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NSSF is the trade association for America's firearms industry.
It's mission: To promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.
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The Writer's Guide to Firearms and Ammunition

5. Examples of Inaccurate or Misleading Coverage

Table of Contents

Reporting on Firearms and Firearms Issues

Inaccuracies and factual errors about firearms and ammunition in news stories can damage the credibility of the news outlet and the writer, particularly in the view of America's 85 million firearm owners. The Off-target/On-target examples presented here, along with this booklet's glossary of terms, can help media professionals communicate accurately about firearms and ammunition.

OFF-TARGET

"[Personalized] weapons would be manufactured with technology, such as fingerprint recognition, that only allows the authorized user to fire it. Most legitimate gunmakers already utilize such technology."
--Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Associated Press

ON-TARGET

No gun makers manufacture firearms with owner-recognition technology. So-called "smart gun" technology is only in the development stages and is not being incorporated into mainstream gun manufacturing due to safety and reliability concerns.

EXPLANATION

"Personalized" or "smart gun" technology, while in development stages, is neither reliable nor available. A U.S. Dept. of Justice-funded project, researched by Sandia National Laboratories, concluded, "There is not currently a perfect smart gun technology." Owner-recognition technology, such as fingerprint recognition or a radio transmitter, requires a power source to work. Any technology that relies on a power source will fail, possibly at the worst time imaginable.

 

OFF-TARGET

"Haven't you been aware of the rising incidences of accidental or incidental deaths associated with guns?"
--Dan Thompson, Editor

ON-TARGET

To the contrary, accidental firearm fatalities are at the lowest levels since record-keeping began in 1903.

EXPLANATION

Over the last two decades, the annual number of accidental firearms-related fatalities declined by 42 percent, and for children under 14 by 77 percent in that same period.

The decline is attributed to a number of factors, including free firearm locking devices shipped with new firearms, safety and education programs sponsored by the firearms and ammunition industry, the International Hunter Education Association and the National Rifle Association, as well as technological advances in firearm design and manufacturing processes.

According to the National Safety Council's "Injury Facts 2009 Edition," accidental firearm fatalities are at historical lows and are continuing to decline. These statistics hold true even as the number of

 

OFF-TARGET

"[Semi-automatic] high-powered weapons are of no value for hunting and their use for target practice seems dispensable."
--Dr. Jerome P. Kassirer, "New England Journal of Medicine"

ON-TARGET

Semi-automatic firearms, which have been around since 1885, fire only once each time the trigger is pulled. They are widely used for hunting, various types of recreational shooting and competition events including the Olympics.

EXPLANATION

Semi-automatic firearms are no more powerful than other types of firearms. They use the same ammunition as other types of firearms. Semi-automatic firearms are popular for hunting, trap, skeet, informal target shooting and formal marksmanship competitions. One reason semi-automatic firearms are popular for recreational shooting is that they tend to have less recoil. Because some of the energy generated by firing a round is used to cycle a fresh round, there is less impact pushed against the shooter's shoulder. Semi-automatic firearms are also useful in hunting situations when multiple, quick shots are needed.

 

OFF-TARGET

"The NRA opposed the ban on bullets that pierce police safety vests."
--Associated Press

ON-TARGET

The NRA opposed loosely written legislation that, if passed, would have outlawed 80 percent of all big-game ammunition.

EXPLANATION

Though the National Rifle Association did oppose efforts to ban so-called "cop-killer" bullets, this quote misrepresents the NRA's position. From 1982 to 1986, the NRA opposed several loosely written legislative proposals that would have banned the manufacture and sale of some 80 percent of all sporting ammunition. Although some of the ammunition that would have been banned (such as large-caliber rifle ammunition used for hunting and long-range target shooting), can, by sheer velocity and energy, penetrate certain grades of protective body armor, technical experts of the ATF, FBI, Secret Service and Police Forensic Labs thought the definition of "cop-killer" bullets offered in the legislation impractical and unenforceable. NRA critics took the opportunity to claim that the NRA opposed banning "cop-killer" bullets.

