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Balance in the Media

Sure, the Columbine killings got a lot of press. Ever hear the other side of the gun issue? Probably not: it’s not fashionable in the media to tell about the positive aspects of guns — and there certainly are many. The following story is from the 8 July 1998 issue of This is True (and is included in Volume 5 of the True book series, titled This is True: Cost of Being Poor Rising.)

A High Caliber of Citizens

University of Chicago economist John Lott studied crime statistics in states that have “relaxed” laws about carrying guns. He found that the crime rates in “right to carry” states went down, sometimes way down, after passing legislation allowing responsible adults to carry guns. Murders fell an average of 8 percent, rapes 5 percent and aggravated assaults 7 percent, while at the same time in the U.S. as a whole murders went up 24 percent, rapes went up 71 percent, and assaults went up more than 100 percent. And in those states, the death rate in mass public shootings — such as a crazed gunman opening fire in a crowded restaurant — dropped 69 percent, while deaths from accidental shootings increased by only about one per year. Hardly a gun freak, Lott has never been a member of the National Rifle Association and didn’t even own a gun when he started his study. But once he saw how clearly the statistics were turning out, he bought one. (Time) …”An armed society is a polite society.” –Robert A. Heinlein.

It’s not politically correct to say, but it’s True: what you see in the media is not the whole story when it comes to guns. How can people make up their minds unless they know that laws banning guns could very well cost more lives than they save?

Feedback? Heck Yeah There Was Feedback!

When this story originally ran in True in 1998, it brought a fair amount of reader letters. But when I finally publicized the existence of this page in mid-2000, it brought significantly more comments. One of the criticisms in the past when reader letters are posted on a divisive issue is that the “anti” side tends to get more space. Thus the following is balanced as much as possible in proportion to the actual letters received.

Pros — “You’ve Got Balls to Tell the Truth”

It is widely, and wrongly, believed that cops favor so-called ‘gun control laws’. In fact, the working cops in this part of the heartland are mostly ‘gun nuts’ themselves, in the sense that we spend a lot of time pleasure shooting, buying, selling, and trading guns. The officers I know who work the streets are entirely at odds with the public stances of police administrators, who by and large are political appointees and academics. I personally have had my life saved on two occasions by armed citizens who came to my aid while I was on duty. In a small town, backup is sometimes an absent luxury; on those two days good citizens took their personal firearms in hand and got me out of a very scary situation. To those two men, my public thanks.” –Richard, police officer/chaplain, Oklahoma

It is unfortunate that such cases are not more widely publicized. If they were, more people would understand that there is another side to this issue. If they then decide to be “anti”, fine; at least they made an informed choice.

Thank you very, very much for presenting the “other side” of this very emotional issue. I personally do not own a gun as I have 5 grandchildren, ages 3 to 11, running through the house all the time. Three, ages 7, 4 and 4 (twin boys) actually live with us 3 to 4 days a week. It is difficult, if not impossible, to keep a gun accessible for protection while at the same time keeping it inaccessible to small, curious children. So until they are old enough to appreciate the danger of a gun, I shall remain gunless. –Russell, California

Which is exactly what I mean by an informed choice.

THANK YOU for demonstrating that the media is often biased. While I may not entirely agree with all the points made by Mr. Lott, the point is that the media has been on the other extreme entirely and balance is necessary in order to solve the “gun issue”. I have two opinions on the matter; the first is that less than 1% of all gun related crimes are committed with a LICENSED firearm. Yep. That’s TRUE. In your constitution it does say that you have the RIGHT to bear arms. I commend your country for that. But I also believe that with rights come responsibilities, and perhaps an effective gun licensing program is what is needed. (Just like driving a car… everyone has the right to drive a car as soon as they demonstrate their ability to do it responsibly). My second thought on the matter is that although it is your RIGHT to own a gun, it may not in fact be the wisest thing. I don’t think it’s right for anyone to be able to tell you you can’t have one, but perhaps it’s not the best thing to have one. The system will never be perfect, you get pros and cons either way… but at least you have the freedom to choose whether or not you’d like to own a gun, and isn’t that what your country is supposed to be all about? –Ryan, Canada

One thing, Ryan: I’m not sure about all states, but some make it exceedingly clear that one does not have the right to drive a car. California, for instance, declares it a “privilege” that can be taken away. And I think few would argue that it’s always “wise” to have a gun, as the previous letter points out nicely. Bottom line is “simple facts” often aren’t, but you’re absolutely correct that responsibilities do go with rights, and many people often conveniently forget that little tradeoff.

