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Journal Chacham's Journal: Article: News outlets slanted against guns. 18

Fox News is carrying a View entitled Why People Fear Guns.Yeah, there's a typo. :)

Saturday, January 03, 2004
By John R. Lott Jr.

People fear guns. Yet, while guns make it easier for bad things to happen, they also make it easier for people to protect themselves.

With the avalanche of horrific news stories about guns over the years, it's no wonder people find it hard to believe that, according to surveys (one I conducted for 2002 for my book, "The Bias Against Guns," and three earlier academic surveys by different researchers published in such journals as the Journal of Criminal Justice) there are about two million defensive gun uses (search) each year; guns are used defensively four times more frequently than they are to commit crimes.

The rebuttal to this claim always is: If these events were really happening, wouldn't we hear about them on the news? Many people tell me that they have never heard of an incident of defensive gun use. There is a good reason for their confusion. In 2001, the three major television networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- ran 190,000 words' worth of gun-crime stories on their morning and evening national news broadcasts. But they ran not a single story mentioning a private citizen using a gun to stop a crime.

The print media was almost as biased: The New York Times ran 50,745 words on contemporaneous gun crimes, but only one short, 163-word story on a retired police officer who used his gun to stop a robbery. For USA Today, the tally was 5,660 words on gun crimes versus zero on defensive uses.

Just take some of the 18 defensive gun uses that I found covered by newspapers around the country during the first 10 days of December:

-- Little Rock, Ark: After the assailant attacked him and his son-in-law with a poker, a 64-year-old minister shot a man dead on church grounds. The attacker had engaged in a string of assaults in an apparent drug-induced frenzy.

-- Corpus Christi, Texas: A woman shot to death her ex-husband, who had broken into her house. The woman had a restraining order against the ex-husband.

-- Tampa Bay, Fla.: A 71-year-old man, Melvin Spaulding, shot 20-year-old James Moore in the arm as Moore and two friends were beating up his neighbor, 63-year-old George Lowe. Spaulding had a concealed weapons permit.

--Bellevue, Wash.: A man shot a pit bull that lunged to within a foot of him and his family. Police said the man's family had been repeatedly menaced in the past by the dog.

-- Jonesboro, Ga.: A father out walking with his 11-year-old daughter was attacked by an armed robber. The police say the father shot the attacker in self-defense and will not face charges.

-- Houston, Texas: Andrea McNabb shot two of the three men who tried to rob her plumbing business on the afternoon of Dec. 1.

-- Philadelphia, Pa: A pharmacy manager fatally shot one robber and wounded another after the robbers threatened to kill workers at the store. The wounded robber escaped.

Part of the reason defensive gun use isn't covered in the media may be simple news judgment. If a news editor faces two stories, one with a dead body on the ground and another where a woman brandished a gun and the attacker ran away, no shots fired, almost anyone would pick the first story as more newsworthy. In 2002, some 90 percent of the time when people used guns defensively, they stopped the criminals simply by brandishing the gun.

But that doesn't explain all the disparity in coverage. It doesn't, for example, explain why, in some heavily covered public middle and high school shootings, the media mentioned in only 1 percent or fewer of their stories that the attacks were stopped when citizens used guns to stop the attacks.

The unbalanced reporting is probably greatest in cases where children die from accidental gunshots fired by another child. Most people have seen the public-service ads showing the voices or pictures of children between the ages of four and eight, never over the age of eight, and the impression is that there is an epidemic of accidental deaths involving small children. The exaggerated media attention given these particularly tragic deaths makes these claims believable.

The debate over laws requiring that people lock up their guns in their home usually concentrates on the deaths of these younger children. The trigger and barrel locks mandated by these laws are often only considered reliable for preventing the access to guns by children under age 7.

The truth is that in 1999, for children whose ages correspond with the public service ads, 31 children under the age of 10 died from an accidental gunshot and only six of these cases appear to have involved another child under 10 as the culprit. Nor was this year unusual. Between 1995 and 1999, only five to nine cases a year involved a child wounding or killing another child with a gun. For children under 15, there were a total of 81 accidental gun deaths of all types in 1999. Any death is tragic, but it should be noted that more children under five drowned in bathtubs or plastic water buckets than from guns.

The gun deaths are covered extensively as well as prominently, with individual cases getting up to 88 separate news stories. In contrast, when children use guns to save lives, the event might at most get one brief mention in a small local paper. Yet these events do occur.

