by police. Smoke from the rifle fills the air. The Post obtained never-before-published photographs from Robb Elementary School classrooms 111 and 112 in Uvalde. They show the carnage left behind, including the large volume of blood that collects. The photos, along with personal accounts describing young children's lifeless bodies, echo descriptions provided 11 years earlier by witnesses at Sandy Hook Elementary."

0:50:21.9 LC: So I wanna move past this photo, but then I have a question to ask you about it. Any of the three of you or all of you should feel free to answer. Between the photo we just saw and this photo, there was a discussion and people prompting you if you were gonna do this, "Just show the bodies of... If you want people to know what's happening, just show the bodies." Again, I don't know as a reader, that picture with the backpacks just was almost unbearable to look at and... Because before you get to the bottom of the screen, the top part of the screen is something we all know, right? An elementary school has the hooks placed low because the kids are small, and that's where they come in every day and put their backpacks. And then you scroll down to the bottom and it's this carnage. And then you pull back and the rest of the room is there. So I just wonder what the discussion was when you were weighing this question of merit, right?

0:51:38.0 LC: What is the editorial purpose of this? And if somebody can make it through, what are they taking away and the decision to go with these photos rather than bodies?

0:51:55.0 SF: Well, I can say that we spoke to a lot of people through the course of developing this piece. We talked to all of our contacts and sources from different mass shootings, families, survivors, activists. We talked to people in elected office. We talked to very prominent kind of advocates in these spaces to really get a sense of where people stood on this question of showing and how much to show and whether it makes a difference. And what we found is that among the survivor community and families of victims, people are very divided on this issue. Some folks were really asking us to show it all and show the worst and that people need to be shocked and to see it all. And then other people were really convinced that... And we're speaking off of personal experience when they had tried to show really awful photos of their loved ones to elected officials and two people who they were hoping would care about it and it had no effect.

0:52:57.0 SF: And so we really tried to weigh all these different opinions while we were trying to make our own decisions about what to show and not show. And we actually... Days, I think it was four days before publication, as an extra kind of notification to those communities, we contacted all of folks from... Everyone that we knew from those 11 shootings we contacted, as well as some additional folks who we knew were very resource in the kind of survivor community and mass shooting networks to give them a heads-up about the story. That's not something that traditional mainstream news outlets usually do, but we basically told them that the story was coming, and allowed them to ask any questions they wanted to know and would walk them through every aspect of the story so they knew exactly what was coming, and in that way, kind of had the agency to choose to not click for them. Because at the end of the day, the folks who have been most closely... Who already know what these scenes look like are a small percentage of the population. And so we wanted to make sure they have the ability to look away, but that everyday Americans who still think that something like this could happen to them would have the option to educate themselves on that.

0:54:20.3 PW: On the question of bodies, that was obviously... That was the subject of a lot of discussion for us because that is what a certain segment of the population really wants the media to do. And we... It was our responsibility to decide how far to go. We were already crossing boundaries in even these pictures. But there comes a point where you might go too far where people are going to not want to read it. And I agree with you that those pictures are incredibly powerful. And we actually wound up feeling that, journalistically, a combination of those photos from the classroom in Uvalde taken right after the bodies were removed but before there was any cleaning of the classroom, that combined with the oral history accounts of first responders and others who witnessed the bodies, describing the bodies in very graphic detail was actually a more powerful way because it allows your mind to go there, but it felt... It's a way that more people would remain engaged with the story. So we thought it was journalistically more effective than maybe the shock value of showing a child, a dead body.

0:55:51.4 SF: We also, especially in this digital age, there have been images that circulate on social media and online where you see bodies. I remember after Allen, Texas especially, there was an image circulating of a family that had been killed after the mass shooting at the outlet mall there. And so people... We also knew that people were seeing these things, but it was online, devoid of context, without kind of the understanding or storytelling that we felt like we could provide. And so that kind of also just helped inform what we were going to do and how to tell it because we also knew that some of this stuff was already out there, unfortunately.

0:56:36.3 LC: Kainaz, before I ask you to come and sit down, are there any other aspects of Terror On Repeat that you want to show?

