Why Gun Owners Don’t Trust The Media

During the second week of August, a bunch of journalists and academics met in San Antonio to discuss how to restore the public’s trust in what is known as the mainstream media — newspapers, television and radio. Apparently the ordinary citizen’s trust of big media has never been lower. Members of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication met to find out why and what can be done about it.

They might start by asking gun owners who have been treated for decades like knuckle-dragging baby killers. Let us examine some of the reasons for this though I don’t hold out much hope for improvement.

Despite recent scandals, the pinnacles of journalistic excellence where all young reporters want to work are The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. For television, it is the big three networks CBS, ABC and NBC. These newspapers and networks have one thing in common. They were all based in parts of the country where legal gun ownership has been made difficult if not impossible.

This means that very few of the reporters, editors and executives of the so-called elite media own guns for sport or for self-defense. Studies have been done that show the vast majority of the big city reporters, editors and columnists that form the media elite vote Democrat. If memory serves, it is about 90 percent compared with about 10 percent voting Republican. This means that most of the members of the mainstream media are liberal in outlook and many admit it. It is a tenet of liberals these days that they are against ordinary Americans owning guns, particularly for self-defense. I don’t think any surveys have been conducted on gun ownership among these journalists but I suspect that the figures might be similar with only 10 percent owning guns. This would include such well known hypocrites as the former publisher of The New York Times who never came across a gun control law he didn’t support while having one of the rare concealed handgun licenses issued in New York City.

When was the last time you read in any of the big three newspapers or saw on the television networks a story about the benefits of gun ownership for self-defense? Unfair question, most of us don’t read or watch these biased media outlets anyway. In his excellent book, The Bias Against Guns, Professor John Lott recounts one example of this refusal to portray anything positive about guns that seems to extend far beyond the big three newspapers and television networks.

On January 16, 2002 at Appalachian School of Law in Virginia, a failing foreign student armed with a handgun shot and killed the dean, a professor and a student. He also wounded three other students. Students Tracy Bridges and Mikael Gross retrieved handguns from their vehicles and confronted the shooter at gunpoint. The shooter gave up. Lott ran a Nexis-Lexis computer search and found 208 media stories about the shooting in the week following the incident. Only four of these stories mentioned that Bridges and Gross were armed when they confronted the shooter. Most of the stories mentioned that students confronted the shooter but omitted that they were armed. As Lott says, it was a blatant example of the mainstream news media’s refusal ever to portray guns in a positive light.

Another example was cited by former Texas State Senator Jerry Patterson at the “birthday party” in 2000 celebrating five years since Governor George W. Bush signed the Texas Concealed Handgun Law. Patterson, one of the authors of the law and now Texas Land Commissioner, spoke at the press conference that accompanied the celebration in the Texas capitol.

In 1995 when Bush signed the bill, public opinion was polarized and newspaper editorial boards were almost unanimously against law-abiding Texans being given the opportunity to carry concealed handguns to defend themselves, Patterson said.

“The comments were generally as follows: ‘Wild, wild West, return to Dodge City; blood in the streets; shootouts at every four-way stop.’ In other words, the doomsday scenarios were predicted universally by most of the editorial boards in the state and by many citizens,” Patterson said.

He kept a newspaper clipping file and found these comments were similar to those made in Florida newspapers in 1987 when that state passed its concealed carry law.

“The exact same comments, almost verbatim, lifted from the Florida dailies to the Texas dailies,” Patterson said.

And still it goes on. Every time a state has considered a concealed handgun law, the major newspapers have editorialized against it, claiming it will be a disaster. It never has been and no state legislature has revoked a concealed carry law. It is truly amazing that a mainstream newspaper would not do a little research on how concealed carry works in other states before condemning it out of hand.

The lesson for gun owners is that big city newspapers do not trust their readers to behave responsibly. No wonder trust of newspapers and circulation are declining.

Chris Bird was a police and court reporter for the San Antonio Express-News before publishing his book The Concealed Handgun Manual. He is Second Vice-President of the Texas Concealed Handgun Association.