‘Assault Weapon’ ban: Nancy Pelosi, media & AP Stylebook gun update
House Democrats can't pass bill on semi-automatic rifles
The so-called assault weapon ban that passed a House of Representatives committee last week was a purely political move to appease the base after the terrible mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde and Highland Park.
Everyone in Washington knew there was no chance it could pass the closely-divided Senate. It was supposed to be voted on in the House this week to just gin up the liberal base before the midterms.
But on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled the bill off the floor schedule. She said it is just being postponed until August (her press release is in my sources at the bottom), but the truth is that she didn’t have the Democrat votes needed to pass it.
It’s called whipping the vote. And when you whip and don’t have the 218 needed, you pull the bill to avoid a public relations debacle. Pelosi had to yank the bill because a few Democrats from moderate districts didn’t want to vote on an unpopular gun grab bill months before elections.
But a gun control group tweeted to me tonight that it had “secured” the votes for passage. I don’t know how it can speak for the members of Congress, but here it is:
Newtown Action Alliance @NewtownActionThis is not true. We have secured the votes needed to pass the assault weapons ban. https://t.co/2dY5TLgbSQ
I’ve known from my sources that she was a few votes short for full floor passage since the ban was voted out of committee last week. That’s why I didn't write about it when all the media was going bananas about the first “assault weapon” ban to pass a House committee in decades.
The failure to even have a floor vote is newsworthy because it’s due to the Second Amendment supporters who have been pressuring their representatives directly and through lobbyists in Washington.
We’ll see if Pelosi can twist their arms enough to vote for it next month. Even if she does, it’s still not going to pass the Senate and become law.
So there’s no cause for alarm if you own one of the now 24.4 million of these guns. That’s the newest estimate from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) last week of what they call Modern Sporting Rifles in circulation in America.
Their press release noted that means there are more of these AR-15 and AK-style rifles “in circulation today than there are Ford F-Series trucks on the road.”
AP Stylebook responds to my questions
Speaking of what to call these rifles, I have new information on the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook for journalists — that I told you about last week — which told reporters to use the term “semi-automatic rifle.”
Side note: As I wrote the section above about the news on the Hill, I was not able to follow the AP’s press guidance not to use the terms “assault weapon” because it was the actual name of the bill. But while other reporters just write out assault weapon ban, I always put it in quotation marks because it’s a made-up term that doesn’t mean anything.
I contacted the editors at AP this week and asked about all the media ignoring this one rule and continuing to call them “assault weapons”, even when the story is not about the House bill. This was the reply from the AP’s Paula Froke:
I can’t speak for other organizations or for individual reporters. I suspect there are multiple possibilities. Some may not follow AP style at all.
Others may follow AP style in general, but not be familiar with this particular guidance.
And others may know about it and choose not to follow it, for whatever reasons they have.
I’ve been monitoring the news and the only outlets I’ve seen use “semi-automatic rifle” in a headline instead of “assault weapon” is the AP and the subscribers to their wire service, which published the story without editing.
For example, AP reporter Farnoush Amiri wrote this story: “Democrats push for 1st semi-automatic gun ban in 20 years” a week ago. Then her headline and story ran just like that in The Washington Post, PBS and on the ABC News website.
I’ll give a pass to the media outlets who used “assault weapons” when referring to the ban bill. But there are still a lot of them using these terms to just refer to the black rifles.
The New York Times called the firearms industry “assault weapons makers.” Reuters had a story on “marketing of assault rifles.” CBS News reported on “assault weapons sales.” And when The Washington Post ran a story by its own reporters— instead of using an AP one — it switched back to using “assault weapons” in the headline.
I also asked the AP what prompted the change now since the term has been in common usage for decades by journalists. Was there a specific event that made the change necessary now? Froke responded:
We made the change in the 2020 AP Stylebook, so it isn’t all that new. It was part of an overall update of our weapons guidance. There wasn’t any specific event that prompted it. Rather, we recognized that the guidance hadn’t been updated for a number of years and was due for a fresh look.
I suspect they released that “tip” last week as a reminder, likely because the term was being used in the news so much recently.
I posted their entire weapons guide below for paid subscribers to see what journalists are supposed to be doing. You’ll see they also said not to use the NSSF’s term “Modern Shooting Rifle” because it’s “preferred” by “gun manufacturers.” But they also say not to “automatically repeat terms used by authorities” which was the topic of my recent story here:
Also, I asked AP Stylebook if they recommend reporters write assault weapons when quoting elected officials. Should they put the term in quotation marks? Should they explain to readers what the official is referring to when saying assault weapon? Froke replied:
We don’t have a specific recommendation, but certainly people (elected or not) often use terms that don’t conform with AP style. Often a general paraphrase is best.
If you need to use the direct quote, we wouldn’t use quote marks around the term. If possible, provide specifics about what the person is talking about.
I interpret this to mean that if quoting an official who says “assault weapon ban,” we don’t use quotation marks but must include an explainer that it is an automatic rifle that has a “detachable ammunition feeding device” and one cosmetic feature like a pistol grip or a grenade launcher. This is the definition from the House bill, which I’ve linked below in sources.
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