The case of the “Beltway Snipers” has given liberal, big-city journalists an excuse for renewed attacks on their old enemies, America’s gun owners. As in the past, the hallmark of these attacks is an emotional appeal designed to generate fear and loathing in the audience while obscuring any inconvenient facts. Local television news departments trying to hype their ratings during sweeps week have created some of the worst examples.
A classic attack piece aired on Seattle’s KIRO 7 television station on November 18th, 2002. “Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter” Chris Halsne went on the road to Centralia, Washington, to visit a small town gun show and heroically expose the deadly danger caused by a “gaping loophole” in the Brady Law. His story of how he purchased an AR-15 rifle is so full of falsehoods and distortions that it serves as a comical example of advocacy journalism gone terribly wrong.
Halsne first identifies the AR-15 as a “sniper’s rifle.” In reality it is an emasculated civilian version of the standard infantryman’s rifle, which is never used by real snipers and rarely used by criminals. Any common deer rifle is much more powerful and much closer in function to actual sniper rifles. He goes on to inflame KIRO viewers with laughably dramatic phrases like “blood filled morgues” and “human target practice.” This is political theater masquerading as news.
At the gun show, he makes the outrageous and slanderous claim that felons and mental patients are welcome, while neglecting to mention that both groups are prohibited by law from owning firearms. He implies that purchasing a rifle in a gun shop requires a waiting period. In Washington, it does not.
He mentions that the DC “sniper” rifle seems to have evaded the normal paperwork, but he fails to tell KIRO viewers that the infamous rifle was most likely stolen from a gun store. To do so would have ended his attempt to defame gun shows by linking them to the DC killings. He also never explains how more paperwork would help, when criminals prefer to use stolen or untraceable guns.
Halsne could have done a useful investigative report by thoughtfully exploring the interesting story of the federal law that requires only licensed dealers to perform background checks and file the forms associated with retail gun sales. If he had asked the private sellers at the gun show, most would have told him that they would love to have a license and follow the rules. Many were probably licensed at one time. Unfortunately, small gun dealers were forced out of the system during the anti-gun hysteria of the early 1990’s and became private sellers by default.
A real journalist would have mentioned the government study that found only 0.7% of crime guns were obtained at gun shows, but that would have spoiled a frightening tale.
An honest journalist would have pointed out that all laws apply at gun shows just as they do everywhere else, but that would have exposed the effort to falsely portray gun shows as free-trade zones where laws are magically suspended.
Slavishly following the standard attack plan, Halsne obtained the obligatory hand-wringing comments from the Washington state anti-gun lobby, but he got more than he bargained for when he interviewed Sheriff John McCroskey of Lewis County, site of the evil gun show.
McCroskey is not like the politically correct urban police chiefs so familiar to KIRO reporters. He refused to play along with the act and later wrote up his side of the story in the local newspaper, making fun of Halsne’s attempt to create alarm about a perfectly legal activity. The only thing frightening to Sheriff McCroskey is that there is now a liberal reporter out there with a gun.
The precisely aimed smear job by CBS-affiliate KIRO and dramatic storyteller Chris Halsne suggests that a sinister sniper subculture has arisen within the unregulated community of honest reporters. Contact your legislators at once to close this gaping loophole by passing strict new laws requiring more government paperwork to ensure the ethical conduct of journalists.