Beside an Anti-Gun Bias Media Doesn’t Know Guns
October 15, 2007
by Joseph P. Tartaro
Given the time and the story assignment, most journalists, print or electronic, will get something wrong in any news story involving guns.
In some cases, this is a result of bias against gunsor at least an unwillingness to seek sound information from real experts who might have pro-gun credentials because they are experienced gunsmiths, firearms dealers, or NRA members. To avoid appearing pro-gun at all costs, the reporter will call the Brady Campaign or some other obviously anti-gun group. In today’s media world, the resulting story will appear to be neutral to the uninitiated.
In others, it is pure laziness. Judging from many of the media questions fielded by staffers at the Second Amendment Foundationoften the same questions over and overthese journalists seldom even consult their peers. They certainly don’t spend much time in a library or on gun-related Internet sites.
There are almost daily examples of this unwillingness or inability of many journalists to deal with the gun issue in a professional and objective manner.
We have all had an opportunity to see the news stories that are loaded with such terms as “assault weapons” when referring to a revolver, or “.50 caliber sniper rifles” when referring to a .50 or .54-caliber muzzleloading rifle.
An, of course, the verbs used are selected intentionally. Thus, guns do not “fire” bullets they “spray” bullets.
Perhaps the most common gun or ammunition technical failing is to refer to complete unfired cartridges as “bullets.” In most stories, these are found in cliché journalism such as “arsenals of munitions” or “enough ammunition to start a small war.”
In a recent California newspaper example involving a reported older man’s death by “accidental discharge” of a firearm, the experts consulted by the newspaper’s reporter included a local policeman and a representative of the anti-gun Americans for Gun Safety.
The cop’s explanation for the shooting in which the man, supposedly cleaning his gun on a bench near a gun range, shot himself in the head seemed too callous and perfunctory. He said the gun “accidentally fired.” It’s possible that it accidentally did discharge without any outside action, but very improbable. Certainly, the story deserved more careful scrutiny.
If the mortal wound was intentionally inflicted by the elderly man, the possibility of suicide deserved further investigation. Of course, insurance companies would treat a suicide in a vastly different manner than they would an “accident.”
But an unusually dopey example of journalistic laziness comes from The O’Fallon Journal in Missouri at the end of June. O’Fallon is a city of almost 70,000 which you should bear in mind in relation to the story which I will quote in its entirety. You can see what’s wrong with it. It was written by a woman but there is no indication that she was an experienced reporter.
“The O’Fallon City Council may use the money set aside to hire a Public Safety director to purchase new, lighter weapons for the police department.”
Notice, for example, the all too frequent use of the general term “weapons” in most news stories. For some reason, weapons seem scarier than pistols, revolvers, rifles or shotguns. But let the report continue without further comment.
“O’Fallon Police Sgt. Jeff Gray was asked to put together a proposal regarding equipment upgrades for the department. Gray said the top priority should be to replace the outdated handguns carried by officers.
“Gray said with the advancement of technology and the growing population of O’Fallon and the police department, officers need upgrades in order to provide the best possible service.
“The current pistols O’Fallon officers carry, which were purchased in 2001, are 10.5 pounds and the trigger is difficult to handle for smaller stature officers. Gray said from a training standpoint, it takes more practice to master the older weapons.
“The pistol Gray proposes is six pounds with an improved trigger. He said 90 percent of the O’Fallon officers who demonstrated the pistol rated it a significant improvement over the current pistol.
“The total cost, including trade in of the current pistols, would amount to approximately $46,000. If the pistols are ordered this year, only $18,000 would be due and the remaining payment would be deferred to 2009.
“Councilman Pierce Conley, Ward 2, recommended purchasing the new pistols with the money that has not been used for the Public Safety Director position. Conley said he is not proposing to eliminate the position, rather to transfer the unused money into the program.
“But Councilman Daniel Christoff, Ward 1, said he if the current pistols are working properly, he would rather see that money go toward putting more officers on the street than gun upgrades.
“Conley quickly retorted, ‘I’d rather equip 108 officers properly than put more improperly equipped officers on the street.’
“He made a motion to transfer the necessary funds to purchase firearms. City Clerk Vicki Boschert said she was in the process of preparing a mid-year budget and would include the firearms request.
“Conley said he would like council to start looking into firearm training as a second priority.
“Over the past decade, Gray said firearm training, due to growth, has been cut in half.
“ ‘It used to be four times a year, and now we’ve gone down to two,’ he said. ‘It’s been a juggling act.’ ”
The report which had been headlined “City Police to Get Lighter Guns” also included a report on the City Council shooting down a fireworks ban.
Thus, O’Fallon residents were to be able to shoot off fireworks July 3 and 4 until 10 p.m., at least for this year. The City Council, which considering passing an ordinance to ban fireworks July 3 and 4 and making it illegal to possess them, decided to table the issue this year for further discussion.
Fireworks aside, either the police chief or the City Council members should have explained to the hapless reporter that the weight being referred to was not of the handgun itself, but what was needed to activate the trigger and fire the handgun.
Carrying around a handgun that weighs 10.5 pounds on duty would certainly have bothered the average person. Even carrying around a similar weight of flour, sugar or even gold would have been both noteworthy and apparent. But apparent that reporter never questioned the incongruity of the weight factory.
And the editor wasn’t much better, unless he or she was the one who caused the error.
We are all familiar with the pure slant against guns and gunowners so frequently found in our daily newspapers, on television, and now on Internet sites, including the blogs. You would think by now that someone in professional journalism would have come to their senses.
We know they don’t like to feature stories about successful incidents of personal protection involving firearms. In fact, they seem to go out of their way to downplay such newsworthy events.
We’ve all seen in profusions the editorials where the newspaper, or columnist, is quick to support stricter gun control laws without every questioning how, or even if, the current new restriction will work. In that vein, we have newspapers across the country urging California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign the “microstamping” bill even though all scientific and logical examination of the proposals shows that it will not work.
We now get the same kind of tripe in the form of columns composed by people who are filling blog-sites in an effort to shape public policy via the Internet.
Of course, this diatribe about journalists is nothing new. People, including journalists like Mark Twain, were warning the public not to trust newspapers over 150 years ago.
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