Reporter Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times attempted to buy an AR-15 style rifle and report on his experience buying an “assault” weapon. A relatively common “journalistic stunt”, as Steinberg put it, such as the one conducted by New York Daily News Editor Gersh Kuntzman. Kuntzman’s article was reported on earlier due to its legal inaccuracies, lack of firearms knowledge, and bias in reporting.
Steinberg went to Des Plaines, Illinois to Maxon Shooter’s Supply and Indoor Range to buy an AR-15 pattern rifle. Steinberg admits he does not know whether he is breaking the law or not by moving an “assault rifle” into Chicago, under the Blair Holt Assault Weapons Ban (it’s not).
“I had trouble even figuring out whether bringing an assault rifle into Chicago is legal. The Internet was contradictory. The Chicago corporation counsel’s office punted me on to that black hole of silence, Bill McCaffrey. I found that Illinois has a 24-hour waiting period between buying and taking possession of a gun. Unearthing that fact alone made the exercise seem worthwhile. I was learning something.”
After a discussion with a store clerk, and a particularly concerning quoted-but-didn’t-quote section of their conversation (“Did he ever feel guilty about the people killed by the guns he sells? No, he said, that’s like asking a car dealer if he felt guilty if someone gets drunk and kills somebody in a car he sold. It seemed a fair answer. I asked him if I could quote him in the newspaper, and he said no, I couldn’t, so I’m not quoting him.”) he bought a Smith and Wesson M&P 15 Sport II. Steinberg spent $842.50 for the rifle, and $40 for training after he would get his rifle.
At 5:13 PM that day he received a call from Maxon Shooter’s Supply and Indoor Range that he was denied a firearms sale, a right given to gun shops in Illinois. He was not given an explanation over the phone, but instead a statement went to the Chicago Sun-Times reading: “it was uncovered that Mr. Steinberg has an admitted history of alcohol abuse, and a charge for domestic battery involving his wife.”
Steinberg claims that Maxon Shooter’s Supply chose not to sell a rifle to him because he was a reporter. “Gun dealers do have the right to refuse sales to anyone, usually exercised for people who seem to be straw purchasers. I told her I assume they wouldn’t sell me a gun because I’m a reporter. She denied it. But hating the media is right behind hating the government as a pastime for many gun owners. They damn you for being ignorant then hide when you try to find out.”
However, Steinberg has very publicly revealed about his drinking problem in his book: “Drunkard: A Hard-Drinking Life”, regarding his problems regarding alcoholism. In the cover itself, it says that Steinberg had an issue of “decades of hard drinking”, not just a short isolated incident of alcoholism. Even he describes himself as “the most famous drunk in Chicago now”, in an interview with Chicago Magazine.
In fact, the other accusation that Maxon Shooter’s Supply and Indoor Range included in the statement is not untrue either. In fact, in 2005, Neil Steinberg was arrested and charged with domestic battery. The incident: in a fit of drunken rage, Neil Steinberg assaulted his wife, Edie Steinberg, who then called 911 on a phone before Steinberg slapped it out of her hand. Edie Steinberg would receive “minor injuries” from that hit, before calling 911 on another phone and reporting abuse.
According to Chicago Magazine: “In less than 24 hours before the incident leading to his arrest, Steinberg had consumed a third of a bottle of Cognac in the early-morning hours, knocked back two vodka tonics and a beer before a 10 a.m. editorial meeting, taken a “long and boozy lunch” with a college friend, had several drinks before boarding his evening Metra train, where he consumed two glasses of wine in the bar car, and then slammed back a drink at a local pizzeria when he picked up the family dinner. He topped the evening off with a snifter of Cognac. Drinking, he admits, is the greatest love of his life.”
Additionally, in a section in his book, “Drunkard: A Hard-Drinking Life”, he claims to have left his young son alone in the Northbrook Public Library. Why would he abandon his young child in a public library? To buy a pint of bourbon, Steinberg claims.
Neil Steinberg was not convicted of domestic battery after prosecutors dropped charges after a drug treatment program, and he and Edie remain married with two children to this day. However, he is largely dismissive of his domestic battery charge, calling it “the slap” and claiming it was the only time he hit his wife. Instead, he blames his drinking, saying “But the big issue was really the drinking. I had been drinking.” He undertook a 28-day therapy session, and stopped his “essential nature” of drinking.
Steinberg’s self-admitted alcoholism and self-admitted domestic abuse makes it reasonable to understand why a gun store would be hesitant to sell a firearm to a former alcoholic domestic abuser, especially one with such a high profile. Steinberg sees it differently, however, claiming that he was targeted by firearms companies and gun shops, neglecting his past in the same dismissive way he regarded his domestic abuse in his interview with Chicago Magazine.
“Now I’ll state what I believe the real reason is: Gun manufacturers and the stores that sell them make their money in the dark. Congress, which has so much trouble passing the most basic gun laws, passed a law making it illegal for the federal government to fund research into gun violence. Except for the week or two after massacres, the public covers its eyes. Would-be terrorists can buy guns. Insane people can buy guns. But reporters . . . that’s a different story. Gun makers avoid publicity because the truth is this: they sell tools of death to frightened people and make a fortune doing so. They shun attention because they know, if we saw clearly what is happening in our country, we’d demand change.”
Steinberg was denied a firearm by Maxon Shooter’s Supply and Indoor Range. Instead of acknowledging the fact that he has a past of domestic abuse and violence, he claims that the entire system of firearm purchases are against reporters. He accuses firearms manufacturers and stores of “mak[ing] their money in the dark”, and claims that Congress has trouble passing “the most basic gun laws”. However, the effectiveness of gun laws in the United States and internationally have also been questionable, which we reported on earlier.
Beyond the article’s obvious slant, a clearer image emerges: a self-admitted previous alcoholic and (supposedly) one-time domestic abuser was denied a firearms purchase, which was well within Illinois state law. There is no evidence that there was bias against Steinberg due to his profession, rather, his violent, alcoholic history was damning enough to deny him a sale for his “journalistic stunt”.