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Does press ignore police on guns unless they support restrictions?

Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans wants to decide who can have a firearm in his city.
Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans wants to decide who can have a firearm in his city.Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Breaking news late yesterday in Seattle and an editorial Sunday in Massachusetts just might reinforce the notion among gun rights activists that press bias on Second Amendment issues is thriving from one coast to the other.

On Sunday, the Berkshire Eagle ran an editorial urging Massachusetts lawmakers and residents to “heed” police chiefs who want more discretion to deny citizens the right to own or possess firearms. Gun rights activists in that state are tired of police chiefs who treat the Second Amendment as a highly-regulated government privilege rather than a constitutionally protected civil right.

The newspaper thinks it is just fine for police to be able to deny not just handgun licenses, but the ability to legally own rifles and shotguns. This came after Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans declared during an interview, “For the most part, nobody in the city needs a shotgun, nobody needs a rifle.”

Evans further infuriated gun owners by adding, “I want to have discretion over who’s getting any type of gun because public safety is my main concern and as you know it’s an uphill battle taking as many guns off the street right now without pumping more into the system.”

Newspaper editorial boards traditionally seem to favor gun control, as if they believe that there are only nine amendments in the Bill of Rights, and that the only important ones are the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth. The Second is an anachronism that needs stiff regulation, whether the editor is in Massachusetts or Washington, where the Seattle Times editorial board has endorsed a gun control initiative that will be on the November ballot.

Contrast coverage of the gun control issue in Massachusetts with Seattle. The Times and Seattle P-I.com have both offered plenty of coverage to anti-gunners supporting Initiative 594, and are currently covering a flap over remarks made by a National Rifle Association lobbyist regarding gun control and the Holocaust.

Such coverage accomplishes a couple of things: It casts a cloud over the lobbyist – who has been particularly successful dissecting many things wrong with the 18-page gun control measure – and, by association, anyone else opposed to I-594. The controversy also allows public attention to be diverted from another story that has yet to be told by the Seattle-area mainstream press: Opposition to I-594 by rank-and-file law enforcement, and two major statewide law enforcement organizations.

This situation can best be summed up by remarks made by retired Pierce County sheriff’s detective Bill Burris one week ago to members of the Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association (WSLEFIA), which announced its opposition to I-594 a year ago, without any press coverage. More recently the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs also announced opposition to I-594 and support for a competing measure, Initiative 591, again without a peep from the local press.

“There is a virtual news blackout of the fact that WSLEFIA took its positions on the initiatives a year ago,” Burris told his audience, “and the fact that the Washington Council of Police and Sheriff’s voted to oppose 594 and support 591 on June 27. The news media have an anti-gun bias, we know that. They don’t want to examine the issue; they just want their rich anti-gun cronies to succeed in passing 594.”

I-594 is supported by the well-funded Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility (WAGR), the Seattle-based group determined to force its values on citizens in such communities as Republic, Randle, Ione, Ilwaco, Newport, Naches, Tonasket, Trout Lake, Eatonville and Ephrata. Most of them probably didn’t know these communities existed, and may not be able to find them even with the help of a good map.

There is a strong suspicion in the firearms community that if both law enforcement groups were supporting I-594, it would have been headline news, with an accompanying editorial about how smart those cops are about guns and public safety. Instead they report hurt feelings over a lobbyist’s remarks which, incidentally, a lot of Seattle Times readers are today contending were pretty spot-on. Reader feedback appears to be overwhelmingly on the side of NRA lobbyist Brian Judy.

There may not be a political turning of the tide in the works, but the tide just might be rising in rural America, whether it is a small community in Massachusetts or a small town in rural Washington. It might partially explain why large newspapers have lost circulation; people don’t pay to be told how foolish or dangerous they are, and they particularly dislike it when the First Amendment is used to bash and erode the Second.

Whether their criticisms are justified, the fact that so many people believe there is a press bias is what makes the difference. That becomes evident as people drop subscriptions to newspapers, and cast their ballots.