Handgun and American flag composite

Media Bias Alert: Gun Owners Attacked

Thank goodness The Washington Post is here to warn of the firearm Wild West coming to a neighborhood near you. This weekend, author Terrence McCoy published a story about Georgia man who carries his AR-15 to Wal-Mart and how in America, “every day seems to bring a new version of what open carry can mean.”

Scared yet?

In the guise of an objective profile of an American proponent of open carry — the implication seems to be that we can better understand “the other” through this piece — McCoy shows us an “assault-style” rifle-toting weirdo, someone who is to be pitied, condescended to, but not taken seriously.

In the piece, the subject, Jim Cooley, embarrasses even his wife by asking her to go with him as he hefts his rifle on a trip to Wal-Mart for soda — hence why we are to condescend to him. (If that weren’t enough a picture of Cooley, WaPo provides us with one in which in addition to posing with the soda and his gun, he is wearing a Donald Trump t-shirt — hence why we are not to take him seriously.)

There are at least three problems with the story.

First, by singling out Cooley, who is, frankly, a weirdo, without comparing him to anyone else who open carries, McCoy’s story is more an exercise in confirmation bias than a genuine attempt to understand. The bias he confirms: gun owners are nutty and paranoid.

Jim goes everywhere now with a gun — if not the AR-15, then his sidearm — and is so reliant on one being close by that it surprises him to think the majority of his life was lived otherwise.

Then he lost his job, went bankrupt three times (once fewer than Donald Trump’s casino companies), suffered a heart attack and moved to a dangerous neighborhood. Now he carries his rifle when he shops because he might be killed by terrorists.

That’s probably the most normal consequence of the shakeups in his life. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s this:

[A] small screen beneath the [truck’s] rearview mirror…shows feeds from surveillance cameras affixed inside the car that start recording when someone turns the ignition.

In truth, Cooley’s story exemplifies the circumstances of many people who support Donald Trump because they feel he’s in their corner and whose grievances are very real, even if the solutions they imagine he would enact on their behalf would not be efficacious. But it doesn’t logically lead to the paranoia he now exhibits.

All of that said, McCoy doesn’t remotely suggest that most advocates of open carry laws aren’t actually interested in embarrassing their wives, scaring ladies at Wal-Mart or having their sheriff called on them because they are dragging their semi-automatic around on their electric scooter. His story perpetuates assumptions about them instead.

And that leads me to the second problem with it.

The worry Cooley induces at Wal-Mart is apparently justified because of the anecdotal news stories of homicides from that same day that McCoy references.

In California, by the end of this day, a 61-year-old man will have been shot to death at a carwash.

In Virginia, an intruder will have burst into a home and killed a 24-year-old man inside.

In Missouri, a woman will have shot and killed a man she said was chasing her.

Though I don’t advocate open carrying your AR-15 to the store, I personally am not concerned about a guy in a motorized scooter open carrying. Why? Undoubtedly because I am familiar with firearms and understand that those with experience handling them are most often the ones who have respect for their power and are thus the most responsible with them.

More to the point, however, if he wanted to shoot a bunch of people with it, why would he let everyone know he had it first? As strange as Cooley is, he is clearly interested in defending himself from dangers, exaggerated or not, rather than committing mass murder or even murder at all.

McCoy, like so many authors of similar pieces, seems to be under the illusion that people are liable to snap and go on shooting sprees when a gun is put in their hands. Why else the attempt to make guns difficult to obtain for law-abiding citizens?

(I speak here of senseless gun restrictions, not of outright calls to ban them, that generally stem from more nefarious goals.)

There are plenty of stories of gun owners doing heroic things that go under-reported in the media. For example, the off-duty cop, Jason Falconer, that shot Dahir Adan, the Minnesota mall stabber, and prevented him from successfully killing anyone, owns a shooting range and tactical training facility and is an advocate of all Americans being as capable of defending themselves as he.

Ironic and silly that Senator Harry Reid is pushing a gun control bill with the argument that it would prevent attacks like that in the future. 

Speaking of which, the third problem with McCoy’s piece is so common that I would almost rather not bring it up, but we cannot allow to be normalized beyond the point it already is. That is the ignorance about guns by members of the media.

We are reminded every week how widespread firearms are in the United States, so why is it that so many journalists are so uninformed about them? McCoy at least doesn’t call the AR-15 by the meaningless, but scary, moniker “assault rifle,” but he does label it aesthetically, calling it a “military-style” rifle — a phrase which falls somewhere between meaningless and false — as well as an “assault-style” rifle

Of course, if WaPo decided to run stories that were curious about firearms and those who wield them, they may find their prejudices challenged and their endeavor to normalize fear of firearms less than necessary.

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J. Cal Davenport

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