Letter to the editor: Sensationalism is one thing; outright lying is another
Baltimore, Maryland, July 30, 2012
The editorial staff of the Register
Monsieurs et madames:
Of course I am aware that the Reg is a red top, and therefore prone to exaggeration, especially for the sake of an eye-catching headline. It's one of the things I've always enjoyed about your fine publication. But could you please prevent your writers from actually telling flat-out lies in your headlines and your articles?
One 3D-printed component of a firearm, and at that a component which is not subject to the force of a round going off in the chamber -- and a component made of a material which cannot withstand such force, and would immediately explode if anyone unwisely made the attempt -- does not a "working assault rifle" make, nor anything remotely close to same. Nor, given the limitations of the materials which 3D printers can now or will soon be able to work with, does it suggest in any sense that a "working assault rifle" could be produced with a 3D printer, however inexpensive those devices should become.
There is also the quite salient point that, under US federal law, it is quite legal to manufacture your own firearms, so long as you never sell them and you are not otherwise prohibited from buying or owning firearms, whether you have a federal firearms license or not. Weapons and components regulated under the National Firearms Act(1) require ATF approval and tax payment in order to be legally manufactured; all other categories of firearms, specifically including this semi-automatic rifle whose barrel is over sixteen inches in length, require neither payment nor approval.
In added light of the fact that the remainder of the firearm was assembled from "off-the--shelf parts", which implies legality of said parts' purchase under the National Firearms Act, Have Blue's manufacture of an AR-15 lower receiver, and his use of it in a finished firearm, is therefore perfectly legal and permissible under United States law, whether it carries a registration number or otherwise.
To imply otherwise, as Mr. McAllister has here done, goes far beyond anything which might even charitably be called "exaggeration", and appears to reach and surpass the point of utter, bare-faced mendacity. Surely this is not the case, and the cause of this blatant misrepresentation of fact is not a lack of anything resembling journalistic ethics on the part of Mr. McAllister, but rather simply that he has failed to detect, much less address, his ignorance on this subject.
I understand that the Reg is a UK-based publication, and that people on the eastern side of the pond mostly have some really strange ideas about firearms and firearms owners. I also understand that someone based in San Francisco, who statistically speaking has probably never so much as laid hands on a firearm in his life, probably has a lot of the same strange ideas.
But would it be too much to ask that you check, or require that your writers check, with someone knowledgeable? In this case it would have sufficed merely to review applicable US federal law, and to read "Have Blue"'s own statement of what he actually did -- and then to represent it honestly, rather than whomping up a bunch of arrant nonsense that makes it sound like any Holmes-alike wannabe with a RepRap in his garage can manufacture automatic weapons wholesale with nothing more than a few kilos of ABS feedstock? I grant, of course, that Mr. McAllister never goes quite so far as to state in his article that this is the case; the implication of same, however, I think could not be made any more clear with any amount of effort.
I would expect this sort of behavior from the Daily Mail, for example, whose authors are frequently known to be extremely tendentious to the point of lying outright in their work, or the News of the World, whose editorial staff is not above blatant criminality in the cause of stirring up scandal. Red top or no, I have always esteemed and respected El Reg as being above this sort of behavior, and in the past I have never had reason to question that esteem or that respect. That such outright falsehoods should pass, without any apparent effort on the part of the Register's editorial staff to redress the error, forces me to wonder whether I should reconsider that esteem and that respect.
I would greatly appreciate it if said editorial staff would revisit this article and, when they find that my statements regarding the article's flaws are accurate, perhaps discuss the situation with Mr. McAllister to the end of modifying the article such that, at minimum, it at least avoids the sort of plain misrepresentation of fact which can only be due either to arrant ignorance or to blatant mendacity.
Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.
I remain, sincerely, &c., &c.
(1) "Machine guns", defined as anything which fires more than one round on a single pull of the trigger; rifles with barrel length under sixteen inches; shotguns with barrel length under eighteen inches; suppressors ("silencers"); explosives, missile launchers, and anything of caliber greater than .50, under the heading of "destructive devices"; "All Other Weapons", an ill-described category including, not all firearms, but rather only such esoterica as smoothbore pistols, disguised or concealable firearms, &c. (Source: 26 USC ch. 53.)