0:56:45.8 KA: I mean, I think this one part is significant, particularly in relation to schools, and what we saw was very similar images of students being evacuated. So if you remember this image from Sandy Hook, which I think everyone saw when it happened in 2012, very closely mirrors the school shooting in Nashville, which happened last year in March, 2023. And then we have some video from a student of hundreds of students being evacuated from Parkland.

0:57:25.8 PW: That national shooting, by the way, took place five hours after we published the first round of stories in this series, which is a sign of how often it happens.

0:57:36.7 KA: And just to iterate how extensively we reported it, this is one of the... This is one of the only images actually made, or photograph made in this story by a professional photographer. He was there to cover the festival, the concert when the shooting started. And so he... A lot of his images were published around that event to show people what happened. He made this photograph of Dani Westerman who was being protected by a friend and kept in touch with Dani. And we went back to Dani and she said, "He threw me down on the ground, got on top of me. I think that moment was him grabbing my face and saying, 'This is happening, like there are actual bullets flying at us now'. I just remember that feeling, I swear it was the moment that photo was taken when he opened my eyes to what was actually happening." It felt like there was some value in looking at these events collectively sort of outside of the way that we experience them just after they have happened. And then...

0:58:58.0 LC: And I think as a matter of how we've come to consume news, especially from a traditional news organization, and even just the way newspapers work, a print edition of The Washington Post, if a story is on the front page, there's text and one image, and then if somebody makes it past the jump to open the newspaper and keep reading, there may be, depending on the length of the story, maybe one more image. And this edit in Terror On Repeat, it's actually a small number of images. How many pictures are...

0:59:47.8 KA: It's about 15 photographs and a couple of videos.

0:59:51.7 LC: It's a small number of images, but the images are telling the story. The images are forming the narrative as opposed to a written-through story that's got a picture and a place above the story.

1:00:08.3 KA: And I'll just get to the one image where we did decide to show bodies and the quote above it is from Rusty Duncan. He was a volunteer firefighter at Sutherland Springs in Texas. His recount of the same, "It looked like a bomb went off in there. When you can tell the difference between, you know, when somebody is alive and somebody is dead, it's because there were pieces of people just laying everywhere. And those were the dead ones. The ones that were alive were barely moving, but were moving."

1:00:39.8 PW: And again, he's describing the scene in Sutherland Springs in the church, and the picture you're looking at is Vegas. So two different years, two different places, but very similar sentiment.

1:00:51.9 KA: And Las Vegas was the deadliest mass shooting where 60 people were killed and more than 800 wounded. And the piece ends with one of the photos that we obtained from Robb Elementary School.

1:01:19.9 SF: That's our lengthy About the Story credit line. [laughter]

1:01:24.2 LC: And you... Why include an About the Story at the end of this? I mean, there were several of these About This Work, Why and How We Did This Work. Why include that, which is also a little different than how some people are used to consuming news?

1:01:41.5 PW: Yeah. We wanted to show people how we got the information we got, why we did it. In addition to that text, this story and the Blast Effect were published with letters from our executive editor explaining why we felt these pieces had journalistic value, and she explained the reporting process as well.

1:02:03.8 LC: So Kainaz, if you can come over and let's find the resting image, maybe the first... The opening image. Yeah. Thank you for walking us through that. And thank you all for sitting through it. We appreciate it and acknowledge that it was not easy, but I think there's some value to the discussion to actually walk through the material. So we're in a policy school. How many people in the room are public policy students or faculty or... This whole section here. As I said at the beginning, there's a difference between what journalists do and what public policy students do. What was your goal in... Did you have something that you wanted to happen through the publication of this series?

1:03:24.4 PW: Again, the question we began with was, is there something else we can do? I mean, we're not here to advocate for a particular position, but we did feel that there were... That there was a phenomenon happening in this country that wasn't fully understood. People didn't understand why it was happening, the causes or the consequences. And that's our job to expose the consequences and to explain the causes. And so that was what we wanted to do. We also wanted to identify where the public policy debate stood. Were there possible solutions to the violence? Why is it... Like I said earlier, why is it that this weapon is so popular? Those are all questions we wanted to answer. There's obviously many public policy questions around this. After Sandy Hook, there was a debate immediately, should assault weapons be banned? Should there be expanded background checks? What's possible? The country was in a state of shock over Sandy Hook that we had never seen anything like that before.

