More Errors Than You Can Count

It’s been a while since I’ve done a good fisking, but the media has me in the mood to demonstrate their complete ignorance of this subject. I’m not sure where the Phoenix New Times do their research, but it sure isn’t thorough:

There isn’t much difference between a fully automatic M-16 machine gun and the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, both of which are readily available for sale in Arizona.

Really? The entire trigger group is different. The bolt carrier is different. The receiver, which is the part ATF considers “the gun” is different. There are parts present in an M16 that are entirely missing from the AR-15, namely the auto sear. Can you guess what that does? You think just because it looks the same it isn’t different?

Both shoot the same, high-powered .223-caliber ammo and can be loaded with large-capacity magazines of 30 rounds or more. Except for different internal workings that allow the fully auto mode in the M-16, they’re the same gun.

Why yes, you seem to. Except the .223 isn’t “high-powered.” It’s a medium power cartridge, unsuitable for all but small game.

The semi-automatic version isn’t much less lethal, either — that much is made clear by the Army’s decision to use M-16s that fire semi-automatically in up to three-round bursts, rather than full-autos. Semi-auto fire can be more accurate than “spraying,” the Army found.

Guns are more accurate, and likely to hit a target, when you actually aim it. Holy crap. I mean, what a startling friggin’ revelation. I also never knew that burst fire was the same as “semi-automatic.” Burst fire is burst fire. Semi-automatic is one shot per trigger pull. Legally burst fire is no different than fully automatic fire.

The biggest difference, by far, is in the laws that apply to them.

First accurate thing you’ve said in the whole article.

The full-auto requires a federal firearm license and registration of the weapon.

I guess another sentence error free was too much to ask. It requires a tax stamp, technically. An Federal Firearms Licensee can’t possess a Title II firearm unless they are also a “Special Occupational Taxpayer”. But this is technical stuff that’s probably a little rough for a reporter. We can’t expect them to know too much about firearms laws when they are advocating for more of them, can we?

The machine-gun owner must notify the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau in writing if he or she changes residences, and the firearm can’t be sold privately.

Sold privately? If you inform the ATF that you just sold your machine gun privately, they’re going to bust down your door and shoot the family dog so you can be carted off to be charged with that felony.

The registration fee – as minimal as it compared to the overall price of the weapon – also seems to affect purchases, Mangan says. When ATF raised the fee, it saw a drop-off in the number of licenses purchased.

The fee has been 200 dollars for as long as the National Firearms Act has been in effect, which is to say since 1934; a princely sum back then. You’re confusing this with the fee to apply for an FFL, which has nothing to do with machine guns.

We think this comparison brings up some great questions: Is it logical to have such a dramatic difference in the law for such a relatively minor difference in a feature of guns? Are the requirements for machine guns too strict?

If you ask me, it makes no sense, and they are absolutely too strict. Mostly because people get hysterical about machine guns because they don’t realize a gun you’re spraying wildly around isn’t likely to hit much.

Or should AR-15 buyers (or, by extension, buyers of any high-powered, semi-automatic guns with high-capacity magazines) be held to the same high standards as M-16 buyers?

Until you can demonstrate you have a clue, which this article clearly demonstrates you don’t, you can go to hell on that one.

UPDATE: Reporter’s opinion here. I have struck the portion where I missed an “”t,” and apologize for the error.

27 thoughts on “More Errors Than You Can Count”

  1. The Phoenix NewTimes is a heavily and I mean HEAVILY leaning left wing publication. It’s so bad people rarely write positive reviews on it. It’s free and the only reason I bother to look through it is to see what concerts are coming up. It’s not the first time they put in articles such as that. I’m surprised it wasn’t written by “the bird”. But yet I’m not. His articles are the usual liberal tripe but you actually get angry at him while reading them. His would of been some hate filled rant calling for the government to just ban the stuff outright without legistlation (illegally) then imprison gun owners and kill all those who oppose. He has written along those lines before.

    They are also extreme haters of every republican and sheriff joe. And they once wrote an article asking why self defense isn’t a crime.

  2. Nice fisking, but I don’t get the sold privately part. The article says “can’t”.

  3. At least I put some thought into my article — you obviously didn’t expend too many brain cells on this one. You missed the entire point of the article by focusing on niggling little details, some of which were not as incorrect as you maintain. However, I do appreciate some of your opinions on the issue.

    First of all, nothing about this article is left-leaning. As I indicated in blog posts last week, I’m against new restrictions on guns in the wake of the Tucson shooting.

