Shocker: After Aurora, media misleads on gun control

posted at 1:21 pm on August 2, 2012 by Dustin Siggins

In the last three years, it has seemed like every mass shooting in America gets tied to conservatism and/or the Tea Party. The most recent example, of course, was ABC’s Brian Ross termination-worthy speculation that an Aurora, Colorado-area Tea Party member with the same name as the alleged shooter was the shooter. ABC later offered a written retraction of Ross’ statement, but once again the media jumped to slanderous accusations.

Fortunately, many on the left called out Ross and ABC for the speculation, and Jon Stewart basically called for Ross to be fired. But now other biases and fallacies have reared their ugly head. Fortunately, Just Facts Daily put up a post yesterday refuting five of the most egregious and important fallacies making their way through many media outlets. While I encourage reading the post in full — he hammers Ezra Klein, David Frum, and a New York Times editorial, among other sources, for misleading and inaccurate assertions — I think the most important part of the post is how the argument against so-called “assault weapons” is intentionally based upon inaccurate information. From the post, with emphasis added:

Commentaries and articles published by the New York Times, NPR, Newsmax, USA Today, and countless other media outlets asserted that the Colorado gunman used an “assault rifle.” This is patently untrue. An assault rifle, as explained by the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, is a “rifle that is capable of being fired in fully automatic and semi-automatic modes, at the user’s option.”

Again, the gunman did not use a firearm that can be fired in fully automatic mode. Instead, he used an “assault weapon,” which per the AP Stylebook, is strictly “semi-automatic” and is “not synonymous with assault rifle.” This confusing distinction in terms is not by accident. The term “assault weapon,” which sounds like a synonym for “assault rifle,” was introduced into the gun control debate in the 1980′s and popularized with the expressed intent of confusing the public into thinking that certain semi-automatic guns are machine guns.

How was this done? The post notes a booklet co-published by Educational Fund to End Handgun Violence and New Right Watch in 1988 decided to use public ignorance on semi-automatic and automatic weapons to manipulate public opinion:

To wit, a search for “assault weapon” through Google Book produces no results that use this term in its modern context before 1988. In 1988, however, a…booklet [was published] describing how the “new topic” of “assault weapons” will “strengthen the handgun restriction lobby for the following reasons:”

… The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. …

The rest is history. Numerous politicians, journalists, activists, and commentators began using the term “assault weapon,” and in 1994, it was enshrined in a federal law. As Josh Sugermann, the author of the gun control pamphlet and the founder of the Violence Policy Center had hoped, the resultant confusion has been pervasive. Even the Associated Press—despite the instructions in its own stylebook—sometimes uses terms that are either technically inaccurate (like semiautomatic assault rifle) or that can easily feed the false impression that certain semi-automatic guns are machine guns (like military-style assault weapons).

The Aurora attack was, of course, horrific. Yet despite the (sometimes purposeful) errors in language and information provided by many in national media sources after the shooting, a new poll shows support for gun control is almost identical to what it was before the shooting. More importantly, about two-thirds of Americans rightly view the shooting as the act of one troubled individual, not emblematic of our larger society. As insensitive as it might be to say, if this is the case when emotions are running high and the media is still regularly reporting on the aftermath of the shooting, Obama and congressional liberals don’t have a chance of implementing any substantial gun control policies. And this is a good thing, both constitutionally and for public safety.

Note: Yesterday this post accidentally went up only partially completed. In my rush to get the post up after attending the Ted Cruz victory party, and before my travel throughout much of yesterday morning and afternoon, I did not pay close attention to which draft was saved prior to scheduling it for publication. My apologies to Hot Air’s readers for the error, and thanks to Ed for taking it down quickly enough that I only got laughed at by a couple of dozen people in the comments instead of several hundred.


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