Take Care When Describing Weapons : Memmos Standards & Practices Editor Mark Memmott writes occasional notes about the issues journalists encounter and the way NPR handles them. They often expand on topics covered in the Ethics Handbook.
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Take Care When Describing Weapons

As we cover news about the mass shooting in Oregon, we will get reports and see reports about the weapons that were used.

Until we have solid information from the authorities, we need to be careful about descriptions of those weapons. Words to avoid unless we are sure of them include: "automatic," "semi-automatic," "assault" and "assault-style." They are often misused.

Obviously, the shooter had "guns." It is being reported that he had both "handguns" and a "rifle." Those are good words because of their breadth. It is best to stick to such words until authorities release details.

The AP Stylebook has a substantial entry for "weapons" that has good guidance. If you're on our intranet, you can get to the Stylebook here: http://www.apstylebook.com/npr/

We also have hard copies of the Stylebook. There's one with The Two-Way team and others with copy editors Susan Vavrick, Amy Morgan and Pam Webster.