Gun Group Says MTV 'Fair' to Gun Owners, Not Facts

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - A pro-gun lobbying group is complimenting MTV for treating law-abiding gun owners fairly in its "True Life: I'm a Gun Owner" documentary, which aired Thursday night. But Gun Owners of America argued that the producers featured misleading and inaccurate statistics and focused almost exclusively on anti-gun anecdotes, giving viewers a false impression about the effects of gun ownership in America.

"Guns are a source of security, status, enjoyment and pride, but they also destroy lives," the program's narrator began. "Should one be in your home?"

"They very well answered that question, unfortunately, in the minds of many of their viewers that 'No, you shouldn't have a gun in your home,'" Erich Pratt of Gun Owners of America said, "because there were no positive anecdotes or statistics that were presented."

The documentary followed Lennie, a college student who was attacked in her home at 17 years of age and now carries a handgun for self-defense; Greg, a hunter pursuing caribou in Alaska; "Lucky," a gang member who owns and carries guns illegally; and Gilbert, a former gang member paralyzed in a gang-related shooting who now works with inner-city youth.

Pratt complemented the producers in one regard.

"It seems that they did treat fairly the two legitimate gun owners, the two 'good guys,'" Pratt allowed. "But they didn't even give you one legitimate case of self-defense with a gun, which is a shame considering that there are, on average, 7,000 such cases every day."

Four young people whose lives were 'affected by guns'

Lucky explained part of his motivation for carrying one or more guns illegally, even though he knows doing so could land him in prison.

"I wake up every morning not knowing where I'm gonna get my next dollar from. I hate being broke, but I'm not gonna work, so you put the math together. I'm gonna get it some kinda way," Lucky said. "Guns make things a little bit more easily accessible."

After being acquitted of an armed robbery charge during a trial shown early in the documentary, Lucky was later arrested and convicted of felony weapons possession and sentenced to up to three years in prison. Throughout the program, he stressed the "need" to illegally possess firearms to protect himself from rival gang members.

Greg described guns as "the tools that we use to enjoy the sport of hunting" and explained that he was taught to shoot at 6 years of age by his father, began duck hunting at age 10 and killed his first deer when he was 12.

"I feel electrified when I'm out there," Greg said as he prepared for a caribou hunt in Alaska. "I just love the challenge of the hunt."

After successfully tracking and killing a caribou, Greg decided to stay in Alaska and become a hunting guide. His first clients were also successful in their outing.

Gilbert, the former gang member paralyzed from the waist down when he was shot during a gang turf war, repeatedly blamed guns for the many injuries and deaths resulting from gang-related attacks that plague his city.

"That's the kind of hunting that's done in Los Angeles. You go out and you hunt humans," Gilbert said. "There's (sic) no bears around here, no moose. There's (sic) human beings."

Mentoring more than 50 boys and young men through a program called "Caught in the Crossfire," Gilbert tries to convince them of the positive alternatives to gang life. His aversion to firearms is so great that he teaches the younger boys not to say "the 'g' word" because, as one young participant explains, "G-u-n is a bad word."

Lennie is transferring to another college away from her hometown and is buying a handgun for personal protection. Cameras accompany her as she returns to the neighborhood where she was almost raped in her home by an intruder.

She explains that the attacker did not complete the sexual assault only because he thought Lennie's mother, who interrupted the crime, was armed.

"I am purchasing a handgun and getting my concealed carry permit so that I will be protected if anything were to happen. I don't want to be afraid to leave my house. I don't want to be afraid to be alone, and that handgun will be on my hip making me feel safe," Lennie explained.

"I need my gun," she added. "I need it to live in my apartment by myself to feel safe."

Through the course of the documentary, Lennie is shown practicing with, cleaning, carrying and storing her gun. In the last segment in which she appears, she is shown taking a martial arts class and expresses her "discomfort" with regularly carrying her pistol for self-defense.

No counterbalancing evidence or statistics

Pratt repeatedly stressed his belief that the two law-abiding gun owners featured in the program were treated fairly. What was not fair, in his opinion, was allowing Gilbert to repeat anti-gun propaganda with no response from the pro-gun community.

"The fact that there was no counterbalancing evidence or statistics to go against the so-called statistics that Gilbert was providing, I think that it was certainly very slanted in that respect," Pratt explained.

As an example, Pratt pointed to the explanation that the possibility of the presence of a firearm ended the attempted rape of Lennie.

"It's raised as a question mark that the thought of a gun may have averted her attempted rape," Pratt noted. "It would have been good to point out the existing evidence on that topic."

That evidence includes a 1979 study by the Carter Justice Department, which found that out of 32,000 attempted rapes of unarmed women, approximately 33 percent were completed. When a woman was armed with a gun or a knife, however, only 3 percent of the rapists were successful.

"A statistic like that could have really bolstered her side," Pratt added, "although there was really no one there to make it because you had two average people who were gun owners versus a well-rehearsed anti-gun spokesman."

Pratt argued that the program could have selected someone who was better able to articulate the evidence in support of gun ownership for self-defense, rather than allowing the anti-gun Gilbert to be the only person citing statistics in support of his opinion.

"They ignored the fact that there are many, many legitimate cases of self-defense," Pratt concluded. "In fact, when you compare [legitimate, self-defense use versus criminal misuse], guns are used 80 times more often to save lives than to take lives."

That statistic is reached by comparing the number of murders committed with firearms each year from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports to the number of self-defense gun uses reported annually in studies by the Justice Department and various university economists and criminologists. A self-defense gun "use" is defined as threatening the use of, displaying, aiming or firing a gun to stop a criminal act.

MTV officials were not available to comment on the program either before or after it aired. The producers of the documentary, Shadowbox Films of New York, referred all questions to MTV.

Cybercast News Service also contacted the Violence Policy Center and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to obtain a response to "True Life: I'm a Gun Owner" from gun control advocates. The VPC's offices are closed for the remainder of the year. The Brady Campaign said it would not have anyone available to immediately respond to the program.

See Earlier Story:
MTV 'True Life' Documentary to Focus on Gun Owners (Dec. 29, 2005)

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