--In February, 2002, the South Bend, Indiana Tribune reported the story of an 11-year-old boy who shot and killed a man holding a box cutter to his grandmother's neck. Trained to use a firearm, the boy killed the assailant in one shot, even though the man was using his grandmother as a shield.

--In May, 2001 in Louisianna, a 12-year-old girl shot and killed her mother's abusive ex-boyfriend after he broke into their home and began choking her mother. The story appeared in the New Orleans Advocate.

--In January, 2001, in Angie, Louisianna, a 13 year-old boy stopped for burglars from entering his home by firing the family's shotgun, wounding one robber and scaring off the other three. The four men were planning on attacking the boy's mother--an 85-pound terminal cancer patient--in order to steal her pain medication.

As a couple of reporters told me, journalists are uncomfortable printing such positive gun stories because they worry that it will encourage children to get access to guns. The whole process snowballs, however, because the exaggeration of the risks--along with lack of coverage of the benefits--cements the perceived risks more and more firmly in newspaper editors and reporters minds. This makes them ever more reluctant to publish such stories.

While all this coverage affects the overall gun-control debate, it also directly shapes perceptions of proposed legislation. Take the upcoming debate over renewing the so-called assault-weapons ban. This past summer CNN repeatedly showed a news segment that starts off with a machine gun firing and claims that the guns covered by the ban do much more damage than other guns. CNN later attempted to clarify the segment by saying that the real problem was with the ammunition used in these guns. But neither of these points is true. The law does not deal at all with machine guns (though the pictures of machine guns sure are compelling)--and the "assault weapons" fire the same bullets at the same rate, and accomplish the exact same thing, as other semi-automatic guns not covered by the ban.

The unbalanced presentation dominates not just the media but also government reports and polling. Studies by the Justice and Treasury Departments have long evaluated just the cost guns impose on society. Every year, Treasury puts out a report on the top 10 guns used in crime, and each report serves as the basis for dozens of news stories. But why not also provide a report--at least once--on the top 10 guns used defensively? Similarly, numerous government reports estimate the cost of injuries from guns, but none measures the number of injuries prevented when guns are used defensively.

National polls further reinforce these biased perceptions. Not one of the national polls (as far as I was able to find) gave respondents an option to mention that gun control might actually be harmful. Probably the least biased polls still give respondents just two choices: supporting "tougher gun-control legislation to help in the fight against gun crime" or "better enforcement of current laws." Yet, both options ultimately imply that gun control is good.

But if we really want to save lives, we need to address the whole truth about guns--including the costs of not owning guns. We never, for example, hear about the families who couldn't defend themselves and were harmed because they didn't have guns.

Discussing only the costs of guns and not their benefits poses the real threat to public safety as people make mistakes on how best to defend themselves and their families.

Reminds of Samuel Clemens. He was robbed, and somebody caught the burglar (not him). Nonetheless, the news carried a picture of him holding a gun. He loved publicity, and the press loved giving it to him.

I'm not sure i agree with the point that stories should report how a gun could have helped. That just seems similarly biased. But the absence of reports where attacks were thwarted by brandishing a gun, make it seem that the reporters have an agenda, or just don't care to give the full picture.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Article: News outlets slanted against guns.

Comments Filter:
  • Guns are a tool. I'd rather see less of them than more -- less as in fewer in number and less as in smaller -- but if the point of your story is that the media is biased, welcome to the real world. Even on a slow news day they would rather show a cat up a tree story than something that directly opposes the lead story from last night, or the night before.

    I know this to be true from the coverage of violent video games and video gamers. I beleive this to be true of the US portrayal of African Americans and

  • (contains typos, you've been warned)

    I had never really believed that media was blatently biased in reporting until I read 'Dude, where's my country?' by Michael Moore - There is a chapter in it that examines the bias in media and attacks it using actual studies and statistics that are counter to how the media present the country. Mind you, I don't agree with everything MM says - in fact, theres a lot I call into question about his conclusions and his sources - but this was one of those cases where if the
    • Thanx for the comment.

      I disagree with much, because but that's just going to be political, so, we'll skip that.

      But, there are probably *many* reasons. The article points out a few.
  • ... a 13 year-old boy stopped for burglars from entering his home...

    But anyway, the statistics on lines of gun defense stories vs. lines of gun crime stories is impressive.

