Journalists’ reporting of shootings

Published 11:52 pm Friday, November 21, 2014

By Joseph L. Bass 

Daily, my job involves carrying a handgun. In terms of marksmanship, I’m quite good with either a semi-automatic or a revolver. It is not uncommon for me to shoot a perfect score during annual requalification.

Although hitting the target is important, knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot is more important. But it is frustrating to see that journalists’ reports of shootings often do not reflect awareness of the concepts I must know every day.

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During any minute of a workday, my life and others can change. If armed robbers run into the door, I have to decide if I should shoot them. If I am right, I save my life and the lives of others. If I’m wrong I can be killed, along with other innocents. Or I can be convicted of murder and go to prison.

Knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot is critical. This is the burden armed police and security officers, and armed citizens bear each day.

The burden is made heavier, because journalists frequently write articles based on serious misinformation, creating misconceptions among the general population. Too often, misinformed citizens react in negative, hostile ways, attacking officers and citizens and burning down businesses.

For example, many articles suggest that fear is the determining factor in knowing when to shoot. For me to shoot another, there must be sufficient evidence to prove I was justified in that the attacker had the immediate capability and intent to cause death or great bodily harm to me and others.

The American justice system is based on evidence. In reporting shootings, there is too much rush to judgment before evidence is available. It is not uncommon for inflammatory articles to be published completely ignoring evidence.

It is common for articles to ignore evidence presented in a trial and decisions made by a jury, including comments that suggest the evidence didn’t exist and the defendant is still guilty of a crime for which there is no evidence.

Of course, some shootings are more complicated than a masked man running into a business lobby with a gun. I must always be ready to defend against an attacker grabbing my gun and using it to commit a crime, kill me, and kill others. Every year, police officers are killed with their own handgun.

Articles dealing with a “fight for a gun” are handled completely differently by the press. If the officer loses the fight and is killed, the press gives credibility that the offender is likely a criminal. If the officer wins the fight and kills the offender, the press continually plays up the officer killing an “unarmed” person.

In a fight for a gun there is no such thing as an unarmed person. The real situation is there are two people fighting over one gun.

This article does not address all the legal nuances of shoot or don’t shoot decisions. But the point should have been made. Journalists are in serious need of studying these issues and should discontinue writing articles based on serious misinformation and creating inflammatory misconceptions among the general population.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at