Journalists and guns


The goal of the journalism workshop is simple: “to improve the accuracy and depth of coverage of America’s gun debate, without deference to any political agenda or special interests.”

The workshop, which starts in July, is being offered by the Poynter Institute, one of the most respected names in the journalism business, and is open to reporters and editors from the ranks of the mainstream media.

The three days of training include a field trip to a gun range, some live fire and discussions titled: “Anatomy of a Lawsuit: Behind the District of Columbia v. Heller” and “Gun Control in the Aftermath of Newtown.”

It also promises to teach reporters the difference between a “.357 Magnum and a .22 caliber weapon.”

I won’t be attending the training. I’ve got a pretty good grasp of .22s, .357s and of course 7.62x39mm, and there’s no way I’m going anywhere near that range without lashings of Kevlar, but I laud Poynter for trying to teach my profession something about guns. It’s long overdue, and it recognizes something that the firearms community has known for decades: most journalists don’t know a damn thing about guns.

Over the years, I’ve worked with reporters and editors who could not articulate the difference between a rifle and a shotgun, much less an AR or an AK.

As a young reporter in South Dakota, I once turned in a story about a sheriff’s department issuing Crimson Trace laser grips to its patrol staff for their Sig P226s. The story included a line about how the deputies could either use their new lasers or their iron sights to aim their Sigs. The 23-year-old editor asked me what ‘iron sights’ were. I told her they were the smallish metal things on top of the barrel that told you where the pistol was pointed. She wanted to include a line in the story explaining this to the readers. I told her she was probably the only person in South Dakota not acquainted with the whole sight concept, much less adept at their use.

Other papers have been addicted to inaccurate and inflammatory terms like assault weapon and gun violence. Do we say knife violence, or frying pan violence? I never understood why we don’t just say ‘violence.’

An then there’s a certain editor I know who wouldn’t own a gun to save his life, literally, because he believes guns are evil, like the people who own them.

Things are far better now, here in the Gunshine state.

Not only are there a few more journalists who own guns,  and one who was willing to greenlight a gun blog, most understand that guns are part of the culture for many Floridians – millions of Floridians. They also understand that there are several sides and numerous points of view to the ongoing gun debate, which seems to shift and morph and spin more every day. Most national media see only one side – guns are either good or bad, depending upon who owns their broadcast license.

If a few journalists want to start learning more about firearms and the Second Amendment, the gun community needs to step up and offer its help – something more substantive than the ‘media kits’ available of their websites.

This is a rare opportunity. Journalists help shape the public debate. Those who are writing about anti-gun legislation should know that clips go in the top, magazines go in the bottom, and 30-round mags are not high capacity. They’re standard capacity – original equipment.

Besides, I’m sure a course hosted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation or NRA would be a tad more thorough than one put together by a bunch of reporters and editors working at a nonprofit in St. Pete.

Part two of this series will examine the reasons why many journalists don’t understand guns.














About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

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