It is usually pretty hard to definitively identify media bias. Often pressed for time, reporters are just unaware of opposing opinions or facts. And there is no way for readers to tell what information has been left out. But an Associated Press article, which appeared in hundreds of papers from the Los Angeles Times to the Houston Chronicle, provided a unique peek at how the media selectively picks anti-gun information in order to push for gun control.
The Associated Press article edited-down a 441-word version of a longer, 1,000-word article that appeared in the Indianapolis Star and a quote from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. While the original articles in the Star and Journal Gazette were balanced, the AP cut down the piece by systematically excluding one side of the argument — any information that concealed handgun permit holders are law-abiding and don’t pose a risk to others.
The AP article was concerned with Indiana’s decision to allow legislators and staff to legally carry concealed handguns inside the state Capitol. It’s the 21st state to officially allow carrying of handguns in some fashion at the Capitol. The Star gave a little more information, noting that Indiana is one of just two states that restricts concealed-carry to lawmakers and their staffs when inside the Capitol. The other 19 states allow permitted citizens to carry in a wide variety of places.
The AP included quotes from four people. “It’s a constitutional right,” said Republican state Rep. Jim Lucas, one of the new law's sponsors. “Everyone’s right to protection should be recognized.”
The other three people went on record as concerned about the dangers of allowing civilians to have guns in the state capitol.
- “The possibility of the presence of firearms during tense personnel situations would worry human resources professionals,” said Christopher Schrader, government affairs director for Indiana State Council of Society of Human Resource Management.
- Republican House Majority Leader Matt Lehman understood the desire to have guns for self-defense, but supported limitations on people carrying because, he said, in “confrontational [situations] someone might respond irrationally.”
- The AP article concluded with an ominous quote from Democratic Rep. Phil GiaQuinta. The representative was worried about permit holders “intimidating” others and that a permit holder may misuse his gun because “tempers can fly at night.”
Is it reasonable to be concerned that people may misuse their guns? Certainly. But only the original article in the Indianapolis Star provided another perspective on these concerns. It cited a report by the Crime Prevention Research Center, an organization that I head:
On state government grounds across the country, the Crime Prevention Research Center hasn’t found any instances of injuries due to firearms….
The Crime Prevention Research Center has tracked only two instances in the nation where a handgun misfired in a statehouse and a handful of instances where lawmakers temporarily misplaced their weapons.
The AP also ignored that the Journal Gazette cited the same Crime Prevention Research Center report to note how rare any problems were. The Journal Gazette went so far as to note my organization’s “goal is to provide an objective and accurate scientific evaluation of the costs and benefits of gun ownership.”
Could space limitations explain the AP’s decision to only use quotes that point to potential dangers from law-abiding people carrying concealed handguns? The AP could have easily replaced one of the quotes with this information. The three people’s quotes took 53, 66, and 52 words, respectively. The entire quote about the Crime Prevention Search Center took only 52 words.
Instead, the AP pushed only the narrative that concealed handgun permit holders pose a danger to others.
But states have had concealed carry laws for decades. Six states even allow concealed carrying in state capitols without permits, and eight states allow people to openly carry their guns. There have been zero reported problems with non-legislators and non-staff being able to carry on statehouse grounds.
And permit holders are extremely law-abiding. While the U.S. population commits misdemeanors and felonies at a rate 37 times higher than police, police are convicted of misdemeanors and felonies at about six times the average rate for concealed handgun permit holders in Florida and Texas.
The Associated Press has quite a reach. Its article also created a misimpression for at least some Canadians. Based on the AP article, Russell Wangersky wrote a piece for 39 Canadian newspapers about the dangers posed by permitted concealed handgun holders. I contacted Wangersky after I noticed that he had accidentally confused Illinois and Indiana, and, unlike the AP, he was honest enough to update his piece with this note:
The error was not without value — I received a note from the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, John Lott, not only pointing out that mistake, but suggesting that I hadn’t told the whole story, in that in the 20 other states that allow the practice, there have not been any recorded weapons injuries or deaths as a result. Every piece of a debate informs the result.
The debate on guns would be very different if the national news media would report on some of the dozens of mass public shootings that have been stopped by concealed handgun permit holders. The media would also change public opinion if it reported on how virtually all mass public shootings take place in areas where citizens are banned from possessing firearms for protection.
Rarely is there such clear evidence of biased self-censorship by a news organization. The AP portrayed concealed handgun permit holders as a danger to others while editing out information showing that no such danger exists.