We now know that the attacker who opened fire on Republican congressional leaders at a baseball field in Virginia earlier this week used an SKS rifle. That didn’t stop plenty of mainstream media outlets from jumping to conclusions about the type of firearm used as soon as the news broke…with predictable and inaccurate results.
For a group of outlets that call themselves impartial purveyors of true and accurate reporting they sure do a terrible job when it comes to guns.
New York Magazine claimed that the shooter “was armed with a pistol and an M4 automatic weapon.” Not only is the type of rifle wrong but the SKS was semi-automatic. “Automatic” implies a machine gun, which is generally illegal for civilian ownership outside some hugely expensive exceptions.
Then again, asking New York Magazine to have even a passing understanding of firearms might be more than we should expect from the oh-so-well-educated, sophisticated, effete class of people who run that rag.
CBS’s initial report stated that “CBS News confirmed he used an M4 assault rifle.” That article hasn’t been updated to remove the now debunked “fact.”
A website called The Right Scoop got the scoop completely wrong, proclaiming in the title of their article that the weapon had been identified as an M4. No, no it wasn’t.
While CBS might be forgiven for hastily putting up an inaccurate post as a story breaks, the NY Daily News published an article nearly 24 hours after the actual make and model of the firearm were identified complete with a photo of an AR-15 and the caption “An M4 Colt rifle similar to the one Hodgkinson used in the shooting.”
ABC News was slightly better. They correctly identified the firearm as an SKS, but went the extra step of calling it an “assault rifle.” The specific quote: “sources told ABC News that the primary weapon used in shooting was an SKS 7.62 assault-style rifle.”
The Daily Beast claimed in its coverage that “a maniac with an assault rifle opened fire at the congressional baseball practice on Wednesday morning.”
Against all odds, CNN probably came the closest to getting it right, claiming the weapon was “an SKS 7.62.39 rifle (a Chinese-made variant of the popular AK rifle).”
Except (A) we don’t know whether the weapon was actually a Norinco Chinese SKS (the majority of SKS rifles in the US are from Yugoslavia), (B) the SKS pre-dates the AK-47 by a good number of years, so the AK-47 is more accurately a variant of the SKS (still wrong, but less wrong), and (C) that would be 7.62×39, as the other caliber stated is simply an unintelligible jumble that doesn’t actually mean anything.
While you might be tempted to shrug these inaccuracies off as pedantic, inconsequential details, the truth is that these articles help form the narrative in gun muggle’s minds. While the SKS isn’t an “assault weapon” in either the federal or the various state “assault weapons” ban bills, media outlets nevertheless apply the label as liberally as possible.
Use of the label creates the idea in people’s minds that since all these attacks used an “assault weapon” banning them will do something to stop them from happening. The reality is that this weapon used this week would not have been included in any “assault weapons” ban we’ve ever seen.
Inaccuracies with details like this one — details which are so easy to verify — also lead to another question: what else are they getting wrong?
If the news outlets can’t even be bothered to check which make and model of firearm was used in a high profile crime, do they also apply that same level of, uh, critical thinking and fact checking to other aspects of their reports?
It makes you wonder whether they’re reliable news sources at all. And, quite frankly, the answer seems to be “no.”