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Imagine a newspaper story on automobiles in which the writer confused camshafts and driveshafts. Or a piece on investing in which the words “stock” and “bond” were used interchangeably. Or one that referred to Marines as soldiers (which will get you a punch in the mouth from any self-respecting Jarhead). Not likely, you think. No reporter is that ignorant or that careless. Wrong. They are when they turn their attention to guns. Cartridge and bullet are used interchangeably, clip and magazine mean the same thing; submachine gun and machine gun are synonyms. And it gets worse.

When the M-16 was first issued during the Vietnam War, Americans were informed that it was deadly because its bullets tumbled through the air, creating terrible wounds when they hit. Anyone who has ever thrown a football knows what a crock this is. Apparently, news reporters do not throw footballs.

In a recent article in The New York Times, a reporter quoted a police officer as stating that a Smith & Wesson revolver went off when it was dropped. The handgun was made in the 1970s, so there is a problem: No Smith wheelgun of post-World-War-II manufacture can go off unless the trigger is pulled. Even if the revolver was cocked, it’s highly unlikely that it could fire. It sounds like the police officer told a Great Big Fib, but the reporter did not know enough about the subject (or, probably, anything about the subject) to call him on it.

In the 1990s, a newspaper Sunday supplement ran an article on gun control that used the term “ballistic footprint.” This was a new one to me so I called the magazine and asked the editor in chief what it meant. He said he had no idea but that he would check with his staff. He did, and no one else had a clue, either.

We are treated to almost-daily accounts of assault weapons that are supposedly being purchased at American gun shops and sent south of the border through an elaborate system of straw men, couriers, intermediaries, etc. But as the American Rifleman points out in its excellent article on the subject in its July issue, drug cartels are huge businesses with unlimited budgets. Why would they go to the trouble of buying two or three or a dozen guns in the U.S. when they could call their friendly arms merchant and get a pallet load of guns, still in the factory cosmoline, delivered right to their doors?

So why, when someone says “gun,” does a journalist’s common sense head for parts unknown?

First, there is a strong tendency among people not to challenge conventional wisdom. As proof of that, I offer the fact that from AD 200 until roughly 1850, western medicine was based on the teachings of a physician named Galen. Galen did not know that blood circulated, or that the heart pumped it. He blamed disease on an imbalance among four bodily humors (black bile, yellow bile, water, and phlegm), and drew his conclusions about human anatomy from dissections of monkeys and pigs, not humans. But for nearly two millennia, Galen was more revered than Oprah.

So we tend not to question, and from the unanimity of thought on the subject in the media, I believe that J-school students and cub reporters learn, very early on, that the following is the Revealed Truth:

1. Guns are inherently evil.

2. There is no reason to own a gun in 21st century America unless you hunt, and if you hunt there’s clearly something wrong with you.

3. The United States would be a better country if no one had a gun, including the police.

4. American gun owners–all 80 million of them–are homicidal knuckle-draggers and mouth breathers.

5. The majority of Americans yearn for more gun control, but cannot get it because of the National Rifle Association.

6. In its 140 years of existence, the National Rifle Association has never been right on any issue.

7. If “reasonable” gun controls make it nearly impossible for a citizen to buy a firearm, there’s nothing wrong with that. Never mind the Bill of Rights. Some rights are Clearly Wrong.

8. And, most important: If a journalist acquires “information” that aligns with Numbers 1 through 7, there’s no need to check it, because it is obviously true.

Number 8 is a b***h, and we will come back to it.

Now, let us go to our second cause, the American educational system. It does not do such a hot job of teaching math or science (or American history, or geography, or English), but it gets high marks for political correctness and non-encouragement of student skepticism if that challenges PC.

Let’s take as an example the MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow, who has degrees from Stanford and Oxford but does not seem to have mastered the concept of independent inquiry. On her broadcast of January 11 of this year, she posed a hypothetical question: If an undetectable plastic pistol were made, one with no steel, that would go through a metal detector, should people be allowed to carry it? In the course of her rant, she claimed that a) It’s possible to make such a gun and b) that during the 1980s, Glock acknowledged that it had the technology to do so.

This runs contrary to what I know, so I enquired of my gunsmith friend John Blauvelt, who is a graduate of the Glock Armorers’ School. Here’s his take:

“X-rays of Glocks always show the outline of the gun, and the cartridges, and the 50 percent of the pistol that is metal. As for building a pistol with no metal:

“No one has come up with strong-enough springs that can be made out of plastic, such as the springs to power hammers or strikers or hold the breech closed.

“Barrels still have to be made of steel. There have been experiments with ceramics to mold barrels, but while ceramics are hard and long-lasting they’re too brittle to contain the force of a cartridge.

“Making a plastic slide with enough mass to resist the breech opening of a semi-automatic pistol would require a truly massive slide. Maybe possible, but certainly not practical.

“There are unsubstantiated rumors that the CIA and KGB have guns that can get through metal detectors. The rumors state that they are manually operated, or single-shot, and are disposable. But they are just rumors.”

How about the alleged claim by Glock in the 1980s that they could make an all-plastic gun?

On May 15, 1986, testifying before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Billie Vincent, FAA Director of Civil Aviation Security, said: “Despite a relatively common impression to the contrary, there is no current non-metal firearm which is not reasonably detectable by present technology and methods in use at our airports today, nor to my knowledge is anyone on the threshold of developing such a firearm [italics added].”

So where does Ms. Maddow get her “information”? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve e-mailed her, asking that question, but I doubt I’ll get an answer. My guess is that she heard it from someone, or read it somewhere, and it fit in with her nightmare fantasies, so she accepted it without question. She apparently didn’t learn at Stanford or Oxford that if you want to get at the truth, you don’t assume anything.

Or it could be that she’s not interested in getting at the truth.

I also called Glock, and asked if the technology did exist to build a no-steel handgun, and if the company had claimed that it could way back in the 1980s, but I never got an answer.

So why should you care about Rachel Maddow and those like her? Because people listen to them, and take them seriously. This is why it’s almost impossible for the NRA to get a fair hearing in much of the media. It’s why Mayor for Life Bloomberg gets so much mileage out of his anti-gun crusade. It’s the reason that Wayne LaPierre, when he said that the BATF had acted like jackbooted thugs, was pilloried in the press, even though he was right.

And, when the polls open, the people who listen to Rachel and take her at face value go to the polls…and vote.