Just want to say I agree with you, the Media certainly does not cover gun and gun control in a balanced way. One thing that statistics don’t show is how many crimes are averted, and how many lives might be saved, just by the presence of a gun. That’s what happened to me one night a few months ago. I was loading groceries into my car at a nearby supermarket when two young white men (and that counters one stereotype) approached me asking for bus fare. It was pretty obvious bus money wasn’t all they were after — they were just a little too intense for that. They stepped toward me when my hand went into my coat pocket where my Colt was. I didn’t even have to draw it. They got the message. They backed away awfully fast. (I do have a carry permit.) Whatever your view of gun ownership is personally, thanks for a more balanced approach. –Phil, Kentucky

I especially appreciate that you don’t make an assumption as to my personal feelings on the issue.

The question I ask people who believe in gun control: “Are the police required to come to your aid if you call and request help?” The answer is irrefutably NO! Most people who I ask this question are shocked when I inform them of the fact that [the police] are not required to help and cannot be sued if they DON’T help. California’s Government Code, Sections 821, 845, and 846 states, in part: “Neither a public entity or a public employee [may be sued] for failure to provide adequate police protection or service, failure to prevent the commission of crimes and failure to apprehend criminals.” Warren v. District of Columbia is one of the leading cases of this type. Two women were upstairs in a townhouse when they heard their roommate, a third woman, being attacked downstairs by intruders. They phoned the police several times and were assured that officers were on the way. After about 30 minutes, when their roommate’s screams had stopped, they assumed the police had finally arrived. When the two women went downstairs they saw that in fact the police never came, but the intruders were still there. As the Warren court graphically states in the opinion: “For the next fourteen hours the women were held captive, raped, robbed, beaten, forced to commit sexual acts upon each other, and made to submit to the sexual demands of their attackers.” The three women sued the District of Columbia for failing to protect them, but D.C.’s highest court exonerated the District and its police, saying that it is a “fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.” [Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981).] –Warren, Michigan

It’s the classic “If you want something done right, do it yourself” clause, but I do remember when I was in California having it stressed to me that there is no right to police protection, which translates to no ability to sue if you don’t get it when you need it.

Well, bless your sweet heart for having the balls to put something like this on your site — and then actually pointing people toward it!!! I hope you can find this message among the deluge you are certainly receiving. –Burgess, Alabama

Mass media coverage of such important topics as gun control is generally thin and facile. It’s much easier for reporters and editors to reflect their readers’ strongest emotions than it is for them to lead public opinion by presenting reasoned arguments supported by independent research. [But] I’d like to propose that the NRA offer free marksmanship training to any youth who expresses an interest. That might satisfy some curiosity, remove some mystery, dispel some fantasy, and impart some respect for the real capabilities of these objects we both revere and fear. Meanwhile, back to the point of your article: Yes, I agree that coverage of gun-related issues is biased and inaccurate. Better reporting and analysis would force us to look more critically at ourselves, which would probably be a good thing. You have my respect and admiration for presenting things in humorous, inspiring, and provocative ways. Let’s hope you’re starting a trend. –Clayton, Minnesota

