The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which has broken major stories about the incompetence and corruption of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department, carried two mass shooting–related stories on its front page Wednesday. One was a piece remembering Parkland shooting victim Alyssa Alhadeff, who’s fifteenth birthday would have been this week. The other was an article about Esteban Santiago pleading guilty to killing five people in the Fort Lauderdale airport in 2017.
At the bottom of the page was an advertisement for the Fort Lauderdale gun show. Instantly, outrage erupted.
Fred Guttenberg, the father of a student killed during the Parkland shooting, found the juxtaposition so jarring that he tweeted this: “Looks like the Sun Sentinel editor on this page failed. A story on the victims of gun violence and they put a gun coupon on the page. WTF!!!”
That same “WTF” made it into the headline of Politico‘s writeup of the supposed gaffe. The Miami New Times tut-tutted that “amid all of that stellar journalism, the paper’s advertising staff continued taking money from gun sellers.”
Many Twitter users were less charitable. “UNACCEPTABLE!! I’d boycott your paper if I took it!” tweeted one person. “They should NOT have accepted that front page ad placement for a gun show, when running two shooting stories on the front. How much were they paid for that? Is that worth more than human lives?” wrote another.
The Sun-Sentinel then did what many media companies would do: It immediately buckled under the criticism. The same day, the paper issued an apology from publisher Nancy Meyer, who also declared a temporary moratorium on gun-related ads. Guttenberg has said that he would like that moratorium to be made permanent, and Meyer says she’s open to that.
These criticisms of the Sun Sentinel betray an all-too-common view among gun control activists that gun ownership itself is toxic and inseparable from mass shootings, and that any outward expression of gun culture only feeds this violence. To participate or promote one, they think, is encourage the other.
Unsurprisingly, gun owners don’t see such a natural link. For them, guns are a normal part of their everyday lives, not alien items.
“Owning firearms is the manner in which this country evolved,” says Jorge Fernandez of Florida Gun Shows, the company that took out the Sentinel ad. “You’re talking about hundreds of years of culture. Persons who grew up hunting and fishing, target shooting, or collecting firearms.”
Gun shows of the type his company puts on are just another event for enthusiasts. “We’re a promotion company just like any other promotion company. You have your musician promoters, you have your classic car promoters, you have motorcycle promoters, beer and wine fests, all those types of promotions have their own draw.”
Many gun control activists insist that they are OK with gun ownership in general and merely want a few a more restrictions added, a few more loopholes closed. Meanwhile, the State of California is currently considering a plan to divest its pension funds from retail chains that sell firearms, while the City of Los Angeles is holding up contracts with FedEx for offering discounts to NRA members. A bill has been introduced in the same state to forbid gun raffles. And in Florida, activists are throwing a fit about an event geared toward normal, noncriminal gun owners.
You can call for “moderate,” “nonpartisan,” “common-sense” gun legislation that you think gun owners might get behind, or you can attack any outward use or sale of firearms as an outrage. It is incoherent to try to do both at once.