The bias against guns: What the media isn’t telling you

Just two days before New Year’s, a 2-year-old accidentally shot and killed his mother at a Wal-Mart in rural Idaho. The victim was Veronica Rutledge, a 29-year-old concealed handgun permit holder. The child had reached into his mother’s purse. Massive news coverage ensued.

Tragedies like these make headlines. That’s understandable. But where was the news media on the previous day, when concealed handgun permit holders likely saved multiple lives?

— In Fargo, N.D., four people robbed a 36-year-old man and beat him unconscious. Fortunately, a permit holder stopped the attack. “The passer-by, who has a license to carry a concealed weapon, brandished his gun to end the robbery,” police reported.

If Americans hear only about the bad things that happen with guns, they will be much more likely to support strict gun regulations. The unjustified fears may also disarm people and prevent them from saving lives.

— In Kissimmee, Fla., a church employee shot at a pastor after being fired from his job. The pastor had a permit and returned fire, wounding the attacker.

Weren’t these stories equally newsworthy? To save a stranger, a permit holder stood up to four attackers. Without the pastor’s concealed handgun permit, there could have been a mass shooting in a crowded church. That would surely have gotten massive national news coverage, but the pastor stopping the attack wasn’t considered a story.

The lopsided coverage gives Americans a skewed view of guns.

The Associated Press at least tried to put the Rutledge case in some perspective. It noted that, a year ago, Idaho had more than 85,500 permit holders — about 7 percent of the adult population. Yet even this doesn’t do justice to the rarity of the tragedy.

I can’t find another similar case of a child accidentally firing a permit holder’s concealed handgun. For decades, there have been millions of permit holders. Today, there are 12 million. It will probably be a very long time before there’s another case like this.

My research finds that states saw no increase in accidental handgun deaths after adopting concealed-carry laws. Even non-fatal accidental gunshots result in permits being revoked, and those are extremely rare.

Some in the media have used the tragedy to exaggerate the risks of concealed carry.

Others listed two cases where a child shot an adult to death, but again neither case involved a permitted concealed handgun.

But even if one is looking at guns generally, not just permitted concealed handguns, accidental gun deaths are still very rare. There were 548 accidental gun deaths in 2012, the last year for which data are available. That sounds like a lot, but a new Gallup survey suggests that 134 million Americans have at least one gun in the home, meaning the accidental gun death rate is about 4.1 per million people living in a home with a gun.

Unfortunately, despite the family’s claim to the contrary, the extremely rare tragedy with Veronica Rutledge likely arose because she stored her gun improperly.  If she had a semi-automatic pistol, as some reports indicate, it would have been impossible for a two-year-old to have the strength to pull the slide back on the gun to chamber the first round. If she had a revolver or most pistols, it seems exceedingly unlikely that child would have switched off the safety.  Thus, she had either already chambered the first round in the gun herself and/or switched off the safety,  thus negating the gun’s safety features.

Media bias isn’t just about how stories are covered. It’s also about which stories are covered. If Americans hear only about the bad things that happen with guns, they will be much more likely to support strict gun regulations. The unjustified fears may also disarm people and prevent them from saving lives.

Nevertheless, Americans overwhelmingly believe that guns increase safety both inside and outside the home.


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