[Many gun control advocates point to] the Seattle, Wash., “43-1” study, which concluded that a gun owner was 43 times more likely to shoot an “acquaintance” than to kill a burglar. But this study was a classic example of “How to Lie With Statistics”. First, of those 43, 37 were suicides. Second, most defensive gun uses don’t involve firing a shot, and when it does, citizen gun owners are less likely to shoot the wrong person than the cops are (the police shoot the wrong person 11% of the time, citizens about 2%.) The study only looked at dead burglars, and ignored the other 99% of the time when the criminal was frightened off or merely wounded. Third, “acquaintances” include abusive spouses, competitor drug dealers, and aggrieved business partners. In fact, damn few murders are committed by TOTAL strangers! Fourth, the study included only one county around Seattle. Fifth, the study didn’t distinguish between the gun owner’s firearm and a firearm brought by the assailant. Sixth, the study did not re-visit the “murder incidents” to determine whether any of them had been adjudged “justifiable”. In fact, John Lott’s study, about 2 years ago, concluded just the opposite; in a nationwide study encompassing 15 years’ data from EVERY county, Lott determined that when citizens are allowed to carry concealed weapons, the crime rate FALLS dramatically. He published an expanded version of his study in the book “More Guns, Less Crime”. And just this week, another study has determined that the Brady law had ABSOLUTELY NO effect on crime rates; and while it did lower the FIREARM suicide rate for people over 55, the OVERALL suicide rate for this group was unchanged. People who intend to kill themselves WILL find a way. And the statistics from Florida, Texas and the other 28 states where any law-abiding citizen may carry a concealed firearm prove that armed citizens do deter crime. –Ken, California

Cons — “It Should Be in the Bill of Rights: The Right to be Wrong”

I’m all FOR freedom — go ahead, do whatever you want with your life. If you want to own a gun, fine, but it better not affect me. Well, unfortunately, the ‘statistics’ show that it does. A gun owner is more likely to accidentally shoot an innocent person than shoot the burglar who just broke into his home. I might be that innocent person. In short, you’ve pissed me off by putting this crap in your TRUE mailing. But that’s that. That’s one of the many wonders of a free society, and perhaps it should have been listed in the Bill of Rights: The right to be wrong. –Dave, New Jersey

Well, Dave, first, the “statistics” are the whole point of the story, and they are not what people think. Second, I didn’t put that “crap” in my True mailing, you went and read it on my web site. And last, there’s nothing I said that is “wrong”; the only thing I said was that the mainstream media does not cover gun control in a balanced way, which prevents people from making an informed decision on an important issue. That, sir, is certainly true.

I guess I’d think twice about going postal if I knew odds were I’d be Swiss cheese inside a minute. Bottom line is not value judgements but facts…and sorry to say, but I find your facts unbalanced as well. Can’t help you here, I have no facts to offer. I do wonder though about the quality vs. quantity facet. Less crime with guns? OK but how often does knowing they are there affect the quality of life? If for instance we all had our fingers on the “annihilate” button I would be extremely polite to everyone, but life would suck!!!! Raised with target rifles, pistols, even machine guns in the house, spent enough time at the target range…and thoroughly enjoyed it…the challenge, the precision machine, the artwork in the wood…. but I really can’t see the need for handguns! I’ll admit I am not well enough informed to make an intelligent decision on the matter…but then again, isn’t that they way all critical decisions are made in a democracy! –Gale, Cayman Islands

I’m not sure what I think about your comment that the treatment I did on the issue is “unbalanced”. It is certainly not intended to be a complete exploration of what is obviously a serious and complex issue, but rather a simple revealing that the media coverage of that serious and complex issue is extraordinarily one-sided, which is not a good way for citizens to make a decision. I think, then, the story succeeded rather well in bringing the issue forward in the minds of the people who read it. But you do raise an interesting question: does simply having guns around diminish people’s quality of life? I know of no studies, but I can offer an opinion: I think most gun owners would say “no”, since they rarely think about their guns — they simply are not an issue. But when they do think about guns, they think about the security they offer and the fun they provide during target shooting and such. Thus, I suspect most would argue that guns not only don’t reduce their quality of life, they actually enhance it. Bottom line, though, is that people need data in order to make a decision, rather than arguing points when even you admit you have “no facts”!

