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ABC News Gets It Wrong on Firearms Segment

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Review of "20/20" on ABC, Friday, April 10th, 2009.  Segment: "If I Only Had A Gun"

There are times when I've gone to a movie or turned on a television program knowing full well that I'd be disappointed, but I've been pleasantly surprised on enough occasions that I tuned into this program thinking, 'maybe this won't be what I expect.'  It wasn't; it was far WORSE.

The segment's title reminded me of what Dr. Suzanna Gratia-Hupp said when she testified before the Texas legislature after having survived the infamous massacre at Luby's Cafeteria.  Because of Texas law, she left her handgun locked in her car when having lunch with her parents.  When the shooting broke out, she dove under her table.  She recollects having a great vantage point and reached for her purse to get her gun... but then remembered that she followed the law.  Now she was defenseless.  Due to her law-abiding nature, her parents didn't survive the attack.  She ran for a seat in the legislature afterward and made it her mission to improve the CCW laws in Texas.  She was successful.  All based on "If I only had a gun."

ABCs goal seems to be to discourage you from even THINKING such a thing!  They pull out all the stops, opening with 911 calls of accidental shootings of children.  Although such incidents are rare, this is obviously meant to rev-up emotions.  Then they toss in some fear, stating that "in a nation of 250 million guns..." as if it's the number that is at fault.  Wow... 250 million guns!  That's a pretty big number!  Yet the actual incidence of children finding and shooting themselves or a companion has dropped at the same time that gun sales have soared.  ABC doesn't bother to explain.  They just ask:  "Do your children know where your guns are?  Do they play with them when you're not there?  What do your teens REALLY do, even when they know guns are dangerous?"

Aside from the obvious attempt to creep viewers out (an old writer's trick), they obviously didn't talk to any responsible, gun owning parents.  They would answer: "Of COURSE my kids know where the guns are!  That way they can't stumble on them by surprise, and know to stay out of [where they're stored].  No, they do NOT play with them when I'm not there!  They've been trained and KNOW better.  Besides, if they did, the alarm from my gun safe would tell me that it was tampered with.  Yes, I know what my teens REALLY do.  They've had even MORE instruction."  See, keeping knowledge away from kids is never the solution.  We seem to treat guns the same way as we treat sex: spare the child's "innocence" and don't breach the subject!  Yet this is life and death.  Any child of mine would be familiar with guns from day one.  My mother taught me, and I've never had an accidental discharge, never shot anyone, never shot myself.  I never got arrested or drew a weapon in anger.  I had my first pistol when I was about 12 or 13.  I'm 51 now and I'm NOT atypical.  It's all about GOOD PARENTING.

Diane Sawyer and her crew then ask the question, "Could the average citizen really make a difference with a gun?"  Citing an unattributed "fact" that, over the past 10 years, over 130,000 of "us" have been killed by guns -- as if nobody was attached to the gun, pulling the trigger -- they move on to disprove the idea that a concealed weapon could have any effect in a shooting situation through a "series of experiments."  (When they introduce this segment, they flicker shots of recent mass shootings at schools and nursing homes, falsely equating legal CCW with such tragedies and / or implying that it didn't help in such situations, ignoring the fact that even legal CCW is prohibited on most school grounds and medical facilities.)  To add to this false implication, the very first official they cite is Jonathan Lowy, from the Brady Center (formerly known as "Handgun Control, Inc."), whose main mission is to ban guns and repeal or negate our 2nd Amendment rights.  He complains how Congress would "spring into action" if tainted peanut butter crackers killed as many people as guns do, yet they do nothing about them."  I won't nitpick the fact that, due to peanut allergies, many kids DO die from those evil crackers, but will only say that the legislature has already done all it CAN to prevent these shootings!

The single tool possessed by Congress to combat gun violence is making law.  Murder is already illegal.  Unless the state says otherwise, it is already illegal to carry a firearm without a license, which usually requires a background check and training.  It is also illegal to be armed on school property, again, unless the state says differently.  And that's the thing: criminals, by definition, break the law.  In the case of CCW, this places the law abiding at a disadvantage, just like Dr. Gratia-Hupp.

To offer some sort illusion of balance, they next quote Representative Steve King, who says that "we have responsible gun owners, and more make us safer."  Immediately they toss out the question: "What about promises to close 'loopholes' after Virginia Tech and Columbine?"  The implication being that he was lax and his statement is false.  They ignore some measures that were indeed taken in the wake of those shootings, but we'll get to that in a moment.

Next, they cite the following statistics, again unattributed:  In America there are 80 shootings a day, 2,500 per month, 30,000 per year.  Not taking issue with these numbers, which could easily be verified (or not) by a Google search, I would simply point out that everything looks large in aggregate.  These numbers undoubtedly include all drive-by gang shootings, bad drug deals, shootings by police and other criminal activity.  Licensed CCW permittees have an exemplary record of behavior -- even better than police!  It's not them causing the trouble.  But you're not given time to think this through before the disarming statement immediately following: "This is NOT a debate on the right to own a rifle, pistol, assault weapon...."  True, at least not directly.  But they just added one more boogeyman to the conversation: the dreaded "assault weapon."  In the minds of the non-shooting public, this conjures up images of that UZI and other machineguns that, except for rentals at a shooting range, are by and large prohibited to the general public.  In short, no real assault weapons are available to the general public!  They're more correctly called "assault STYLE weapons" -- semi-auto versions of M-16s, AK-47s, etc.  They're no more accurate, powerful or deadly than other, generally accepted firearms and hunting gear.  Yet the writers of 20/20 slipped that term in... why?  Ask yourself: why would they do that?  And in such a casual, offhanded manner?

