Why journalists hate guns

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted April 24, 2000

Responsible gun owners have complained for three decades that the media is biased against them. The media has either denied it or simply refused to address the issue.

A report released in January, 2000, by the Media Research Center found network news stories about guns supported more gun control ten times as often as they questioned it. The study evaluated over 600 news segments on ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN over a two year period.

The networks ignored the report. They no longer bother to refute the charge that they are biased against gun rights. This bias has become institutionalized, especially in the major national news organizations.

The way in which the media has chosen sides on this issue has disturbed many people, from civil rights advocates to conspiracy theorists. Is it part of a sinister conspiracy to install a totalitarian regime? Perhaps there is a simpler explanation.

Quotes from journalists blatantly announcing their personal opposition to guns are now archived in large numbers on the internet, so there is little doubt that their personal beliefs match the agenda of their employers. Why do journalists, as a group, tend to hate guns? Let's ask some journalists.

Popular columnist Jill J. R. Labbe, of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said:

"Journalists are not different than other people - they have a tendency to fear what they don't understand. I look around the newsroom and I see predominantly young reporters, more women than men, most who grew up in urban areas, few who served in the military, absolutely no hunting tradition. They have had little or no exposure to firearms beyond their use as tools of crime. I also see men and women who have a naive faith in law enforcement, that the police will be around to help them in their time of need."

In 1993, USA Today ran an in-depth analysis of the gun issue. Journalist Tony Mauro wrote that in the USA Today office, "which prides itself on drawing its staff from a cross section of the nation, it was hard to find editors and reporters who had ever pulled a trigger."

Retired journalist Larry Palletti writes:

"Today's reporters spent their youth listening to Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw expound upon the evils inherent in gun ownership. To them, the tool bears the stigma -- not the person who misuses the tool. With the disappearance of military conscription, these kids aren't exposed to weapons except for what they hear and see on TV and in the movies. They buy into the fictions because they've not been taught about gun use and gun safety."

The definitive statement on this topic was written by William R. Tonso in Reason magazine: "Most journalists know very little about guns and are not interested in learning."

A few brave reporters have actually decided to learn something about firearms. The resulting articles are often very good.

Al Giordano produced an excellent article for the Boston Phoenix (7/21/95) after he accepted an offer from gun rights activist C. D. Tavares to visit a local shooting range to learn about so called "assault weapons". He discovered that many of his ideas about these weapons, and about gun owners were wrong.

Phillip Weiss wrote in the New York Times Sunday Magazine (9/19/94) of his first shooting experience. His well written story explores the strong emotions and internal conflict that guns can invoke in someone who has been taught to hate and fear them. Accompanied by experienced shooters at the range, Weiss begins to absorb the essence of what it means to be a responsible gun owner. "Issues of trust, individualism and community started to transform themselves", he writes. For a moment, he seems to realize that the gun owner's logic was correct but then states that, "I wasn't ready to give up the social contract I'd already bought into."

All journalists who write about firearms issues owe it to their readers to educate themselves. There are numerous firearms training centers around the country that offer many levels of instruction, from quick introductions to week-long training sessions. Unfortunately, journalists are rare in these classes. Perhaps they are afraid of the gun owners they've demonized or perhaps they fear that their elitist beliefs will be changed.

There may be some signs that the bias is moderating outside the first tier of networks and newspapers. The relatively young Fox News Network has taken its commitment to unbiased coverage seriously and aired an occasional gun-neutral or pro-gun news report. The anti-gun Seattle Times recently announced in an editorial that the Second Amendment does indeed protect a citizen's right to own a handgun.

Philadelphia's City Paper ran a cover story on April 6 that was headlined: "What if the Gun Nuts Are Right?" Portland's Willamette Week ran an unbiased story on concealed weapons permits and the Tacoma Reporter sent a correspondent to visit a range with a gun rights advocate. Apparently, open minds are more common at smaller newspapers, but they can't offset the overwhelming influence of the national media.

Many observers have suggested that the fight for the right to bear arms is a dress rehearsal for the next fight, for freedom of the press. Gun owners have proven to be a formidable political group and they have long memories. Which side will they support in that future conflict?

Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist who moderates an email list for discussion of gun issues in Washington state. He may be reached at: mb@e-z.net or at: http://www.geocities.com/rkba2000

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