The recent bloody headlines out of Chicago relayed the sad tale of the city's deadly weekend, where seven people were killed in shootings and more than 50 were victims of gunfire. Thanks in part to news coverage, America's third largest city has become synonymous with runaway gun violence, and especially deadly weekend shootouts.
Sadly, that type of shooting spree isn't restricted to Chicago. Just this month in New York City, which has experienced an historic reduction in crime in recent years, 25 people were shot over a single weekend; six of the victims died.
Nonetheless, the Chicago news triggered the usual response from conservative gun advocates, who love to mock the city's homicide rate. In recent years Chicago gun victims have served as a macabre punch line for NRA fans as they scoff at the alleged futility of the city's gun safety laws. (Chicago banned handguns decades ago, and has retained strong gun laws following the 2010 overturning of that ban by the Supreme Court.)
Conservative conspiracists such as Rush Limbaugh even claim Democratic politicians, including Chicago's mayor Rahm Emanuel, want the city's murder rate to remain high so they can use the killings to advocate for stronger gun laws.
But mostly, firearm defenders simply ridicule Chicago's murder count. "Slaughter in Gun Control Chicago," blogged Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich in the wake of last weekend's gun attacks, while a Breitbart writer on Monday insisted city officials had "little to show" for their efforts to curb violence.
But note what these commentators are careful not to mention while using the killings to make a political point: They didn't mention that homicides in "Gun Control Chicago" are down dramatically this year; a trend that undermines the attack that the Second City stands as the ultimate symbol of gun enforcement failure.
In early May, the Chicago Police Department released figures indicating the city marked a 43 percent decline in the number of murders over the first four months of this year, as compared to the same period last year. For the first quarter of this year, Chicago registered 93 murders, its lowest January-to-April tally since 1963.
Then this month came news that Chicago experienced a 31 percent decrease in shootings for the month of May, which meant that through May of this year the city's murder count had declined 34 percent from last year. Chicago homicides still outnumber those in larger cities, such as New York and Los Angeles; it suffers from weaker gun laws in both its home state and surrounding states than those two cities, allowing criminals easier access to guns purchased elsewhere.
It's true that Chicago's crime is certain to spike in the coming summer months, and with it will come more heartbreaking headlines about tragic gun murders; killings that will inevitably involve young victims. But statistically, violent crime almost always goes up in warm weather months. So the question is, will Chicago's murder rate go up more this year than during last year's summer months? Or will the city be able to maintain its pattern of reduced gun violence throughout 2013?
Six months after the tragic Newtown school shooting, Fox & Friends highlighted a gun manufacturer's high profits but failed to recognize victims of gun violence in Newtown or elsewhere in the country.
On December 14, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, left 26 people dead, including 20 children, and helped to spark a national debate about preventing gun violence and stronger gun laws. Six months later, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson reported record earnings, which CNN Money attributed to a "spike in demand from consumers fearing that the national debate over gun control would yield new regulations limiting their ability to buy certain firearms."
But Fox & Friends ignored the Newtown victims exactly six months after the school shooting, instead highlighting how gun sales have soared in response to congressional debate over tougher gun laws. In Fox & Friends' "News by the Numbers" feature, co-host Brian Kilmeade said:
KILMEADE: First, 10 percent. That's how much stock for Smith & Wesson is up since the start of the year. The company helped by strong demand and fears of increased gun regulations.
In contrast to how Fox & Friends handled the report, CNN's Starting Point similarly mentioned the gun industry's "record" sales in recent months, but also took time to recognize the victims of the Newtown shooting. CNN host Christine Romans noted that the trend of increasing gun sales "accelerated after the Newtown shootings, which happened six months ago today."
The Fox News show America's Newsroom, which follows Fox & Friends, aired part of a Newtown moment of silence in remembrance of the shooting victims.
In a column at conspiracy website WND, gun activist Jeff Knox is promoting a company that sells bullets coated with "pork-infused paint" that are theoretically designed to "deter Islamists from martyrdom."
Knox heads a fringe gun group called the Firearms Coalition which recently proposed a successful resolution at the annual National Rifle Association conference urging the NRA to oppose any future restrictions on guns.
In his piece, Knox points to the May terror attack in London and asks why the two assailants didn't flee the scene and merely "waited around for the armed police." Knox posits that the men were waiting to be killed by police in order to become martyrs so they could receive "their tickets to Paradise - and 72 virgins."
