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Washington Post Coverage of Gun Buybacks:

NewsBusters asks: When the Washington Post runs a favorable news story on gun buybacks, can't they find a single person who could criticize the proposals? Even the Boston Globe, hardly an NRA sympathizer, criticizes such buybacks -- there's obviously a serious question whether they're worthwhile. Shouldn't a news story that quotes people praising them also at least mention the opposite view?

(NewsBusters also faults an AP story on the subject, but it's a very short piece, with no express praise of the programs; covering criticism of the programs is thus both harder and less necessary.)

Goober (mail):
I think I'm with Prof. V on this specific instance, but I cannot endorse what I take to be underlying principle, that journalists have a general obligation to present both sides of a story. There are many circumstances in which one of the he-said/she-said is factually incorrect, logically implausible or morally repugnant, and there is no obligation to voice that side simply for the sake of balance. In the instant case, if it's true that buybacks don't work, I don't think a journalist ought to play devil's advocate with the argument that they do work; if they do work, there's no need to voice the argument that perhaps they don't work. If the question is in fact arguable, then both sides deserve to be aired---but journalists' larger failing, by far, has been an over-indulgence of the "some say... but others say" story line.

Again, I don't think it's applicable in this particular case. But I'm instinctively suspicious of this line of complaint, that journalists ought to have considered the other side of the debate---as a general matter, it's a principle that leads to a lot of shoddy journalism.
9.18.2006 7:44pm
Matthew Sheffield (www):
Occasionally your argument is correct, Goober. In my view, it's more often the case that no single party in a dispute is wholly correct, especially when it comes to politics.

The best kind of journalism attempts to provide an in-depth look at all sides to a question and then comes to its own verdict (if it's an opinion piece) or allows the reader to do so (if it's a news piece).
9.18.2006 8:02pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Goober: I'm a little puzzled on why you "take [it] to be underlying principle, that journalists have a general obligation to present both sides of a story," even when one side "is factually incorrect, logically implausible or morally repugnant."

I expressly stressed, in the second sentence of my post, that "Even the Boston Globe, hardly an NRA sympathizer, criticizes such buybacks -- there's obviously a serious question whether they're worthwhile." If there was no serious question whether buybacks are worthwhile, the matter would be different; but there is such a serious question. Why do you "take [my] underlying principle" to be any broader than I describe?
9.18.2006 8:14pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I don't know of anyone who thinks that gun buybacks aren't worthwhile. Everyone has some broken firearm that they got at a yard sale, isn't worth the cost of repair, and for which no buyer would pay fifty dollars. Gun buybacks are a natural solution to the problem. It's a little like car dealers who offer $500 trade-in on any vehicle that can make it to their lot.
9.18.2006 10:54pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Dave Hardy: Perhaps you might read the Boston Globe article linked above?
9.18.2006 11:09pm
K Parker (mail):
Sasha,

I think you missed Dave Hardy's <satire> tags or something.
9.18.2006 11:54pm
TomHynes (mail):
To put Dave Hardy's point in economic terms, gun buybacks are a government subsidy for gun ownership. If you know you can always sell your old widget for $100, you will be more likely to buy a widget.

As a libertarian, I am torn between my disdain for government subsidies and my belief that if government is going to subsidize something, it might as well be guns.

As another example, there was a recent bill in congress to forbid the sale of horsemeat for human consumption. This bill would reduce the value of old horses, increase the cost of owning horses, and reduce the number of horses in America.
9.19.2006 12:41am
therut:
Total waste of taxpayers money. But hey there are no poor people in DC so there is money to waste. I do not know of any study that shows gun buy backs decrease crime. I believe they do these to make the public think they are doing something to reduce crime. And to make the public see firearms as bad. And to make the public feel good that the govenment will not just take your firearms but at this time will let you stupidly volunteer to turn it in at so called fair market value. And the comment that granny turning in her late husbands firearms is taking guns off the street is pure BS. Alot of times granny may be getting ripped off as the firearms may be worth alot of money. Maybe some get kept and resold. Who would know????????? If there is the will there is a way. And yes alot of people get 50.00 for a firearm not worth 5.00. I do not see how a policeperson can do these scams with a straight face.
9.19.2006 1:00am
eric (mail):
Hey, maybe the "free government money guru" Matthew Lesko might be interested in adding the "any gun is worth 50 bucks" programs to his list of free money giveaways. How much crack does 50 bucks buy again?
9.19.2006 1:12am
bwilliamsdc:
I expressly stressed, in the second sentence of my post, that "Even the Boston Globe, hardly an NRA sympathizer, criticizes such buybacks — there's obviously a serious question whether they're worthwhile." If there was no serious question whether buybacks are worthwhile, the matter would be different;
You're citing criticism from one newspaper (Boston Globe) to be evidence of a "serious question".

