How Wrong Can a Five-Sentence AP Story About Guns Be?

The AP reports:

Semiautomatic rifles and shotguns are used in a crime in Maryland on average once every two days, according to a study released Wednesday by gun control advocates.

The study is based on an analysis of crime statistics for 1998 through 2001. It said at least 789 semiautomatic long guns that can legally be sold in Maryland were traced to a crime in Maryland during that period.

Delegate Neil Quinter, D-Howard, and CeaseFire Maryland, a gun control organization, said the study shows that Maryland needs to expand the 1994 law that bans the sale of semiautomatic pistols to include rifles and shotguns.

Opponents have defeated bills that would expand the law, arguing that the ban would infringe on the rights of lawful gun owners and would do nothing to reduce crime because such guns are seldom used to commit crimes.


1. Maryland law doesn't "ban[] the sale of semiautomatic pistols"; it bans the sale of a subset of semiautomatic pistols that it labels "assault pistols". I generally doubt that such "assault weapons" bans make much sense, but they clearly don't ban semiautomatic pistols generally.

2. The study, which seems to be this one here, likewise doesn't discuss semiautomatic rifles generally, but only "assault rifles." Again, I doubt that such a focus on "assault rifles" is sensible, but it's clear that the study is discussing only those rifles, not semiautomatic rifles generally.

3. The study claims to report on traces of certain kinds of rifles, without including traces of any kind of shotguns.

4. The study reports on the number of assault rifles traced back to a crime, not the number used in a crime -- a gun that was used but never recovered would never get traced back.

The study's title, by the way, is "Every 48 Hours: An Analysis Of Assault Rifles Traced To Crime In Maryland" -- not used, but traced; semiautomatics, not rifles or shotguns, not long guns, but assault rifles. I'm not sure whether the story's author misunderstands the definitions of rifle, shotgun, and semiautomatic, whether the author simply misread the study, or whether the author was misled by someone who was characterizing the study. All I can say is that the story is pretty badly busted.

Incidentally, I am not suggesting that these errors betray anti-gun bias on the reporter's part. The errors likely understate the magnitude of crime using long guns -- since "assault rifles" are only a subset of "semiautomatic rifles and shotguns," then if the study's data is accurate, the relevant crime count for semiautomatic rifles and shotguns should be considerably more than 789; likewise, since the study measures only guns that were recovered and traced back to the crime, the actual number of guns used in crime is likely to be considerably greater. The errors also overstate the breadth of CeaseFire Maryland's gun control proposal, making it seem broader and thus more radical than it really is (again, whether or not you think that the proposal is sound).