How to Write About Firearms
A guide for liberal columnists who don’t want to sound stupid about guns.


Usually, it’s easy for a concerned citizen to find a like-minded pundit with something interesting to say about the political controversy du jour. Except, that is, when the citizen is liberal and the controversy involves guns. If a left-of-center reader turned to his favorite pundits this week to find out what to think about the Tucson massacre and gun laws, he’d have read nothing but clichés and half-truths.

There are at least two reasons for this. First is that most of these columnists have no firsthand knowledge of guns or gun culture. Second is that they haven’t bothered to read any of the countless academic studies of gun control that have come out since John Lott published More Guns, Less Crime in 1998. Perhaps they don’t want to slog through lots of statistics, or perhaps they just don’t care about the issue.

As a gun owner and hunter, and as someone who’s spent a fair amount of time thinking and writing about the legal and empirical debates that surround guns, I’m here to help. Here are some quick and easy tips for anti-gun columnists — if you follow them, you’ll still be wrong, but at least you won’t sound so ridiculous.

1. Don’t assume criminals follow laws.


In a way, this goes right to the heart of the gun-control debate. It is a conservative talking point that only the law-abiding will follow — and thus be disarmed by — gun laws.

I’m not asking you to swallow this reasoning whole. I’m just asking that you think twice before contradicting it — especially if you’re Eugene Robinson, who recently wrote about how the Tucson shooting shows that “we must decide that allowing anyone to carry a concealed weapon, no questions asked, is just crazy.” (Or, more frighteningly, Rep. Peter King [R., N.Y.], who says he’s going to introduce a law that would simply make it illegal to bring a gun near a public official.)

Jared Loughner left his house that day intending to assassinate Representative Giffords. There is absolutely no reason to believe that a more restrictive concealed-carry regime would have changed that. If he was willing to violate laws against murder, he was willing to violate laws against concealed carry. Suggesting otherwise just shows that you haven’t bothered to think things through.

2. If you’re going to write that a certain kind of gun is particularly dangerous, consult someone who knows something about guns first. Brady Campaign spokesmen don’t count.

The gun Loughner used was a semiautomatic 9mm Glock — a weapon that countless people own for various reasons, including target shooting and self-defense. These guns typically come with 10- to 15-round magazines, but they’re capable of accepting larger ones. The fact that they’re “semiautomatic” means they fire one bullet for each pull of the trigger. I own a very similar handgun myself (a 9mm Ruger P95), along with a 30-round magazine; if I fill the magazine before I get to the shooting range, it cuts down on the time I spend reloading on-site.

But Alan Webber complains in the Washington Post about “semi-automatic handguns that serve only one purpose — to shoot and kill innocent people.” The New York Times’s Gail Collins refers to Loughner’s gun as distinct from a “regular pistol,” the kind “most Americans think of when they think of the right to bear arms.” Semiautomatic handguns are “extremely easy to fire over and over” and can carry 30-round magazines, she explains.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this came from someone who knew better: the Brady Campaign’s president, Paul Helmke, who in Collins’s column is quoted claiming that 9mm semiautomatics are “not suited for hunting or personal protection” and that “what it’s good for is killing and injuring a lot of people quickly.” If 9mm Glocks aren’t suited for protecting oneself and others, someone should tell the nation’s police departments, many of which use them — and many more of which use .40-caliber Glocks, which are similar but slightly more powerful.