If your newspaper published an automotive story in which the writer couldn’t tell a tire from a steering wheel, or a story about computers where the writer couldn’t tell the difference between a keyboard and a mouse, you likely wouldn’t trust them to get the rest of the details of the story correct. You’d wonder why a reporter who is so clearly unfamiliar with the topic was asked to write about it, and further, you’d probably question the competence of the editors and publishers that let such an article make it to print.
Sadly, this level of blistering incompetence is rampant and accepted at major news organizations, especially when the subject is firearms.
One needs to look no further than Reid J. Epstein’s recent article in Politico titled “Norway shooter: Ammo clips were from U.S.” The July 28 article was one of many in response to Anders Behring Breivik’s killing of dozens of Norwegian teens at a political camp on a small island north of Oslo, and took the angle of trying to blame U.S. gun laws for the foreign massacre. Epstein was particularly focused on trying to blame laws that allowed Breivik’s purchase of ten 30-round magazines for his rifle via mail order.
Unfortunately for Epstein and Politico, the article is rife with errors in seven of the first ten paragraphs.
In firearms parlance, a clip is nothing more or less than a metal or plastic strip that holds cartridges together for loading. A magazine is a carefully engineered enclosed box or tube that holds a number of cartridges for a firearm, and feeds them into the chamber of a weapon via pressure exerted by a powerful spring located in the base of the magazine. Ammunition or “ammo” describes the cartridges themselves. The author routinely misuses the terms “clip,” “magazine,” and “ammo” or “ammunition” in almost every instance, and the Politico editorial staff did not catch a single one of these blatant errors.
But the blatant errors were not nearly as disturbing as the blatant ignorance of the very laws he seems to champion. Epstein claims:
The sale or transfer of high-capacity gun clips containing more than 10 bullets were illegal in the United States under the 1994 assault weapons ban, but the legislation expired in 2004. After Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was critically shot and six others killed during the January shootings outside a Tucson supermarket, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) introduced legislation to restrict magazines to their pre-2004 level.
This is not remotely true.
The politicians and media who forced through the “assault weapons ban” in 1994 did not outlaw the sale or manufacture of standard capacity magazines of any size, at all. Magazines of any size were freely and legally available for wholesale, retail, mail-order, and Internet sales throughout the life of the laughable “ban,” and were equally as legal to own and use. The law only banned the manufacture of new magazines of more than ten rounds (except for military and law enforcement use), and did not affect the tens of millions already in the marketplace, including new, unused magazines stockpiled in warehouses.
Epstein was dead wrong, and his multiple layers of editors and fact-checkers failed to do something as simple as read the law he cites as evidence.
There is copious anecdotal evidence to suggest that most “professional” journalists are blisteringly ignorant of firearms and the laws regulating them. Perhaps even more disconcerting is that they are willing to fabricate an alternate reality, where the ownership of machine guns is simultaneously illegal under U.S. law and pervasive in crime. Like so much of what the mainstream media “knows,” both of these repeated claims are provably false.
While it may come as a complete shock to the media, machine guns have never been made illegal by federal law. They are closely regulated, but there are an estimated 250,000 of them in civilian hands. There have been just two documented instances of legal machine guns being used in murder in the past 77 years. One of these was committed by a corrupt cop.
The media would likewise probably be surprised that most police officers are not threatened by law-abiding citizens exercising their rights to fire machine guns and cannons, or even tanks, and the law enforcement response I’ve seen at machine gun shoots have ranged from bored disinterest, to seeing just how quickly they could arrive to get a little trigger time of their own.
But the media is not nearly as interested in reporting reality relating to firearms as it is in creating it. They continue to write articles about gun crime that are based more in fiction than reality, even as they continue to excuse the horrifying level of gun crime committed by our present government — which has illegally trafficked in excess of 2,000 firearms to one cartel while allegedly selling them directly to a front company of their rivals.
The media continues to parrot words that were created by their allies to market fear, such as “assault weapons” and “high-capacity magazines,” words which simply didn’t exist until dreamed into reality by anti-gun organizations.
It doesn’t have to be this way. No one can force ignorance upon a reporter or editor without their consent — if not their dedication — to being ignorant. It would take very little effort for newsrooms to educate their reporters and editors on their own, or for the Associated Press Stylebook to include a chapter on firearms guidelines as it has for business stories, sports, and media law.
But it is readily apparent that reporters like Reid J. Epstein and the editorial staff of Politico aren’t interested in facts if purposeful ignorance or blatant stupidity can be blamed for their errors, and their readers are suitably duped.
Yellow journalism never died. It declared itself mainstream.