A Scottish tabloid has published pictures copied from an armed policeman’s Facebook page in an attempt to seemingly whip up anti-gun hysteria.
Blair McMaster, a Police Scotland employee who appears to hold a firearms certificate, posted pictures on his Facebook page of children posing with an AR-15 style rifle and a self-loading pistol.
The image of the children was snapped in 2008 in New Zealand in a “safe, controlled and supervised environment”, a Police Scotland PR operative told the Daily Record.
Another picture showed McMaster himself, on a mountain side and wearing casual clothes, looking down the scope of a bolt action rifle. The Daily Record said the photo caption was “We were hunting ‘huns heads’!”, while Police Scotland insisted the picture had been taken in March 2013 “with a legally-held weapon while the officer was off-duty.”
According to the newspaper, McMaster is a convicted criminal, having been fined £500 after being caught driving at 136mph on the A9 at Daviot, near Inverness, in 2005.
The Daily Record went to the sole remaining Labour member of the Scottish Parliament, Graeme Pearson, for comment. He produced an incoherent rant about “professional standards,” “people out there who could take advantage of these posts” and “people who seek to undermine the police”.
The story itself is tendentious bollocks, and is best summarised as “man posts pictures of himself and others doing legal things”. The mention of “huns’ heads” is a reference to the paper target of that name – which is the current MoD-issue sniper target, featuring a stylised graphic that supposedly represents a German soldier’s head. The target is in current use although its design has not changed in more than half a century.
However, what is of interest to the UK Shooting News readership is not so much “man fires gun” or even “man lets young relatives handle guns on range while overseas”, but the method in which the tabloid reporter obtained the story.
First, we must consider the use of anonymous quotes. UKSN’s author knows a thing or two about journalism – red-top journalism, at that – and the golden rule is that you never use anonymous quotes unless you are protecting a source. Less trustworthy reporters use anonymous quotes as a means of saying something they themselves want to say but dare not spell out themselves. In this case, UKSN strongly suspects all the anonymous quotes are the latter. In the author’s personal experience, Daily Record reporters do not write good stories and appear to be encouraged to sensationalise otherwise trivial events in lieu of finding real news.
It appears, from the detail given in the article – which includes image captions and comments made underneath images – that reporter Keith McLeod secured access to McMaster’s Facebook profile. This suggests either that he conned McMaster into accepting a friend request, or that McMaster left his privacy settings open. UKSN suspects McMaster left his privacy settings open. The reference to the children’s identites being “known”, along with precise references to their ages, suggests that the reporter had a look at their profiles as well.
Although the quotes from the Police Scotland mouthpieces play down the pictures, there is no telling what actual punishments have been dished out to McMaster behind the scenes. UKSN does find it intriguing that someone with a criminal conviction managed to keep his FAC, despite the obvious point that he is a police employee.
So what can the licensed firearms community learn from this?
1. Check your Facebook privacy settings carefully. Ensure only friends – as opposed to friends of friends, or “public” – can see what you post.
2. Consider using a pseudonym. This will make it harder for trawling journalists to identify you.
3. Vet your friends list. If you don’t know someone personally, delete them. If you can’t remember where you met them, double check directly; if the answer is vague, delete them. If someone you do not know sends you a friend request, reject it.
4. Remove any references to your employer from the “about” section of your profile. Consider using a profile picture that does not show your face, in order to further frustrate casual attempts at identification.