Fun shoots with machineguns bother some in general media
June 1, 2011
by Joseph P. Tartaro
Maybe it depends on what part of the country a newspaper is published in, or the upbringing of the journalist, or the views of the editor and publisher, but fun shoots with machineguns can certainly bother some in the general media. When they can’t find fault with the guns, they marginalize the shooters, or what they wear.
The problem isn’t confined to print journalism, but to the Internet as well.
On April 18, David Holthouse, writing for Media Matters for America on AlterNet.com, contributed a review of the world famous, semi-annual Knob Creek Machinegun Shoot in Kentucky. The headline flavored his report: “ ‘Family Friendly’ Machine Gun Festival welcomes Neo-Nazi extremists.”
“I won’t deny the red-blooded-American joy of firing automatic weapons at exploding targets,” Holthouse began, before focusing on the haberdashery. “Still I have to ask: What’s up with the little kids in Nazi shirts?” he continued, before discussing his discovery of a “shaved head lad with a Totenkopf death head on his chest.” To be sure his readers understood, Holthouse explained, “The Totenkopf was the symbol of the Nazi SS division that ran death camps like Auschwitz during the Holocaust.”
I’m not much interested in or attracted to Nazi outfits and gear, original or copy, but like a lot of other things I disagree with, I consider them part of our dues to the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers also didn’t think much of thought control whether promulgated by religions or governments.
But Holthouse, who I am sure would be quick to defend his First Amendment rights, seems willing to forsake it when reviewing a machinegun shoot.
“The shirt looked brand new,” he said of the kid’s Totenkopf t-shirt, before delving deeper into his concerns about extremists. “I took that to mean the kid or whoever gave it to him bought it from one of the dozen or so permitted vendors who openly sold white supremacist merchandise. This included a wide selection of t-shirts and flags bearing symbols popular with racist skinheads and Neo-Nazis. (And no, I’m not counting Confederate battle flags.) Also for sale were the race war fantasy novels Hunter and The Turner Diaries by William Pierce, founder of the National Alliance, a notorious hate group. A Friends of the NRA fundraising booth was located within sight of a stall of swastika flags,” Holthouse noted in apparent mental linkage of gun rights activists with latter-day Nazis.
In case there was any doubt about Holthouse’s views, he complains that “Widespread media coverage of the machinegun shoot has for years been fawning, with the notable exception of a 2009 photo essay in the Washington Independent that not only documented Nazi merch for sale at Knob Creek but also served to infuriate “queen of the birthers” Orly Taitz, who rented a booth that April to sign up members of the military for her loony-tunes lawsuits.
“The shoot has been a magnet for extremists since at least the mid-1990s, when militia leaders organized recruitment drives in the festival campground and leadership summits in nearby motels,” Holthouse continues before listing some of what he considered “more typical gun show fare,” which included handbooks on how to be a hit man and how to make Semtex, a plastic explosive. “Also available were survivalist texts such as How to Survive the Coming Economic Collapse and War, and dozens of different manuals for homemade silencers. My personal favorite: The Handy Dandy Super Duper Junkyard Silencer Book: Or How to Shoot Your Neighbor’s Dog Without Getting Caught.”
Holthouse revealed that he has attended the Knob Creek machine gun shoot off-and-on since 2006, when he covered it for the Southern Poverty Law Center. His connection to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which expects to find white sheets and Nazi paraphernalia and militia gear under almost every gunowner’s bed, explains a lot about his “new journalism” bias.
But not every newspaper reporter feels it necessary to score anti-gun points in news coverage about machineguns, or gunowners in general.
On April 11, The Arizona Daily Sun reported on another machinegun shoot called the Big Sandy Shoot which is also held twice a year, but in the desert southwest of Flagstaff.
This report, written by Abbie Gripman, took a more benign approach to reporting on machineguns, their aficionados and those who attend such events as spectators.
That story, with photos, on the front page of the sports section, was headlined “Rat-a-tat-tat.” But the tenor on the report, which featured photos of machineguns available for rent, as well as targets and “Shooter bling,” was set in the subhead. It read:
“Two retired Flagstaff school teachers draw hundreds of machine gun aficionados twice a year to the Big Sandy Shoot.”
The rest of the report focused on the retired teachersJuliette Moser and her husband Ed Hopeand the history of the Big Sandy Shoots. It devoted time to the event itself, reporting objectively on the location of the event, and detailing some of the courses of fire, plus how people can attend in the upcoming Oct. 28-30 fall edition.
There was some brief coverage of the Dutch models who came from Amsterdam to stage a photo shoot at Big Sandy and mention of History Channel television camera crews visitng the desert machinegun shoot.
The story sidebars accurately defined machineguns and submachineguns, as well as spelling out federal firearms regulations involving the National Firearms Act, which included the fact that ATF claimed in 1995 that there were more than 240,000 registered machineguns in the US, half owned by civilians and half by law enforcement agencies.
But the Arizona Daily Sun story was not the only decent, objective coverage of machinegun shoots this spring. On April 4, the Wall Street Journal reported on a newer event near Denver, CO, involving a group calling themselves “Zoot Shooters.”
The Zoot Shooters are a full-auto version of cowboy action shooters. So far, The Journal reported, there are only about 60 full time Zoot Shooters, located in four states and Italy. Like the cowboy shooters, costume and monikers are important. The Zoot Shooters dress up like prohibition-era gangsters and cops.
But, the newspaper reported, they aren’t just playing dress up. “They soon whipped out black Tommy guns, loaded them and took turns shooting their way through a firing range done up with brick-painted walls and cardboard targets of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.”
The Journal explained that the Zoot Shooters are the latest twist on a sport called practical shooting, in which competitors move through a course, earning points for shooting with speed and accuracy. It noted that the cowboy action shooters started with just a limited number of enthusiasts firing six-shooters 30 years ago that grew into the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) which today has thousands of competitors. (Actually, at a recent trade show, a SASS executive told Gun Week that SASS recently passed the 90,000 membership mark.
Jason Huss, one of the founders of the Zoot Shooters quoted by The Journal, explained that he had met with Harper Creigh (aka Judge Roy Bean) at a recent trade show who told him he had considered forming a similar group for Tommy gun shooters about 25 years ago. He considered calling it the “Roaring Twenties.”
“If I wasn’t so old and beat up,” Creigh told Huss, “I’d probably jump in and get involved (in the Zoot Shooters).”
The Wall Street Journal expressed no surprise at the fun people have shooting full-auto gunsin contrast to the sneering approach of the Alter.Net story earlier in this column.
I suppose the lesson is that one bad journalist could demean a host of others who are truly just practicing their art.
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