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Why we ran that photo of a New Haven man posing with stolen gun

10 Mar
(Photo by Peter Hvizdak - New Haven Register) During a photography portrait session with a New Haven Register photographer on Jan. 30, 2014, in New Haven, an African-American male of New Haven, a convicted felon in his late 20s, shows off a 9mm Smith & Wesson model 659 semi-automatic firearm that he says is stolen and which he says he uses for his personal protection.

(Photo by Peter Hvizdak – New Haven Register) During a photography portrait session with a New Haven Register photographer on Jan. 30, 2014, in New Haven, an African-American male of New Haven, a convicted felon in his late 20s, shows off a 9mm Smith & Wesson model 659 semi-automatic firearm that he says is stolen and which he says he uses for his personal protection.

A striking and sure-to-be-controversial photo leads the New Haven Register’s website and print edition front page this morning. “Joe,” an anonymous New Haven man, poses in a menacing, face-covering disguise with a handgun that he says is both stolen and against the law for him to possess since he is a convicted felon.

BiVl1a_CYAAVaRUThere were two major points of discussion among New Haven Register editors prior to publishing Shahid Abdul-Karim‘s story, which features an interview in which “Joe” (not his real name) talks about why illegal guns proliferate on the streets of New Haven from the perspective of someone who feels he needs to have one to defend himself.

1. We are generally uncomfortable with using anonymous sources, for a lot of reasons. What ulterior motives might be at play that anonymity would cover up? How do we confirm what they are saying is true?

2. Is the photo constructive in telling the story and conveying information and meaning to readers, or is it gratuitous “click bait” at best, and glorifying of some kind of tough guy violence mentality at worst?

We were comfortable with the first point because Shahid did the work to be confident that “Joe” is who he says he was. There was little to nothing to be gained by talking to us. Point by point, we checked out what he said to us (for example, that guns are sometimes stolen from National Guard armories) and ran counter-point from law enforcement and others. Most of all, we felt that anonymity was justified in this case because of how important, and rare, it is to hear from the kind of person no one ever hears from when urban violence and illegal guns are written about.

We were comfortable (for the most part) about the photo because it vividly conveyed the subject matter, and provided a telling contrast between the projection of strength young men make in arming themselves vs. the fear and desperation expressed in our interview with “Joe.”

Most of all, we hope the story will spark a dialogue about the issue. For context, see Rich Scinto‘s story on the toll that gun violence took in New Haven last year, and Brian Charles‘ story on the growing rate of income disparity and poverty in New Haven.

If you have questions or insight into the story or how we handled it, New Haven Register editors will be discussing it today at AskTheRegister.com. Please come join in the conversation.

Partisan heckling mars rally against gun violence

14 Feb

In Hartford for an unrelated meeting Thursday, I took the opportunity to check out the “March for Change” rally in support of stricter gun control laws on the steps of the Capitol building.

Nicole  Hockley holding a photograph of her son  Dylan Hockley, 6, who was a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting by gunman Adam Lanza December 14, 2012 stands with the crowd listening to speakers at the March For Change anti-gun rally at the State Capitol Thursday, February 14, 2013 in Hartford,Connecticut urging legislators in Connecticut and Washington to enact strict gun control and a total ban on  rifles and handguns with capacities of using magazine that hold more than 10-rounds.  State legislators and families of victims of the Newtown Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, shootings in urban Bridgeport and Hartford,  among others, spoke at the rally. According to Capitol Police, approximately 5,500 people attended the rally, many of whom were bused in from around Connecticut.  Photo by Peter Hvizdak / New Haven Register

Nicole Hockley holding a photograph of her son Dylan Hockley, 6, who was a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting by gunman Adam Lanza December 14, 2012, stands with the crowd listening to speakers at the March For Change anti-gun rally at the State Capitol Thursday, February 14, 2013 in Hartford. Photo by Peter Hvizdak / New Haven Register

The gathering was remarkable due to its size (Capitol Police estimated the crowd at 5,500), roster of speakers (Gov. Dannel Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, Attorney General George Jepsen, actress Christine Baranski and many others) and moving words from family members of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14.

The turnout was significant, in part, because of the edge that opponents of any new gun control measure have had in pressuring members of the Connecticut General Assembly. Gun rights enthusiasts dominated an all-day hearing in Hartford recently sponsored by a legislative task force looking at post-Newtown public policy issues. Merrill told the crowd that legislators have been getting emails 10-to-1 against new gun restrictions even though polls have shown that the majority of people support more gun control. She urged the “silent majority” to start speaking up.

But there was at least one man in the crowd at Thursday’s rally who should have stayed silent.

In addition to the parade of prominent Democratic lawmakers speaking at the rally, Republican state Sen. John McKinney took the podium. He was not treated with the same respect.

John McKinney

John McKinney

McKinney represents Newtown and was in the firehouse that day, waiting with families on word of whether their children were dead or alive.

He talked about how that day changed his live and changed his perspective on issues.

McKinney was not allowed to complete his remarks as prepared. He was interrupted by a chant of “Pass the law! Pass the law!”

And then a man from the crowd (likely the same person who launched the chanting) started heckling him, with words I couldn’t make out, other than at one point where he yelled that McKinney should get off the stage.

The only reason I can think that McKinney would be interrupted and heckled at this rally is the political party he belongs to. If that was why, it was a mind-boggling and self-defeating injection of partisanship into an issue that should transcend party (and really seems to in McKinney’s mind).

Gun control advocates should do what the gun rights crowd failed to do when one of their own was guilty of a major breach of civility and respect in discussing this issue.  They should condemn and cast out those who use the issue to score political points or be nasty. And they should reach out to Sen. McKinney, a major potential ally, with an apology (if they haven’t already done so privately).

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