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While mayors of big cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans
are
suing the gun industry, law-abiding citizens are lining up by the
millions
to buy firearms. This week’s press release from the FBI clearly
demonstrates that 99 percent of the citizens who go into a gun store to
purchase firearms are clearly legally entitled to do so.

According to the FBI since Nov. 30, 1998, when the National Instant
Check System (NICS) went into effect over 1 million purchasers have been

checked and found eligible. The headline to an AP story about NICS
statistics written by Michael J. Sniffen reads, “FBI gun check stops
11,584
sales.” The reader who only reads the headline would never know that
according to this article, “the barred sales represented a tiny fraction
of
the 1,030,606 gun sales on which the bureau did background checks from
the 26 states. …” The fact that over 1 million guns were sold in the
past 41
days in only 26 states, while only 1 percent having been denied,
supports the contention that gun owners are more law-abiding than the
U.S. population as a whole.

Yet those that wish to ban guns have been extremely busy in their
continuing efforts to demonize law-abiding gun owners. During this past
week the headline for an AP article by Casey Combs screamed, “Rifle
teams
provide teens with deadly weapons on school grounds.” When I attended
high school some 40 years ago, every high school had a rifle team. In
fact, in New York City rifle team members would carry their rifles to
and from
school on the subway. School violence in New York City certainly
existed.
In fact, even in grade school extortion was rampant, and many students
were forced to fight their way in and out of school on a daily basis,
but it was
usually a fistfight. The kids on the high school rifle team, who were
trained in firearms responsibility and safety, knew the real
consequences
of misusing a firearm.

It’s no different with today’s high school rifle team members. In the

article Combs quotes a Bethel Park rifle team member as saying, “It’s so

controlled and so safe. The bullet doesn’t even go into the gun until
we’re sighted down range and ready to go.” And the coach of the team,
Dean Johnston, “said he has never heard of a shooting accident anywhere
in his 27 years of advising the team.” Yet the headline alone can easily
lead a
reader to the conclusion that members of a high school rifle team are
suppliers of illegal firearms or are somehow involved in an illegal or
unsafe activity. Combs failed to mention that federal and most state
laws
regulating guns on school grounds provide for an exemption for organized

shooting activities.

But headline bias exists in criminal justice reporting as well. This
week
the Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a Special Report titled “Truth
in
Sentencing in State Prisons.” New York Times journalist Fox Butterfield
utilized the report as the basis for a syndicated article that appeared
across the country. The headline in a California paper reads “Crime Rate

Drop, Prisoner Increases Appear Contradictory.”

While the opening paragraph of the BJS press release reads, “…
prisoners,
especially violent offenders, are spending more time behind bars,” the
study does not discuss the crime rate’s relationship to incarceration.
The
BJS study reviews the implementation of the Violent Offender
Incarceration/Truth-In-Sentencing federal grants program. This program
provides federal government grants to states that pass legislation
requiring violent offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their
sentences. The District of Columbia and 27 states have enacted such
legislation, an increase of 22 states since 1993. $1.3 billion federal
grant dollars have been spent to date. And guess what, more violent
criminals are staying in prison longer.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Justice, Princeton and Harvard
Universities have demonstrated that keeping criminals, let alone violent

ones, in prison saves lives, and costs less. Elizabeth Swasey, Director
of
NRA Crimestrike, reporting in The American Guardian, quoted a leading
criminologist, John J. Dilulio, Jr., as saying, “If the question is how
to
restrain known convicted criminals from murdering, robbing, assaulting,
and
stealing, then incarceration is a solution.” And a Quarterly Journal of
Economics study written in May, 1996 by Steven D. Levitt, a Harvard
University Economics professor, found that for each increase of 1000
inmates in prison there are four fewer murder, 53 fewer rapes, 1,200
fewer
assaults, 1,100 fewer robberies, 2,600 fewer burglaries, 9.200 fewer
larcenies, and 700 fewer auto thefts. With an additional 411,000 inmates

in prison over the past six years, there have been at least 1,000,000
fewer
victims.

Yet, with all this information available, Butterfield interviews
Janet
Reno’s favorite criminologist, Alfred Blumenthal, who states that it is
“too simplistic” to claim that keeping violent criminals in prison is
responsible for the current reduction in crime. With Blumenthal’s
comments
in mind, the headline writer creates the headline “Crime Rate Drop,
Prisoner Increases Appear Contradictory.”

Headline editors, unlike the original author, attempt to summarize
and
synthesize the story with the objective of grabbing the reader’s
attention.
Yet, headlines for articles on crime and punishment have a bias against
incarceration even when government funded studies demonstrate its
effectiveness. Headlines for firearms stories stress the negative value
of
owning firearms In many instances the headline will mislead or distort
the
story. In both cases, keep reading or you may miss the rest of the
story.

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