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Column: Firing off online


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Few issues being debated on The Republic’s website generate more intensity than gun rights.

The accidental discharge of a gun May 24 in a local Walmart store stoked the fire, and the banter has gone back and forth almost continuously since then.

Here’s a summary of what happened that day in Columbus:

A .25-caliber Titan handgun holstered in the waistband of a Columbus man slipped free and discharged in the westside department store.

A Clifford woman, who was walking through the store with her newborn son in a shopping cart, was struck and treated at the scene for a minor arm injury.

Some people questioned whether the gun owner was negligent, but an investigation by Columbus Police Department concluded that no laws were broken. The Bartholomew County prosecutor agreed.

Public opinion on this issue is split, and one forum for the debate is the commenting section of therepublic.com.

When letters to the editor are published in print, they are also published online. That opens up a live-chat commenting opportunity for readers to argue points raised by the letter writer and to make an opposing case. It then allows the original writer, or a supporter from that side of the argument, to join the dialogue.

It can get intense.

One recent letter on gun rights generated 39 back-and-forth comments.

Occasionally the comments get a little testy, and remarks begin to get personal.

That’s when our moderation process kicks in.

It begins with an automated screening system that has about 3,000 rules. It immediately blocks profanity, inappropriate slang, hate words, words describing violent acts and name-calling such as the word “idiot.”

Out of 90 to 100 comments that readers attempt to post each day, about one-third are blocked. Some are just junk mail, such as links to product solicitation.

Readers also have an opportunity to flag content they believe is objectionable, monitoring their own forum. If someone complains about a personal attack and a human moderator determines that a commenter has stepped over the line, the offending post will be removed, as occurred this past week with a gun-rights comment.

We do live in a free country, thank goodness, but there are rules that people must follow, including ones that guide our online commenting principals.

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