1:04:38.8 LC: Can I jump in here? Because I mentioned that I'm not supposed to be moderating today, that Dean Watkins-Hayes was the moderator, and I messaged with her before this and I said, "Is there one thing that you definitely were gonna ask that I can ask for you?" and she said, "Can you please ask why there was no change after Sandy Hook?"

1:05:00.2 PW: Yeah. So I can talk about that because... Actually, as part of the series, I reported a story looking at that very question, which is the country was in a... If there was ever a moment that there might have been a change in public... A major change in public policy, perhaps that would have been it. A lot of people thought it was. President Obama and Democrats in Congress tried to push for something. The Sandy Hook families got involved. And so at the time, there was a widespread belief that an assault weapons ban, which had expired in 2004, was politically infeasible. The Democrats had a narrow edge in the Senate. Republicans controlled the House. But a lot of the advocates, including many of the Sandy Hook families, decided to go for an expansion of background checks rather than an assault weapons ban because they wanted to try to do something that had a chance and so they came to Washington in April of 2013. So four months after the shooting, there was a massive push involving the Sandy Hook families.

1:06:16.7 PW: There was a bipartisan deal struck between Senator Manchin from West Virginia and Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, a Republican, to try to push this bill, and they lobbied hard for it, and the Sandy Hook families pushed for it, and that compromise bill fell just a few votes shy of what was needed in the Senate. And so it died. And it was fought by the NRA. And the NRA at that time, there really was not much of a pro-gun control infrastructure. A lot of that was created out of the Sandy Hook shooting. And so it was really the Brady Campaign and a few other organizations. And so the NRA was able to marshal its members to call, to flood senate offices with calls opposing that legislation, especially the Democrats in the Senate who represented more conservative states, but also Republicans who were from purple states who might have voted for background check.

1:07:25.3 PW: And so that campaign really worked. And like I said, it fell a few votes short. But interestingly, there wasn't a... Senator Feinstein at the time continued to push an assault weapons ban and that only got 40 votes in the Senate. So 15 Democrats voted against the assault weapons ban at the time. And just one more brief point, I did interview several current and former senators who voted against the assault weapons ban that year.

1:07:57.2 LC: For this series. Yeah.

1:07:57.8 PW: For this series, and they now regret that vote and talked a little bit about sort of the short-term political calculations they were making at the time and how in retrospect, now that they've seen 10 years of mass shootings and soaring AR-15 sales, that they now feel that they probably made the wrong decision.

1:08:18.4 LC: We know there are questions from the audience. Efrat, can we... Can you...

1:08:27.8 SF: First of all, thank you so much for this fascinating talk and your incredible work. We got a lot of questions, so we only picked the hardest ones. [laughter] So the first one is from, and I hope I pronounce his name correctly, Kenan Kabbani, he's a master's student, and he's asking, "There are plenty of semi-automatic rifle models developed over the last 100 years that functionally have near identical potential for devastation as the AR-15. At what point is it that this is an issue caused by a specific model of firearm versus other factors such as unaddressed mental health crisis, increased radicalization among segments of our population, and inflammatory propaganda to name a few?"

1:09:23.7 PW: That's a great question. First of all, there are a lot of different semi-automatic... Types of semi-automatic rifles. We chose to focus on this one because it has such symbolic power and because it's so popular. It's more popular than the other models. There are obviously a lot of factors that go into this. As I said earlier, there are millions and millions of AR-15 owners in this country who own them for legitimate purposes, self-defense, recreation, they're not mass killers. So there are factors in every shooting. We chose to focus on this weapon because it is so easy to get and it's incredibly easy to use. And so that's why it keeps showing up in these crimes.

1:10:13.9 LC: Easy to get, easy to use, cheap, cheaper and effective. You have held an AR-15?

1:10:29.0 SF: Yes.

1:10:30.5 LC: Can you talk about it relative to other weapons?

1:10:34.2 SF: Yeah. I actually... In Sutherland Springs, I went to someone's personal shooting range and shot a handful of weapons including the AR-15, and I was struck by how easy it was. There's very little to no recoil, and so you really don't need a lot of skill to use it to be able to shoot many bullets pretty rapidly. And if you shoot enough of them over a period, over a short period of time, you're gonna be able to hit some kind of target. And I was really struck by that. I thought... I had kind of envisioned, I think, ahead of that experience that it would be heavier or harder or bigger, but it was actually the easiest one to use of all of them.

