Fox 31 misleads on 'sniper' rifles

Despite news segment's claims, it takes more than mouse click to obtain firearms

Oct. 27, 2002

by David Kopel

While a serial killer, or killers, was terrifying Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, here in Colorado, Fox 31 television offered a terrifying - and quite incomplete - scare feature on "sniper" rifles.

The Oct. 15 Fox 31 news story opened with the co-anchor warning that "the best sniper rifle" is "more accessible than you might think." This led into a report on "how easy it is to buy sniper supplies online."

The reporter directed viewers to "Web sites like snipercountry.com," and showed a visual of the site. She claimed that "you can also find the best sniper rifles . . . with one click of the mouse."

Well, not really. The Web site contains a collection of links for various gun manufacturers. All of these manufacturers - as required by law - sell only through federally-licensed firearms dealers. To buy a gun, one must go to the dealer's store and pass a background check.

In addition, the Web site contains classified ads from gun collectors with guns to buy or sell. Ever since the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, if a private citizen sells a firearm to a private citizen in another state, the sale must be routed through licensed federal firearms dealers, for both shipping and receiving. Even for an intra-state sale, the gun can't be delivered by mail. [Correction for web version of this article: The out-of-state seller can mail the gun himself; he must ship it to a FFL in the buyer's state. For intra-state sales of long guns among non-licensees, the mail may be used. See http://www.atf.treas.gov/firearms/faq/faq2.htm, items B3 and B8]

The only Colorado sellers I found were one guy selling the rings used to attach a scope to a rifle and a small company selling handgun holsters.

In other words, directly contrary to what Fox 31 claimed, it is not easy to buy the best rifles with one click of a mouse. It was impossible for a Colorado viewer to buy any gun from the Web site with a mere click of the mouse. Any gun would have to be picked up from a licensed firearms dealer in Colorado who could conduct a background check. Fox 31 would have discovered this fact if it had consulted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms or any other firearms law expert.

The Fox 31 report continued with an interview with Ted Pascoe of Physicians for Social Responsibility in which he claimed: "These are souped-up versions of hunting rifles, and their only purpose is to hunt humans."

It's all right for a news segment to let advocates offer their arguments, but by interviewing only Pascoe, Fox 31, in effect, presented Pascoe's statement as fact. Again, merely browsing the Web site that Fox 31 touted would reveal the incorrectness of the claim about the "only purpose" of the guns. They are used in big game hunting and in long-range precision-target competitions, including competitions that are listed on snipercountry.com.

According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, rifles of all types were used in 396 homicides in 2000. In light of how very rarely the expensive rifles featured on snipercountry.com are ever used in a homicide, it's obvious that no civilian gun manufacturer - no matter how evil-minded - could stay in business by selling rifles whose "only purpose is to hunt humans."

Kudos to Rocky Mountain News writer Owen Good for an excellent article (Oct. 19) on the Boulder Valley School District's efforts to raise female participation in interscholastic sports because of fear of a Title IX lawsuit.

Rather than relying only on school officials, aggrieved parents or star athletes, Good also told the story of the marginal athletes brought into competitive sports by Boulder's new quota system. Good showed readers some personal success stories of the new quotas, but also explained the problems caused when a school has to make a quota by filling teams with poorly motivated students.

Both the News and The Denver Post have done a remarkably good job on covering the most contentious ballot initiative this year, Amendment 31's plan to promote English immersion. Although both papers oppose the initiative editorially, most news articles have been fair to both sides, and many articles have interviewed ordinary people with important personal experiences on the issue.

The Post's Oct. 15 story (from Los Angeles Times reporter Laura King) offered an amazingly euphemistic account of the death of Palestinian terrorist Mohammed Abayat. Abayat was killed when a booby-trapped public phone exploded, in what is generally regarded as the work of Israel's secret service. Abayat was described as an "unemployed laborer and part-time gunman." An Associated Press photo called him a "militant."

The Post's edited version of the story did not include material explaining that Abayat belonged to the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, the terrorist organization that has murdered many Israelis. The Post also omitted the portion of the story noting that Abayat's contribution to the cause was shooting guns "at the nearby Israeli neighborhood of Gilo."

Disclosures: As many readers know, I support the Second Amendment, and have written extensively on the subject. I also serve on the board of advisers of a fledging college group called American Students in Defense of Israel.


More by Kopel on media bias in coverage of gun control.

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