While he says that there is debate among Muslims about whether "martyrs for Allah actually receive a reward of 72 virgins," Knox writes that the belief is pervasive enough to raise the question: "how do you deal with religious extremists who believe that dying for their faith is an Express Ticket to Paradise?"
According to Knox, a company in Idaho called "Jihawg Ammo" has come up with a "culturally sensitive" solution:
A company in northern Idaho has come up with a culturally sensitive approach. Jihawg Ammo has developed a proprietary system for infusing ballistic paint with pork. The special pork-infused paint is then applied to the bullets of loaded ammunition. The inclusion of pork in the paint makes the bullets haraam, or unclean. Under Islamic law, anyone who comes in contact with any haraam item is then unclean and must engage in a cleansing ritual. No unclean person can be admitted into Paradise. Do not pass Go. Do not collect 72 virgins.
Fox News seized on a recent claim that IRS agents were training with assault weapons to mainstream anti-government fears while downplaying the dangerous nature of working in law enforcement with the IRS -- officers routinely face death threats, and investigate cases ranging from drug trafficking to counter-terrorism. Fox contributor Monica Crowley even attempted to link the IRS to a widely debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory.
While investigating a debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory about the Department of Homeland Security, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) reported that IRS law enforcement agents were training with AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles. Fox host Martha MacCallum and Crowley used this report to stoke fears about the motives of the IRS, with Crowley stating, "why IRS agents, which are basically number crunchers ... would need to have weapon is a really outstanding question." Emphasis added:
MACCALLUM: And now we're learning that they're training, some of them, and there is a, we should point out, a law enforcement arm or section of the IRS so that, they, you know, they have that. But really? Semi-automatic weapons necessary to deal with taxes?
CROWLEY: Right. I mean, just when you hear -- think you've heard it all, Martha, something more outrageous comes at us here. I mean, why IRS agents, which are basically number crunchers and dealing with the public, dealing with the taxpayers, why they would need to have weapons is a really outstanding question. You mentioned that there's a law enforcement arm to the IRS, and that's true. But another outstanding question here is how widespread this is going to be in terms of is your local IRS agent going to be packing heat when you go in for your audit? We don't know. And I think when you get this news on the heels of the severe abuse of power that we've been talking about with the IRS in addition to the Department of Homeland Security also amassing massive numbers of weapons and ammunition, you have to wonder what are these domestic agencies doing with this, these kinds weapons and ammo?
MACCALLUM: And you would think local police would, you know, provide backup if necessary. We realize sometimes they go into some tough situations. We did a little research on this. No IRS enforcer has ever been killed in the line of duty, but they have been -- they've had to use those weapons eight times and accidentally fired the weapons eleven times over the last couple years, Doug, so that's not too reassuring.
But Duncan's report references the IRS' enforcement division, not, as Crowley speculated, civilian IRS employees. IRS' law enforcement officers are more than just "number crunchers." In fact, according to Politico, IRS investigations have resulted in "convictions of crimes ranging from offshore bank accounts, to Medicare fraud, to money laundering and drug trafficking operations." They also investigate crimes related to counter-terrorism. By virtue of working with the IRS, agents also receive a growing number of death threats, and have been targeted repeatedly by members of the violent "Tax Protest" movement, who have committed multiple attempted bombings, arsons, attempted kidnappings, and attempted murders. MacCallum's claim that no IRS "enforcer" has ever been killed in the line of duty is also false. IRS Agent Michael Dillon was shot and killed while attempting to collect a settlement made by the IRS with James F. Bradley.
Crowley then mentioned that this comes, "in addition to the Department of Homeland Security also amassing massive numbers of weapons and ammunition..." Her claim references a debunked conspiracy theory popularized by Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist with influence in right wing media, who recently claimed the government may have used a "weather weapon" to create the tornado that devastated Moore, OK.
Fox has routinely pushed conspiracy theories, including those of Alex Jones, while ignoring its own role in perpetuating these falsehoods. Fox's tendency to hype anti-government conspiracy theories continued recently when its president, Roger Ailes, pushed another widely debunked claim that, "the federal government is about to hire 16,000 more IRS agents to enforce healthcare."
Right-wing media are trying to damage President Obama's nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by baselessly claiming he was involved in the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious.
The failed gun trafficking sting Operation Fast and Furious ended with the indictment of 34 defendants on January 25, 2011. The investigative tactics, which involved the misguided attempt by Arizona ATF agents to track weapons to high-level targets rather than interdicting the traffickers when the opportunity presented itself, concluded some months earlier. The tactics used in Fast and Furious triggered months of controversy and the resignation of then-Acting Director Kenneth Melson. On August 30, 2011, the ATF announced that B. Todd Jones had been appointed acting director.
