CBS News Says Arizona’s Not One of the Most Heavily Armed States; Gun Advocates Call B.S.

Surprised to hear that when CBS News put together a list of the 30 most heavily armed states in the country Arizona didn’t make the cut?

So were many gun advocates, some of whom are calling out the network for releasing what they say is an inaccurate and misleading story.

In a recent article with no byline, CBS writes: “As America reels from yet another mass shooting, inevitable questions resurface about gun laws and the nation's pervasive firearm culture. Here is a look at the 30 states with the most guns per capita, according to the ATF's National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, and 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.”

According to the list, Wyoming is the most heavily armed state per capita, followed by the District of Columbia, Arkansas, and New Mexico.

“CBS is about as a biased a news source as they come,” says Alan Korwin, Arizona’s resident gun-law expert. “So if CBS has a story about guns, their bona fides for facts and unprejudiced reporting is zero.”

CBS did not respond to a request for comment.

Korwin’s thoughts on CBS aside, he has a valid point: No one knows how many guns there are in the country.

“Gun ownership is private [so] there is no way to determine which states have more per capita ownership than others,” he says, adding that the entire premise of the story should be the first red flag that something is wrong.

But the inaccuracies go deeper, explains Rob Reed, a Detroit-based gun expert. He wrote the following in an article for The Examiner:

“CBS News once again displays both complete ignorance of firearms-related topics and an absence of basic journalism skills…They mistake [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives'] National Firearms Act (NFA) registration data on rare and heavily regulated firearms such as machine guns, short barreled shotguns, and silencers, for some mythical ‘national registration database’ for all firearms.”

Put simply, NFA guns represent a fraction of all guns in the country and are not an accurate indication or reflection of general gun ownership.

“It’s like counting up the number of hummingbirds in America and then using that to extrapolate how many pigeons there are in America. You can do it, but it doesn’t show anything,” Korwin says.
“Machine gun ownership is low, which is why the numbers are so low,” Reed tells New Times. “Who in their right mind would think that there would be 13 guns per thousand people in Texas [as the article states], when polls have indicated that there are as many as six to nine fire arms in the country per 10 people?”

He answers his own question: “It’s because at a very fundamental level, very few reporters know anything about firearms and firearms laws. There’s a myth that there is an overreaching firearms database. So when someone sees a database like this, they think it applies, [and] it plays into their preconceived beliefs.”

Reed also says that the fact that Washington, a city with some of the strictest gun laws in the country, came in at second should have raised some editorial eyebrows — the 42,897 registered guns mentioned in the CBS article are owned by the police, he points out, because “You can’t own those types of weapons” there.

“CBS, they have a history of getting it wrong. I’m not trying to look at it from a right-wing conservative point of view,” he adds. “This is not just a typo of ‘Oh, you know, I made a small mistake.' The whole article is invalid.”

Also troubling to both men is how many news outlets across the country ran the article:

Casper, Wyoming radio station Kiss 104.7: “Wyoming Tops Most Heavily Armed States in America List.”

Florida's Palm Beach Post: “'Most heavily armed' states: Where does Florida rank?”

“I thought [North Carolina] would have been higher on the list. Time for us to step up our game ya'll,” writes one user on a North Carolina gun website who linked to the CBS story.

Reed calls the article “a rookie mistake,” but Korwin disagrees:

“It’s not a rookie mistake because CBS isn’t a rookie news organization . . . Here’s a good analogy [for what this article is saying],” he adds: “Nobody knows how many people own how many books in the country [like] nobody knows how many people own how many guns. To suggest that one state has more books than another would be ludicrous. There’s no way to know, and there’s no way to conduct a survey.”

Asked if he was surprised that Arizona didn’t make the list, Korwin says: “If I had to guess, knowing what I know about Arizona, we’re probably in the top half [of most heavily armed states.] The idea that we’re not in the top 30 . . . is an embarrassment to the journalistic profession.” According to the CBS list, Florida is the 30th most heavily armed state with 10.2 guns per 1,000 residents.

"That's a staggering 199,828 registered firearms dispersed among 19,552,860 people," CBS writes.

Here's the rest of the list:

29. Kansas with 11 guns per 1000 residents.
28. North Carolina with 11.1 guns per 1000 residents.
27-25. Tie between Tennessee, Montana, and Connecticut with 11.3 guns per 1000 residents.
24-23. Tie between Oregon and Ohio with 11.4 guns per 1000 residents.
22. South Dakota with 11.5 guns per 1000 residents.
21. South Carolina with 11.6 guns per 1000 residents.
20. Colorado with 12 guns per 1000 residents.
19. Oklahoma with 12.3 guns per 1000 residents.
18. Texas with 12.8 guns per 1000 residents.
17. Utah with 12.9 guns per 1000 residents.
16. Kentucky with 13.5 guns per 1000 residents.
15. Indiana with 14.1 guns per 1000 residents.
14 -13. Tie between New Hampshire and Georgia with 14.6 guns per 1000 residents.
12 -11. Tie between Pennsylvania and Maryland with 15 guns per 1000 residents.
10. Louisiana with 15.1 guns per 1000 residents.
9. Alaska with 15.2 guns per 1000 residents.
8. Nevada with 19.5 guns per 1000 residents.
7. Alabama with 20 guns per 1000 residents.
6. Idaho with 24.2 guns per 1000 residents.
5. Virginia with 30.1 guns per 1000 residents.
4. New Mexico with 40.5 guns per 1000 residents.
3. Arkansas with 41.6 guns per 1000 residents.
2. D.C. with 66.4 guns per 1000 residents.
1. Wyoming with 195.7 guns per 1000 residents.
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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser