Newspapers Drop Gun Classifieds
By Joe Strupp
NEW YORK -- The Houston Chronicle is the latest in a string of major newspapers to restrict or eliminate gun advertising, at the request of an Iowa-based non-profit organization seeking to cut down the number of weapons sold by unlicensed dealers. The Hearst Corp.-owned Chronicle has announced it would stop accepting such classified handgun ads.
"Groups have petitioned newspapers in the past to close what has been termed the 'newspaper loophole' that allows a person to purchase handguns through classified ads without federal background checks," the Chronicle said in a statement. "We have adjusted our policy to address this concern." A Chronicle official told E&P the paper received a few complaints for a few days, but the protest soon died.
The Houston daily is just one of several papers that have altered policies after being contacted by the National Campaign to Close the Newspaper Gun Loophole, which launched in November 2001. The group struck its first success when the Chicago Tribune agreed to stop taking ads for any firearms in late 2001, according to John Johnson, campaign coordinator. "It was a compelling letter they sent that asked us to review our policy," said Patty Wetli, a Tribune spokesperson. In all, 16 state-level anti-gun organizations have teamed with the campaign to lobby local papers for restrictions on gun ads.
In addition to Houston and Chicago, the efforts have resulted in tighter gun ad policies at The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News, The Denver Post, the Denver Rocky Mountain News, the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, Sandusky (Ohio) Register, and the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa.
Based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the National Campaign is not looking for an outright ban of gun ads, but rather the elimination of classified ads from unlicensed sellers, according to Johnson. He contends that unlicensed sellers pose a greater threat to public safety because they are not required to conduct background checks on buyers. "I think we make a very compelling argument," he said, "about why newspapers should not allow the unlicensed sales -- because they can't prevent them from going to criminals."
The group's low-key tactics are far from the picket lines, threatened boycotts or pressure on advertisers that some utilize in battles against newspapers. Dave Smith, president of Texans For Gun Safety, said his initial contact with the Houston Chronicle's previous classified advertising director did not result in changes, so he contacted the paper again earlier this year after a new director took over. "She was more open," he said of Laura Hampton, the paper's current classified ad chief. "She said they would review it and they changed it."
As the movement continues, Johnson said the campaign would focus on newspapers with traditionally progressive editorial viewpoints in metropolitan areas, but declined to name any specific papers.
A number of newspapers had already banned gun ads in recent years, with most either responding to pressure from readers or deciding that gun ads hurt their image. "We don't want to be a party to anyone getting an illegal handgun," said Rita Parrott, classified advertising manager at The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, which has banned classified ads from unlicensed dealers for at least a decade. The Seattle Times stopped all gun ads 20 years ago, according to spokeswoman Kerry Coughlin, who said "it is simply good public policy."
When the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson decided not to take classified ads from unlicensed gun dealers in early 2000, the policy shift prompted many angry reactions, including 400 cancelled subscriptions, according to Editor/Publisher Jane Amari. "It was open season on the Arizona Daily Star," she said of the response.
Editor & Publisher Online