1. Historic Gun Settlement
In the ongoing debate over gun violence, one of the most fiercely argued points is what responsibility — if any — gun manufacturers should have for producing high-action weapons used in mass shootings. Under federal law, the manufacturers are protected from liability, but a loophole in the law allows them to be sued under state laws. This month, victims of a mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut nine years ago used that loophole to win a historic $73-million settlement from a gun manufacturer. The settlement came about because the families of nine victims sued the Remington gun company after an AR-15-style rapid fire weapon it made was used to kill 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The settlement is believed to be the largest payout by a gun manufacturer in a mass shooting case. The families argued that Remington violated state consumer laws by promoting sales of the weapon in ways that appealed to troubled men like the 20-year-old killer who stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary and fired 154 bullets in 264 seconds. The company promoted high powered weapons online and with ads placed in violent video games, including one that used the phrase “Consider Your Man Card Reissued.” The historic settlement with the Remington gun company hasn’t slowed debate about the liability of manufacturers because it was negotiated by insurance companies representing Remington, not by the company itself. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read commentaries about the settlement and what supporters and opponents say about it. Use what you read and other resources to write a commentary of your own addressing whether gun manufacturers should be held liable for weapons they make that are used in mass shootings.
Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.
2. Score One for the Press
Freedom of the press is one of the great freedoms protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It allows newspapers, magazines and, now, the Internet to freely publish criticism of leaders and other public figures, unless the news media display “actual malice” by publishing false information with a reckless disregard for the truth or knowledge that the information was false. This standard was set by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1964, and it was just upheld again in a high-profile case in New York City. Former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had sued the New York Times for libel, claiming the newspaper had defamed her by publishing an editorial that wrongly asserted a link between her political rhetoric as a Republican leader and a mass shooting near Tucson, Arizona that left six people dead and 14 wounded. The Times quickly corrected the error the morning after it appeared, but Palin claimed the paper had demonstrated “actual malice” for recklessly disregarding the truth. Both the jury and the judge in Manhattan federal court found that the Times had not acted with the level of recklessness required for a public figure to claim defamation. Newspaper editorials are not the only way people exercise freedom of speech. They also can do it in books, movies, TV shows, artworks, websites, blogs, social media and even T-shirts. In the newspaper or online, find examples of these and other ways people exercise freedom of speech. For each, write a complete sentence detailing how American life would be different if freedom of speech did not protect the activity. Share and discuss as a class.
Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarizing points of agreement and disagreement; producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task.
3. Protecting Wolves (Again)
In the United States, no animal has been more controversial in the national debate over endangered species than the gray wolf. Gray wolves, also known as timber wolves, once roamed over most of North America, but they were hunted, trapped or poisoned almost to extinction by government agencies, farmers and ranchers angry that wolves killed cattle, sheep and other domestic animals. The wolf population made a comeback after the wolves were placed on the Endangered Species List in the late 1970s, but suffered another setback when they were “de-listed” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the administration of former President Donald Trump. Wildlife groups led by the Humane Society of the United States sued to block the de-listing, and this month a federal judge ruled in their favor. As a result, gray wolves in most of the United States are again protected under the Endangered Species Act. The one area where they remain unprotected is the region north of the Rocky Mountains, where states have passed laws making it legal to hunt wolves. Protecting endangered species often sparks conflict between supporters of wildlife and business interests. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about such conflicts. Use what you read to create the home page for an informational website on these conflicts. Pick four cases to highlight on the page and write headlines and copy blocks to explain them. Choose images from the newspaper or Internet to go with each copy block.
Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; integrating information presented in different media or formats to develop a coherent understanding of a topic.
4. Finding a Famous Wreck
One of the world’s most famous survival stories is about to get a new look, as explorers try to find the wrecked ship that set it all in motion. The shipwreck lies deep in the waters off the coast of Antarctica, where the vessel of explorer Ernest Shackleton was crushed by polar ice and went to the bottom of the Weddell Sea 107 years ago in 1915. Shackleton was attempting to be the first to cross Antarctica, but his ship Endurance became trapped in the sea ice before he could even get started. Shackleton eventually led all of his men to safety in a survival effort that included sailing in open boats over rough, icy waters and camping on ice for months at a time. Now, a $10-million expedition will attempt to find the Endurance, photograph it with underwater drones and make precise laser scans of the wreckage, the New York Times reports. It will not be easy, because the Endurance is sitting in 10,000 feet of water under swirling currents that make the surface ice shift unpredictably. Shipwrecks can teach scientists and historians a great deal about the past. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about an effort to explore a shipwreck. Use what you read to write a paper or essay on what scientists can learn by exploring this shipwreck and why that is important.
Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.
5. Long Distance Help
For safety’s sake, people all over the world are told to contact the police if they need help in an emergency. In a community in Ontario, Canada recently, a woman did that and got help — just not from where she expected it. When an intruder broke into her home, the woman near the municipality of Durham went online and contacted the local Durham police. Or so she thought. Because the Internet can reach all over the world, she actually was connected with the Durham Constabulary police more than 3,000 miles away in Durham, England! Lucky for her, the English officers were a quick-thinking group. While keeping her online, they found the correct Durham police in Canada and alerted them that a “distraught” woman needed urgent help. The Canadian department quickly dispatched officers to the woman’s home, where they found a 35-year-old man inside. He was arrested after a scuffle and charged with breaking and entering and other offenses. The Internet has great ability to connect people in positive ways. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about the Internet doing this. Use what you read to brainstorm an idea for a short video for younger students showing how the Internet can have positive effects if used responsibly.
Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.