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   The Journalist's Guide to Gun Violence Coverage

Guns are a sad fact of life in American culture and are a major topic in
modern journalism. A good Journalist has a duty to get involved and make a
difference in this important societal debate. By following certain
guidelines, the concerned Journalist can be assured of having the maximum
impact on this shameful problem.

The first principle to remember is that subtle use of terminology can
covertly influence the reader. Adjectives should be chosen for maximum
anti-gun effect. When describing a gun, attach terms like "automatic,"
"semi-automatic," "large caliber," "deadly," "high powered," or "powerful".
Almost any gun can be described by one or more of these terms. More than two
guns should be called an "arsenal".

Try to include the term "assault weapon" if at all possible. This can be
combined with any of the terms above for best results. Nobody actually knows
what an assault weapon is, so you cannot be criticized for this usage. Your
local anti-gun organization can provide you with a list of the latest buzz
words like "junk guns," "Saturday Night Specials," and "the criminal’s
weapon of choice".

Don’t worry about getting technical details right. Many a reporter has
accidentally written about semi-automatic revolvers or committed other minor
errors. Since most people know little about guns, this is not a problem.
Only the gun nuts will complain and they don’t count. The emotional content
of your article is much more important than the factual details, since
people are more easily influenced through their emotions than through logic.

Broadcast Journalists should have a file tape showing a machine gun firing
on full automatic. Run this video while describing "automatic" weapons used
in a crime or confiscated by police. At the least, a large graphic of a
handgun should be displayed behind the on-air personality when reading any
crime story.

Do not waste words describing criminals who use guns to commit crimes.
Instead of calling them burglar, rapist, murderer, or repeat offender,
simply use the term "gunman". This helps the public associate all forms of
crime and violence with the possession of guns.

Whenever drug dealers are arrested, guns are usually confiscated by the
police. Mention the type and number of guns more prominently than the type
and quantity of drugs. Include the number of rounds of ammunition seized,
since the number will seem large to those who know little about guns.
Obviously, the drug dealers who had the guns should now be called "gunmen".

Political discussions on gun control legislation usually involve pro-gun
organizations. Always refer to these organizations as "the gun lobby". If
space permits, mention how much money the gun lobby has spent to influence
political campaigns and describe their legislative lobbying efforts as "arm
twisting" or "threats".

Gun owners must never be seen in a positive light. Do not mention that these
misguided individuals may actually be well educated, or have respectable
jobs and healthy families. They should be called "gun nuts" if possible or
simply gun owners at best. Mention details about their clothing, especially
if they are wearing hunting clothes or hats. Mention the simplistic slogans
on their bumper stickers to show that their intelligence level is low. Many
gun owners drive pickup trucks, hunt and live in rural areas. Use these
details to help portray them as ignorant rednecks. Don’t use the word
"hunt". Always say that they "kill" animals.

Don’t be afraid to interview these people, they are harmless even though we
don’t portray them that way. Try to solicit comments that can be taken out
of context to show them in the worst possible light.

Never question the effectiveness of gun control laws or proposals. Guns are
evil and kill people. Removing guns from society can only be good. Nobody
really uses guns for legitimate self-defense, especially women or children.
Any stories about armed self-defense must be minimized or suppressed.

Be careful about criticizing the police for responding slowly to 911 calls
for help. It is best if the public feels like the police can be relied upon
to protect them at all times. If people are buying guns to protect their
families, you are not doing your job.

Emphasize stories where people kill family members and/or themselves with
guns. It is important to make the public feel like they could lose control
and start killing at any moment if they have a gun in the house. Any story
where a child misuses a gun is front page material.

View every shooting as an event to be exploited. Always include emotional
quotes from the victim’s family if possible. If they are not available, the
perpetrator’s family will do nicely. The quote must blame the tragedy on the
availability of guns. Photos or video of grieving family members are worth a
thousand facts. Most people will accept the assertion that guns cause crime.
It is much easier than believing that some people deliberately choose to
harm others.

Your story should include terms like "tragic" or "preventable" and mention
the current toll of gun violence in your city or state. Good reporters
always know exactly how many gun deaths have occurred in their area since
the first of the year. List two or three previous incidents of gun violence
to give the impression of a continuing crime wave.

Little space should be devoted to shootings where criminals kill each other.
Although these deaths greatly inflate the annual gun violence numbers,
they distract from the basic mission of urging law abiding citizens to give
up their guns. Do not dig too deeply into the reasons behind shootings. The
fact that a gun was involved is the major point, unless someone under 18 is
affected, in which case the child angle is now of equal importance.

Any article about gun violence should include quotes from anti-gun
organizations or politicians. One quote should say that we must do something
"for the children". Anti-gun spokespersons should be called "activists" or
"advocates". If your employer wishes to appear unbiased, you can include one
token quote from a gun lobby group to show that you are being fair. The
anti-gun statements should be accepted as fact. The gun lobby statement can
be denigrated by including text like, "according to gun lobbyist Jones."

Fortunately, statements from anti-gun organizations come in short sound
bites that are perfect for generating an emotional response in the reader or
viewer. Gun lobby statements usually contain boring facts that are easy to
ignore.

Feel secure in your advocacy journalism. The vast majority of your fellow
Journalists support your activism. The nation will be a better place when
only the police and military have guns. Remember that you are doing it for
the children so the end justifies the means.

Eventually, the government will have a monopoly on power. Don’t worry about
the right to freedom of the press, just contact me then for more helpful hints.

Professor Michael Brown
School of Journalism, Brady Chair
Vancouver College of Liberal Arts

Political Satire, copyright 1999, Michael Brown. May be reproduced freely in
its full and complete form. The author may be contacted at mb@e-z.net
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