By: Peter Suciu
There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about gun control, done mostly by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
Following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida and the ensuing protests, for example, numerous reports surfaced referencing the AR-15 as a “high-powered” rifle. Most sport shooters and firearms enthusiasts, however, do not consider the AR-15 to be a “high-powered” gun.
The media regularly uses the terms “high-powered” and “assault rifle” with reckless abandon. In the past week, these terms have appeared in The New York Times, the Boston Globe, and many other prominent newspapers of record.
But what do terms like “high-powered” and “assault rifle” actually mean?
A recent story by the Santa Rosa, California Press Democrat did attempt to define “high-powered” by consulting a local police officer who said, “It’s kind of open for interpretation.”
Now, in fairness, the paper did follow up with a local gun shop, but no apparent effort was made to consult anyone from the firearms industry or to ask gun manufacturers for their input. Such negligence is just a subtler example of media misinformation.
As a reporter, I’ve written about the automotive industry for such outlets as Car & Driver and automotiveIT. I’ve also covered firearms history for Fox News and Recoil Magazine. Reporters can’t possibly be expected to be experts on every topic they cover, I know, but in the very least, they need to consult with experts who understand the topics they’re covering. I constantly consult with automotive and tech analysts, professors, lawyers, and other experts to check and double-check my facts before publishing.
If I, as an automotive reporter, for instance, misidentified the size of an engine or described a Mercedes SUV as a “Jeep” while reporting from an auto show, I wouldn’t be allowed near the car beat again, and I might even be fired by my employer. The only real criticism of automotive reporting I’ve seen has been concerning reviews and potentially biased opinions rather than hard facts.
Yet misinformation about firearms is rampant in the media. Sometimes it seems like journalists’ jobs to get the facts wrong. Simply put, if this type of sloppy reporting (that’s putting it gently) were to occur in any other industry, the reporter would be fired!
It’s common for reporters to misidentify calibers, misuse terms such as “clip” and “magazine,” and habitually confuse “semi-automatic” with “fully-automatic.” Florida Rep. Alan Grayson infamously declared the Sig Sauer MCX – which the media described repeatedly as “an AR-15 style” weapon –could fire “700 rounds per minute.”
Even pointing out the media’s mistakes is, according to The Washington Post’s Adam Weinstein, gun supporters’ way of “bullying.”
“The NRA and its allies use jargon to bully gun-control supporters,” Weinstein wrote earlier this month. He denounced Second Amendment supporters for “gunsplaining,” or correcting ignorant people on their improper use of firearms terminology, in order to belittle them.
“Gunsplaining,” Weinstein wrote,“…is always done in bad faith. Like mansplaining, it’s less about adding to the discourse than smothering it — with self-appointed authority, and often the thinnest of connection to any real fact.”
Is it really too much to ask that our legislators, those who elect them, and the reporters who write about the issues understand the basics about the weapons they so desperately want to control? Laws written in ignorance have devastating effects on the freedoms we, as Americans, hold so dear, yet ignorance, especially about guns, is widespread, and the media is largely to blame.
The mainstream media so routinely gets key facts blatantly wrong when it comes to firearms that even Slate.com took notice. The ultra-liberal website ran an editorial in 2016 pointing out, “The Media Keeps Misfiring When it Writes About Guns.”
“There are several ways the media can remedy this situation,” Rachael Larimore wrote. “For starters, treat guns like any other beat... Media outlets tend not to send sports writers to cover the Supreme Court or style writers to cover a murder. Ignorance undermines authority. If you want to report on guns, you need to understand the differences between various weapons and how they are used.”
Reporters who cover firearms should understand what they’re covering, and statements made about guns in mainstream news reports should be fact-checked just like they are (or should be) on any other topic. The same protocol should hold true for politicians and lawmakers, and anyone, for that matter, speaking on the topic of gun control.
This isn’t about “gunsplaining.” It’s about reporters doing their due diligence on every topic they cover, including guns.
Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.