 

OFF-TARGET

"U.S. Regulators have also been watching with concern all the gunmakers' efforts to devise lightweight handguns made almost entirely out of plastic. Such weapons cannot be discovered by metal detectors similar to those used in the U.S. Capitol building."
--"The Express" on "Sunday Investor News"

ON-TARGET

Polymer-framed handguns are not 'almost entirely' made of plastic, nor can they evade detection by security devices. Polymer-framed handguns have metal barrels, slides and internal parts that make them easily detectable by metal detectors.

EXPLANATION

The firearms industry has no interest in manufacturing a firearm that can evade x-ray or metal detectors. Polymer-framed handguns are currently in favor with law enforcement and civilians due to their corrosion resistance and lighter weight. Polymer-framed firearms have a proven track record of reliability and durability, even with high-performance law enforcement ammunition. Additionally, all firearms must be able to pass a federal detection standard.

 

OFF-TARGET

"The Ruger Old Army takes an expert 60 seconds to load, but an empty magazine can be easily removed and replaced with one which is already full."
--Nick Parker, "The Sun" [London]

ON-TARGET

The Ruger Old Army is a muzzleloading black powder 'cap and ball' revolver that is slow to load and reload. Moreover, the Old Army is an antique replica revolver; it doesn't have a detachable magazine.

EXPLANATION

A muzzleloading revolver is slow to load because each chamber requires the shooter to go through several steps, including pouring in loose black powder, putting in a ball and ramming it with a ram rod. There is no such thing as a magazine for a revolver of any type--black powder or smokeless powder. A magazine is a receptacle that holds several cartridges or shells for feeding into the firearm chamber. Revolvers, by contrast, are loaded by inserting cartridges into the cylinder. With each pull of the trigger, one round is fired and the cylinder rotates to the next position. Antique replica-type firearms are very popular and rarely used in crimes.

 

OFF-TARGET

"A trigger lock works to immobilize the gun's trigger, making it impossible to fire the weapon until unlocked."
--Ken Dixon, "Connecticut Post"

ON-TARGET

A trigger lock is a supplementary safety device designed to be affixed over a firearm's trigger. Tests have shown that firearms equipped with a trigger lock can still discharge a round. As most trigger lock manufacturers warn, their products should never be used on a loaded firearm.

EXPLANATION

Trigger locks can be an effective safety measure on certain firearms, but locking devices are not a substitute for safe storage and handling. Although many locking and storage devices are widely available, no device will completely childproof a firearm. Trigger locks should never be used on a loaded firearm. NSSF's Project ChildSafe program distributes cable-style locks because most firearms must be unloaded before such a lock can be installed, thereby providing an extra level of safety.

 

OFF-TARGET

"Laser sights alleviate the need for manual aiming--just follow the red dot. If the dot is on the target, the target will be hit . . . laser sights, with their point-and-hit capability, may well increase the urban death toll."
--Violence Policy Center, "The Boom In Guns"

ON-TARGET

Laser sights, firearm optics that project a beam of light at a target, are popular sighting devices that, by their mere presence on a firearm, make it no more or less accurate.

EXPLANATION

Misconceptions about laser sights abound. Some people believe that a laser sight actually steers the bullet to an intended target--like a guided missile from a jet fighter. Others think that a laser sight somehow enhances the lethality of a firearm. Laser sights do not have any relationship to ballistic or firearm capability.

In truth, laser sights project a 1/4 inch dot of red light on the target. With a laser sight, a shooter has little advantage over a conventional telescopic sight. The firearm and scope still need to be "sighted in" so that the point of impact of the bullet is the same as the point of sight. A firearm with a laser sight that is not "sighted in" is no more or less accurate that the same firearm with conventional sights.

 

OFF-TARGET

"We noted 43 suicides, criminal homicides, or accidental gunshot deaths involving a gun kept in the home for every case of homicide for self-protection."
--Dr. Arthur Kellerman, "New England Journal of Medicine"

"For every case in which an individual used a firearm kept in the home for self-defense homicide, there were 1.3 unintentional deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides, and 37 suicides involving firearms."
--Dr. Arthur Kellerman

ON-TARGET

The mere presence of a gun in the home does not increase the likelihood that an accident will occur.