    For this article, I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the issue of full-auto vs. semi in the law. You ignore the fact that I didn’t take a stance on the questions I raised on the end of the article. I wanted to hear what readers thought, and who really cares what I think, anyway? Despite my intentions, you seem to believe — wrongly — that my last question implies a bias. It doesn’t, anymore than the question preceding it does. You should be ashamed of your “go to hell” statement, because it reveals a lack of reader comprehension on your part.

    As to the “more errors than you can count” thesis of yours, I think you’re being a stickler for esoteric details that aren’t germane to my overall comparison. I mean, geez, you take me on because I failed to note the difference in “trigger groups” and “bolt carriers?” Heck, you think only a gunsmith should write about guns? Plus, you carefully omitted my line that the M-16 and AR-15 have “different internal workings.”

    You and other readers lambasted me today for calling .223 ammo “high-powered,” saying I should have called it “medium-powered.” Suffice to say that I was using the term “high-powered” in a casual sense, and I’m aware that many firearms have more power. NRA training comps declare the AR-15 to be “high-powered,” too. I’m not the only one to use that description, obviously. But all this is truly beside the point, which is that the AR-15 and M-16 are very similar.

    At least you acknowledge that my sentence about the law being the “biggest difference” is accurate. This, clearly, is the gist of my article. Too bad you couldn’t see that.

    Then you bring up some things about the registration fees and the license. My sincere apologies if any of this is incorrect, but I got this info from an ATF spokesman. He got a few things wrong that I corrected, such as the $200 fee. (He said it was $250.) I also corrected the verbiage about the FFL and the link. You were right about that. However, your statement that I’m “advocating” for more firearms laws is baseless.

    Yes, there were a couple of mistakes in my article and I regret that. But, as you just proved yourself, nobody’s perfect.



  4. If you’re going to make policy arguments in regards to my constitutional rights, I expect you to know, in detail, what you are talking about.

  5. My article didn’t make any policy recommendations, but I agree that I should know what I’m talking about. I strive for accuracy, which is why I corrected the errors that were pointed out.

  6. I have corrected my error as well, and apologize for that. I think the article was clear at which policy preference you’d prefer, however. You deserve credit for engaging with readers. I’ll give you that.

    The premise would seem to be, though, that because guns are more deadly when you aim at what you’re shooting at, that’s grounds for regulating AR-15s like M16s. That’s also grounds for regulating grandpa’s M1 Garand, or even a bolt action rifle that can hold more than a few rounds.

  7. First of all, nothing about this article is left-leaning.

    It’s in the FRIGGIN’ NEW TIMES!!!!! That’s like saying “Nothing on Fox News is conservative-leaning” or “Nothing Kathy Griffin says is ever mean to anyone else.”

    Fail. Epic, massive fail.

    The New Times, for readers outside of the Phoenix area, is notorious in Arizona for two things: An unabashedly pro-“progressive” editorial bias and pages and pages of strip-club and phone sex ads.

    The New Times used to run good restaurant reviews and decent movie reviews, but honestly, it doesn’t even serve as a good birdcage liner these days.

    Details matter.

    If you read in the sports section of the Republic about how the Cardinals had a losing record this season because of their lack of a point guard, would you take their sports reporting seriously?

    It’s only one little detail after all.

    Or what about an exposé in the New Times on the excesses of Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Babeu? Would getting the fact that Seriff Babeu is in another county altogether negate the point of the story?

    Details matter because getting the details right means you know what you’re talking about. If you want to learn the details, drop me a line, and we’ll go shooting sometime. kevin (at)

  8. “Or should AR-15 buyers … be held to the same high standards as M-16 buyers?”

    No, should be the other way around. There isn’t a social problem with AR15s, and legal new M16s would be no different.

    And I think Sebastian meant “bump”, not “burst”.

  9. Well, for Astrocreep’s sake, I’ll state what I think about this issue, and answer the last three questions of my article. Probably shoulda gone ahead and done that in the article, but my decision at the time was to stay neutral. You may find this boring, but here goes: I think machine gun laws aren’t too strict, and I don’t think semi-automatics should be restricted like fully autos. I think it’s logical to separate full-autos and semi-autos because, even though the distinction is arbitrary, the full/semi distinction makes a clear dividing line that reasonable people can agree on. If you want to know exactly what I think about the “anti-gun culture,” read this:

    Exurban Kevin: New Times is an awesome newspaper that showcases great journalism (in addition to running those ads you mentioned.) I’m disappointed that I had some errors in this piece, for sure, and I’m the first admit that details do matter. In my defense, though, I maintain that the errors did not dilute the overall point of the article. To your point, if New Times wrote an article on the “excesses” of Babeu and the ONLY thing we got wrong was to accidentally misstate which county he’s from, it would be a pathetic mistake — but no, that would not negate the whole story.


