Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Press club looks at depictions of guns, terms

Focus was on terminology often used by reporters that might not be accurate or fair.


Jim Barnes of Gander Mountain talks about a rifle. Listening are panelists, from left, Sgt. Joe Heffernan, Mark Abramson, C.J. Hoyt, and Romules Durant.

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After looking for just a few moments at firearms, a young woman pointed to a large-caliber handgun and said, “I want this one.”

To Jim Barnes, something about her hasty decision didn’t seem right — such a large gun for a tiny woman.

She had no specific reason why she wanted that particular gun and wanted it “just to have,” said Mr. Barnes, a Gander Mountain manager.

As Mr. Barnes and other employees do several times a week, he declined to sell the gun to the woman because it seemed like she might be buying it for someone else — a “straw sale,” which is illegal.

“It’s not a tough decision at all,” Mr. Barnes said during a Friday panel discussion about guns and the media.

“ … [I want to] make sure we sell to people that should legally have a firearm, and if that means missing my entire year [in sales], so be it.”

Mr. Barnes was one of five people on a panel, hosted by the Press Club of Toledo, designed to address inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the way shootings and guns are reported in the media.

Much of the hour-and-a-half’s discussion, facilitated by Press Club President and WTVG-TV reporter Shaun Hegarty, focused on terminology often used by reporters that might not be accurate or fair.

The first lexicon battle started early when Mr. Hegarty referred to guns on a table as “weapons.”

“Before we get too far, don’t call those weapons. They’re firearms,” said Mark Abramson, a Toledo attorney with Robison, Curphey, and O’Connell.

“What’s the difference?” Mr. Hegarty asked.

Because the guns had not been used in an attack, the intent for them had not been determined, meaning they should be called firearms, Mr. Abramson argued.

Others on the panel included Romules Durant, interim superintendent of Toledo Public Schools; C.J. Hoyt, news director at WTOL-TV; and Toledo police Sgt. Joe Heffernan.

Panelists discussed the media’s handling of a February incident, in which a Raymer Elementary school student was seen several blocks from school with a BB gun.

A 911 caller reported that the student appeared to be taking a rifle to school, which was then reported by several media outlets.

That led worried parents to rush to the East Toledo school and take their children home.

The police investigation found that the student did not have a rifle and was taking the BB gun to his aunt’s house, not to school.

“I think collectively we have to decide when is the best time to put that out,” Mr. Durant said.

Sergeant Heffernan agreed, saying that putting out information about a gun at a school without verification creates panic and forces police to deal “with a situation that’s rapidly growing out of hand.”

Contact Taylor Dungjen at:

or 419-724-6054, or on

Twitter @taylordungjen.

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