March 28, 2013

Bolt-action or lever-action? The AP updates its style guide on crime


Newtown may have failed to effect meaningful action on gun control, but at least the Associated Press will now be able to tell the difference between a pistol and a revolver.

Less than two months after the AP came under fire from not-at-all-nutty gun aficionados for labeling a shotgun Barack Obama was firing a “rifle,” the news agency has updated the entries on homicide, murder, manslaughter, and (of course) weapons in its stylebook.

Whether or not you share our interest in the language of crime, the results are fascinating.

There’s solid advice on reporting homicide:

Do not say that a victim was murdered until someone has been convicted in court. Instead, say that a victim was killed or slain. Do not write that X was charged with murdering Y. Use the formal charge – murder – and, if not already in the story, specify the nature of the killing.

In-depth discussion of the very, very legal but difficult to define weapon category of the moment:

assault rifle, assault weapon Terms for military or police-style weapons that are shorter than a conventional rifle and technically known as carbines. The precise definitions may vary from one law or jurisdiction to another. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, some make the distinction that assault rifle is a military weapon with a selector switch for firing in either fully automatic or semi-automatic mode from a detachable, 10- to 30-round magazine. Comparatively lightweight and easy to aim, this carbine was designed for tactical operations and is used by some law enforcement agencies. The form: an M16 assault rifle, an AK-47 assault rifle, a Kalashnikov assault rifle. An assault weapon is the civilian version of the military carbine with a similar appearance. This gun is semi-automatic, meaning one shot per trigger pull. Ammunition magazines ranging from 10 to 30 rounds or more allow rapid-fire capability. Other common characteristics include folding stock, muzzle flash suppressor, bayonet mount and pistol grip. Assault weapon sales were largely banned under federal law from 1994 to 2004 to curb gun crimes. The form: AR-15 carbine with military-style appearance.

A useful definition if you’re reporting a gun crime from the colonial era (or maybe just Colonial Williamsburg):

musket A heavy, large-caliber shoulder firearm fired by means of a matchlock, a wheel lock, a flintlock or a percussion lock. Its ammunition is a musket ball.

And cool junk gun slang from 40 years ago:

Saturday night special A compact, relatively inexpensive handgun.

It’s a very thorough and informative list (also covered: howitzers, carbines, and clips) and worth a read, regardless of how you feel about the 2nd Amendment. It’s also important. Misreporting or misrepresenting gun crimes distracts from more important issues, like working to reduce gun crime.

Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.