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When Television News Anchors Become Gun Control Activists

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

On the subject of gun control, television news shows these days spout nothing more than propaganda. This past Sunday, seven million Americans watched CBS’s "60 Minutes" explain why “AR-15s are the choice of our worst mass murderers.” It was the most-watched television program that day.


In the worst mass public shooting, a killer in Las Vegas used AR-15s, a type of semi-automatic rifle, to murder 58 people. The second worst attack occurred at an Orlando nightclub in 2016, and the killer used both an AR-15 style rifle as well as a very commonly-owned handgun. In the third worst attack, at Virginia Tech, the killer only used to handguns to claim 32 lives.

From 1998 to today, all mass public shootings where shots were fired, handguns averaged 8.3 murders. Rifle shootings averaged 13.3. All attacks where both handguns and rifles were fired resulted in more deaths – 21.4, on average.

"60 Minutes" tried to argue that the AR-15 is the weapon of choice for mass public shooters because its “ammunition travels three times the speed of sound” and does more damage to the human body. “So, you can see why the AR-15’s high velocity ammo is the fear of every American emergency,” claimed CBS’s Scott Pelley.

To show this, "60 Minutes" filmed the impact that AR-15 bullets have on gelatin, comparing it to the impact from a 9mm handgun. But CBS was incredibly misleading in implying that AR-15’s are somehow uniquely designed for warfare. In fact, bullets from rifles always travel faster than those from handguns. The AR-15 is no different than any rifle.

“A bomb went off on the inside because of the velocity of these [AR-15] high velocity rounds,” Pelley noted. The shock wave that a bullet produces when it hits a body does real damage, but again, there is nothing special about the AR-15. A bullet’s caliber tells you its diameter (i.e. a .30 caliber is 0.3 inches wide), and larger bullets create larger shock waves. The shock wave can damage internal organs well beyond the point of impact, meaning instant death. 


An AR-15’s .223-caliber bullets are so small that many states prohibit use of them for deer hunting. The fear is that these relatively small bullets will not kill the animals, but merely wound them, causing them to suffer. These .223-caliber bullets are best for hunting small-game animals.

But the military may stand to benefit from using .223-caliber bullets, because wounding rather than killing enemy troops is likely to slow down their comrades and greatly limit maneuverability. Indeed, each soldier that is wounded slows down the movement of about seven other soldiers.

Smaller-caliber bullets are also lighter, allowing soldiers to carry many more of them. The smaller bullets produce less recoil in a gun, making it easier to shoot accurately. 

“It is not just the speed of the bullet, but how quickly hundreds of bullets can be fired,” said Pelley. But the AR-15 fires bullets at the same rapidity as any other semi-automatic gun (one bullet per pull of the trigger). The vast majority of guns in the US are semi-automatic guns.

What CBS would never mention is that semiautomatic weapons are also used to protect people and save lives. Single-shot rifles that require physically reloading may not do people a lot of good when they are facing multiple criminals. Or, for that matter, if the first shot misses or fails to stop an attacker. People wanting to protect themselves and their families might not have the luxury of time to reload their guns.


CBS gives wall-to-wall coverage to mass public shootings, whether they be the attacks at the Pittsburgh synagogue, Sutherland Springs church, New Zealand mosque, or Stoneman Douglas High School. But nowhere in their coverage to do they mention that all of these places were gun-free zones where people couldn’t defend themselves.

The ultimate irony is that if CBS and other gun control advocates succeeded in banning .223-caliber rifles, larger-caliber hunting rifles would become more popular. A shot from such a gun would be more likely to kill someone. Whether this misinformation is a result of ignorance or political bias, the end result is to make Americans less safe.

* Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recently of “The War on Guns.”

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