Dick Heller is angry.
The so-called hero of the gun rights community on Wednesday accused members of the media of purposefully confusing the public about guns and gun ownership in the months since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Heller was the center of a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2008 that held the Second Amendment protected civilians, and not just law enforcement, in owning guns. His prescription for reporters on the gun beat Wednesday: learn how to use a firearm.
"You folks in the media, I challenge you to add another [notch] to your resume. Learn about guns. Take a safety course," Heller told a room of reporters at the National Press Club. "If you don't … you're going to have a struggle understanding the process. When I see people take a firearms class, and they start out as antigun, they enjoy it, they start to absorb that environment. If you did, you would not make mistakes, like calling a magazine a clip."
That advice is one the gun rights community has offered before.
In an April interview with Whispers, Dave Workman, a senior editor at TheGunMag.com and spokesman for the second amendment group Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said there were times he was "ashamed of his journalism degree" because of the way the mainstream press covered the National Rifle Association. "The problem is that most of the people who occupy newsrooms in the U.S. are not gun owners," Workman said.
Heller also decried media coverage of the NRA, saying gun group vice president Wayne LaPierre's recommendation that schools should have armed security guards to prevent another Newtown shooting was justified.
"Some media branded him as a crackpot," said Heller. (In December, MSNBC host Karen Finney called LaPierre "crazy.") "What I learned later, and I don't think I ever saw it in the press, was that at that very moment that they were calling him a crackpot, over 6000 schools in the U.S. already had armed security for years, D.C. being one of them," Heller said.
The D.C. public school system does indeed have an office of school security, responsible for preventing and investigating criminal activity at schools, and districts in the cities of Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis have long had armed officers in schools, according to the New York Times.
But while the mainstream media noted LaPierre's recommendation wasn't new, news agencies including CNN also noted that armed guards had been present at the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 and unable to stop the deaths of 12 students and a teacher.
Heller said Wednesday that reporters are eager to make note of when guns failed to stop a crime, but don't report on when firearms are successfully used in self-defense. In 2002, for example, a shooter at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., killed three and wounded three others; his rampage was eventually stopped by two armed students. According to Heller, major news outlets did not report on the defensive use of firearms at the scene. That same allegation is included in the 2003 book by John Lott "The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard About Gun Control Is Wrong."
Of course, some reporters who cover guns not only know how to use firearms but also embrace them.
Dan Baum, a freelance investigative reporter and gun owner who recently authored "Gun Guys: A Road Trip" about gun culture in the U.S., told Whispers in April that the rhetoric used towards gun owners since the December shooting at Newtown has been "unimaginably offensive."