Gersh Kuntzman, we do have a problem. But it’s not the problem you think we have.
Gun supporters don’t have a problem with your opinion. We have a problem with you publishing your opinion, supported with blatant inaccuracies, as a scathing and factual exposé. We have a problem with emotionally-charged- and factually-bereft articles targeting the uninformed and presented as news.
Your initial article, “What is it like to fire an AR-15? It’s horrifying, menacing and very very loud “, caused quite a stir. Because of your poor representation, many people jumped in with corrections and upset reactions. You say you “don’t mind spirited debate”, and yet that’s exactly what you’re not supporting.
The first line of your follow-up is “The gun debate is also a gender war.” I’ve read many reactions to you. Some were rude and inappropriate. Most were mere corrections. The comments were evenly split among male and female. Somehow, only the rude comments made it into your follow-up piece. If I’m to take your follow-up article at face value, it would appear that the only responses you got to your article are from right-wing male misogynists with nothing but insults.
You’ve since made several edits to your initial article. You originally indicated that the AR-15 was powerful enough to bruise your shoulder after only a few shots. You’ve since fixed that to note that this only happens if you’re using the rifle incorrectly. In the original you said that the AR-15 is capable of fully automatic fire. You’ve now corrected that to say that making it automatic requires illegal modifications, but left in the line “Even in semi-automatic mode”, implying there are other modes. You’ve left in lines that don’t make a direct reference to the AR-15, but imply that it is a high-powered weapon and can fire 40 rounds in 3-4 seconds.
It’s fortunate that I read the original version of your article, because otherwise I’d never have known these edits were made. You’ve left one acknowledgement at the bottom, noting your reasons for using the term PTSD regarding how you felt after firing the AR-15. Every other correction is left unannounced.
In your follow-up, you state that your goal of your story was to share the experience of firing an AR-15 with readers who haven’t tried it. You failed. What you did was used very scary language, hyperbole, and clever wording to misrepresent it entirely. I don’t need you to like what I like, Gersh. I don’t need you to believe what I believe, feel what I feel, or support what I support. If you didn’t like your experience with the AR-15, that’s fine.
But I do need you to consider something. I want to be very clear, I’m not accusing you of anything here. I try to consciously give people the benefit of the doubt, and I do not think what I’m about to describe was your intention. Just put yourself in the shoes of your opposition for a moment.
It’s an emotionally taxing time. People are grieving, and people want to do something, anything, to fix the broken world. The gun debate is running very hot, and Gersh Kuntzman writes an article about his experience with a controversial weapon.
The article is full of inaccuracies. It implies, misrepresents, and outright states things that are not true. It is full of emotion, it compares the weapon to very scary things, and references a tragedy the weapon was not used in.
That article stays up for a day. During that day, it gets shared by people who’ve never been near an AR-15, and are unfamiliar with it aside from what they hear in the news. The sharing continues, and eventually reaches the people who are fully informed about the AR-15, and who know what it’s capable of. They respond by noting the inaccuracies and correcting the implications.
The next day, all the outright inaccuracies in the article are fixed with no acknowledgement. The only acknowledgement at all is a tiny piece of italic text noting the incorrect use of a word. Gersh Kuntzman writes a follow-up article. The follow-up paints those who disagree with the initial article as sexist right-wing fanatics, which seems supported by the fact that only the worst responses were included and the outright incorrect information is gone, as if it was never there. The follow-up asserts that the AR-15 is a weapon of mass destruction, and these fanatics want a nuclear weapon in the hands of every citizen. It ends with Gersh saying that, sure, maybe he is unmanly as these sexist nutjobs claim, but he is against murder. The final line? “If that makes me a girl, well, maybe we should have a girl running the country.”
That doesn’t look like a story sharing your experience, Gersh. That looks strategic. In the immediate aftermath of tragedy, it looks like an intentional use of emotion to manipulate. In a highly polarizing election year, it looks like a deliberate checkmate to paint the people who disagree with you as bigots, while all the people who support non-violence must be morally obligated to vote for Clinton. In an ever-more divided nation, it looks like a wedge.
I don’t think that’s what you meant to do. But that’s what you did. You’re a journalist. If you truly want the spirited debate you claim to support, then you have a responsibility to inform and educate. You have a responsibility to present fact as fact and opinion as opinion. You have a responsibility to be aware of the implications of your work.
In your biography, you say you’ve been writing newspaper columns since 1993. You have experience. You know what you’re doing. Do it better, Gersh.
* Justin Summers is a trucker with opinions, and therefore not unique. He doesn’t care what you believe as long as you don’t force it on others.
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