So now comes the "experiment" designed to answer the question, "Can you really defend yourself with a gun?"  ABC got some instructors and local police to work with them, and designed their decidedly non-scientific experiment to show the folly of even trying!  First, they provided some basic firearms training that they claim is more than over half of the states that allow CCW requires.  Based on a real life classroom shooting, these students are then given a gun, loaded with special paintball ammunition, and told that they're "the only student" with a gun.  During the "class," armed men then suddenly break in, taking shots at the instructor and students.  The other students, made up of cops and ABC staff, then add to the confusion by acting as real people in a panic do.  Naturally these novice students fail, rather dramatically.  A voice-over then says that in such an incident, there's also a real risk of the bad guy taking the gun away from the victim!

This would have some pretty serious implications if it wasn't more full of holes than the student's oversized, bulky shirt.  Yes, the students not only were green, with no tactical training at all, but they were unaccustomed to the gun, holster and the clothes they were wearing!  The shirts were so long (to conceal the guns) that they SAT on them!  No CCW would let that happen.  Next, the "lecture" was conveniently on safety gear, and the shooting didn't happen until the students had a full-face mask and gloves on.  Now, I'm a pretty experienced shooter, but I'd have a hard time with a bulky paintball mask over my face, and the gloves would interfere with my finger from getting inside the trigger guard to fire my weapon.  In short, the experiment was seemingly set up to fail.  I'd love to see it repeated with some CCWs I know!  The show states: "even police say that handling a gun in a holster can be tricky."  The infamous internet clip of the cop who shot himself in the foot during a classroom demonstration was inserted to great effect, implying that citizens don't stand a chance if a cop can screw up like that!  Sawyer says, "How much more difficult is it for [student] Danielle?"  Lastly, I would point out that the bad guys in the experiment were the firearms instructors, so they also knew which students were armed, giving them an unfair advantage that real perps don't have.

Moving on, the program shows the effects of extreme situational stress on the body, something every CCW class also discusses.  The point seems to be that you'd be incapable of using a gun at all.  Sawyer is shown twice failing a police training scenario, and goes on to explain the extensive training that police use to instill "muscle memory" so that they'll properly react even when their body is under stress.  A cop being interviewed pooh-poohs the ability of the average citizen to achieve such training nirvana.  The reality, though, is that the average CCW permit holder spends much more time training than your average cop!  I know because I was told so by my instructor, himself a cop.  According to Jim Binder of the SAS group, most cops show up long enough to qualify (the barest minimum) and that's it.  Few are firearms enthusiasts, but see the gun as a tool for work.  They also seldom clean them, so if you're planning on any criminal behavior, do NOT get shot by a cops' linty, dusty, nasty bullet!  If the shot doesn't get you, the infection will!

Oh, and one more thing: most average citizens don't face the situation that Sawyer was training in (a traffic stop).  A better scenario would be a home break-in, but cops seldom face those!  The cop in the interview goes on to say that their training is a "perishable skill," and after 1 or 2 months, would be gone.  This, of course, is inconsistent with reality.  I haven't been on a bicycle for nearly 20 years, yet I can still do so.  I learned some tricks on roller skates that I can still perform on demand, even though I haven't had them on in nearly as many years.  I've trained with my holsters and I can present my weapon in under a second.  (From both my primary and back-up location!)  And I'm no pro.  I can't afford to even go to the range more than once a month!  I disagree: muscle memory does NOT have such a short shelf life.  Before the commercial break, one of the students who failed the test is heard to say, "There was no advantage to having a gun.  It might've made me more susceptible to getting shot!

DAVID MUIR: "Every 3rd house has a gun.  If you think yours is safe for your children, what about your neighbors?"  Yes, Muir wants you to be suspicious of gun owning neighbors!  He shows footage from a report done 10 years ago where kids found guns mixed in with toys.  Despite having seen an NRA gun safety video, they supposedly played with the guns they found.  And yes, this IS alarming, yet I would also suggest that the gun owner that allowed a weapon to be mixed in with TOYS is few and far between!  Such a thing would happen only under the grossest negligence.

Sticking with the kid theme, they again show a young boy, supported by his father, having fun shooting a rented UZI submachinegun.  Then they show him firing a full-auto AK.  This is a SET UP: the next picture is a young boy who lost control of the gun he was holding and killed himself at the same range.  I read the account when it first happened, and according to police, the range had a spotless safety record prior to the accident.  Both the child's father and a certified range instructor were present.  Details are sketchy, but something went extraordinarily wrong!  It hadn't happened before or since.  Shooting accidents at ranges are an extremely rare event indeed!  More people die in swimming pools than shooting ranges.  Yet the program stated: "Nearly every other day in America, a child is accidentally shot with a gun, at a gun range, a friends house or at home."  So this is a rather blatant lie, and in more ways than one!  In order to for that figure to be accurate, the term "children" must include all minors under 21!  So this includes teens, gang bangers and even military recruits, although the word "children" evokes images of babies and toddlers.  You can bet that this is done on purpose!

More emotional strings are pulled by an account of a teen who accidentally shot his best friend.  Of course he did it by aiming a gun at him and pulling the trigger!  He assumed it wasn't loaded, a basic violation of gun safety!  (Not to mention pointing it at him.)  He's been devastated and even suicidal.  Yet his marching band played for President Obama's inauguration!  THIS reveals the program's true target: asked what message he would give to the president, the still grieving teen said, "Lock them all up."  This will happen again...

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A Detroit native and professional DJ, self-employed since 1985, author of "The Complete Disc Jockey" and columnist for Mobile Beat Magazine. Also an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) and faculty member at (more...)

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