1:11:18.3 LC: And as you described in the Blast Effect, with a bullet that is designed for...

1:11:26.3 SF: Yeah. It tumbles inside the body. So instead of making a straight line because it's so fast, it tumbles and ricochets off of internal organs and that is what causes such a large damage to the body.

1:11:40.4 PW: And a person... And not just in one body, but in a matter of seconds or minutes, many bodies, right? I mean, 20 people can be killed.

1:11:47.8 SF: And it can be through a body into someone else. I mean...

1:11:50.6 LC: And so when the person with the question asks, "Is it the gun? Is it mental health in the country?" I guess one of the distinctions would be, certainly, part of the issue would be mental illness, but another gun in the hand of that person who's having a crisis would not result in the same...

1:12:17.4 PW: Same scale.

1:12:17.6 LC: Is that part of the...

1:12:18.6 SF: Not as many people would be killed if it was a different type of gun. But with an AR-15 and these similar styles, a lot more... The death count is higher in a shorter amount of time.

1:12:32.2 LC: Yeah, I see.

1:12:33.3 Efrat Lachter: So the next question is from [1:12:35.1] ____. "With so many people armed to the teeth with military-style rifles, what is the danger of civil war-type violence breaking out and the political establishment losing control in various administrative areas in the country?

1:12:54.4 PW: Well, [chuckle] I can't speculate on that. I don't think any of us can but...

1:13:00.3 EL: Armed militias.

1:13:00.4 PW: But yeah. I was just...

1:13:01.0 LC: That was one of the stories.

1:13:03.1 PW: Two of the stories that relate to that question, one is we had a reporter, Hannah Allam, who covers extremism for The Washington Post, she's an incredible reporter, and she embedded with militia groups on the far-right, and interestingly, the far-left. We don't tend to think of militia groups being on the far-left, but both are arming... Both sides are arming up with AR-15s because they see the weapon literally as a weapon of war in case they are... Because they are planning for a war. And so that's one segment of the population that wants to be ready for that. Just in terms of the government's ability to keep control, another story we did that, again, was another one of those revelations for me is a reporter, Robert Klemko, went to Colorado and met some police officers there who are themselves getting AR-15s because they are increasingly afraid of confronting criminal suspects who have semi-automatic weapons, including AR-15s. And so, often, media coverage of the police focuses on different angles, right? Like we...

1:14:19.2 PW: The media focuses a lot on police abuse. There are a lot of stories about police departments spending a lot of money to become more militarized. But here is an example where the police are now increasingly afraid of being outdone because of the ubiquity of AR-15s, and so they are taking steps. In some cases, the departments are giving the officers AR-15s, and in some cases, these police officers are just getting the AR-15s themselves. And interestingly, they have sort of a love-hate relationship with the AR-15 because some of them really enjoy using it and enjoy having it, but also are afraid of somebody else having it.

1:15:00.8 EL: Another question from a U of M student, "What is it like to report on topics like this one? And how do you keep yourself from becoming desensitized? And I will also add, how do you keep yourself from becoming traumatized by your experience or what you see?"

1:15:21.4 SF: Yeah. I think there was an understanding going into this that, like secondhand trauma is real, not just in viewing the imagery over and over again, but also hearing the accounts from people over and over again just paints like a really close picture in your head of what that would look like. And I think as a person, as a reporter, it makes you recognize your own vulnerability that I think I personally had not felt so clearly before. And I think we all really put things in place to try to help our team kind of get through this type of reporting. It was really helpful to have a team in the first place where we had a kind of a group of people and we would sit down all together and go through the images together and kind of making sure we always have a purpose or an intent before we were going to be going through this trove. So we always kind of had a lens or a filter on exactly what it was that we were looking for, and I think that helped to some degree to shield us from some of the brunt of it. But it is...

1:16:33.5 SF: Unfortunately, it's an aspect of our job that we have to absorb other people's stories and other people's trauma. And at least for me personally, I've found it helps with my mental health to be able to produce these kinds of stories because it kind of makes you feel like you're doing something in some small way to help and that can provide a lot of relief instead of the sense of absorbing all of this death and grief and then not being able to do anything about it.

