In this presidential election cycle's only debate devoted solely to domestic issues, moderator and former PBS host Jim Lehrer did not ask the candidates what they would do to address gun violence in America. This silence comes in the wake of several high profile mass shootings and a high-profile campaign by survivors and advocates to push the candidates to detail their plans to deal with the issue.
Every year roughly 30,000 Americans die from gun violence. In early 2011, a gunman used a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine to kill six people and wound 13 others, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, at a town hall event held by the congresswoman. This year has featured prominent mass shootings at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
Some in the media have distorted polling to claim that Americans are largely satisfied with gun laws. But other surveys show that large majorities of Americans support a wide array of specific laws that would bolster gun violence prevention, including requiring all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check and banning high capacity magazines and assault weapons.
Seeking to increase public discussion of an issue the American people have said they care about, the Brady Campaign asked Lehrer to ask the candidates to address the issue during this evening's debate, while Mayors Against Illegal Guns produced an ad featuring Aurora shooting survivor Stephen Barton telling viewers, "when you watch the presidential debates, ask yourself who has a plan to stop gun violence."
Thanks to Lehrer, Americans are no closer to an answer on that question.
NRA News is deliberately misleading its supporters about Mitt Romney's firearms policies while he served as governor of Massachusetts. During the October 2 edition of Cam & Company, host Cam Edwards suggested that any action taken by then-Governor Romney on assault weapons was supported by Massachusetts state gun rights group Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) and further stated that Romney "actually undid some of the damage" of the commonwealth's 1998 assault weapons ban. In fact, legislation signed by Romney in 2004 made the Massachusetts assault weapons ban permanent.
A July 1, 2004 press release issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, titled, "Romney Signs Off On Permanent Assault Weapons Ban," leaves little doubt that the former Massachusetts governor was involved in restricting access to assault weapons. Indeed, at the bill's signing ceremony Romney stated that the "sole purpose" of assault weapons is "hunting down and killing people." In response to the new law, GOAL stated that the Romney administration "took a major shot at lawful gun owners and showed their true colors."
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: Doc in Jacksonville, Florida says, "Cam, due to the fact that Mitt Romney signed a gun ban into law while he was governor of Massachusetts, does the NRA trust him to stand up for the Constitution and Second Amendment as president?" You know, I'm glad you asked this question, Doc. Last time -- I've got to promote this video because we've got it up I know on our YouTube page -- the last time we had Jim Wallace from the Gun Owners Action League in studio, that's the state-level organization in Massachusetts, we asked him about this. Because Mitt Romney did sign a bill as Governor of Massachusetts, but he did not institute an assault weapons ban. This was actually a bill that the Gun Owners Action League in Massachusetts supported. The quote unquote assault weapons bill, or excuse me the quote unquote assault weapons ban, was already law in Massachusetts. It was already permanent in Massachusetts. This bill actually provided some relief to gun owners in the state of Massachusetts. It was portrayed and it has been portrayed in the media as Governor Romney signed a bill to ban quote unquote assault weapons in the state of Massachusetts. But that's not the case. This was a bill, as I said, that was supported by the state gun owners' organization in Massachusetts because it actually undid some of the damage of that original legislation.
Fox News' Stuart Varney and Charles Krauthammer have accused the Obama administration of breaking the law for advising federal contractors not to issue warnings of layoffs that may occur in the wake of budget "sequestration." But the administration is in fact correctly following the WARN Act, which explicitly disallows blanket notices to all Department of Defense (DOD) contractors before Congress specifies what contracts are to be cancelled.
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires federal contractors to inform their employees of the impending loss of their jobs 60 days prior to layoffs. Both Varney and Krauthammer misrepresent the law's requirements by arguing DOD contractors must issue sequestration layoff warnings before the presidential election, contrary to the legal advice of the Department of Labor (DOL), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and independent experts. In fact, because budget cuts mandated by sequestration are not currently specified and would not take place immediately, WARN Act layoff warnings would be inappropriate at this juncture and are not "the law...written in stone," as erroneously asserted by Varney on the October 2 edition of America's Newsroom, nor is the administration's position "absolutely lawless," as claimed by Krauthammer on the October 2 edition of Special Report.
As explained by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), under the Budget Control Act of 2011, Congress' inability to negotiate a long-term budget plan triggers "sequestration -- a form of automatic cuts that apply largely across the board -- [which] is now scheduled to occur starting in January 2013 and to cover the period through 2021." The CBPP has also pointed out that these automatic cuts to the federal budget include unspecified cuts to DOD spending -- including payments to defense contractors - which even after sequestration is formally triggered, would not be clear until months later. According to CBPP, "[w]hile the limit on spending authority will be imposed at the beginning of the year, the actual reductions in spending will occur over the course of the year and into subsequent fiscal years."
Therefore, as The New York Times has reported, "no one knows what 'sequestration,' the term for the automatic cuts, will look like, not lawmakers, not the military." Contractors are even more unlikely to know what the cuts will look like, as they won't be alerted by their agency until after Congress acts in January. Because no one knows which programs will be cut, and thus, which employees will be laid off when -- or if -- sequestration occurs, defense contractors cannot send out notices to those affected without notifying their entire workforce, a type of blanket alarm explicitly disallowed by the WARN Act.