And that’s it for “cons”. In fact, the cons are still over-represented here — the letters were 6-1 “pro”.

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7 Responses to Balance in the Media

  1. Alwien, Long Beach CA March 23, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    Children are often injured while playing with guns at a neighbor’s house. They should be taught how a gun works and the damage it can do, at a very early age.

    I agree totally. Children, especially boys, are fascinated by guns, and pretending guns don’t exist is to leave them terribly vulnerable. I can remember when I was quite young, my dad showing me that even a little .22 cal pistol can shoot through an iron frying pan. I was sure it would bounce right off. But no: it made a nasty hole. He let me make another — it was the first gun I fired, and I still have it (along with the first gun he had fired as a boy). It made quite an impression on me, and I have always been very safe with firearms since. -rc

  2. Dana, Lexington, KY March 25, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    Our son has been fascinated with guns since an early age, when he realized what the gun safe in the basement was for. Like one of your earlier commenters, all of our guns have been locked up since our first child was able to crawl. When he was about 10 or so, we showed him the contents of the gun safe, but didn’t let him touch. Later, as an early teen, he researched AirSoft guns and showed us his research before we went with him and allowed him to spend his own money on one. We set up a target and went over gun safety rules before letting him shoot (yes, even for an AirSoft). As he has demonstrated his responsibility, he is now, at 17, working toward earning money for an air rifle that shoots pellets. Obviously a step up in the safety training, and many discussions about watching for animals as well as people, and how to set up a safe backdrop for targets. I have no doubt that in a while, we will be taking him to a proper range to show him how to shoot some of the “real” guns in the gun safe. And I also have no doubts that he will be extremely safety conscious while doing so. That’s just the kind of kid he is.

    My daughter, on the other hand… When she graduates college and gets her own apartment, I will probably find a pool cue and cut it off for her for protection — along with instruction on when NOT to use it! I would not trust her with a gun until she is much more mature — even though she is older than my son. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is.

    You demonstrate very well what “good parenting” is when it comes to guns. -rc

  3. Randy in Encinitas, CA March 26, 2013 at 8:12 am #

    I would love it if the media would be more balanced (on all issues, not just guns). However, I would love it even more if the NRA didn’t attempt to stifle research into how gun ownership actually affects the lives of those who own guns, or the lives of those they know and come into contact with.
    To see what I mean, see this page. While this is not necessarily a reputable news source, they certainly link to such.

    If guns are so good for society, why does the NRA oppose research into gun ownership?

    Well, they link to Salon.com, which isn’t much better than Boing Boing as a source. That said, the “gun lobby” has prevented a lot of common sense basics. Like what? Like, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is prohibited by law from using computers to track guns used in crimes. Agents must literally go in person to the manufacturer with the serial number and ask where it was sold. Then they must go to that distributor and ask what store they sold it to, and on and on. Ridiculous. The “gun lobby” points out how we don’t need more gun laws when current laws aren’t effectively enforced, but then throw up roadblocks to ensure current laws aren’t effectively enforced. -rc

  4. John, Pennsylvania March 26, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    My wife and I did not allow our son to have toy guns. We gave up on that rule when he used a wooden block as a pretend gun. Much later when we joined Boy Scouts, the troop spent several weeks on gun safety, which included a trip to a gun club to shoot .22 rifles. I was nervous about exposing my 12-year-old son to guns.

    I now believe that gun education is extremely valuable and important. The Boy Scouts taught safety and respect for a dangerous piece of equipment.

    When I drive a car I’m required to carry proof of ownership of the vehicle as well as proof of my ability to operate it. I believe these are reasonable requirements that should also apply to owning guns. C’mon, do you really think that if you had to register all your guns that Big Brother is going to take them away from you?