1:17:13.7 KA: That was a brilliant answer. I mean, I will say that I think community is really important and being a... We had some buffers. And when we decided to gather and look at some of the material, we made sure that we didn't have to run off to another meeting after. We gave each other space. There's also an opportunity for people to not continue as the reporting process... As we are continuing. If anybody didn't wanna continue, that was absolutely fine.

1:17:48.9 LC: And there were reporters who did not continue through the whole series, right?

1:17:54.0 KA: Yeah. And I would say that we kept talking to each other, and I think that was really important. In every step of the way, I think that as we talked and as we kept shaping the story, it fortified our reason to be a part of it.

1:18:15.4 LC: And The Washington Post provides some sort of trauma support? Is that...

1:18:20.6 SF: We have an in-house therapist who's available. I think it's twice a week specifically because of it. I am in acknowledgement that the work itself that we do in general, in the newsroom can be difficult.

1:18:37.4 EL: The next question is from a U of M staff member. "What would the impact of an assault weapons ban in our industry will be? What percentage of their income are from assault weapons and ammunitions sales?

1:18:52.3 PW: That's a good question. I don't... I can't give you a statistic on that. It's a lot though. I mean, the AR-15 is, like I said earlier, the bestselling rifle. It's one of the bestselling weapons. It's extremely... You go into a gun store now and it's really the featured product. Obviously, handguns, and so forth are also very popular, but it's a very profitable part of that industry. I mean, one of the other stories we had is actually a couple of... Ashley Parker and Josh Dossey, two of our reporters went down to a town in North Carolina where there's... The main business in town is an AR-15 factory. A lot of... Actually, a lot of gun companies historically have had their manufacturing in the northeast, in blue states, and have since... And now started to move to red states where they're welcomed with open arms. In this town, I think it may have been in North Carolina, an old textile mill that had closed down is now an AR-15 factory and it's bringing jobs and economic vitality to that community. So there are different ways that a ban could affect the industry and the communities that benefit from the industry.

1:20:07.4 PW: I mean, there's a lot of questions about whether a ban is effective or not. I think that's a debated point. There is a growing body of research that does show that the ban in place from '94 to 2004 was actually effective. Bans have been effective in other countries. But there are, like I said, tens of millions of AR-15s in the country now, so it's just, I don't know what impact it would have.

1:20:38.3 EL: Here's another question from a student. "What reactions people have on this story? I wonder whether dramatic stories like this have the effect of making people even more firm in their views or it doesn't change people's views."

1:20:54.5 SF: We had a lot of response from the story, people were especially articulate and getting into conversations and arguments in the comment section of the piece. I think there... Yeah, I think there was a lot of different discussion about it, but what it showed to us is that the piece sparked another conversation about what should be shown and not shown. And I think from here on, the standard has been changed now about what we show in this country, and it's gonna continue to kind of start a new chapter of exploring what actually could help make change.

1:21:38.2 LC: And one of the... I don't know if it's the Blast Effect or Terror On Repeat. Can we just take a look at what... How many comments are there?

1:21:49.4 EL: Yeah.

1:21:50.7 KA: That was like 7,800 comments.

1:21:52.0 PW: Yeah. While Kainaz is pulling that up, I think to Silvia's point there, there was a couple of... There's two conversations that have happened, and one that's a... We think we've contributed to the public policy conversation about the impact of these weapons and how they're different and what should happen moving forward. And then there's the internal journalism conversation and conversations in the newsrooms where we think that we've also had an impact in terms of how like Silvia said, we've changed the standard. The question now that every newsroom is gonna ask after a mass shooting is, should we show the pictures? And that's a question that we hope that we've forced newsrooms to reckon with.

1:22:38.4 EL: Okay, one more question. "Are there similar or a range of sources that shooting victims place blame?"

1:22:48.3 SF: Sources?

1:22:49.4 EL: That shooting victims place blame. I think what it means is that, are there people the victims also place blame on the rifle or that they are to blame for the mass shootings?