Conservative media have nonetheless attempted to use a June 11 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the nomination of Jones for permanent appointment as a springboard to suggest that he was involved in Fast and Furious, which concluded months before he joined ATF.
Mike Huckabee claimed on June 9 edition of his Fox News program that Jones "allegedly helped cover up the [Fast and Furious] scandal" while misidentifying him as "the former number two boss at ATF." Again misidentifying Jones as "a supervisor at ATF" -- he actually continues to work as a U.S. attorney while serving as acting ATF director -- Huckabee added, "Should we be concerned that here's a guy who knew about Fast and Furious, according to many sources including [ATF whistleblower Vince Cefalu] helped cover it up, now he's going to lead the agency?"
During the segment Fox used a chyron that asked, "What did Obama's pick for ATF Dir. know about 'Fast & Furious'?"
Conservative commentators have also posited that Jones was involved in Fast and Furious because he attended a meeting, in his capacity as chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys (AGAC), that concerned ATF plans to crack down on the trafficking of guns into Mexico. But there is no evidence the tactics used in Fast and Furious were discussed at that meeting.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed advocated for police around the country to use New York City's "stop-and-frisk" policy as a model, which has no proven evidence of reducing crime rates and has historically targeted racial minorities.
Stop-and-frisk, the controversial policy which allows police officers to stop and search individuals they consider to be suspicious, is currently under review in the case Floyd v. New York. The New York Police Department has conducted more than four million stops since 2002, and according to a New York Times editorial, a federal judge "noted that nearly 90 percent of the time the police found no criminal behavior." The suit charges the NYPD with illegally detaining these individuals "not because of suspicious behavior but because of their race."
In her Journal op-ed, Heather Mac Donald disputed these charges, claiming that stop-and-frisk policies in New York have "helped the city achieve an astonishing drop in violent crime" and should be New York's "most valued export" along with other NYPD policies to the rest of the nation. She claimed that stop-and-frisks overwhelmingly targeted blacks and Hispanics because "the preponderance of crime perpetrators, and victims, in New York are also minorities," and concluded the crime rate would increase nationwide if the policy were overturned.
But there is no evidence that stop-and-frisk has decreased crime in New York City. New York Magazine noted that while stop-and-frisks have "skyrocketed" in the past decade, non-fatal shootings in the city have remained steady. Stop-and-frisk has done little to identify illegal firearms, as a New York Times editorial noted, as "guns were seized in only 0.15 percent of all stops." And the New York Civil Liberties Union similarly explained that while total violent crime fell in New York City by 29 percent from 2001 to 2010, cities that did not have stop-and-frisk policies saw even larger violent crime declines in the same time period, by as much as "59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas, and 37 percent in Baltimore."
In fact, the drop in violence in New York City is part of a trend that preceded widespread use of stop-and-frisk. As the Times reported, New York's sharpest drop in homicides came before 2002, the year stop-and-frisks started rising in New York. Forbes magazine provided the following graph, showing that "the number of murders decreased sharply between 1990 and 1998," while then remaining relatively steady during the period that stop-and-frisks increased dramatically:
The agency responsible for the enforcement of federal gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), has not had a permanent director since 2006 largely due to obstruction from the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress. Today, a Senate hearing will consider President Obama's nomination of current acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones for permanent director.
Mark Fuhrman, a former detective for the Los Angeles Police Department whose racist statements came to light during the O.J. Simpson trial, appeared on Fox News' America Live to discuss the role of race in jury selection for George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial. Zimmerman is accused by prosecutors of profiling and fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in February 2012.
From the June 10 edition of America Live:
During the 1995 murder trial of O.J. Simpson, the defense produced a tape of Fuhrman, who collected evidence in the case, using the word n*****more than 40 times over a 10 year period. The person who made the tape said Fuhrman used the slur "in a very casual ordinary pattern of speech. It was nothing extraordinary. It was just conversation." During the O.J. Simpson trial, a number of other witnesses testified that Fuhrman was a racist. Fuhrman, who testified during the trial that he had not used a racial slur in the past 10 years, pled no contest to perjury charges and was sentenced to three years of probation.