A new graphic appearing on the National Rifle Association store website analogizes the supposed existence of a plot by the Obama administration to disarm Americans with ancient Spartan mythology.
As the story goes, Persian King Xerxes' demanded that King Leonidas of Sparta and his 300 Spartan warriors lay down their arms. Leonidas' refusal precipitated the Battle of Thermopylae.
By implication, National Rifle Association is King Leonidas, NRA members are the 300, and President Obama is King Xerxes. The ad explains: "King Leonidas of Sparta defended what he valued with everything he had. To preserve our God-given rights, Americans need to do the same today by supporting the NRA in every way possible!"
The NRA previously referenced September 11 in fundraising emails sent on the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks. This year, the NRA marked the January 28 anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster with a NRA store advertisement that paired the likeness of assassinated President John F. Kennedy with an image of the smoke plume after Challenger exploded midflight. Recipients were encouraged to "pursue freedom" by buying NRA-stamped mugs, denim jackets, and other trinkets.
(h/t Protest Easy Guns)
In the aftermath of the health care reform case, in which conservative Chief Justice John Roberts cast a surprising vote to uphold the law, some Supreme Court observers, including Adam Liptak of The New York Times, have asked whether Roberts has permanently moved to the Court's ideological center. But a new report by the nonprofit advocacy organization Alliance for Justice indicates that the Roberts Court remains "far from apolitical," especially in cases concerning corporate power, a point often overlooked in the media.
In an article previewing the Supreme Court's upcoming term, Liptak writes that "[e]very decision of the new term will be scrutinized for signs of whether Chief Justice Roberts, who had been a reliable member of the court's conservative wing, has moved toward the ideological center of the court." The article recognizes the possibility that the health care reform decision, rather than presaging a move to the center, may have given Roberts room to maneuver even further to the right:
The term could clarify whether the health care ruling will come to be seen as the case that helped Chief Justice Roberts protect the authority of his court against charges of partisanship while accruing a mountain of political capital in the process. He and his fellow conservative justices might then run the table on the causes that engage him more than the limits of federal power ever have: cutting back on racial preferences, on campaign finance restrictions and on procedural protections for people accused of crimes.
But Roberts' strongly conservative record on corporate power is an even more powerful argument against the notion that he may have shifted in a significant way toward the Court's ideological middle. The Roberts Court remains possibly the most conservative Supreme Court in history in many areas, and its favoritism toward corporate interests is unprecedented. In the coming term, the Court will have multiple opportunities to build on recent decisions joined by Roberts that have made it harder for workers, consumers, and investors to pursue class actions, and there is little basis for supposing that Roberts will alter his views in corporate power cases.
As summarized by the Alliance for Justice in their preview of the upcoming term, if Roberts and the other conservative justices continue their trend of favoring powerful corporate interests in sharply split opinions, the Court could:
Provide a shield for corporations and other actors committing human rights abuses abroad (Kiobel)...Close the courtroom doors to class actions seeking redress for corporate malfeasance (Symczyk, Behrend, and Amgen)...Immunize employers who create a hostile work environment for women and racial minorities (Vance)...Allow lower federal court judges to punish debtors who go to court to challenge debt collectors' abusive practices (Marx) [and] Undermine the federal government's power to regulate water pollution (Georgia-Pacific, Decker, and LA County) [.]
On October 10, the Discovery Channel will air a special on gun culture in America starring Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent. In doing so, the channel will give mainstream treatment to a divisive right-wing figure who has made countless inflammatory remarks on the topics of race, religion, LGBT equality, politics, equal treatment of women, immigration, and vigilantism.
Bill O'Reilly and Fox News legal analysts Kimberly Guilfoyle and Lis Wiehl dismissed and mischaracterized a lawsuit alleging that a citizenship question on certain Michigan ballot applications illegally burdens the right to vote. But the "citizenship checkbox" may keep citizens from voting, as the state's Republican Governor anticipated when he vetoed an earlier attempt to implement the practice.
The ACLU of Michigan has filed a lawsuit accusing Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (R) of once again violating state and federal law by including a checkbox to re-determine a voter's citizenship on absentee and election-day ballot applications. Although supporters defend the practice as a means to prevent noncitizens from voting, election experts have pointed out redundant citizenship verification is a solution to an almost non-existent problem, contrary to the claims of Johnson and Fox's Guilfoyle.
O'Reilly characterized the ACLU lawsuit seeking to eliminate the citizenship checkbox as "madness and stupidity," and threatened that if a "crazy judge" granted the injunction, he would "put the judge's face on the screen and then send [Fox's Jesse] Watters out to see him." Fox's legal analysts not only agreed with O'Reilly's evaluation of the facts and law, but also his unsupported allegation regarding the motive behind the lawsuit:
What the ACLU wants is they don't want people committing perjury when they register. They do want people voting, who are not American citizens, to advance. They believe that most of those people would vote for the Democratic candidate in Michigan. That's exactly what's going on here.