1:23:04.6 SF: Yeah. There's a very wide range. When you talk to... For example, in Sutherland Springs, those communities very much don't feel like the gun is part of the solution or the conversation. Mental health is usually the main thing brought up. And in Sutherland Springs' case, there was a man, Stephen Willeford, who confronted the gunman outside of the church and sparked a chase, and then the gunman ended up shooting himself in a ditch on the side of the road. But to them, that was proof of like the good guy with a gun and it made them wish they had had more guns. And that community, and actually the state of... People in the state of Texas, after that shooting, armed themselves more, which I think we might have mentioned earlier is actually a common reaction, is that people in the wake of mass shootings will arm themselves more. On the other hand, these communities like in Parkland, Florida, where those children were very outspoken about needing more gun law restrictions in the country. So it really is as wide range of a reaction, I think as the American public's is.

1:24:12.0 LC: Can I... Let's do one more question, and I have a question for the room.

1:24:18.0 EL: Okay. So one more question from a student. "Given that a lot of negotiation around policy focuses on the adoption of language, bridge gaps between stances around AR-15, what language do you feel would be able to potentially contribute to bridging that gap?"

1:24:38.0 PW: Good question.

1:24:38.5 SF: Really good question. [laughter] I mean, I know we as a newsroom struggle with language is because we're objective. We're not trying to push an agenda or a policy or advocate for one thing or another. Our real mission is to educate people and to inform. And a lot of times, I think especially with this issue, so much of the debate is actually about the words that you're using and the buzzwords that are created when it comes to gun control. Do you say gun control? Do you say gun safety? And that becomes part of our kind of struggle and trying to be objective because the words themselves, they do become so inflamed and heightened. And so I'm not sure if we have an answer to that because it's also constantly evolving with the times as the public changes as well.

1:25:25.2 SF: One of the things I've always been struck by just in my reporting is how much the public has actually a lot in common when it comes to gun laws, but how that just gets distorted and taken out of place as soon as these kinds of buzzwords and politics get involved. It's amazing how suddenly everyone who once you're talking to them one-on-one kind of all is in agreement, immediately kind of go into their camps.

1:25:48.8 PW: One thing we try to do in the series is to be very precise with language. I mean, we keep... We're referring to AR-15s. There's many, many different types of AR-15s. We actually... With every story, there's a terminology box where we explain how we're just gonna shorthand this with the term AR-15, but it actually has a very specific meaning and there are all these different kinds. And then we also had some... Just that we happen to have had experts on our staff, on our team who owned AR-15s or the military version. One of our reporters had been in the Army. So we were very... And he reviewed every story. So we really... It was important to us that at least the language of the series was language that would be accessible and have credibility with both sides of the debate. Even the phrase "assault weapons", an assault weapon, that's sort of a loaded phrase, but of course, everybody refers to an assault weapons ban [chuckle] to refer to the legislation in Congress, and so we use it in that context. But even describing these weapons as assault weapons is in a way of seeing as a derogatory term.

1:27:08.7 LC: And you all should jump on to the question I'm about to ask. You created this series because you wanted to spark different kinds of conversation and engagement with a really difficult topic, and a topic that has become every day for us, but in some ways, a topic that we don't talk about very much. So I wonder from the room, from the public policy students and experts, Professor Bednar, anyone, when you look at the series, is this material that is useful to you? Does it... Can you take Blast Effect and have a policy conversation with lawmakers? What does this enable you to do? Or what else would you want to see? Yes.

1:28:14.3 Speaker 6: It was mentioned in answer to the last question that there's a lot of consensus on the American public that they're not aware of. You mentioned specifically that...

1:28:24.8 LC: We're gonna bring you a microphone.

1:28:31.7 S6: Is this thing on?

1:28:32.6 LC: Yes.

1:28:34.5 S6: It was mentioned earlier in response to a question that when you talk to people kind of one-on-one, and then zoom out and you look at whatever those answers are one-one-one, there's a lot of policy-related questions, there's a lot of consensus but when it becomes a group conversation, people tend to retreat in their camps, I think particularly actionable, anytime you're talking about policy is consensus, especially when that consensus is largely unconscious, I guess the information that I keep finding myself hungry for and this is where are those areas of consensus? And do they line up with the language and the terminology that we use about assault rifles, et cetera.