During a 2006 appearance on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Fuhrman, who is a Fox News contributor, said that the type of "people" he "dealt with ... for 20 years" while working in law enforcement will "kill somebody and go have some chicken at KFC. You will catch them eating chicken and drinking a beer after they just murdered three people." Co-host Alan Colmes challenged Fuhrman for using racially charged language, an allegation Fuhrman denied. Fuhrman has also appeared on Fox to defend a group of white police officers who were videotaped beating an African American man.
History announced the premiere of a new series, God, Guns & Automobiles, that will feature Erich "Mancow" Muller, a far-right radio host who has engaged in a plethora of conspiracy theories -- including the claim that President Obama was born outside the United States -- and has suggested that an armed revolution will occur in America.
God, Guns & Automobiles will document Mancow and his brother Mark Muller's operation of Max Motors, a car dealership located in rural Missouri that "embodies the values and the spirit of the heartland of America." The series is slated to premiere on History, formerly called The History Channel, on Monday, July 8 at 10 p.m. EST. Mark Muller, the founder of Max Motors, has frequently incorporated firearms into his car business. Since at least 2008, Max Motors has given away firearms -- often AK-47 assault weapons -- with the purchase of certain vehicles. A typical newspaper clipping appearing on the Max Motors website states that "The Nation's Outlaw Car Dealer Is Doing It Again!" and offers a "free AK-47" with the purchase of any truck.
According to Mark Muller, his promotions have engendered controversy. In comments published at Human Events in 2011, Muller said that a past AK-47 giveaway had drawn scrutiny from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as a bank that provided Max Motors with financing. Muller also said that General Motors threatened to rescind his dealership agreement because of the promotion. In 2008, Mancow highlighted his brother's promotion with a post on his website that warned "you'll need a gun to protect yourself from the violent masses during the coming depression." In his posting, Mancow also repeated the falsehood that Germany's gun laws were responsible for the Holocaust.
On April 13, Max Motors hosted its "1st Annual Great Gun Buyback," offering $50 to $10,000 to purchase firearms from the public. According to an ad on the Max Motors website, "We'll take any and all guns with no limit to the number you can bring in!" A contemporaneous Facebook posting added, "There will also be a camera crew here that day. Come in for a chance to be on TV!!"
National Rifle Association News host Cam Edwards compared the experience of opponents of new gun laws in Colorado during the legislative process to the experiences of victims of racial segregation.
Edwards hosted Laura Carno, the founder of conservative nonprofit I am Created Equal that is seeking to remove Colorado Senate President John Morse from office for supporting legislation to require background checks on gun sales and limit high-capacity magazines. During this discussion, Edwards said, "We have seen a great deal of disrespect shown to gun owners throughout this process," and added, "It's not just that our rights aren't being respected, our voices aren't being respected."
He then read from the dissent in the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which railed against the majority ruling that established the racially discriminatory "separate but equal" doctrine. Quoting from Justice John Marshall Harlan's dissent, Edwards said, "In the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here," and, "In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful."
From the June 4 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company:
Adam Kokesh is cancelling his planned July 4 armed march on Washington, D.C., and instead calling for a march on all 50 state capitols with the goal of overthrowing the federal government.
Kokesh, a former host for Russian state-sponsored RT television who now hosts an internet radio show, told conspiracy theorist radio host Pete Santilli that it was time to "escalate our tactics" before cancelling the Washington march and urging supporters to march on their state capitol instead.
On May 28, Santilli, a promoter of conspiracy theories about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks who recently drew scrutiny from the Secret Service over vicious comments made about Hillary Clinton, aired an interview where Kokesh read from a press release and provided other details about the expansion of his plans.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Kokesh detailed how he and others planned to march across the Memorial Bridge -- which separates Washington from Virginia -- while openly carrying firearms in violation of District of Columbia law. Kokesh told Buzzfeed that the event would be non-violent and said, "We're not going to resist government by force in any way." The Facebook description of the event stated, "This will be a non-violent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent." District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier stated that those who bring weapons illegally into Washington would face arrest.
In the press release, Kokesh called for "A new American revolution" where "the American Revolutionary Army will march on each state capital to demand that the governors of these 50 states immediately initiate the process of an orderly dissolution of the federal government through secession and reclamation of federally held property." Kokesh also gave the federal government a one-year deadline to comply with his demands before possibly taking violent action, writing, "Should one whole year from this July 4th pass while the crimes of this government are allowed to continue, we may have passed the point at which non-violent revolution becomes impossible."
As the debate over gun legislation has raged in recent months, prominent gun activists have been appearing on the radio and TV shows of fringe conspiracy theorists to push their message.
