Journalists at all levels are confounded constantly by three key subjects: faith, abortion, and guns.
On Sept. 11, the Associated Press published a good example highlighting the press’s general ignorance of firearms.
The report, titled “Active shooter study: Semi-automatic rifles more deadly," originally opened with these lines: “Active shooters with semi-automatic rifles wound and kill twice as many people as those using non-automatic weapons, although chances of dying if hit in either type of assault are the same, a new analysis shows.”
Did you catch that? The story incorrectly differentiates between semi-automatic rifles and non-automatic weapons, as if they are not one in the same.
Let's put this as clearly as we can: Semi-automatic rifles are non-automatic rifles. For reference, semi-automatic rifles go, “Pew! Pew! Pew!” One pull of the trigger, one shot. Automatic rifles go, “bbbRRRPPPppp.” They spray several bullets with each trigger pull.
It’s a small thing that should be easy, and it matters.
The AP’s mistake wasn’t a one-off. Later in the same story, the author included a passage that read, “Overall, 44 percent of people hit in active shooter attacks involving semi-automatic weapons died, the same as those wounded in non-automatic weapon attacks."
The author also wrote: “The average number of people wounded in semi-automatic attacks totaled nearly six, versus about three in attacks with a non-automatic weapon.”
Stop it! Please get it right before you publish!
The author and her editors obviously caught the mistake, because the AP’s story has since been updated to amend the inaccurate language.
The opening paragraph now reads, “Active shooters with semi-automatic rifles wound and kill twice as many people as those using weapons that don’t self-load, although chances of dying if hit in either type of assault are the same, a new analysis shows.”
Likewise, the second passage cited above has been amended to read, “Overall, 44 percent of people hit in active shooter attacks involving semi-automatic weapons died, the same as those wounded in attacks not involving semi-automatic rifles.”
Lastly, the third passage has been amended to read, “The average number of people wounded in semi-automatic attacks totaled nearly six, versus about three in attacks with other weapons.”
Again, this seems like a small thing. Pro-gun control zealots will no doubt claim this is some cheap “gotcha” pedantry. But accuracy matters in journalism. It’s even more important when the story involves an object or item that is frequently the subject of proposed government regulations. Sometimes it seems like news outlets choose the most ignorant person in the room to cover anything gun-related. It's really frustrating, because equally ignorant lawmakers frequently adopt nonsensical or meaningless concepts about guns ("assault weapons") and try to write them into law.
This article is in no way meant to mitigate the terror and tragedy of mass shootings. We clearly need to talk about this.
But we’re not going to be able to discuss curbing gun violence or the steps that we can take to reduce gun-related murders if both parties aren’t even speaking the same language. We certainly won’t be able to come to a place of agreement about government regulations and the Second Amendment if one side of the debate thinks a semi-automatic rifle is the same thing as an automatic rifle.