1:29:16.2 PW: One area where we found some possible consensus is on the role of high-capacity magazines, that there is sort of a growing, emerging consensus among law enforcement and other experts that a way to minimize the death toll in these cases is to restrict the size of ammunition magazines. So obviously... Some of these mass killers go in with a 30-round magazine or a 100-round magazine, and some states are moving to limit those to 10 rounds. And so when a shooter has to reload, that creates what the experts call critical pause and where people can fight back or flee. And so that's one area where states have started to take some policy action and that's being... As with all of this, it becomes a legal question, it's probably gonna be ultimately settled at the Supreme Court.

1:30:20.6 Speaker 7: I'll pop in. And I have some students in the room who'd really love to hear what you're thinking. But I think is just a brilliant demonstration of The Washington Post living up to its moniker, Democracy Dies in Darkness. And what you're doing here is something that I think we're really trying to do in the Ford School of not just providing information to help our students become great policymakers, but to understand our relationship to one another and to make public policy decisions be human-centered. And the way that you have chosen to report this out about the machine and making it so human and the visual narrative is so powerful that it puts us as humans in relation to this machine and really requires us to think about as we're...

1:31:24.5 S7: And reading the text of the witness experiences, it brings a different kind of obligation that we have to one another that rather than the counts and even the devastation of reading about victims and who they were, this is their experience. And so it makes us respond to it as humans. And that's something I really appreciate what you did.

1:31:52.2 PW: Thank you.

1:32:00.3 Speaker 8: Hi, [1:32:00.9] ____ a question about language. So this first semester, a lot of us took probably the same class, which goes into basic policy-writing. And so language of course is important, but for me, if you're asking if this is a useful tool for policy-writing, in a sense, I would say maybe very specific, but I think in, was it Exploding Effect or whatever that was.

1:32:24.7 SF: The Blast Effect.

1:32:24.8 PW: The Blast Effect.

1:32:25.9 S8: Blast Effect. So that specifically you mentioned that's fired, that AR-15 that ricochets like that, I think that's a really good demonstration, at least research wise, a valid research for a specific ban on that type ammunition, if that makes sense. Just from my look at this article, it's very powerful and human-centered certainly, but for at least when we look at environmental policy, a lot of research has to pin on why this specific thing is such a problem, and I certainly think it does that especially the specifics of that ballistic. So yeah.

1:33:03.2 LC: I'm just curious, do you all work on storytelling? So that's part... Is that what you're doing in that class?

1:33:09.5 S8: I mean, there's a little bit of background information. There's a little bit of background summary, different types of policy memos. Some do in a, whatever, yeah, background memo. There are a lot of different ones that add in a bit of storytelling but also start pretty much right with the executive summary and the type of details of the policy that you're trying to do. But there's generally a storytelling on them which is freeing. Yeah. [laughter] [1:33:36.5] ____.

1:33:39.0 LC: It's interesting for us. Yeah. We have some people over here too.

1:33:51.4 Speaker 9: Hi, I'm Edgar. I'm studying political science, not public policy, but around the same frame. And I'm also a staff member at March For Our Lives. So yes, I've had many conversations with lawmakers here in Michigan, but also many on the Hill, talking about this exact kind of topic. And something that I find really fascinating, many of these conversations with lawmakers in these rooms with survivors of shootings in Parkland and Uvalde and so many mass shootings and every day gun violence, and even when lawmakers hear these stories, as Peter, I believe you alluded to earlier, there's many times where lawmakers don't necessarily ruminate on that story. They wanna breeze past it. And sometimes that's different. I mean, obviously, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed last year, which is historic.

1:34:46.5 S9: The first federal gun safety package passed in 30 years. We did finally see that inflection point make a difference in policy and finally, those stories of the students in Uvalde and the survivors at Buffalo made a difference. But at the same time, there's this disillusionment that it's really difficult to balance between showing these stories, showing these images of these shootings, but also making sure that people are actually listening to it and understand the depth of these stories and the impact it had.

1:35:21.5 PW: Just to respond briefly, I think that's a really interesting point. And March For Our Lives is a great example of a type of organization that is relatively recent. Obviously, post-Parkland, that didn't make... March For Our Lives didn't exist after Sandy happened. So that goes to the earlier question about why did nothing happen after Sandy Hook? Groups like that didn't exist. And in talking to some of the senators who opposed an assault weapons ban back then in 2013, Senator Heinrich from New Mexico, his son... One of the commonalities of some of these senators is that they got an earful from their kids.

