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Editorial: Forewarned Is...Forewarned

It is almost impossible to avoid shooting references when talking about the current debate over gun violence, from Vice President Joe Biden’s “no silver bullet” mention to talk about “targets” and “taking aim.” And while there is nothing funny in what has prompted the renewed interest and attention on the causes of societal violence and the recent spate of deadly shootings, Stephen Colbert, as usual, is able to make us both smile and think seriously at the same time.

Colbert’s show last week on the eve of the vice president’s recommendations to President Barack Obama on a comprehensive approach to preventing tragedies like the Newtown, Conn., shootings made an important point about the potential for derailing the “conversation” about violence by turning it into a monologue attempting to deflect blame by pointing " ngers at someone else, or by portraying the effort as a witch hunt aimed at one, well, target.

Colbert also did a great job of skewering gun rights extremists. But while we were laughing at The Colbert Report host disguised in a camouflage suit to keep the feds from grabbing his guns, we were also thinking seriously about the chance that the national debate we ought to be having is in danger of being sidetracked once again.

Media companies should be forewarned that gun advocate extremists, when they are not playing a game of “pin the blame on the liberal donkeys,” could try to shift the focus of attention to video games, movies or TV shows.

The point of this proposed national exercise in collective thinking about the possible causes and cures of societal violence and what action should be taken is that there is no smoking…ahh, single factor, but likely a combination. That is why we were so encouraged by the willingness of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, National Association of Broadcasters, Motion Picture Association of America and others to be part of that conversation rather than simply trying to protect their turf. We were pleased to hear that their meetings with the vice president appeared to be cordial and constructive. The White House will not help if it starts scapegoating any industry.

The moment the process of self-examination starts devolving into protecting one’s own turf while scorching someone else’s earth is when all of us lose the opportunity to do more than wring our hands for a while, pay lip service to the tragedy and then move on as the news cycle wheels toward Lindsay Lohan’s next meltdown.

The Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee pledged last week to look into the violence problem over a range of issues under its purview, but talked only about mental health, one of the issues gun lobbyists have been particularly focused on as opposed to, say, regulations on guns. Mental health must be part of the inquiry, of course, as must guns, as must societal factors like portrayals of violence in the media, though we again emphasize that this does not mean pointing fingers. We don’t know the answers, obviously, or kids would not keep killing kids.

We don’t have, for example, an easy way to determine how many people don’t commit real-world violence because they have an entertainment outlet that allows them to work out their frustrations or aggressions in a virtual world.

Our concern is that those passionately opposed to having their own ox gored will use their power and influence to blame others. Lobbyists are paid to protect their industries from regulations that could be costly to the industry, or to advocate for regulations on others that could give their industry an advantage. It will be to no one’s advantage to treat Newtown like political business as usual.