Public policy debates among politicians almost always break down along partisan lines. Politicians on both sides often feel as though the truth does not bind them. Their goal is to get the people they represent to agree with them. We expect it because politicians serve their constituents above all else.
But it is also why we rely on the fourth estate, the press, to hold politicians accountable for what they say and report the truth. The debate over gun control rages after mass shootings, and it is almost painful to watch how poorly reporters try and stumble around an issue they're apparently not familiar with reporting.
When reporters use terms such as "automatic rounds" and "semi-automatic machine guns," the public is less informed on public policy. There is no such thing as an "automatic round" or "semi-automatic machine guns," but the terms sound intimidating and mislead the public into thinking they exist.
Chris Cillizza wrote an article at CNN that is loaded with errors and shouldn't have made it past an editor with any knowledge of firearms and firearm laws. Cillizza writes:
On its face, Congress' resistance to passing any sort of gun control measures makes no sense.
Things like closing the so-called gun show loophole or restricting the mentally ill from buying guns are supported by huge majorities of Republicans and Democrats.
As often as repeated, it still doesn't sink in. There is no such thing as a gun show loophole and using "so-called" is not good enough. It doesn't exist, because it implies legality. Tax loopholes are a legal way to avoid paying taxes, which is not the same as illegally evading taxes. If someone who is ineligible to purchase a firearm does so at a gun show, garage sale, estate sale, pawn shop or anywhere else guns get sold privately, it's still a crime.
What Cillizza means is background checks on private sales. While that is a fair debate to have, it's impossible to do so when reporters get it wrong.
Cillizza is also incorrect about the mentally ill. There are two provisions in the Gun Control Act of 1968 that keep the mentally ill from acquiring guns. If one "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution," they are prohibited.
Further on, Cillizza writes:
And why, in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, did Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy's legislation to close the gun show loophole and ban firearms sales over the Internet fail -- with all but one Republican opposing it and three Democrats also voting against it?
So much for the "so-called" gun show loophole, right? What Cillizza does here is giving the impression that Omar Mateen obtained his firearms at either a gun show or bought them over the internet. Neither is true. Mateen bought his guns, legally, at a gun shop in Florida.
As for internet sales, Cillizza is once again, wrong. One cannot buy a gun online and have it shipped directly to their home. If you purchase a firearm from Cabela's or Bass Pro Shops on their website, you can't have USPS, UPS, or FedEx deliver it to your door. That's a crime. You either have to pick it up in a store, where they will perform the mandatory background check, or have it sent to a licensed firearms dealer where again, they do a background check.
Ironically, Cillizza spends the rest of the piece debunking claims made by President Trump about Hillary Clinton and her views on guns. Perhaps he should take more time to get it right when he writes about firearms.
Critics say that such criticisms are not part of the "big picture," and that's "technical" or an argument based on "semantics" but that's a lousy excuse, particularly for the media. They have a responsibility to get it right, especially when it comes to constitutional rights.
Dismissing media errors as "semantics" does a disservice to the people who rely on them for information and also to public policy, which is often shaped by media reporting.
Jay Caruso (@JayCaruso) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an editorial writer at the Dallas Morning News. He is also a contributor to National Review.
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