Why do you not cite the lack of criticism in the Washington Post to be evidence that there is, in fact, not a "serious question"?

How have you determined which newspaper is correct? Just seemed odd to me to hold the two newspapers to different standards.
9.19.2006 9:38am
Luke 1152 (mail):
Gun buybacks are a wonderful, wonderful thing. I have sold 4 crappy or broken guns for $100-$200 at differnt buybacks wehre the market value was near zero. In fact, I have accumulated several broken, junk guns from friends at the gun club and they're all going to the next buyback.

Also, while waiting in line at the last one I went to, there was a very nice old lady carrying a vintage Browning Sweet 16 in near perfect condition that had been her husbands. I bought it from her for $200 on the spot and that is a fraction of what its fair value is (and double what she would have got at the buyback.)
9.19.2006 1:36pm
Alan Korwin (mail) (www):
"therut" got it right:

"I believe they do these to make the public think they are doing something to reduce crime. And to make the public see firearms as bad."

Rather than address the root causes of crime, and a central role government has in perpetuating conditions that encourage crime, media lapdogs attack guns (which they hate), gun owners (whom they view as fools or worse), and the RKBA, which many would destroy if they could (a goal they pursue constantly, as in this tale).

For one thing, you can't buy back something you never owned, the program is fraudulent from the start. No constitutional authority exists to spend the public treasury on disarming the public.

Next, there are no guns "on the street," this is just a scare phrase used by authorities to terrorize the public.

Then, euphemistic buyback programs never convince real criminals to turn in their guns for safety or otherwise, unless --

You consider that nearly anyone turning in a gun has carried it illegally through D.C., transferred it to the police illegally and without paperwork (no questions asked), using the so-called "gun-show loophole" to operate the scam, and the police are gladly violating the law and tolerating, no, encouraging, the public to violate the law too.

In Arizona, savvy gun owners used to set up a table outside gun buybacks and pay good prices for worthwhile merchandise that comes by. Recognizing this unintended consequence (perfectly legal here), and the utter hopeless feel-good waste the programs are, they don't run them anymore. Shucks.

The Post keeps up its long-standing tradition of villifying guns and presenting no decent value to these vital exemplars of freedom. Guns are so bad, in their view (and in this heinous example of corrupt journalism), that anything that gets them from the public to the authorities is a public good.

Eugene's point about balance, required by every code of ethics in the trade, is completely ignored if the subject is guns, because, well, what possible balance could there be for the evil world of guns?!

The idea that one of these guns might ever save a life or stop a crime never enters their consciousness.

I did an interview with a reporter yesterday (Tucson Daily Star), which I always see as an opportunity to educate the hopelessly ignorant and misinformed. When I pointed out that the whole CCW program regulates only the innocent, and that criminals are not included in any way, at great expense and perhaps poorly allocating limited resources, she said, "Wow. I never thought of it that way."

Made my day. The Post, if this story is any gauge, is beyond hope.

Alan.
9.19.2006 11:17pm
Malvolio:
Why do you not cite the lack of criticism in the Washington Post to be evidence that there is, in fact, not a "serious question"?
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. If you visit Canada and don't see a moose, that is no reason to think there are no moose in the whole country.
9.19.2006 11:17pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Again, I don't think it's applicable in this particular case. But I'm instinctively suspicious of this line of complaint, that journalists ought to have considered the other side of the debate---as a general matter, it's a principle that leads to a lot of shoddy journalism.
The problem is (besides the fact that Eugene didn't express that principle) that the alternate principle isn't particularly workable. It requires that journalists be able to distinguish between legitimate positions and illegitimate ones. But they don't necessarily have the knowledge or training to do that. (I'm being optimistic; they almost certainly don't.) And even if they did, do we really want to establish as a journalistic principle that journalists should only print the orthodox view on subjects?
9.20.2006 12:32am
bwilliamsdc:
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. If you visit Canada and don't see a moose, that is no reason to think there are no moose in the whole country.
True on both points, but that's an oversimplification.

A more realistic portrait of this post and my point through the analogy of Canadian moose:

The Washington Post has written a story favorable of those who believe there are moose in Canada. This is clear because they have quoted those who express praise of the view that there are moose in Canada, but have not quoted anyone critical of that view.

Even the Boston Globe, hardly an MDEIC* sympathizer, criticizes such views. There's obviously a serious question.
*Moose Don't Exist In Canada.

I think it's a shaky argument to say that the Boston Globe's mention of a point of view automatically is grounds for the conclusion that it "obviously is a serious question" and the WP has engaged in favoritism.
9.20.2006 4:03pm