Back in April, the Columbia Journalism Review held a ‘summit’ meeting on gun violence. Or to be more accurate, the meeting was held to address how and why journalists write their stories about guns. The event was evidently attended by the usual suspects from the mainstream media and resulted in the publication of a series of guidelines to which all the ‘responsible’ folks who do media coverage of gun violence are rushing to subscribe.

Here are the guidelines, courtesy of The Trace, which considers itself to be one of those responsible journalistic efforts par excellence:

  • We pledge to cover gun violence like the unfolding health crisis it is.
  • We pledge to allocate the time and resources needed to cover this crisis.
  • We pledge to acknowledge and address racist coverage.
  • We pledge to cover mass shootings as part of the larger gun violence problem.
  • We pledge to focus our resources on grassroots efforts.
  • We pledge to learn the lessons of the pandemic.

Now I may be a little stupid, or perhaps it’s just that I’m a 76-year-old gun nut which makes me kind of dumb, but I always thought that journalists didn’t need to subscribe to any sort of guidelines beyond the basic guideline which requires that they tell the truth. And in order to tell the truth about any issue on which you want to exercise your journalistic training, experience, and skills, it seems to me that the first and most important prerequisite is that you know at least something about the subject you are writing about.

Do the journalists who attended the CJR’s summit on gun violence know something about violence?  I’m sure they do. Do they know something about racism? Ditto that one too. Do they know something about mass shootings? That’s an easy one – there’s at least one mass shooting every week, sometimes every day.

But what I find both interesting and somewhat aggravating (but remember, I’m just an old, White gun nut living on 15 acres of woodland in Western Massachusetts) is that none of these journalists seem to know anything about the industry whose products create something we call gun violence.  In fact, I don’t recall the last time I ever read a single story about gun violence which said anything about how and why the products that create the violence are designed, manufactured, advertised, or sold.

Give you one quick example of how completely devoid the reportage on gun violence is from any kind of reality about guns. Ever hear of a group called the NASGW? It’s the trade group owned by the 30 national gun distributors who sell at least 90% of the guns made and imported every year which end up in the hands of consumers and then, in some cases, wind up in the street.

Every year the NASGW holds a meeting where the gun makers get together with the wholesalers, the road reps, and the PR outfits. The companies that make optics, ammunition and accessories show up too. They spend two days talking about the gun market and talking about which products they are going to promote, the prices they are going to charge, and the narratives which will be used to promote those products over the next year.

Want to understand how and why certain kinds of guns end up being used to commit gun violence or what the CJR manifesto refers to as the ‘unfolding health crisis?’ You can subscribe to the CJR guidelines all you want, but if you don’t spend two days walking around the NASGW meeting, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Several years ago, I sent an email to a dozen gun researchers and journalists asking if any of them had ever heard of the NASGW, never mind covering their annual event. How many responded in the affirmative? If you guess ‘none,’ you happen to be correct.

If and when my friends who do research or reportage on gun violence ever figure out that maybe, just maybe they need to learn at least something about the industry whose existence is the reason we experience gun violence, I’ll be happy to help them out.

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