Why we ran that photo of a New Haven man posing with stolen gun

10 Mar
(Photo by Peter Hvizdak - New Haven Register) During a photography portrait session with a New Haven Register photographer on Jan. 30, 2014, in New Haven, an African-American male of New Haven, a convicted felon in his late 20s, shows off a 9mm Smith & Wesson model 659 semi-automatic firearm that he says is stolen and which he says he uses for his personal protection.

(Photo by Peter Hvizdak – New Haven Register) During a photography portrait session with a New Haven Register photographer on Jan. 30, 2014, in New Haven, an African-American male of New Haven, a convicted felon in his late 20s, shows off a 9mm Smith & Wesson model 659 semi-automatic firearm that he says is stolen and which he says he uses for his personal protection.

A striking and sure-to-be-controversial photo leads the New Haven Register’s website and print edition front page this morning. “Joe,” an anonymous New Haven man, poses in a menacing, face-covering disguise with a handgun that he says is both stolen and against the law for him to possess since he is a convicted felon.

BiVl1a_CYAAVaRUThere were two major points of discussion among New Haven Register editors prior to publishing Shahid Abdul-Karim‘s story, which features an interview in which “Joe” (not his real name) talks about why illegal guns proliferate on the streets of New Haven from the perspective of someone who feels he needs to have one to defend himself.

1. We are generally uncomfortable with using anonymous sources, for a lot of reasons. What ulterior motives might be at play that anonymity would cover up? How do we confirm what they are saying is true?

2. Is the photo constructive in telling the story and conveying information and meaning to readers, or is it gratuitous “click bait” at best, and glorifying of some kind of tough guy violence mentality at worst?

We were comfortable with the first point because Shahid did the work to be confident that “Joe” is who he says he was. There was little to nothing to be gained by talking to us. Point by point, we checked out what he said to us (for example, that guns are sometimes stolen from National Guard armories) and ran counter-point from law enforcement and others. Most of all, we felt that anonymity was justified in this case because of how important, and rare, it is to hear from the kind of person no one ever hears from when urban violence and illegal guns are written about.

We were comfortable (for the most part) about the photo because it vividly conveyed the subject matter, and provided a telling contrast between the projection of strength young men make in arming themselves vs. the fear and desperation expressed in our interview with “Joe.”

Most of all, we hope the story will spark a dialogue about the issue. For context, see Rich Scinto‘s story on the toll that gun violence took in New Haven last year, and Brian Charles‘ story on the growing rate of income disparity and poverty in New Haven.

If you have questions or insight into the story or how we handled it, New Haven Register editors will be discussing it today at AskTheRegister.com. Please come join in the conversation.

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7 Responses to “Why we ran that photo of a New Haven man posing with stolen gun”

  1. pauljbass March 10, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    good call

  2. dchesler March 10, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    Any comments on why you chose to illustrate such a blatant safety violation? (Finger on the trigger.) Was that intentional?

    • mattderienzo March 10, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

      I’ll talk to Shahid and Peter Hvizdak, the photographer, about that.

    • IHD March 10, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

      Because the author, photographer, editor, and gun owner are ignorant about gun safety? Because they only talk to felons who own guns?

      • Peter Hvizdak March 26, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

        The New Haven Register photographer, upon meeting the subject of the story and having a strong background and experience with firearms, firearm safety, and the defensive use of firearms, inspected the firearm, cleared the firearm making sure it was unloaded, locked back the slide,inspected the firearm again showing that it was clear to the people present, and made sure a magazine holding the 9mm ammunition was not in the area, then proceeded to make the photographs. As for the subject putting his finger on the trigger, well, that is what people due when they do not have proper training. The photograph showed that the person is not well versed in the safe handling of firearms. The photograph accurately portrait that fact

  3. Peter Hvizdak March 26, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    Correction: Replace “due” with “do”

    • dchesler March 26, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

      I’m glad to hear that, and I understand what it illustrated.
      A mentor once told me “If you are writing a manual, never put in an illustration of what not to do, because when people are using your thing they will remember that illustration, forget about the big red X, and do just that.”
      Your photo made those who have safety rules internalized, and who didn’t think the criminal was properly trained anyway, cringe, but it also may lead untrained readers to emulate that behavior, not realizing why it is unsafe. (The photo didn’t even have the equivalent of a big red X in its caption.)

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