Every time the term ‘semiautomatic weapon’ hits the mainstream, it’s almost certain that at least one pundit will put their foot in their mouth while talking about firearms. Thanks to Katy Tur, that trend has continued.
On Thursday, the MSNBC host went on a furious rant about the availability of semiautomatic weapons, presumably arguing in favor of further restrictions on that class of firearm. However, it soon became clear that she was doing what so many others in the media have before her: confusing single-action semiautomatic fire with full auto. Let Ms. Tur serve as a reminder that fake news does not have to be deliberate in order to fit the bill.
This mistake has been made often enough that, following the devastating Las Vegas shooting, even Politifact wrote a piece clarifying the distinction between the two terms. It read, in part: "'Semi-automatic’ refers to any firearm designed to fire one bullet with one trigger squeeze." Both pistols and rifles like the AR-15 are semiautomatic.
Regrettably, Tur missed that article. While speaking with former New York State Senator Michael Balboni, she pointed out that the Florida shooter could not have purchased a nine-millimeter Glock pistol because he wasn’t 21. “He could not have bought a pistol,” she pontificated, “which shoots people one, by one, by one, by one, but he could walk in and legally buy a semiautomatic weapon.” More than once she evoked imagery of a shooter “mow[ing] down” victims, further evidencing her confusion. She continued:
Why is the Glock federally regulated, and a semiautomatic weapon, which we've seen in these circumstances – and I’m sorry I’m getting angry about this – an AR 15 used over and over and over again to not murder one person, or two people, but to murder dozens.
Balboni attempted to cut Tur off during her tirade (presumably to save her from herself), but he did not go out of his way to correct her. Yet he was forced to do so minutes later when she revisited the issue and asked him to explain “the difference between a nine-millimeter and a semiautomatic.”
Sheepishly, he pointed out that semi-automatic is not synonymous with full-automatic spray: “It can be a pistol, it can be an AR-15,” he explained. “And in Virginia Tech he used only pistols...”
Tur quickly changed the topic of conversation to bump stocks, despite having said only minutes earlier: “Who knows if he used a bump stock? Doesn’t really matter.”
Presumably, Tur’s enthusiasm for gun control is motivated by a desire to save lives. But it would behoove pundits to learn from her example and try to have at least a preliminary understanding of any topic before they animatedly proselytize about it on national television.