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Should Newtown crime scene photos be released?

Friday marks the six-month anniversary of the gun massacre in Newtown in which 20 students and six educators were killed.
AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File
AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File

Friday marks the six-month anniversary of the gun massacre in Newtown in which 20 students and six educators were killed.

Since the incident, the victims' family members have been anything but quiet. Many are back on Capitol Hill this week in a renewed effort for gun legislation to prevent tragedies like the one that claimed their loved ones.

The families last week managed to successfully convince Connecticut lawmakers not to release the crime scene photos. The bill was approved by both the Connecticut State House and Senate and quickly signed by Governor Dannel Malloy. It also put a one-year moratorium on audio recordings that describe the condition of any victims, with the exception of 911 calls.

Host Melissa Harris-Perry and her Sunday panel explored two issues: whether the public has the right to ask the Newtown families to release the crime scene photos of the victims, and whether the Newtown families have the right to protect their loved ones' privacy by not having gruesome images used as tools in the gun control debate.

"I think the question's made more complex by a kind of wish that the photographs themselves would serve as a magic bullet," said Yale professor Laura Wexler on Sunday's panel. "If we could only see them it would change the conversation and perhaps be the finishing off of the stalling of gun control. And I know as a historian of photography that that actually is not so and it most likely won't happen. It's not true that a photograph by itself changes the politics."

Former Baltimore circuit court judge William "Billy" Murphy disagreed that a photograph can't be transformative. "We can't predict how impactful these photographs will be in a political or non-political consequence, but legislation prohibiting them seeks to do just that," said Murphy.

It's unclear if the overall impact of releasing the Newtown crimes photos would yield a change in policy.

John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, noted the potential pitfalls of releasing the images. "If those pictures were released you would have some sectors of our political discourse condemning the use of the pictures for political purposes. You would end up with a debate about the pictures rather than about the issue."

Murphy then added that that debate might be preferable than none at all. "Here is a clear case I think where censorship is playing right into the hands of gun proponents. Playing right against the interests of these people who want photographs to be private."

The interests of the people are to prevent more tragedies like Newtown.

According to Mother Jones, 71 of the 143 weapons used by mass shooters between 1982 and 2012 were semiautomatic handguns. Also, of the 62 perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States during that time, 49 of them obtained their weapons illegally.

Michael Skolnik, editor-in-chief of GlobalGrind, argued on the panel for the release of the Newtown crime scene photographs. "For Americans we have to see these images. This is not about politics. This is about lifting the consciousness of our nation."