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11 Tips For Journalists Who Want To Cover Guns Like Old School Objective Reporters

April 30, 2019

Just in time for the NRA convention — or frankly any time of the year — a Guns Save Life member submitted this list of suggestions to me for reporters who want to be real reporters.  As opposed to shills who simply regurgitate the talking points from a press release from an anti-gun group.

I. Avoid photographing sporting shooters or hunters from dangerous positions, such as from in front of the firearm, no matter how good the photograph would be. The golden rule is to never point a firearm, loaded or empty, at anyone.

II. Do your research and ask the right questions of all parties when you conduct interviews. There are objective facts and figures behind every firearm-related issue.

III. Refer to firearms by their correct name. Unless used as such, they are no more of a ‘weapon’ than a knife or brick, so check the correct terminology if you need clarification.

IV. There is a big difference between a semi-automatic rifle and a machine gun just as there is a substantial difference between a revolver and a semi-automatic handgun. Learn the difference.

V. Get both sides of the story and avoid emotionalizing an article. Maintain your credibility by talking to lobby groups, environmental groups, the government, police and gun organizations where appropriate.

VI. Remember that firearms laws do not affect illegal firearm activities.  Gun laws have the greatest impact on people who legally purchase and own firearms rather than criminals who have their own sources of firearms outside of the legal network for obtaining firearms.

VII. Recognize that each state operates under different firearms and hunting laws.  While some issues are widespread, other issues such as purchasing regulations or the storage or transportation of firearms fall under varied legislation depending on your location.

VIII. Avoid bringing emotion into reporting of animal hunts or culls.  Hunting is one of many effective animal population management tools utilized by both local and state governments, hunters and landowners. All methods, including trapping, poisoning and hunting, have their pros and cons, but together, they form part of a necessary measure.

IX. Do not assume hunters have no respect for the animals they are hunting.  Hunting is usually performed as either a pest animal control method or in a hunter-gatherer role similar to fishing. Hunters maintain a close connection with their environment and have a great appreciation for all wildlife. Many hunters, particularly lower income hunters, are dependent on the meat to help feed their families.

X. Realize the dangers of comparing firearms issues in the United States with those of other countries. The United States has a unique history, culture, which have created a relationship to firearms and their government different from any other country. It is unwise, considering the stark difference between the countries and the status of the aforementioned elements to assume that American gun owners would react to Australian type gun confiscations similar to the way Australian gun owners did.

XI. If in doubt, ask for help.  Gun organizations often have a number of people who can be interviewed for stories or even to provide advice or clarification on firearms and related issues. If asked, they may be willing to provide demonstrations or even allow reporters to experience the use of firearms.

I don’t know if there should be a number twelve on this list, but my advice for reporters is to lose the smug condescension towards gun owners. I remember a few short years ago in the run-up to the 2016 election, the AP wanted to interview me for a national story about gun owners’ views on Donald Trump – including women gun owners.

I sat down for an interview with the AP reporter at the local library along with Guns Save Life’s then Vice-President Adrienne Logue. The reporter challenged everything we said and treated us both with more than a dash of condescension, treating us like rubes and rednecks.

Not only that, but in the interview, he just couldn’t fathom how gun owners could support Donald Trump. He then tried to assert that old talking point that there are actually a lot fewer gun owners in America, they’re just buying more guns.

I explained how the number of FOID card holders in Illinois had, at that time, nearly doubled in the eight years of Barack Obama’s reign. When he insisted I didn’t know what I was talking about (about guns or gun owner views on Trump), I responded by saying that his willful ignoring of reality and desire to push a narrative was why fewer and fewer Americans consume the mainstream media’s product…we simply don’t trust their reporting.

Fast forward a year or so later. He was a lot more humble, asking for an interview about something else germane to guns in Illinois, this time for a public broadcasting company. Seems the AP had let him go along with a number of others as part of declining revenues for the Associated Press.

It proved my point that it wasn’t gun owners who were in decline, but instead the establishment media.

Images by BigStock.