1:36:04.8 PW: And so Senator Heinrich's son actually joined up with March For Our Lives and came and literally marched on the Capitol. And his father had opposed an assault weapons ban. And so that had an impact on him. But hearing... In talking to some of these senators about... And really, the Sandy Hook families about their interactions with these senators in that year, I mean, one of the most poignant stories was a mom, Francine Wheeler, who recalled for me her son had been killed in Sandy Hook and she sat with Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who was a newly elected senator from North Dakota, a very conservative state, and Francine, her recollection of that meeting was just that Senator Heitkamp wouldn't listen to her, and she tried to tell... To get Senator Heitkamp to understand her grief. She just tried to talk about what she had experienced just a few months earlier with her son being killed, and her recollection was that the senator just wouldn't look her in the eye, wouldn't engage with her.

1:37:15.6 PW: And so recently, when I brought that recollection to Senator Heitkamp, who's now out of politics, and she actually runs the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago now, first of all, she... Senator Heitkamp wouldn't... I had kept trying to reach out to her to get her to talk to me about that whole experience, but she wouldn't respond to talk until I had that recollection from somebody who had met with her. And she just... She'd gotten her emotional. She called me, Senator Heitkamp, and she was very emotional on the phone and she reflected on how when you're sort of in the moment as a senator, like that sort of thinking through all these different things that you have to do and think about, you sometimes... It's easy to lose sight of the fact that you may be taking a vote at that time that is gonna have a permanency and have a long-term consequence.

1:38:09.7 PW: And I thought that was just a really fascinating window into how politicians make decisions, and the role of politics and winning an election, or how you're gonna win re-election or whatever calculation you have to make, the decision about whether you represent your constituency or whether you wanna do something different. It's just... I thought that was a really interesting window into how politicians make decisions and how maybe... They all talked about how they wish they could go back in time and do something different. So that was a pretty fascinating look at how policy gets made in the context of politics.

1:38:46.0 LC: We are over time. We'll do one more and wrap up.

1:39:00.3 Speaker 10: Thank you for giving me the chance to the last question. Peter, when you started off, you prefaced your introduction saying a fraction of the cause of gun violence is coming from AR-15. And I think many people know that suicide is the leading cause of gun deaths. And among young Black men, gun violence between them is also one... Is their leading cause of death. In your discussion in determining why this topic would be here, why did you make that decision to get something which is so sort of in the zeitgeist of red, blue, and like you said, the icon of America, why did that rather than do these other items which are obviously having a bigger impact on gun violence death?

1:40:07.4 PW: A couple of reasons. It's an excellent question, and we talk a lot about that. One is we have covered that a lot and we continue to. It was... It's not a rather than. It's, should we take this on as well? But we did wanna capture the fact that this was also a relatively new phenomenon and something that we just haven't explored fully before. But those issues remain vitally important. We have done a lot of work on those parts of the story and we will continue to. And I have some ideas moving forward of projects that we can do that will look at those aspects of the problem as well. But that was a decision we had to make, which direction are we gonna go, and we chose this one, but that doesn't mean that we won't... We haven't made the other choice in the past or won't in the future.

1:41:06.4 LC: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for sticking with this conversation today. For those people watching the stream, I hope you stayed with us, and I hope that if you weren't familiar with the material before you came in today, that you will take a look at the package, American Icon, and spend some time with it. Think about how it relates to your work or the things that you are... The questions you're thinking about, the spaces you engage in. I think one of the reasons that you all decided to do this too, was because of this idea of public spaces and the places where the impact of this particular weapon tends to play out.

1:42:00.1 LC: And our speakers will be up here for a bit before they leave. And I know there are a couple more people who had their hands up that we couldn't get to, but... I'm sorry. Oh, there's a reception outside. So they won't be here. They'll be out there. Either way, they'll be in this space. And again, we just thank you for hanging in with us on what we think is an important topic. And Kainaz, Silvia, Peter, thank you so much for your work, and thank you for coming to share it with us today.


1:42:39.4 PW: Thank you.