National Review associate editor (and Reason contributor) Robert VerBruggen offers some tips to leftish columnists who want to write about guns without sounding like idiots, including "don't assume criminals follow laws," "don't forget about self-defense," and "when you think about mental health, think about due process, too." A few of the credibility-undermining bloopers he notes:
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.
VerBruggen attributes such errors by journalists to ignorance: a lack of "firsthand knowledge of guns or gun culture" and a lack of familiarity with the relevant criminological literature. I think that explanation, though hardly flattering, is too charitable. How much gun expertise do you need to recognize that a firearm cannot be designed to do nothing but "shoot and kill innocent people"? I mean, how exactly would that work? Some highly sophisticated artificial-intelligence component that can peer into people's souls? More generally, even someone who has never handled a gun or read anything on the subject that was not published by the Brady Campaign should be able to understand that an instrument of lethal force can be used for good or bad purposes, and that features improving its effectiveness for self-defense would also tend to improve its effectiveness for criminal violence.