The premise of Butterfield's article, as stated in the early paragraphs, was to disprove candidate George Bush's claim that federal gun laws were adequate and just needed better enforcement. Butterfield proved his thesis with descriptions of existing gun laws, and those descriptions were wrong in almost every respect; and every one of the errors tilted in the direction of greatly understating the scope and severity of federal gun laws.
Butterfield was irresponsible in the extreme in his mischaracterization of the strength of the case against the Dollars. His one-sided and highly selective presentation of very incomplete evidence was the journalistic equivalent of the prosecutorial misconduct that the trial judge had denounced.
Butterfield is not the only Times author who is casual with facts where gun control is concerned. Thomas Friedman claimed (April 3, 1996) that Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America, has "spoken at rallies held by white supremacist" leaders. This is absolutely false. Indeed, Pratt is so far from being a "white supremacist" ally that he is married to a Panamanian and speaks Spanish at home.
In May 1995, Friedman wrote that Republican presidential candidates want "to repeal the ban on assault weapons so that paranoid private militias trying to subvert the Constitution will be much better armed to resist the police, FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms the next time they try to blow up a federal building." Friedman's column thus presumed that "militias" were involved in the Oklahoma City bombing.
As the facts developed, Timothy McVeigh's entire connection to the militia movement was, first, that he and Terry Nichols attended two meetings of the Militia of Michigan. The pair were told to leave because they were talking about violence. Second, Mark Koernke, a short-wave radio personality with a mail-order business selling militia gear, was seen with someone who looks a great deal like McVeigh. That's all the evidence that ever was produced showing any contact at all between McVeigh and the militias. That evidence obviously does not suggest that anyone in a militia encouraged McVeigh to do anything illegal, let alone assisted one of the most vicious mass murders in American history.
Friedman, writing before even this slender body of evidence had been brought forth, recklessly and maliciously pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on a group of many thousands of Americans who were completely innocent.
Friedman displayed similar bigotry with his April 1999 claim that "Assault weapons have only one purpose, and that is to kill other human beings." This is nonsense. A 1991 Congressional Research Study of one of the most notorious "assault weapons," the Navegar Tec-9 pistol, found that only 2 percent of the Tec-9 guns had ever been traced in connection with a criminal investigation of any sort.
Of course, not all gun crimes result in a gun trace, but before Navegar went out of business, it sold many tens of thousands of guns. In 1998, for example, the company manufactured 15,565 pistols, according to BATF reports.
Quite obviously, the overwhelming number of Navegar buyers didn't buy the gun in order "to kill human beings." Even if Navegar were the only murder weapon ever used in the United States, the number of Navegar guns sold greatly exceeds the number of gun murders. Hence, there must be at least some (indeed, an overwhelming number) of "assault weapon" buyers who purchase their guns for reasons other than murder.
Among those purchasers are the competitors in the most prestigious American target shooting competitions, the annual National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, under the auspices of the congressionally created Civilian Marksmanship Program. Many so-called "assault weapons" (such as Colt and Ruger rifles) are used at these matches.
Friedman is a very skilled reporter who easily could have learned about the Camp Perry matches if he had bothered to conduct a little bit of research. But instead, he followed the fashion of Times gun reporters, which was to "report" as fact the crude preconceptions of Manhattanites who know almost nothing about American gun culture.
Another Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, claimed that Dick Cheney, when he was a congressman from Wyoming, defended "plastic guns that could slip through airport metal detectors." Actually, there's never been an actual plastic gun, let alone a plastic gun which could slip through metal detectors.
In a May 1998 column, Dowd opened by decrying the "sulfurous" and "icky name-calling" in Washington. She closed the column by calling the NRA "wicked." It says a lot about the bigoted atmosphere at the New York Times that neither Dowd nor an editor noticed the contradiction between a complaint about name-calling and calling the NRA "wicked."
What if a gun owner does something very unwicked — such as saving dozens of people from a mass killer? Don't expect to read about it in the New York Times. When a failing law student went on a murder rampage at Appalachian School of Law, Times reporter Francis X. Clines explained that the killing ended when the killer "was tackled by fellow students" (Jan 17, 2002). "Mr. Odighizuwa was subdued by three law students who were experienced police officers, the authorities said," Cline wrote. What Clines and the Times omitted was that two of the law students who "subdued" and "tackled" the killer had retrieved their own handguns from their cars, and had used those handguns to "subdue" the murderer.
The New York Times and the NRA member magazines such as The American Rifleman both cover the gun issue through strongly worded advocacy articles. Both the Times and the Rifleman have a huge bias in favor of relying on experts whose viewpoints are in line with their publisher's. Yet while the Times and the Rifleman are in some ways mirror images of gun-policy advocacy publications, there are two important differences: First, the Rifleman doesn't pretend to be unbiased; second, the Times has much lower standards of factual accuracy.
Back on Sept. 8, 1988, the New York Times's television reviewer, John J. O'Connor, praised David Frost for letting an antigun spokesman "present his case cogently and persuasively." Frost then "informed" the NRA's representative that his argument didn't really make sense, and cut him off. The Times concluded, "Occasionally, balance is beside the point." So is accuracy, at least for the Times.