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Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
The Mark of Kane Is on Firearms Reporting

The following article appeared in the Orange County Register of Sunday, July 18, 1993.

In the classic film Citizen Kane, newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane is arguing with his wife. Kane’s wife begins a sentence, “People will think …” and Kane ends it, “what I tell them to think.”

When it comes to print and broadcast news treatment of firearms, Kane’s attitude is everywhere.

In the April 24, 1993 issue of Editor and Publisher, former Boston Globe editor Thomas Winship calls for “a sustained newspaper crusade” against firearms that Kane would have been proud to engineer. “Ask editorially whether small arms producers should be licensed more strictly or even shut down … Investigate the NRA with more vigor … Support all forms of gun licensing; in fact, all the causes NRA opposes.”

Mr. Winship is late; the news crusade against civilian firearms has been on the march for years. A 1989 form letter sent out by Time Magazine to readers charging Time with biased reporting in a July 17, 1989 cover story on gun-related deaths, stated, “[T]he time for opinions on the dangers of gun availability is long since gone … our responsibility now is to confront indifference about the escalating violence and the unwillingness to do something about it.”

As in all crusades, factual correctness is sacrificed to political correctness. When the Glock 19 pistol, which replaces some steel parts with polymer, entered the American market, newspapers crusaded against terrorists’ plastic guns which could evade airport metal detectors and X-rays. They failed to note that the Glock 19 contains over a pound of metal which sets off alarms, looks identical to any other gun in an airport X-ray … and that no undetectable plastic guns exist.

News media eagerly jumped on former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNarama’s crusade against teflon-coated “cop killer” bullets which could defeat police body armor. The reports failed to note that such ammunition was created as a police round and was not available to the general public … and no cop had ever been killed by one, anyway. The broadcast news about this issue, however, endangered police by graphically showing criminals that police were using body armor, and that they should shoot at unarmored body parts such as the head. Out of this crusade came legislation to ban armor-piercing bullets which would also have banned most ordinary rifle ammunition, since most body armor is no protection against it. When NRA opposed such legislation, the media then charged NRA with opposing legislation which would have protected the police. Again, Citizen Kane would have beamed approvingly.

The language of firearms reporting is itself intended to persuade rather than inform. Newspapers dub inexpensive handguns “Saturday Night Specials,” even though three-quarters of criminals don’t care about the price of the guns they use in crimes since they steal them or buy stolen guns anyway. Crusades against “assault weapons” deliberately confuse semi-automatic civilian firearms with similar-looking machine guns available only to the military, and only rarely note that law-enforcement studies show that these classes of firearms are hardly ever used in crimes.

Mark Twain said in his autobiography, “There are three kinds of lies — lies, damned lies and statistics.” The news media have taken Twain to heart by making sure that the only statistics they use prove that private firearms are destructive and that the public wants them banned. The media quotes medical statistics on the number of criminally-caused firearm-related injuries and deaths but hardly ever quote criminological studies which show that gun owners use firearms 1.4 million times each year to stop or deter a crime, without anyone being wounded 99% of the time. That’s two bloodless gun-owner defenses for each time a criminal uses a firearm in an attack.

Network TV programs such as 60 Minutes focus on the tragedy of children killed in firearms accidents, while failing to note that firearms are involved in only 3% of the accidental deaths of children 14 or younger each year. Other news stories also routinely use statistics which inflate such figures by including suicides and gang-related homicides that include statistical groupings up to age 25.

Neither do the press note that firearms accidents in general are down 40% in the last ten years, and down 80% in the last fifty years.

Editorials trumpet a new Louis Harris survey claiming that 52% of Americans want private handgun ownership banned — extremely unlikely, since half the homes in this country already keep firearms — but fail to note that this same Louis Harris survey finds that 67% of gun owners would refuse to comply with such a ban, even with a $200-per-gun buy-back program, making the law an instant dead-letter.

Showing further press bias, only three reporters show up at a June 10, 1993 Washington D.C. news conference announcing the results of a new study by Luntz-Weber Research which shows that 88.8% of Americans believe a citizen has the right to own a gun, and only 4% see lack of gun control as a root cause of violence. The reason the press conference was ignored? The Luntz-Weber study was commissioned by the press’s favorite scapegoat, the NRA.

Headlines routinely focus on criminal use of firearms, and editors bury stories where a civilian successfully uses a firearm defensively. When postal clerk Thomas Terry saved a restaurant from a takeover robbery in Alabama two months after the restaurant massacre in Killeen, Texas, the story was almost universally ignored. When ex-prizefighter Randy Shields did the same at a 4 n 20 Pie Shop in Studio City last September, newspaper readers had to look for the story in the Los Angeles Times‘s sports section.

Political scandals related to abuse of civilian firearms rights are similarly ignored. Since 1974, the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners has refused to issue any private person a license to carry concealed firearms, even though state law requires them to do so, hewing to a policy which states, “[E]xperience has revealed that concealed firearms carried for protection not only provide a false sense of security but further that the licensee is often a victim of his own weapon or the subject of a civil or criminal case stemming from an improper use of the weapon.” When this writer revealed in testimony at the November 2, 1992 police commission meeting that Commissioner Michael Yamaki had secretly obtained such a license to carry a firearm from Culver City — demonstrating that when it came to his own family’s safety even a police commissioner didn’t believe that policy — what few news stories appeared were buried in routine reports on the commissioners meeting, and the press unanimously honored Yamaki’s refusal to discuss it.

Finally, there is outright, deliberate manufacture of news film footage to distort the truth about firearms’ capabilities. Shortly after Patrick Purdy used a semi-auto AK-47-lookalike to murder schoolchildren in Stockton, NBC News ran footage showing a range officer using such a firearm to explode a melon into smithereens. The footage was faked; a Beretta 9 millimeter pistol with hollow-point expanding ammunition had to be used to make the melon explode: the full-metal-jacketed AK-47 round had merely made a dime-sized and unexciting hole in it.

This past February, Los Angeles TV station KABC pulled a similar stunt. In a report intended to show the awesome rapid fire accuracy of semi-auto handguns being carried by LA gangs, film showing LA County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Hugh E. Mears rapidly firing a 9 millimeter pistol from seventy-five feet away was intercut with footage showing the rounds hitting a target’s bullseye. The film was faked: the rapid-fire shots at seventy-five feet had spread widely. The footage showing the repeated hits had been achieved by Sgt. Mears also being requested to provide an example of aimed fire at twelve feet — and this was the footage that KABC intercut.

With a deliberate media campaign of distortion, suppression of vital facts, and outright lying, it’s no wonder that the fifty percent of Americans who don’t know about guns from personal experience might begin to wonder whether the Second Amendment was a mistake. But more to the point: if reporters and news editors are willing to lie to the public to achieve the public opinion on firearms they desire, then how can representative democracy become anything but covert aristocracy?

“You provide the prose poems,” Citizen Kane said to his correspondent. “I’ll provide the war.”

Indeed he has.


Next in Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns is Excerpts from a Letter to David Glass, CEO, Wal*Mart Stores

Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns is
Copyright © 1994, 1999 J. Neil Schulman &
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