We’ve all heard the old newspaper saying, “If it bleeds it leads,” and we understand that dramatic stories of blood and carnage are attention-getters and ratings-boosters. The public likes a good horror story, and the news media know it. Horrific murders, especially those involving multiple victims, are particularly good sellers. It’s just a fact of life that the core business of media is to “sell papers,” and so sell advertising. But the core mission of the media is to inform the public – you know, report the news. One area of that mission where the dominant media fall woefully short is in reporting on cases of armed self-defense – even when the actions of the defender clearly saved many lives.
In the most recent example, a black Muslim convert “allegedly” went on a rampage, killing and decapitating one woman and stabbing another several times before being stopped by several shots fired by a bystander – who also happened to be a senior executive of the company where the attack occurred.
The alleged murderer appears to have been a fan of Daesh, the Muslim extremist group often referred to as ISIS or ISIL, known for its members’ penchant for beheading people they disagree with. He was reportedly suspended from his job in the Oklahoma Vaughan’s food processing plant due to a harassment complaint from a fellow employee who alleged that he had made comments about disliking white people.
Police say that they are sure that if Mark Vaughan, the COO of the company and son of the company’s founders, had not had his gun readily available, the terror rampage would have taken several more lives. While he has been lauded as a hero by police and co-workers, Vaughan’s actions as an armed citizen have been widely dismissed by the media because, to their way of thinking, Vaughan is not just a regular citizen. Because Vaughan is a reserve deputy sheriff, he is considered by the media to be an “off-duty officer.” This helps them to preserve the fiction that only police are qualified and trustworthy enough to go about armed, in spite of the fact that a reserve deputy is a volunteer status requiring a commitment of only 11 hours of service per month, and also ignoring the fact that in shooting incidents, police are much more likely to fire more shots and hit innocent bystanders than are civilians who fire in self-defense. They also ignore the fact that civilians with CCW licenses have significantly lower crime rates than do sworn police officers.
No one knows how many lives Jeanne Assam saved when she stopped an attack on her Colorado church. Ms. Assam, who had served a short time as a police officer and as a church security volunteer, used her personal defense sidearm to stop a disturbed young man as he attacked the church sanctuary filled with hundreds of worshipers in 2007.
Vaughan’s stint with police is used to disassociate him from regular armed citizen. The same sort of disassociation happened when an off-duty policeman confronted a mall shooter in Oregon and an off-duty cop helped subdue a man staging an attack at a law school in West Virginia. This distorted presentation allows opponents of citizen self-defense to maintain the fiction that armed citizens are a threat to society rather than a bulwark against criminals; that only cops can effectively stop criminal violence and save lives.
But the reality is that regular people carry guns every day, and regular people use guns to stop criminal attacks and save lives every day.
Through the summer, a collections of stories was published in USA Today about homeowners, good Samaritans, store clerks and grandmothers who used guns to defend themselves and others. They were regular people, most with little formal training, but all determined to be ready in a crisis, to be their own first-responders when trouble called. It was unusual to see these stories, and for people like me who believe in the responsibility of every citizen to take a stand against barbarism, and the right to have the tools needed to take that stand effectively, these stories were a refreshing reminder that our beliefs are well-founded in reality. The sad part of seeing these stories in print in a major, mainstream publication was a single word printed at the top of the page: “Advertisement.”
These were all true, recent stories, culled from newspaper and TV reports across the country. I’ve looked at every one of those original reports and many follow-up stories. Some of them are quite heroic, and all are worth knowing, but the only way any of these stories made their way into the pages of USA Today was for someone to pay the newspaper to run them – in a box labeled “Advertisement.”
Soon Mark Vaughan’s name will fade from the headlines, like that of Dr. Lee Silverman, who just this past July violated hospital policy by bringing a gun to work and so saved as many as 40 lives – including his own – when he used that gun to stop an armed psychiatric patient. Why have we heard nothing more of him and the dozens of people he saved that day? Why did his name disappear from the news just a few days after his heroic action? Where is the discussion of reassessing hospital policies that endeavor to ensure resistance-free victim zones?
Certainly, headlines about rampaging gunmen and multiple victims draw more attention than headlines about murder sprees that were cut short. And interviews with grieving parents are more heart-rending than conversations with people who didn’t die thanks to someone with a gun being close by in a crisis. But isn’t there an obligation for the media to tell all of the stories? As we continue to debate the constitutionality and efficacy of gun laws, doesn’t the news media owe their audience some balanced, unbiased reporting about the benefits of guns in America?
Media wishing to interview Jeff Knox, please contact [email protected].