  10. Ray, think its cool of you to answer back about the errors in your article. Hopefully, you will do more research next time you write a piece. You really do not have to be a gunsmith to know that there are huge differences between an AR-15 and a M-16. The part about the .223 being high powered is a little ridiculous, its a coyote caliber. It is not wise to misinform people, especially when some of the people that write laws are already woefully misinformed.

  11. “niggling little details”

    As one said, the devil is in the details. If I’d written a grad school paper that badly researched I’d have failed.

    Us gun people are sensitive to poorly researched articles because the crap some reporters pass off as fact seems to always keep popping up later on.

  12. Ray,

    I did come off a tad hard on the New Times, I’ll admit. And I agree with Sebastian: Too many journalists do hit and run pieces: You have the courage to stand by your story, and should be applauded for it.

    To be honest, I prefer the New Times consistently pro-“liberal” (an awful moniker) stance on issues than the “straight” journalism done by the Republic. To repeat a quote I heard attributed to W. Eugene Smith (the greatest photojournalist of all time), “Be subjective, but be objective about your subjectivity.” Tell me your biases up front, and let me decide if your opinions are well-reasoned. This is the way journalism was for hundreds of years prior to “All the news that’s fit to print” and remains the best way to approach your audience like rational beings capable of making decisions for themselves.

    I didn’t become a firearms owner/competitor/trainer because of a history of shooting: I’m Canadian and while I shot my share of gophers growing up, I never touched a handgun until I was well into my 20’s. What I do now (Practical Pistol, 3 gun, clays, CCW) I do not because it was part of my culture, I do it because a) it’s FUN and b) I am my own first responder.

    The offer stands, and I am sincere: I have two AR-15’s, a true hi-power surplus military rifle and more than a few handguns. I’m a member at Rio Salado and would love to show you what the shooting sports and firearms community is like from the perspective of one who joined it as an outsider.


  13. Ray, I too applaud the fact that you have the courage to stand behind what you write. It’s rare that anyone who shares a controversial opinion would ever respond to challenges, factual or otherwise.

    To discover that you are, in fact a somewhat misinformed proponent of gun rights was a bit of a shock, considering the tone and nature of your piece.

    The factual errors can be forgiven, as your piece was vastly more informed than the moronic screeds we are so used to reading.
    However, your last comment revealed a dangerous and critical error in judgment:
    You said, “even though the distinction is arbitrary, the full/semi distinction makes a clear dividing line that reasonable people can agree on.” This is wrong.
    In the realm of gun rights vs. gun control, there is no such thing as a justifiable, yet arbitrary position. Anti-gun cowards in our government establish these positions because they want their ideas to be law, yet can find no justifiable or sound arguments to back them up. We fight both the laws and public perceptions of the laws in pursuit of freedom all the time.

    Reasonable people do not agree on arbitrary restrictions of rights, even if we are made uncomfortable by those rights.

    The ’86 machine gun ban and the ’34 NFA are the epitome of arbitrary applications of governmental fiat. There is no factual, logical, or constitutional basis for these laws, yet we must live with them. We continually argue with ‘reasonable’ people who salivate at the opportunity to enact even more restrictions.

    If you are truly interested in the truth, read this blog (and others) more and educate yourself. There is a lot of dishonest rhetoric out there on this subject.

  14. Although Mr. Stern has acknowledged his factual reporting errors, I am afraid the damage is done. How many of his readers visit and will become informed? None. Before heaping praise for his engagement, I expect a retraction and correction published with the same prominence as the orginal piece. Otherwise, “a shaynem dank dir in pupik.”

  15. In the context of the First Amendment machine guns are akin to using longer, descriptive sentences in an effort to successfully communicate a message.

    When your writing is limited to five and seven syllable sentences everything sounds like Haiku for three round burst.

    Semi-automatic guns would sound like first grade puppy stories.

    Why limit the mechanics of our second amendment rights if doing that for the first amendment doesn’t make sense?

  16. Hmm…if the M-16 is a “machine gun”, who do the Marines,when they make welcome wagon visits to bad parts of town also bother dragging along a SAW or two, and some M-249’s?