EXPLANATION

This widely quoted "43 times" statistic is misleading. Several authoritative studies performed in recent years estimate there are between 760,000 and 3 plus million defensive firearms uses every year. The study from which the "43 times" figure was taken only considers a defensive firearms use as an instance in which the criminal was shot and killed. This is like measuring the effectiveness of the police solely on the basis of the number of criminals they kill. In the words of the author of the "43 times" study, "Our study does not include instances in which intruders are wounded or frightened away by the use or display of a firearm. A complete determination of firearm risks versus benefits would require these figures be known."

 

OFF-TARGET

"The ATF must be given enhanced authority to regulate the manufacturers, importers, distributors and dealers in firearms. Stricter regulation of dealers in automatic weapons should also be imposed."
--Violence Policy Center, A More Comprehensive Strategy

ON-TARGET

In addition to federal gun laws imposed by the National Firearms Act (1934), the Gun Control Act (1968), the Firearms Owner's Protection Act (1986) and other laws, most states and some local jurisdictions have imposed their own firearms laws. All told, there are more than 20,000 firearms laws at the federal, state and local levels. Federal background checks are required for the purchase of any firearm from a dealer.

EXPLANATION

Calling for more firearms laws is a an over-simplified "solution." Enforcing the laws already on the books to the fullest extent possible would help continue the reduction in the criminal acquisition and misuse of firearms. Additionally, the very few federally licensed dealers in automatic weapons (known as Class III dealers) undergo extensive criminal background checks and pay thousands of dollars to obtain a permit. It would be difficult to imagine how "stricter regulation" of these dealers could be accomplished, or what further effect it could have.

 

OFF-TARGET

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last week persuasively ruled that the Constitution allows the District to ban possession of assault weapons . . . --N.Y. Times editorial

ON-TARGET

The terms assault weapon and assault rifle should not be used to describe semi-automatic firearms, most notably AR-style rifles. "Assault weapon" is political term created in order to ban some semi-automatic rifles.

EXPLANATION

The federal assault weapons ban, enacted in 1994, restricted ownership of some semi-automatic firearms based on cosmetic reasons, not function. Studies have shown that the ban, as with other gun-control measures, could not be proven to reduce crime. The term is wrongly used to describe an AR-style rifle, which is the civilian, semi-automatic version of the military's M16. These modern sporting rifles are among the most popular firearms in America today and are widely owned for target shooting, hunting and home defense.

 

OFF-TARGET

Toxic lead ammunition is danger to wildlife; outlaw it in favor of greener options." Cleveland Plain-Dealer blog headline

ON-TARGET

No scientific evidence exists to warrant the extraordinary step of banning traditional ammunition, which is ammunition that contains lead core components.

EXPLANATION

Some raptors including bald eagles may ingest ammunition fragments left in the entrails of field-dressed game, causing sickness or mortality. Industry is concerned about this, but raptor populations have not been adversely affected (rather, they are increasing). Industry considers efforts to ban traditional ammunition an overreaction to this issue. Additionally, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that eating game taken with traditional ammunition does not pose a human health risk. NSSF supports gun owners being free to choose the ammunition they think is best suited to their purpose, whether it's traditional ammunition or alternatives that use steel, copper or other metals.

 

OFF-TARGET

Guns are flowing across the U.S.-Mexico border mainly because of illegal straw purchases at firearms retailers in the United States.

ON-TARGET

Most of the firearms recovered in Mexico do not come from the United States.

EXPLANATION

A 2011 report by the STRATFOR research group called "The 90 Percent Myth," which refers to the number of illegal guns in Mexico coming from the United States, "more political rhetoric than empirical fact." According to the report, which is based on U.S. government statistics, less than 12 percent of the guns Mexico seized in 2008 have been verified as coming from the United States. See the NSSF Blog post.

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