Angered by the news that American voters are now more supportive of the Second Amendment than they have been in two decades, the New York Daily News’s Mike Lupica used his weekend column to vent. Over the course of 900 words, Lupica lambasted the public for continuing “to protect gun nuts,” chided the “mouth-breathing” NRA for its murderous myopia, and contended emotively that “there are no words” available to describe the horror of “a recent poll that says a majority of Americans believe it is more important to protect the right to own guns than it is for the government to limit access to guns.”
And then, having established his moral bona fides for all to see, he tried to sneak a brazen lie past his audience:
The flyers on the table feature a picture of a beautiful, smiling girl with a pink bow in her hair, with Christmas and her whole life ahead of her until Adam Lanza walked into her school on a Friday morning with an automatic weapon — the kind of gun we are told must be protected or the Second Amendment is turned into a dishrag — and started shooting.
That Lupica would knowingly write these words should be of great concern to anybody who is concerned with the truth. There were no “automatic” weapons used at Sandy Hook. Rather, Adam Lanza used a standard semi-automatic rifle of the sort that millions upon millions of Americans have in their homes. Moreover, Mike Lupica knows this full well, for on every other occasion he has written about the AR-15, he has described it correctly. In March of 2013, Lupica called for the federal government to ban “a semiautomatic rifle called the AR-15.” A few months later, railing against the same weapon, he explained to his readers that AR-15s are “semi-automatic” — and explained not just once, but twice. Elsewhere, he has proven himself to be more than capable of identifying different gun types when it has suited him to do so. Why, then, the change?
The answer, I suspect, lies in this famously dishonest piece of advice from the Violence Policy Center’s radical founder, Josh Sugarmann:
Assault weapons – just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms – are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons – anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun – can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.
Still, effective as it may be to conflate and to confuse, pace Lupica and Sugarmann, the distinction matters greatly. How much? This much:
As you will see, “semi-automatic” does not mean “slightly weaker machine gun,” but is instead a technical term used to describe any firearm that requires its user to pull the trigger each and every time he wishes to expel a round. “Automatic,” by contrast, denotes something very different indeed: namely, any gun that keeps firing for as long as the trigger is depressed. “Automatics” have been heavily regulated since 1934 and are almost never used in crimes of any sort; “semi-automatics” have been available at almost every gun store in the country for almost a century. One can easily understand why Lupica hopes that the public will mix the two up: Their doing so is the only way he’s going to get anywhere with his crusade. But that he has elected to use his position as a “journalist” to help it along is little short of disgraceful.
Apparently, it is also somewhat typical. “So,” he sighed in yet another anti-AR-15 column last year, “it takes nine months and two days from Newtown, from 20 dead children and six adults, for someone else to carry the same kind of AR15 that Adam Lanza carried into Sandy Hook Elementary School into the Washington Navy Yard.” The cover line for his story? “Same Gun, Different Slay.”
Unfortunately for Lupica — and for the Daily News — the Navy Yard shooter did not actually use an AR-15 but instead carried out his killing spree with a legally purchased, garden-variety shotgun. After a few days, the Daily News admitted its error and appended a correction to the online version. Lupica, however, said nothing about it — and still hasn’t. The piece remains online, a propaganda victory for the ages.
Remarkably enough, this was not the column’s only humiliating error. Throughout his jeremiad, Lupica had repeatedly pretended that the AR-15 is a SuperWeapon of sorts — a “rifle for the ‘sport’ of hunting humans,” in one choice phrase; the gun “to have with you when you decide to go hunting other people” in another. The shooter at Newtown, Lupica warned, could not possibly “have killed as many children as he did as fast as he did on that Friday morning in Newtown if he were simply using a handgun.” Why then, he asked in conclusion, are civilians permitted to own “guns that make it this easy to hunt and kill humans off the street”?
This charge — that one cannot murder scores of people “simply using a handgun” — is false. It is a matter of fact that the worst mass shooting in all of American history was carried out at Virginia Tech by a disturbed young man who had nothing more than two handguns in his possession — one of them a thoroughly unimpressive .22-calibre Walther. How, one wonders, does Lupica explain this? Moreover, one wonders what evidence he can marshal to support his presumption that AR-15s are causing particular havoc on America’s streets. In 2011, FBI data show, 6,220 Americans were killed with handguns, 356 were killed with shotguns, and 323 were killed with all types of rifle. In the same year, 1,694 Americans were killed with knives; 728 were murdered by “hands, fists, feet, etc.; and 496 were slayed with blunt instruments. The number of incidents involving AR-15-style “assault” rifles, meanwhile, was so tiny that the FBI didn’t even bother to keep statistics.
But who cares, right? Black gun scary. NRA crazy. Shootings sad. Automatic, shmautomatic. The real question: Are you on the right side? No? Me good. You bad. Let’s not get bogged down in the facts.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.