GREENSBURG, Pa. — We live in an era of profound carelessness. Too many people don't want to know the entirety of a story, or worse yet, tell only part of the story they know.
Last month, Martin Palla, a Rostraver Township police officer in Western Pennsylvania, learned this the hard way. He stood watching the "March for Our Lives" anti-gun rally in nearby Greensburg, dressed in a deep-red pullover and khakis, with his AR-15 slung over his shoulder and his dog by his side.
Photos of him quickly swept social media. Callers soon crushed the phone lines at his police department, taking critical police resources away from their duties to respond to the deluge.
"Anytime a police officer does something that grabs the attention of the public, we have to investigate. While what he did should not reflect the police department, he has a right to legally protest," said Greg Resetar, the Rostraver Township police chief. "His job is not in jeopardy," he added flatly.
In the spirit of Palla exercising his civil rights, a rally was held on April 22 in front of the same courthouse where the "March for Our Lives" protesters held their event last month. A crowd just about equal in size attended. The attendees were just as hopeful, just as passionate, just as patriotic as the "March for Our Lives" attendees.
But there were a few differences. The "March for Our Lives" rally was run by Voice of Westmoreland (a liberal activist group) and the Young Democrats of Westmoreland County. The rally for Palla was organized by Brett Seroka, who lives two counties away and had never met the officer. According to his Facebook page, he just felt deeply motivated to show support for the officer and the Second Amendment.
A more striking distinction between the rallies: Pretty much everyone at the Palla rally was carrying, which is completely legal in Pennsylvania, an open-carry state.
The final distinction: There was no national media coverage of the pro-gun event.
Everyone talked for days before and after the "March for Our Lives" event about turnout. Everyone talked for days about Officer Palla and speculated about his intentions; however, few people talked about the swelling of support he received after the "March for Our Lives" event that eventually led to the rally. National commentators who objected to his presence at the march didn't follow up to write about the fact that the investigation into him was thorough and the findings conclusive.
As with race, we have a very difficult time in this country discussing guns and gun rights. When we read, write or consume stories about the importance of our rights, in particular the First or Second Amendment, we tend to read, write or consume stories that go only as far as our own biases.
There are plenty of stories suggesting gun owners are changing their minds and embracing gun control. There are few stories about gun owners whose minds remain firm, never mind stories illustrating a thoughtful response as to why they stand firm.
An informed public is a stable public. Most of the public aware of Officer Palla's story knows it as ending with a gun-toting hillbilly trying to intimidate young people, in turn earning an investigation.
What they missed is the rest of the story: His job is not at risk; he did nothing violating the terms of his job. The investigation was standard operating procedure. Finally, his story so moved the local public that people came from around the region to show their support, matching in intensity those who want to curtail the Second Amendment.
How are we to understand our country if we only ever hear part of the story?