Throughout the news coverage of the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, numerous media outlets and journalists made glaring mistakes in their reporting on basic facts regarding the shooter’s weapon.
The now-deceased shooter, James Hodgkinson, is reported to have used a semi-automatic SKS rifle to shoot Scalise, a congressional staffer, a lobbyist and two members of the Capitol police at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va.
CNN reported, both in an article and on the air, that Hodgkinson used a “Chinese-made AK variant.” The SKS rifle, however, was created in Soviet Russia during WWII, but was licensed to be produced in China. It served as one of the rifles for the Soviet Army and was a predecessor to the AK-47. Calling the SKS a variant of the AK-47 is akin to calling a 1968 Ford Mustang “a variant” of a 1971 Chevrolet Nova — they are both 7.62×39mm round rifles invented in Soviet Russia, but there similarities roughly stop there.
Both ABC News and The Chicago Tribune refer to the weapon as an “assault-style rifle” and an “assault rifle” — respectively. An assault rifle is a weapon classification reserved for selective-fire rifles, typically with fully-automatic or burst options — Hodgkinson’s gun was only a semi-automatic rifle with no other-firing options. Additionally, the Fresno Bee called the weapon an “SKS assault rifle.”
In a gaffe similar to CNN’s, former Reuters and New York Times writer Jim Roberts claimed in a now deleted tweet that the shooter used a gun like an AK-47 — which is again incorrect. An AK-47 is a selective-fire rifle with a fully-automatic option that holds 30 rounds in a standard magazine, while Hodgkinson’s SKS is only a semi-automatic rifle that typically holds 10 rounds per magazine. Roberts also wrongly classified the SKS as an “assault-style rifle.”
Aside from the military terminology, the SKS is not even designated as an “assault rifle” or an “assault-style rifle” in the now-void 1994 Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act. In fact, the SKS was not even classified as an “assault weapon” on Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.
In the media’s mountain of incorrect coverage regarding the shooting, the New York Times even falsely reported on Virginia’s gun laws. In a piece by the paper’s editorial board, they claimed that Hodgkinson could have easily obtained the SKS in Virginia, asserting that the state “requires no background checks in private sales.” This claim is false, however, as federal law requires all gun purchases across state lines to go through a federal firearms licensee and a federal background check — even if it is a private sale.
Though these basic gun facts are but one Google search away, many in the media continue to spread false claims about the weapons used by mass shooters.
Editor’s note: The author’s name has been removed from this story at the request of the author.