MSM Gun Reporting: Always Wrong, Always Excused

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.