Expert Marksmen Seek to Educate Reporters About Guns

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - The relationship between much of the media and the gun culture "has been for so long so hostile, it's basically an armed camp," said Michael Bane, a Colorado-based author and consultant to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

But the foundation seeks to calm that hostility by inviting journalists to day long, gun training sessions in which they learn from experts -- award winning competitive shooters -- how to target shoot.

"What we try to do is pull media people together with firearms people in a little less politicized environment," Bane said.

Two-and-a-half years after starting the program, the foundation has held 15 or so sessions in various cities throughout the country. According to Bane, among the roughly 50 reporters who have attended the small group sessions include network journalists from ABC and NBC as well as the Wall Street Journal and other print and Internet news sources.

The foundation hopes the sessions will lead to better relations and fewer inaccuracies and myths about guns in media reports.

The bad relations between the media and the gun culture, Bane believes, have much to do with the fact that reporters often live and work in major urban areas, such as New York City, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. City life, the former Manhattan journalist has concluded, does not as often lend itself to a sporting lifestyle that includes hunting or target shooting.

Bane, himself a competitive shooter, recalls being the only reporter in his office who even owned a gun.

Journalists might think of gun owners as "like the Michigan militia," said Bane. But the mistrust runs both ways, he said.

"We had to spend a lot of time with the instructors prior to the event, [telling them] that you're going to go in and talk to these people and it's not going to kill you and it's not going to be as scary as you think it's going to be.

"There's a real sense within the gun culture that the safest way to deal with the media is to pretend they're not there," Bane explained, describing how the organizers of a recent practical pistol match in Texas made it clear to a sports magazine that reporters were not welcome.

"That's pretty much the mindset in dealing with the media, that they're never going to say anything nice about us, and so we're never going to say anything at all to them," said Bane.

However, when gun enthusiasts and journalists spend a little time together, it's possible to change that mindset, Bane said.

"When you see something for the first time you've never seen before, you certainly do get a new understanding of certain lifestyles and the ways certain people spend their time," said Wall Street Journal reporter Vanessa O'Connell, who attended a training session.

O'Connell, who lives in the New York City area, had never before handled a gun. "My understanding was only in the abstract and not something I had actually seen or used or tried or even knew anybody who had, really," she said.

"I'm definitely not a gun enthusiast," she concluded. "But I do think it's important to at least try to understand the topic you're writing about. When you see something with your own eyes, how a mechanical thing works, you have a better understanding than if you read about it."

Jonathan V. Last, an on-line editor with the Weekly Standard, attended a recent training seminar, and says he came away impressed.

"My youth was misspent playing hours of 'Street Fighter' in [New Jersey shopping mall] arcades," wrote Last in an April 23 on-line column. "This has left me susceptible to a number of cultural prejudices," confessed Last, such as "I've never liked guns, unless they're attached by a cord to a video game console."

One of Last's two observations on gun ownership was an incident in which a college classmate "gunned down another classmate of mine over a dispute within the Johns Hopkins College Republicans club. So half of the gun owners I knew were homicidal maniacs."

But curiosity got the better of him when he received an invitation from the National Shooting Sports Foundation to take a training seminar. "I was struck by how much of the gun culture seems social in nature. The range I visited is a country club, not a militia," Last concluded. "They were soccer moms and dads."

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