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"Outgunned" on PBS Frontline


Regular Member
Aug 25, 2007
the meanest city in the stupidest state
I recently watched an episode of Frontline on PBS, entitled "Outgunned," which focused on how the NRA supposedly prevented and prevents gun control legislation from passing. I fully expected it to be biased, and apparently so did NRA officials since they refused to be interviewed for the program.

At first, I was surprised that there didn't seem to be much bias--there weren't a lot of blatantly hoplophobic comments, and they generally seemed to get their facts right. There was a notable absence of the usual hysterical claims (NRA is bankrolled by the gun industry, "assault weapons," 2A intended only for militia, etc.) They interviewed former NRA officials and even Larry Pratt from GOA, counterbalanced with the usual array of Brady Bunch activists, tearful Sandy Hook parents, etc. The emphasis was on the NRA's effectiveness as a lobbying organization. They gave a brief history of gun control since the 1960s, but carefully avoided discussing whether the 1994 AWB had actually accomplished anything. But as the program continued, the more-subtle bias was revealed: all the focus was on the maneuvering to pass or prevent new "common-sense gun control measures." There was NO examination of the bills themselves or whether the proposed legislation might actually reduce shootings. The "gun show loophole" was just assumed to be a major problem. There was no consideration of whether "universal background checks" would be effective.

Of course, they showed Gabby Giffords making her plea on the floor, and several other people insisting that "we must act." But they didn't show anybody pointing out the uselessness of the law itself. The Senate passed their bill (on Joe Biden's tie-breaker), and the gun control proponents all got hopeful. Then the House rejected the bill, the issue died, and the program closed with Sandy Hook parents tearfully pleading "why? How could this happen?" By not discussing the proposed gun control measures themselves, the producers leave an uninformed viewer to assume that the bills were inherently worthwhile and could have solved everything, but the evil gun lobby thwarted the will of the people. They carefully avoided saying it, but the implicit message is that your kids are in danger today because the NRA is such an effective lobbying organization.

Since we are talking about PBS, I could believe either one of two possibilities:
1. It may be that the bias was entirely unconscious. They would implicitly assume that any gun control legislation is automatically worthwhile and effective, and would somehow prevent mass shootings in the future. It wouldn't even occur to them to question that assumption. Or,
2. They knew perfectly well, just as Joe Biden did, that these proposed laws wouldn't accomplish anything, but didn't want that fact to obscure their message.