Can we call him “Sir Beauchamp“?
Harold Evans has had a long and storied career as a publisher, journalist, and historian. He was editor of Great Britain’s Sunday Times for 14 years, has been editor-at-large for The Week since 2005, and has contributed to to other publications over a career spanning two centuries.
Evans’ books on history, The American Century in particular, have garnered popular and critical acclaim. He was the president and publisher of Random House trade group and still maintains a contributing editor position at U.S. News & World Report. In 2004, Evans was knighted for services to journalism.
In short, Sir Harold should be among the paragons of journalistic integrity.
Knowing this makes reading the blatant falsehoods in his most recent editorial all the more tragic.
Published in the Daily Beast — a relatively new online blog and news aggregator run by Evans’ wife, Tina Brown — “Accomplices to Murder” is a shrill rant against gun dealers, politicians, the National Rifle Association, and the American citizenry at large in the wake of mass shootings that have left dozens of Americans dead in recent days.
Sadly, Evans dives straight for the gutter, claiming that the “guilty” parties are “the gun dealers at flea markets and state shows who will sell any number of weapons to anyone — juveniles, criminals, nuts — without any background check or records.”
Few statements could be further from the truth.
Gun dealers in America are required to have a Federal Firearms License (FFL), and these licensees are required to document every potential transaction they might make as part of their business on ATF Form 4473. There are no exceptions made for firearms sold at gun shows or other locations; in section B of the 4473, dealers must note the “location of sale if at a gun show.”
After a potential gun purchaser completes and signs a 4473 and their government-issued photo ID is verified (also documented on the form), the gun dealer is then required to call the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for all sales. The dealer will get one of three responses to a background check from the NICS Operations Center in a matter of minutes: to proceed, delay, or deny the transaction. Regardless of the outcome, NICS will provide a NICS Transaction Number (NTN) that must be noted on the 4473. And the 4473, for all transactions the dealer takes part in (including voided and cancelled transactions), must be kept by federal law under the threat of FFL revocation and criminal prosecution.
This process practiced by dealers was confirmed by Randy Young, owner of Young Guns. He notes that a transfer of a gun to its original owner, such as a repair, is the only exception to this rule.
Mike Tilley, owner of Personal Defense & Handgun Safety Center, says that gun dealers have good reasons to be very careful about gun buyers — personal reasons that go far beyond legal requirements.
“Our families also live in the same communities in which we sell firearms,” Tilley said. “A gun in the hand of any bad guy could end up harming us and or our families, as well as help to destroy our very livelihood.”
Minors can’t buy firearms from gun dealers because they are unable to provide valid ID that shows they are of age or pass required background checks. Criminals cannot buy firearms from gun dealers because their records are on file at NICS. And as long as state agencies provide good data to the NICS, “nuts” cannot buy guns from gun dealers either.
Evans seems intent on smearing gun dealers, won’t let facts get in the way. But he isn’t finished making outlandish claims that aren’t supported by the facts.
The man knighted for his “service to journalism” tilts at another windmill when he claims that the assault weapons ban provision of the 1994 crime bill led to a drop in the use of automatic weapons.
The guilty are the congressmen who even now are planning to stop a renewal of the federal ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines capable of semi-automatic fire (one trigger pull per shot but with magazines enabling the user to fire hundreds of rounds in a minute).
The ten-year ban on assault weapons was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994 but was allowed to lapse in the Bush presidency, despite a 2004 U.S. Department of Justice study finding that the share of gun crimes involving automatic weapons dropped by 17%, to 72%.
There is not now, nor has there ever been, a Department of Justice study stating that “gun crimes involving automatic weapons dropped by 17%, to 72%.”
Automatic weapons have never accounted for more than a small fraction of gun crime in the United States, and they were not addressed in the 1994 ban in any way, shape, or form.
Since the National Firearms Act passed in 1934, automatic weapons have been heavily regulated, and they were further restricted in 1968 and 1986. Of the estimated 240,000 automatic weapons in circulation, roughly half are owned by law enforcement agencies. Since 1934, there have been at least two murders committed with legally-owned machine guns, one in 1988 and the other in 1992. Of those two murders, one of those was committed by a law enforcement officer.
Far from being used in 72% of gun crimes, or 89% (what it would have been before the mythical 17% drop), automatic weapons (legal or illegal) have never accounted for even 1% of U.S. gun crimes.
It would be tempting to suggest that Sir Harold is just another incompetent journalist who cannot tell automatic weapons from semiautomatic weapons. But in the paragraph preceding his automatic weapons claim, he pointedly defines what a semiautomatic is, noting it is “one trigger pull per shot.”
Clearly he understands the difference.
As for the effect of the assault weapons ban on guns it actually outlawed — some semi-automatic firearms — the results were mixed or negligible, even according to the most fervent supporters of the ban. The Brady Campaign claims that the use of military-style semiautomatic weapons in crime dropped from 4.82% of gun crimes to 1.61% — just a tiny fraction of the outrageous figures of 72%-89% cited by by our dangerously tilting Sir Harold. Scholar John Lott reports that instead of crime increasing in the year after the ban expired, gun crimes actually declined 3.6%.
As outrageous as Harold Evans falsehoods are, the acts of the publication in which his rant was featured are scarcely better.
The Daily Beast is an online publication that promises “curated news aggregation plus original reporting and opinion” under the leadership of Tina Brown, former editor of the New Yorker and Vanity Fair.
Brown is also Sir Harold’s wife.
I attempted to warn Brown’s Daily Beast staff of Sir Harold’s falsehoods regarding background checks on April 6, using the comment form at the bottom of the article to suggest that his fabrication so seriously undercut the commentary that it warranted a retraction of the editorial. Far from being heeded by the staff of the Daily Beast, the comment was instead deleted in moderation. A second attempt to pass along the same information via the comment form was deleted in moderation on April 7.
An email sent directly to the editorial staff of the Daily Beast that included a link to a blog entry citing the ATF and FBI websites was also ignored, as was a final attempt to contact the staff for comment in advance of this article on April 7. I could not find out:
- If the editorial staff of the Daily Beast performed basic fact-checking of Mr. Evans article
- If Evans receive preferential editorial treatment based upon the fact he was the editor’s husband
- What the official editorial policy of the Daily Beast is regarding corrections and retractions
Instead of correcting false information that undermined Harold Evans’ editorial or retracting the article entirely, the Daily Beast has instead chosen to ignore key points of valid criticism and to stonewall critics.
Not only is this a sad response from those that certainly should have higher standards, it is not the kind of “service to journalism” I suspect the Queen Elizabeth had in mind.