WEAPONS OF CHOICE
Newspapers shoot down gun classifieds
Houston Chronicle latest to adjust firearm ad policy
Posted: June 19, 2003 - 1:00 AM Eastern
By Jon Dougherty
© 2003 WorldNetDaily.com
Thanks to pressure from a group claiming it is concerned about the safety and well-being of citizens, a number of newspapers have opted to stop carrying classified advertising involving guns, much to the dismay of gun-rights advocates.
The latest newspaper to cave to pressure from the National Campaign to Close the Newspaper Classified Ad Loophole, according to Editor & Publisher magazine, a newspaper industry publication, is the Houston Chronicle.
According to the campaign's website, such action is needed because "the unregulated sale of firearms through classified ads in newspapers poses a potential threat to all Americans. "
Newspaper classified ads "allow felons, domestic abusers, mentally ill persons and others in prohibited categories to purchase firearms without undergoing a criminal background check," the group says.
In a statement released to E&P, the Houston Chronicle said it took the action to ban gun classifieds because "groups have petitioned newspapers in the past to close what has been termed the 'newspaper loophole' that allows a person to purchase handguns through classified ads without federal background checks.
"We have adjusted our policy to address this concern," said the statement.
Since its launch in 2001, the campaign has managed to achieve success with a number of other papers. The first was the Chicago Tribune, said campaign coordinator John Johnson.
"It was a compelling letter they sent that asked us to review our policy," Patty Wetli, a Tribune spokesperson, told E&P.
The newspaper trade publication said in all, 16 state-level anti-gun organizations have teamed with the campaign to lobby papers to drop gun classifieds.
Not all have. According to the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based campaign's website, one paper, the Indianapolis Star, said it would continue to allow gun ads because the paper had a policy of taking ads for "legal products."
But a series of other dailies have agreed to tighten rules for gun ads or drop them altogether. According to E&P, those include The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News, The Denver Post, the Denver Rocky Mountain News, the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, Sandusky (Ohio) Register and the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa.
Johnson says he believes newspaper classified ads for guns pose a distinct threat to public safety because buyers are not required to undergo a background check.
"I think we make a very compelling argument about why newspapers should not allow the unlicensed sales because they can't prevent them from going to criminals," he said.
The campaign has published comments from newspaper ad directors who have supported the group's anti-gun position.
"We've always had a strict policy on guns," the group quotes Providence Journal Advertising Director Maura Brodeur as saying when she opted to drop the gun-related ads. "As a newspaper, we have to consider the community we serve, and if we don't have the safety of our residents in mind, then we are not doing the service we need to."
Said Jeff Beirig, a spokesman for the Chicago Tribune, "The [paper] doesn't run certain kinds of ads in the interest of its readers. Firearms are one such example of that."
But gun-rights supporters say person-to-person purchases that don't originate through newspaper classifieds are also not subject to criminal background checks. Only licensed firearms dealers are required to run prospective buyers through the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is located in West Virginia.
They also say the group offers no evidence background checks by private persons or dealers affects crime rates.
"It would be useful if the group had some empirical evidence that background checks either on transfers by licensed dealers or by private individuals had some impact on crime," said law school professor John Lott, author of "More Guns, Less Crime" and a new work, "The Bias Against Guns."
"It would be great if this were some type of magic bullet that would stop criminals from getting guns, but I don't know of one single academic study that has found that either the federal Brady Act or state background checks have reduced any type of violent crime rate," he told WorldNetDaily.
"Despite the best efforts of the anti-gun lobby, firearms are perfectly legal and should be advertised like any other products," says Jeff Deist, spokesman for Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
"Of course, the Houston Chronicle is a private concern and can choose to run or not run advertisements as it sees fit," he told WND. "However, the majority of Texans who support gun rights should be aware of the Chronicle's policy and decide for themselves whether to support the paper."
Other papers said rejecting the ads was a matter of principle.
"There's not a chance in the world that we are going to compromise our standards because of tight times in advertising," said Todd Brownrout of the Philadelphia Inquirer, according to the campaign. "We don't want our classified columns to become an arms market."
Such ostensibly principled stances, however, run counter to American standards of firearms freedom, say critics.
"Far more people die by automobile than by firearm, yet these newspapers aren't curbing classified ads for cars," says Angel Shamaya, founder and operator of gun-rights website KeepAndBearArms.com. "This is not about saving lives; it's about demonizing firearms. Anyone who denies that fact is either dishonest or unwilling to look squarely at this issue."
"The daily newspapers that are refusing to run ads for private sales of firearms feel better after denying their pages to private sellers, but they are doing nothing to keep guns out of criminals' hands," adds Larry Pratt, head of Gun Owners of America, a Virginia-based national gun-rights group.
"If a nearly-total gun ban in England, an island, has only resulted in a huge increase in violent crime involving firearms, what will gun control private or public short of a ban be able to accomplish?" said Pratt.
"These people claim they want to 'cut down the number of weapons sold by unlicensed dealers,'" Shamaya said. "They are the same people who blame licensed dealers for how their products are criminally misused. Split personalities are rampant in the gun prohibitionist community."
A few communities have turned their anger at the local paper dropping the gun ads into action. Editor & Pubisher said that when the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson opted to drop the ads, 400 subscribers canceled their subscription.
"It was open season on the Arizona Daily Star," publisher Jane Amari told the trade journal.