  17. The obsession with semi-automatic rifles, military-style or otherwise, has always baffled me given the minuscule number of crimes committed with rifles of any kind. I think the year before Seattle’s mayor went on the attack against them there had been one murder with a rifle in the whole state, and that was with some kind of manual loading system.

    It’s a little hard to shove an AR-15 down the front of your pants when you go to knock over your ex’s new boyfriend’s meth lab.

  18. I think it’s logical to separate full-autos and semi-autos because, even though the distinction is arbitrary, the full/semi distinction makes a clear dividing line that reasonable people can agree on.

    I suspect your definition of “reasonable” is far different than mine. I also suspect that plenty of us would not agree with you at all on this point.

    Kudos for correcting your errors. You would do well to do better research the next time you write an article.

  19. “But all this is truly beside the point, which is that the AR-15 and M-16 are very similar.”

    By your logic, a television and picture frame are “very similar”. After all they are both rectangular, display pictures, and can hang on a wall. Never mind the internal differences and difference in price.

  20. Mr. Stern deserves more credit than he’s getting. Another of his articles (which he already plugged, at is quite good. He makes two important observations that I don’t see brought up all that often:
    1.) The “gun-related deaths” statistic includes (and is majority) suicides (similar to the paper that came out of WA in the 1980s.)
    2.) States in the Midwest (other than IL) and Northeast (aside from NY, MA, NJ, MD) have very few restrictions on firearms and low (equivalent to or lower than Western Europe) levels of violent crime, including homicides. The laws in VT or NH (for example) are less restrictive than are the laws in many Southern states with multiple times the assault/homicide rate. Why the discrepancy?

  21. What is it about the gun culture that loves piling on articles for a minor error not germane to the point of otherwise good journalism?

    You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

  22. Mr. Stern,

    Rifles are not a crime problem in the United States and never have been, regardless of what the handgrip is shaped like or whether the magazine sticks out.

    Total murders, 13,636
    Handguns, 6,452 (47.3%)
    Firearms (type unknown), 1,928 (14.1%)
    Other weapons (non-firearm, non-edged), 1,864 (13.7%)
    Edged weapons, 1,825 (13.4%)
    Hands, feet, etc., 801 (5.9)%
    Shotguns, 418 (3.1%)
    Rifles, 348 (2.6%)

    The 5-year trend 2005-2009, again per the FBI Uniform Crime Reports:

    2005: 442
    2006: 436
    2007: 450
    2008: 375
    2009: 348

    Presenting the most popular civilian rifles in the United States as if they are some grave threat to public safety, when rifles are the least misused of ALL classes of weapons in the United States (including clubs, knives, and bare hands), is disingenuous in the extreme.

    Also, calling the least powerful of all common centerfire rifles a “high powered” rifle—-when speaking to people who will interpret that as a description of power, rather than as an archaic target shooting classification perpetuated by fossilized NRA tradition that has no relationship to rifle power—-is also intentionally misleading. The only common rifle round I can think of that is *less* powerful than .223 Remington is .30 Carbine, and a lot of people don’t even consider that a rifle round.

    An energy chart to show just how “high powered” .223 is compared to other rifle rounds:

    .223 Remington, 16″ barrel, 1.5 kJ
    7.62x39mm, 2.0 kJ
    .30-30 Winchester, 2.5 kJ
    .270 Winchester, 3.6 kJ
    .30-06 Springfield, 3.9 kJ
    .300 Winchester Magnum, 4.8 kJ
    .300 Remington Ultra Magnum, 5.8 kJ
    .338 Lapua Magnum, 6.8 kJ
    .416 Barrett, 12.7 kJ

  23. “High-powered” sounds good; it’s punchy writing and it carries the implicit approval that comes from wide use. Guy who is not steeped in the gunny culture sits down to do a piece on guns, that’s a tool right in front of him and odds are it will get picked up and used unless he’s reporting on the women’s indoor .22 rifle team — and maybe even then.

    …And Ray, that’s why we jump on you: it’s an easy phrase but it’s wrong. Oh, in one sense, any centerfire rifle ammo is “high-powered,” but that’s not how the term is applied; a little search-engine work should give you the info.

    The confusion between “fully-automatic” and “machine gun” and between “assault rifle” and “any scary/mil-looking black rifle” is the result of a very deliberate disinformation campaign by groups dedicated to eliminating or severely limiting a specified Constitutionally-protected right. And because of that history, gunnies like me will jump all over a journalist who appears to be playing that game.

    Just a little background. I realize the technical details seem incredibly subtle at first sight but they’re not. Goodness, Ray, if a middle-aged spinster like me can pick them up, I’m sure you can.

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