    Since that’s what historically has happened in other countries, yes: a lot of people do believe that. I’m not that paranoid, yet I am wary — especially after seeing police illegally confiscate guns from civilians protecting their properties after Hurricane Katrina. The difference between guns and cars (and the licensing thereof) is that car ownership is not a constitutional right. -rc

  5. Art -- Auburn March 29, 2013 at 9:17 pm #

    My father had a .38 when I was a child. My brother (3 years younger) and I were allowed to play with toy guns, so when we found our father’s pistol we knew it was not a toy, and did not play with it. I think that children should be permitted to play with toy weapons so that they know the difference when they come in contact with a real one. There might be fewer gun accidents.

    When was the last time you read about a gun show being shot up? I don’t think I ever have; probably because many of the folks at gun shows have a concealed carry permit.

    The punks that shoot up schools know that there is no one is packing. I’m retired military and do not own a gun because I live in a retired community that has been declared a gun-free zone. It scares the bejeebers out of me thinking that our residence may be the scene of the next massacre.

    I have heard that the vast majority of mass shootings occur in “gun-free zones” (like schools), but haven’t tried to track down a definitive source yet (let me know if you find a good link). One non-school example: apparently in the Colorado theater shooting, there were eight theaters showing Batman that night in the general area. The scene of the shooting was the ONE theater that was declared a “gun free zone”. It’s enough to make me want to avoid such places. -rc

  6. Tina, CA April 22, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

    I agree with all the pro gun remarks and the reasons behind them. This is an outstanding article. It was in 1979, at the time of the New Orleans Mardi Gras season, when the police force went on strike for higher wages. My sister had lived there for over 40 yrs & told me the crime rate went way down not only in violent crimes, but all types for the entire time all over the parish. I couldn’t find an article verifying this, only articles on the semi-cancelling of Mardi Gras, but at the time, my brother-in-law figured it was due to the fact everyone got their guns out for self protection, not just the national guard patrols downtown. However, I’m actually wanting to know if I can copy the link to send to my email crew — about 53 people — and share this article with them.

    Unless the page says otherwise, it’s always OK to share links to any post on this site. You might also want to point out this one. -rc

  7. Ernest, Urana, NSW, Australia February 25, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

    One aspect of gun control laws that’s ignored is how they change what the criminals carry. Down here in Australia we used to have two classifications of weapons: civilian and military, with the civilian being lawful to own. Hand guns were regulated very tightly but bolt action, semi-automatic (one trigger pull one shot) rifles and shotguns were legal without a licence. Then, after the shooting at Port Arthur in Tasmania, virtually all guns became unlawful to own, except for some very tight restriction.

    I grew up and lived in Sydney, NSW, Australia but moved away back in the mid 1980s as certain criminal elements were fighting over turf with a drive-by shooting about once every three months; today they’re almost weekly. The weapons used by criminals before the Port Arthur crack down were civilian grade weapons (one trigger pull one shot fired) and mostly cut down shotguns or rifles. Such weapons were very cheap to buy on the black market and the laws if caught with one were much lower than if caught with a military grade weapon. Following Port Arthur the cost of an unlawful gun became almost the same be it a civilian or military grade weapon and the sentence handed out in court was the same. Within a few years of the Port Arthur weapons crackdown most of the criminal groups are using smuggled in military fully-automatic weapons as against stolen local civilian weapons.

    The only things to come out of the change in laws down here were:

    1. The destruction many civilian grade weapons, some being more show pieces than anything else;

    2. The disarming of the civilian population, and thus making events like the Port Arthur shooting more likely (forgot to mention the main weapons he used there were stolen military grade weapons);

    3. The serious criminal groups went from semi-automatic weapons to fully-automatic weapons and are now more likely to shoot it out with the authorities.

    NB: I don’t have enough valid data to know if the change has had an effect on the inter gang shootings as I think that’s more a result of new gangs moving into the country and starting turf wars.

    Scary stuff. It’s very unusual here for criminals to use fully automatic weapons. It was big news some years ago when a gang tried a bank robbery, and had a shootout with police, using them, because it was so unusual. Only the two robbers were killed, yet it was such a sensation there’s even a Wikipedia entry about it. -rc

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