    That's one of the benefits of being a member of the NRA. As part of my membership, I get American Rifleman magazine, which has an "Armed Citizen" section. It's a short, monthly collection of about 6 incidents where people have thwarted crime by using their legally-owned firearm.
    Of course, that doesn't really help the average citiz

    • by Chacham ( 981 ) *
      6 stories? Interesting. Would you care to scan in one or two (or otherwise point to them online)?
      • Re:Heh (Score:2, Informative)

        by DAldredge ( 2353 )
        "Armed Citizen"

        Copy and paste that, it goes to a NRA site where you can search the archives, if you wish to see all the results for one state, just select a state and leave the rest empty.
        • Thanks, I probably would've typed them in verbatim. :)

          I didn't even think of looking for them on the web... cool.
  • 1. Even if only one kid dies from an accidental shooting. In my opinion, that's an epidemic.
    2. The use of the word "newsworthy" illustrates the problem of what passes for news in today's society. Unless it's something you can look at and shake your head and say "Poor soul. Glad it's not me." then it isn't newsworthy.

    What ever happened to the day when news really was about everything and anything that happened no matter how boring? To be honest, I don't think there ever was a day like that. If there wa
    • It was probably not a time when *everything* was written. However, that is not what peple want, neccesarily. The request here is for balance.

      As for needing a gun or not, that's up to the individual.
    • What other ways are their to protect my wife and kids?

      Please let me know.
    • As far as your 1., if you misuse words they cease to have meaning. One kid dying from any cause is not an epidemic.

      As far as "People are going to be made to think that they need guns to survive." perhaps you misspoke. I don't see people being made (or led) to feel that way. I believe people may have FUD and view a firearm as a way to provide assurance, but I don't see people being led there. Perhaps you can demonstrate why you feel that way?

      Your statement about having balls is peculiarly apropos, for
      • As far as your 1., if you misuse words they cease to have meaning. One kid dying from any cause is not an epidemic.

        Have you ever heard of something called hyperbole? My point being, that guns cause greater harm than good. Not in quantity, but in quality. A child dying of an accidental gun shot is far more negative (in impact) than the number of supposed instances when a gun may prevent some other negative thing from happening.

        As far as your 1., if you misuse words they cease to have meaning. One k

        • No one deserves to die at the hand of another person for any reason. Ever. There is no rational justification.


          If A is trying to kill B, and the only way for B to survive is to kill A.

          Also, why shouldn't we kill? Unless one believes in some form of deity that forbids killing, what is wrong with killing? I mean that seriously.

          I have come to the conclusion that it is a deal for the survival of society. An unwritten law. Or rather, a deal. You don't kill me, i don't kill you. It is not the value of li
          • That sounds pretty amoral. I don't subscribe to any particular religion, but it is certain that my moral compass is extracted from such beginnings. I do value each and every individual on this Earth that is capable of conscious thought and has an identity. (ie. I have no problems with abortion or euthenasia) And I believe that it is my responsibility to all of them to guarantee a postive life experience. I also believe it's everyone else's responsibility to provide me with the same.

            If A is trying to k
            • Amazing, it sounds as if you are actually responding to the points i raised, and yet you skirt them. :)

              I don't subscribe to any particular religion, but it is certain that my moral compass is extracted from such beginnings.

              So you agree that it is good to be religious, yet you refuse to subscribe to one?

              I do value each and every individual on this Earth that is capable of conscious thought and has an identity.

              How are concious thought and identity different?

              Why Earth? What about aliens?

              How about gho
              • I'm not interested in debating my views. :)

                What I will say is that I like the opportunity that I have to share them with others and try to spread the memes a little. It's up to others to decide whether they agree or not. It is my hope that my words may alter some other people's thinking.

                I'll respond to a few of the above quips, but I really don't want to draw this out...

                So you agree that it is good to be religious, yet you refuse to subscribe to one?

                I think religion, like politics is just a control

                • I'm not interested in debating my views. :)

                  That's fine. But you called something i said amoral. That'd be a fight'n word. :)

                  I'll respond to a few of the above quips, but I really don't want to draw this out...

                  OK, i'll respond, you do what you want, reply or not.

                  I think religion, like politics is just a control mechanism used by more intelligent people to control less intelligent people.

                  Why? Either the religion is true, or it isn't. If it isn't, this may the allowance to have it anyway. However, wi

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