The hosts of these shows believe in a range of absurd conspiracies, including that the U.S. government perpetrated the 9-11 attacks; that the recent mass shootings in Newton and Aurora were somehow staged; and that impoverished black men are gearing up to kill "white heterosexual Christians."
Despite regularly uniting with fringe conspiracy theorists -- and often joining them in espousing outlandish conspiracies -- Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt, longtime National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent, and former NRA president David Keene represent organizations that still wield considerable influence in the debate over gun legislation.
The NRA says that it has millions of members and annual revenues in excess of $200 million, and their annual meetings regularly draw leading Republican presidential candidates. Pratt's group Gun Owners of America has also become an important player in the gun debate; an April article by The New York Times highlighted how GOA was "emerging as an influential force" over then-pending Senate gun legislation, while ignoring Pratt's own record of extremism.
In recent weeks, extremist radio host Pete Santilli has made headlines for violent comments he made about Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and the Bush family. (Santilli's inflammatory comments include saying the he wants to shoot Clinton "in the vagina and let her suffer right before my eyes" over her supposed "treason.")
While it's tempting to dismiss Santilli as just another crackpot with a microphone and an Internet connection, his show has been validated by appearances from major gun activists like Pratt and Nugent.
Nugent and Pratt's appearances on Santilli's show are not an aberration; they're symptomatic of how prominent gun activists have teamed up with fringe conspiracy theorists to oppose gun legislation and spin fantastical theories about the government disarming (or going to war with) American citizens.
Working with these fringe hosts may be a deliberate strategy; during an appearance with infamous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones last year, Pratt praised Jones for helping increase GOA's exposure, saying "thank you for having me on, because we have a much bigger voice because of you, my friend." (During that same interview, Pratt suggested the government may have been behind the mass shooting in Aurora.)
In this report, we look at gun activists' appearances with:
Conservative commentator Tony Katz said on the National Rifle Association's radio program that some victims of both the May 23 bridge collapse in Washington state and Hurricane Katrina were blameworthy for not doing enough to protect themselves.
Katz, who hosts a radio show and is a contributor to a number of conservative news sites, also claimed that not a single British citizen cared about a May 22 attack on a British soldier in London "because they have an entire society now where you can kill a soldier in broad daylight and no one says, 'let's do something about this.'" Host Cam Edwards claimed that bystanders in the aftermath of the attack were "docile" and "nobody did anything." From the May 24 edition of Cam & Company on NRANews.com:
While criticizing the actions of victims of recent disasters, Katz claimed that some victims of Hurricane Katrina were "up to their knees in water screaming out, where is the government to help me?" He added: "Well if you don't know how to get to dry land or how to move before the storm comes, this is what you get."
From the May 23 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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David Kopel, a gun activist who frequently writes for the National Rifle Association's publications, has been identified by Denver Fox affiliate KDVR/FOX31 as a source for a fake story about a gun executive who was supposedly detained after being misidentified as a terrorist.
Kopel, who is an adjunct professor at the University of Denver's law school, is currently representing a group of sheriffs who seek to overturn Colorado's newly enacted gun violence prevention laws. In January, Kopel testified against stronger gun laws before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
According to a May 22 article, Kopel put KDVR in touch with a woman who claimed that Daniele Perazzi, an executive for Italian shotgun company who actually died in 2012, had been taken in for questioning by police in Denver after a cab driver misidentified him as a terrorist. It later became apparent that the woman, identified as Korrine Aguirre, fabricated the account.
KDVR reported that Kopel "first told FOX31 Denver" about the incident and referred them to Aguirre, "who, it now appears, concocted an elaborate but false story." The news outlet was also in touch with NRA board member Steve Schreiner, who claimed to be at the Colorado Gun Collectors Association show, where Perazzi was supposedly heading to when he was accused of being a terrorist:
Two trusted sources who told FOX31 Denver that an Italian gun company executive was questioned by local law enforcement after a Denver cab driver thought he might be a terrorist now say they were misled.
David Kopel, a nationally-recognized Second Amendment attorney with the Independence Institute in Denver, first told FOX31 Denver about the alleged incident Saturday. He referred us to Korrine Aguirre, who, it now appears, concocted an elaborate but false story.
Steve Schreiner, a Colorado board member of the National Rifle Association, told us he was at the gun show. He said Aguirre told him about the alleged questioning of Perazzi by police.
FOX31 Denver News Director Ed Kosowski has acknowledged, "More steps should have been taken to corroborate Aguirre's story and verify information provided by Kopel and Schreiner."