• Fail: If the Chicago Tribune can't identify a sling swivel, what hope of any valid technical reporting on firearms?
    Fail: If the Chicago Tribune can't identify a sling swivel, what hope of any valid technical reporting on firearms?
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As the coverage of the Sandy Hook massacre raises increasing questions, a small mistake by the Chicago Tribune highlights how poorly the gun control debate is being covered by the media and how much the public is being misled.

The Tribune was trying to explain the definition of an 'assault weapon' to its readers, and mis-labelled a sling swivel as a mount for a bayonet or grenade launcher. The real mount on the M16-style rifle pictured was further forward.

Ultimately a harmless error, it is however indicative of how little the media knows about firearms and helps to explain why they get so much of it wrong.

Statistically, 'assault weapons' are not very significant in US murder rates. Rifles of all kinds are known to account for only 2.5% of US homicides, and it's not clear how many of those fit the 'assault weapon' description. The figure was 323 deaths in 2011, after generally declining from 453 in 2007.

Semi-automatic sporting rifles like the AR-15 have become very popular among target shooters and hunters in the US, but their 'scary' appearance seems to have made them particular target for gun control advocates.

Despite various studies reporting no public safety benefits from a 10-year US ban on 'assault weapons' that expired in 2004, the push to renew the ban has gained momentum and is one of the key law changes Barack Obama wants to put in place.

But even the term 'assault weapon' is a misnomer, or at best an invention of the anti-gun lobby to create fear among the general public. The term is applied to semi-automatic rifles that look similar to select-fire (ie, capable of automatic fire) military assault rifles. 

[This story was updated 23/01/13 to remove an error about the firearms used at Sandy Hook. What's that about glass houses and stones?]

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