I am not an alarmist. Which is probably why I did not pursue a career in broadcast journalism. Oh, sure, I love a great story, and I’m always sensitive to making things as interesting as possible, but I draw the line at sensationalism, yellow journalism, and the School of Making Things Up To Sell Some Papers. Which is why I look at just about any story relating to guns in the mainstream media with a jaundiced eye and a large dose of skepticism. From stories about “assault weapons” to the “tar with the same brush” mentality they use for serial killers and Tea Party members, the MSM does a great job of alarming the public to whatever they’ve deemed to be the Crisis du Jour . . . but a crappy job with telling the truth. In short, they have a tendency towards mendacity, and are far too willing to sell ethics down the river in exchange for a snappy lead. Don’t believe me? Read on, McDuff, and curst be he who first cries “Extra, Extra! Read All About It.”
My first real exposure to gun hysteria in the media took place in the mid-seventies. There were suddenly stories on TV, in the papers, and on the covers of news magazines about a new threat to our collective safety: Plastic Guns. The stories all went something like this:
DATELINE: PANICVILLE – Official sources today confirmed the influx of so-called “plastic firerarms” – real guns, firing real bullets, made from tough, durable plastic. These guns CANNOT BE DETECTED BY CONVENTIONAL X-RAY MACHINES, and are thus a CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER TO THE PEOPLE, since they can be TAKEN ONTO AIRPLANES without detection. NO ONE IS SAFE FROM THE SCOURGE of plastic guns! SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!!
Ring a bell? Seriously. I remember reading/hearing about these “plastic guns” thinking, “Gee, that’s pretty irresponsible of a gun manufacturer to make something that can’t be detected by X-Ray machines. How will they be able to ban something they can’t detect?” The stories ran for, oh, say about six months, and then . . . nothing. Nary a peep. It just went away. Everywhere.
Now pause with me, and let’s dig a little deeper, to see what in the Sam Hill they were talking about. Ready? Wait for it . . . Glocks. Yep. The Glock 17 and it’s brethren “plastic guns” were the Big Media’s plastic gun bugaboo.
Now for those of you that have never handled a Glock, Springfield XD or any of the other “plastic guns” now available, lemme fill you in on a couple of salient points. First and foremost, while the frame of the gun IS made of a polymer plastic, the barrel and slide portions of the gun are made of hardened steel. While this does reduce the amount of metal in the gun, it does nothing to render it invisible to X-Rays.
In other words, try and sneak a Glock through an airport security checkpoint, and you’d get busted just as fast as if you tried the same thing with Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum. But you see, “Lighter, cheaper handguns made by using polymer plastics in the frame” just doesn’t have the same kind of shock value as “Plastic Guns are Undetectable by Airport X-Rays: Millions at Risk.” Even if the sensational headline is patently false.
Anyone remember the hysteria preceding the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons ban (a.k.a. the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act)? The only thing worse than the media hysteria before the ban was the media hysteria preceding its removal. The media warned of spree killings, criminals making Swiss cheese out of police body armor, domestic terrorists run amok. America as war zone, coming to a neighborhood near you!
While some gun control advocates would point at various isolated incidents and urban crime and say, “See? TOLD YA,” any rational analysis of the ban (and there have been plenty) concludes that its implementation—and removal—didn’t change squat.
A few years back, the late author Michael Crichton wrote a wonderful novel, State of Fear. In this heavily-footnoted work of fiction, he connected the dots to explain why there are so many sensational stories that get us worked up into a lather, only to die when SUDDENLY, NOTHING HAPPENS.
Crichton postulated that there’s an unholy trinity of a news media hungry for newsworthy scandals and stories with legs, politicians desperate to Fix Some Crisis (even where no crisis exists) and researchers/experts/special-interest groups who must have drama in order to obtain funding. This Axis of Weasels serves to keep us in a perpetual State of Fear (get it?) by ping-ponging us from one crisis to the next.
Sometimes, the crises involve guns. Sometimes they don’t. Let’s look at some crises in the media over the past 20 years or so, and see if anything sounds familiar:
- Mutant/hybrid “Africanized” Honey Bees are Migrating North – Will Wipeout the Southwest by 1990
- Plastic Guns Undetectable by X-Rays – Entire Nation’s Air Travel System at Risk
- West Nile Virus Unstoppable, Experts Say…Pandemic Feared
- Assault Weapons Ban To Expire: Gun VIolence Expected to Explode
- Bird Flu Virus Unstoppable, Experts Say…Pandemic Feared
- Conceal Carry Gun Laws Signal a Return to Wild West Days: Streets to Run Red With Innocents’ Blood
- Swine Flu Virus Unstoppable, Experts Say…Pandemic Feared
- Court to Review Heller Gun Control Challenge: Gun Violence Expected to Increase if Law is Held Unconstitutional
- Cryptosporidium Threat to Water Supply…Conventional Water Filters Offer No Protection
- High-Capacity Magazines Promote Gun Violence
The funny part of all this to me: the news media is fundamentally lazy. They keep recycling the same headlines/stories, year after year. It’s like one big rotation play-list, or a Chinese menu, where you mix and match a threat to a description.
The only cure for this kind of mendacity is sunshine, and a lot of it.
To fight the herd mentality that allows this sort of crap to happen, people have to wake up and do their thinking for themselves. It’s not enough to simply take what you’re told at face value. You have to dig deeper, think logically, and consider who’s got what to gain, if a story is true.
Crichton was right – feeding the beast that is the 24-hour news cycle requires stories that make for Must-See TV. You typically don’t get that kind of story reporting the truth sans hyperbole. Researchers need grants and special-interest groups need funding—none of which is available when a report comes back stating something obvious like “Water is Wet.” Politicians can’t justify either their own salaries or tax increases if they can’t be seen DOING SOMETHING to save their constituents from a fate worse than death. (Or a fate worse than deaf, if you have to listen to them pontificate from the Congressional pulpit.)
In the case of this unholy troika of tattletales, I like what Hank Hill (King of the Hill) once said. “Just when I think you’ve said the stupidest thing ever, ya keep talkin.’ ”