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Louis Untermeyer


The Occasional Muse
My humble opinion on current events

August 3, 2002

Gun Bias at the Associated Press

Conservatives, libertarians, and gun control opponents have long argued that the mainstream media has a pervasive bias against guns and gun rights. This argument was underscored by an Associated Press article that the Arizona Republic ran in its Sunday, July 28 edition. 

Rash of crimes using guns leaves Europeans shocked blared the headline. Written by Thomas Wagner, the article's first sentence sets the tone: "For years, Europeans have seen the United States as the epitome of the Wild West, where gun control laws are weak and violent crime is widespread." 

So right away we get a tenet accepted by gun control activists: more guns equal more crime. Never mind that this concept is rejected by reputable people. Never mind that, at best, this idea is debatable. Not for Wagner and the Associated Press. They present it as fact, as do the gun control activists.

John Lott argued in a book a few years ago that more guns actually produced less crime. He examined crime statistics in states that adopted concealed-carry laws, which allow law-abiding citizens to pack heat. Those states saw a drop in gun-related crimes like murder, rape, and assault. This makes sense, because a would-be criminal must think twice before attacking someone, as the potential victim might be armed.

Restrictive gun control laws don't lower the crime rate. California, New York, and the District of Columbia have very strict gun control laws - are the streets of Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. safe? Of course not - criminals know their victims likely will not be armed.

But back to the article. Wagner concedes that "the disparate attacks do not seem to have a common cause." He quotes a French journalist that "nobody knows what has caused all these random attacks in Europe and if there is any connection among them." 

In other words, the availability of guns may have nothing to do with the "rash of crimes using guns." But that doesn't stop Wagner. He quotes the same journalist: "But everyone is asking two questions: How do such attackers suddenly appear on our streets with guns or rifles?" That's a good question, because gun control laws are notoriously tight in most of Europe, save Switzerland. But not once does Wagner question the effectiveness of gun control.

Instead, he cites the July 14 assassination attempt on French President Jaques Chirac by a "young man with neo-Nazi connections" and "member of a right-wing student group." The attempt failed - the criminal managed only one shot before the crowd swarmed him. Wagner then cites the successful assassination of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn by a lone gunman who is an "activist for the environment and animal rights."

(Note the labels. The French fool who couldn't shoot straight was an apparent neo-Nazi and right-winger. The successful murderer was merely an "activist," rather than a left-winger.)

Wagner then relates a series of gun-related crimes. "In France, a gunman killed eight officials at a suburban city council meeting outside Paris in March, prompting the government to vow to crack down on guns." Hard to see how much tighter they can crack down on guns in France, but that doesn't matter. The next sentence reveals why. "The attack left people wondering how the gunman, who had a history of psychological problems, was able to obtain semiautomatic pistols." Let's see - could it be because he's a criminal who does not let laws stop him? How would more laws help? Wagner doesn't even raise these questions.

Another gunman knocked off 14 people in a government building in Switzerland, which requires that every household own a gun. Gun crime in Switzerland is virtually non-existent. Don't tell that to Wagner, who writes that the "Swiss government also planned to tighten some of the most relaxed gun control laws in Europe, but so far has not acted." The logic is amazing. Switzerland is probably the safest country in the world with "relaxed" gun control laws, yet it should adopt the strict gun control laws practiced by its European neighbors, who are experiencing a "rash of crimes using guns" despite (or perhaps because of ) strict gun control laws.

The problem with the article is that Wagner's assumptions about gun control are built into the article and accepted as fact. This is liberal bias.

But it's only one article, you argue. You can't indict the entire media for one article.

But this article is representative of the media's approach to the gun issue. I could pull out dozens if not hundreds more, just from the print media alone. It also reveals the Associated Press's bias. Countless editors read and approved Wagner's article. Did none of them spot the bias? What does that say? Or did they see it and approve of it, or choose to ignore it? Do all Associated Press editors do the same?

This is an important issue. An honest and open press is vital in a free society. Citizens must have accurate information if they are to rule themselves. It's the media's job to deliver that information. Bias, liberal or otherwise, distorts that information and misleads citizens.

That, my friends, is inexcusable.

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