On Wednesday, USA Today faced online mockery after posting a video showing a “chainsaw bayonet” among possible modifications to the Ruger AR-556, the rifle allegedly used by Devin Kelley to attack the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last Sunday. Here’s five things to know:
1. The Video was Tweeted as a Companion Piece to an Article About AR-15s in Mass Shootings
On Nov. 6, USA Today published an article headlined “Why mass shooters are increasingly using AR-15s,” which summarized the AR-15’s admirable qualities (as determined by its marketing literature and comments by gun owners), but also quoted a firearms instructor who suggested the main reason might be a “copycat mentality” among mass shooters, rather than anything inherent to the rifle itself.
The article also included a list of mass shootings using “AR-15-style rifles” dating back to 1984. Two days later, on Nov. 8, USA Today updated the story to note that “A previous version of this story erroneously included a mass shooting in Oregon in which the gunman did not use an AR-15.”
That same day, USA Today’s Twitter account posted a link to that story over a video offering “A look at the gun used in the Texas church shooting.” A few hours later, after mockery over the video’s contents had spread online, USA Today tweeted an addendum: “To clarify, the video shows both the shooter’s modifications, as well as other possible modifications. The shooter did not use a chainsaw bayonet.”
2. The Chainsaw Bayonet Ended a Very Short List of Gun Modifications
The video, titled “Texas Church Gunman’s AR-15 Style Rifle,” is less than a minute and a half long and has no spoken words, only printed words and graphics against a soft-music background. It claims to explain “what we know about the Ruger AR-556” and starts by explaining the basics of gun parts, by identifying the buttstock, rear sight, front sight, trigger, and other parts of a base model rifle.
The video then notes that “AR-15 style rifles have many aftermarket options, some common, some rare,” before listing four “Possible modifications” of the weapon, including a “100-round drum magazine” (compared to the 30-round magazine offered in a standard model) an “underbarrel 12-gauge shotgun,” a “trigger crank,” and then the soon-to-be-infamous “chainsaw bayonet,” before noting that “Ruger offers an upgraded version of the AR-556, the 8515” and explaining that gun’s features.
The chainsaw bayonet appears at the video’s 36-second mark.
3. The Video Almost Immediately Spawned a Mocking Hashtag on Twitter
In response to the chainsaw bayonet graphic, Twitter responded with a set of Photoshopped memes suggesting other modifications to rifles, many under the hashtag #PossibleModifications .
Though the bulk of the mockery came from gun-rights supporters or people with considerably right-of-center politics, not all of it was. Washington Post data reporter Christopher Ingraham tweeted a shot of the original “chainsaw bayonet” graphic under the observation “Sometimes I think the gun rights crowd is too hard on the media, and then I see stuff like this,” then tweeted his own graphic of the “chainsaw bayonet” replaced by a clearly labeled hydrogen bomb, noting “no background check required, can you believe it.”
Jon Gabriel, editor in chief of Ricochet.com (which bills itself as “the leading place for civil discussion of the center-right and beyond”), made a contribution which seems to blend the “chainsaw bayonet” with the almost-as implausible suggestion of a 12-gauge shotgun attachment by tweeting a “miniature AR-15 attachment with an even smaller AR-15 under that (and that last one has a tiny little chainsaw bayonet).”
4. Gun-Rights Advocate Criticized the Video for its ‘Technical Ignorance’
As Douglas Ernst noted when he wrote about the debacle for the Washington Times (and the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham alluded to when he tweeted “Sometimes I think the gun rights crowd is too hard on the media, and then I see stuff like this”):
… Wednesday’s ridicule grew out of a frequent criticism by conservatives and gun-rights supporters against the mainstream media’s coverage of issues surrounding firearms: that it’s supposedly based on technical ignorance and cultural prejudice.
For example, in the context of a Hawaii U.S. senator earlier this week saying domestic abusers shouldn’t have access to weapons (this already was federal law), former Secret Service Agent Dan Bongino noted that “Advocating for new firearm laws while simultaneously having limited to no knowledge about current firearm laws is a hallmark of the Left.”
Russia Today took a less-measured approach in its coverage, summarizing the issue under the chortling headline “USA Today gets trolled over ‘chainsaw bayonet’ assault rifle video.”
5. That Said: Chainsaw Bayonets Actually Existed (Somewhat) Before the Video
For all the mockery thrown at USA Today over the chainsaw bayonet, the paper did have its shares of online supporters who pointed out that rifles with chainsaw attachments do actually exist (however impractical they’re likely to be, for use either as a gun or a chainsaw).
The online company PanaceaX.com offers an entire line of “weaponized chainsaws“, including a “Zombie X Chainsaw Bayonet” for $800. Which USA Today staffer made the chainsaw bayonet video, or whether that staffer visited PanaceaX while researching that video, is not known.
In addition to to the “Zombie X,” photographs of gun owners with (presumably self-added) chainsaw attachments can be found online, enough for one Twitter user to post a collage of pictures under the notation “Um, you guys know that this is a real thing, right? Gun culture has pasted [sic] parody at this point.”