Written July 16, 2003, in The Journal News (Westchester County, NY)

The media's bias against firearms

By Paul Gallant


LENGTH: 695 words


BYLINE: Readers

"Shield for the gun industry" made front-page headlines in The Journal News recently. Directly below was another prominently featured story: "A weapon is fired, a life ends, a family mourns."

The message is clear: Guns cause bad things to happen, and innocent victims and their families pay the price.

Contrast this with a headline from the South Bend Tribune on Feb. 7, 2002: "11-year-old shoots, kills assailant threatening his grandmother." According to the Tribune, on the evening of Feb. 4, an 11-year-old boy found his grandmother, Sue Gay, with a box cutter held to her neck by 27-year-old Tony Murry. The fifth grader ran upstairs and retrieved a handgun.

Despite Murry using Gay to shield himself, enough of the attacker was exposed, and the youngster fired one shot, hitting Murry in the chest. As the newspaper detailed, "The fifth grader may not have been just a lucky shot. This is a family that knows guns. "

St. Joseph County Prosecutor Chris Toth later stated, "The young man reasonably believed his grandmother and himself to be in danger of dying . . . he did what he had to do."

How many Journal News readers ever heard about that story? What about the one from Muncie, Indiana's, June 6 Star Press: "Woman shoots ex-boyfriend." Deputy Police Chief Terry Winters said, "Everything we have points to self-defense."

When it is estimated that, in America, guns are used three to five times more frequently for defensive purposes than for criminal purposes, how is this possible? Sloppy journalism?

According to John R. Lott Jr., the reason is more insidious. In "The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard About Gun Control is Wrong" (Regnery Publishing, 2003), Lott provides convincing documentation of systematic media bias against firearms and willful non-reporting of the utility of guns in the hands of ordinary citizens.

Lott chastises the media's distorted reporting on the effects of present gun laws and the incessant call for even more restrictions. "The notion that gun -control laws might be counterproductive is never given any credence . . . The debate over gun control is skewed in favor of stricter laws because we almost never discuss the positive effects of guns: That they often save innocent lives."

In a recent conversation, renowned civil rights attorney and criminologist Don B. Kates told me: "I can certainly say that, when criminologists and constitutional lawyers study the issues, pro- gun people do not become anti- gun, but anti- gun people, often very reluctantly, become pro- gun, to some extent at least." That's what happened to Lott, who started out exploring the firearm debate as a neutral but curious researcher.

But the publication of his earlier research findings, which questioned the efficacy of restrictive gun laws, incited ferocious ad hominem attacks, and baseless attacks on his professional integrity from those who champion even harsher gun laws.

His ordeal has caused Lott to question their sincerity: "What could possibly be the goal of increased regulations if gun control doesn't reduce crime and frequently increases it? . . . I have come to believe that the ultimate objective of most gun -control advocates is to gradually eliminate the private ownership of guns. "

Is this why stories of successful self-defense with a gun never seem to make their way into The Journal News?

Despite the growing body of criminological evidence that casts doubt on conventional wisdom about firearms, in all the discussions of local workshops on crime, rape and domestic violence reported in The Journal News, never once can I recall the option of armed self-defense even being mentioned.

Is it because accurate information might cause some to choose a course of action that could aid in derailing the political agenda of civilian disarmament?

The Journal News would serve its readers far better if it reported a truer accounting of firearms in America.

The writer, a Wesley Hills optometrist, is chairman, Gun -Owners for a Safe Society and a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think-tank in Golden, Colo.

LOAD-DATE: July 17, 2003

Book Review on The Bias Against Guns

Johnlott.org (description of book, downloadable data sets, and discussions of previous controversies)

Academic papers:

Social Science Research Network

Book Reviews:

For a list of book reviews on The Bias Against Guns, click here.

List of my Op-eds

Posts by topic

Appalachian law school attack

Baghdad murder rate

Arming Pilots

Fraudulent website pretending to be run by me

Ayres and Donohue

Stanford Law Review

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Craig Newmark

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William Sjostrom

Dr. T's EconLinks.com

Interview with National Review Online

Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at www.johnlott.org:

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper