Journalists often cover a variety of topics, so much so that they don’t possess any expertise of their own on many of the subjects they cover. Even someone like a science journalist–something that sounds specialized–may not have the background to know more than one or two scientific disciplines, if that.
Further, if they think they know something, they often fail to research to see if that’s accurate or not.
So, when it comes to guns, there’s a reason journalists often get things so terribly wrong. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and unless the journalist or their editor knows something is false, it’s easy for them to just assume they got it right.
Well, not anymore.
Over at Journalist Resource, they did a bit to address some of that.
Guns are one of the most divisive topics in the U.S., so it’s crucial for journalists to get the details right — down to the type and style of weapon discussed.
Nationwide, 32% of U.S. adults say they own a gun and 44% live in a gun-owning household, according to a national Gallup survey conducted in October 2020. When reporters make mistakes, audiences might see their work as sloppy or, worse, perceive errors as an effort to mislead. Regardless, when the news media get facts wrong, audiences — especially gun owners — might not trust the information they provide.
To warn reporters about pitfalls they can encounter in covering guns and brief them on some basic terminology, The Journalist’s Resource teamed up with two reporters with lots of experience writing about firearms. We thank Henry Pierson Curtis, who covered gun and drug trafficking and other crime at the Orlando Sentinel for 25 years before retiring in 2016, and Alex Yablon, who covered the business of guns and gun policy for about five years at The Trace, for helping us create this tip sheet.
Here are seven things journalists should keep in mind when reporting on guns:
1. People who die in mass shootings represent a small fraction of the number who die from gunshots in the United States.
In 2019, 39,707 people in the U.S. died from injuries caused by firearms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most gun deaths — 23,941, or 60% — were suicides. Meanwhile, 37% of the people killed by guns in 2019 — 14,861 people — were homicide victims.
The other six points are all accurate, as well.
Frankly, there’s no longer any excuse for journalists to get guns so horribly wrong anymore. I suspect they still will, of course, because too many of them will think they know better and won’t look at this list. However, I have to hand it to Journalist Resource for taking the time to try and get it right.
Among the other points that they get right are how suppressors don’t actually eliminate all the sound from a weapon firing and why they should avoid using the term “assault rifle” or “assault weapon.”
Honestly, I’m glad to see someone trying to help journalists get some of this stuff right. It’s not that I think most journalists will avail themselves of this simple resource, it’s that they no longer have any excuse for getting it so wrong.