Understanding the problem–with the mainstream media

I have been exchanging email with Omie and Geoff over the last few days related to the article in the Daily News they collaborated on. The focus of the article was fully automatic firearms as they related to the recent high profile shooting at the courthouse which resulted in the death of a Moscow police officer and two other innocents. It was the belief for several weeks that one of the firearms was illegally converted from a semi-automatic to a full automatic. About two days after Omie and Geoff’s article came out a different paper, the Lewiston Morning Tribune, reported there were no fully automatic firearms involved in the shooting. I can’t imagine why it took weeks for law enforcement to make that determination but that is a different story.

I sent email to both Omie and Geoff after reading the article in the other paper. They had not been aware of the recent development until I pointed it out to them. I requested their permission to post our email exchanges but they both declined. My latest response to Omie closely relates to some recent posts of Lyle’s and mine and Lyle encouraged me to post my email here. I had been planning to do that but just hadn’t gotten around to it. I’m doing that now in the hopes it will help others in dealing with the bias against gun owners in terms than can be expressed constructively to those with the bias.

The first sentence is in response to Omie’s request not to post her email to me on this blog. The second paragraph can be understood a little better if you know that it was not her intent to have the article be hostile to gun owners of any type. I believe that is true.

From: Joe Huffman
Sent: Thursday, July 05, 2007
To: ‘Omie Drawhorn’
Subject: RE: Hamilton’s gun


I understand and will respect that.


My impression of the article was as you describe your intent. But things like “More restrictions or better enforcement could be key to questions about weapons” and even the assignment of “fully automatic” firearms allowed me to read additional things (rightly or wrongly) into the editorial mindset of the paper. As my friend Lyle pointed in a blog posting (http://blog.joehuffman.org/2007/07/04/same-template-different-story/) yesterday the type of weapons is really the wrong focus for a follow-up article. Better would have been what went right, wrong, and what could be done differently in regards to the response and preparation for, what law enforcement calls, an “active shooter”. For example, was Newbill wearing body armor? If so was it inadequate or irrelevant because of the shot placement? Should Hamilton have been in jail for previous crimes but was let out early for some reason? Did the responding officers follow their training for the information they had available to them at the time? If so could there have been better training that would have improved the outcome?


If the focus is on the gun then it seems to me someone has a solution in mind before they have a clear statement of the problem (see also this blog posting of mine from this morning: http://blog.joehuffman.org/2007/07/05/understanding-the-problem/).


As an engineer I solve problems. One of the most common errors inexperienced engineers make is they jump to the solution before they have a good statement of the problem. The implied problem statement of the newspaper article was:


A criminal had a fully automatic firearm.


My statement of the problem would be something like:


A criminal with firearms attacked a building with people in it and responding law enforcement officers and private citizens were injured and killed.


The solutions problem solvers arrive at for the two different problem statements will be drastically different.


Is this making sense to you? I’m getting into “engineer talk” and worry non-engineers won’t see what I view as critical differences.