No one acknowledged the actual arguments behind the lawsuit, namely that including a checkbox for citizenship affirmation on these ballot applications violates state and federal law and suppressed voters in Michigan's most recent primary election. It was this concern that led Governor Rick Snyder (R) to veto the proposed citizenship checkbox law in July. In his veto message, Snyder, a conservative Republican, stated the citizenship question could impermissibly "create voter confusion."
Voting by noncitizens is not a problem nationally or in Michigan. Indeed, according to the authoritative and exhaustive News21 study of thousands of alleged instances of voter fraud in the U.S., voter fraud such as noncitizen voting is "virtually non-existent." With respect to Michigan, an analysis by Wayne State University Law Professor Jocelyn Benson of the Michigan Center for Election Law demonstrates that:
[Secretary of State] Johnson has irresponsibly declared that 4,000 noncitizens vote in Michigan's elections, falsely claiming that the federal government is forcing her employees to register ineligible voters.
Her data is incomplete and unverified. The 4,000 number is no more than a general estimate of how many of Michigan's 7.5 million registered voters are not citizens.
In reality, she claims to have discovered 54 noncitizens who may have voted in Michigan's elections in the past decade, and as many as 900 others who are registered but have not voted. Yet the secretary of state is able to provide details on only two noncitizens who have recently voted. That's a far cry from 4,000.
State efforts, such as Michigan's, duplicate federal law that already prohibits and punishes ineligible voting and place excessive burdens on eligible voters. A recent Advancement Project report indicates that the Latino vote in particular is susceptible to the low turnout caused by redundant citizenship screens. According to the Michigan Election Coalition, this sort of unconstitutional burden was precisely what occurred during the 2012 Michigan primary election when poll workers across the state gave contradictory and erroneous instructions to eligible voters about the voluntary nature of the checkbox. It was this inconsistent treatment of voters across the state that led the ACLU to challenge the checkbox as a violation of the federal equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, not the due process clause as Fox's Wiehl incorrectly stated.
Furthermore, Johnson may not even have the power to place the citizenship question on the ballot. The state legislature originally tried to pass the election change in a bill, and Michigan law does not appear to allow the Secretary to unilaterally adopt this failed legislation. Even if it did, there does not appear any justification for the Secretary to then ignore the standard administrative notice and comment procedure behind the introduction of new state rules. Finally, the Secretary appears to have passed an election practice change statewide, despite the fact that the federal Voting Rights Act -- in order to prevent illegal racial or national origin discrimination -- requires certain townships in Michigan to pre-clear any such changes with the U.S. Department of Justice before they are put into effect.
An investigation on shooting rampages by Mother Jones could not identify a single mass public shooting that was ended by an armed civilian, a violence prevention strategy that remains popular in right-wing media. In two instances, however, armed individuals who attempted to stop a shooting were wounded or killed. Mother Jones also deduced that successful attempts by armed civilians to stop public shootings in general, not just those incidents involving mass casualties, were rare.
The analysis conducted by Mother Jones, which examined 60 public shootings that have occurred in the United States over the last 30 years, stands in sharp contrast to baseless conjecture by members of the right-wing media that the solution to prevent mass shootings is a greater number of people armed in public.
More broadly, attempts by armed civilians to stop shooting rampages are rare -- and successful ones even rarer. There were two school shootings in the late 1990s, in Mississippi and Pennsylvania, in which bystanders with guns ultimately subdued the teen perpetrators, but in both cases it was after the shooting had subsided. Other cases led to tragic results. In 2005, as a rampage unfolded inside a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington, a civilian named Brendan McKown confronted the assailant with a licensed handgun he was carrying. The assailant pumped several bullets into McKown and wounded six people before eventually surrendering to police after a hostage standoff. (A comatose McKown eventually recovered after weeks in the hospital.) In Tyler, Texas, that same year, a civilian named Mark Wilson fired his licensed handgun at a man on a rampage at the county courthouse. Wilson--who was a firearms instructor--was shot dead by the body-armored assailant, who wielded an AK-47. (None of these cases were included in our mass shootings data set because fewer than four victims died in each.)
Appeals to heroism on this subject abound. So does misleading information. Gun rights die-hards frequently credit the end of a rampage in 2002 at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia to armed "students" who intervened--while failing to disclose that those students were also current and former law enforcement officers, and that the killer, according to police investigators, was out of ammo by the time they got to him. [emphasis added]
Mother Jones noted that 2012 is already a record year for mass public shootings in terms of the number of killed and injured. The right-wing media's response to each of this year's mass shootings has been the same: "If only more people would have been armed, it would have been prevented."
But even setting aside the fact that the United States already has the most heavily armed private citizenry in the world, and that laws allowing the concealed carrying of firearms in public are increasingly permissive and widespread, the bottom line is that there is no data to support the right-wing media's armed citizen theory.
Primetime news has largely overlooked the future ideological direction of the U.S. Supreme Court as a key election issue, failing to note that the candidate who wins in November will likely appoint justices and shape how the court will decide vitally important issues.
Other news outlets have acknowledged the significance of Court nominations for the next president. The New York Times has reported that "[t]he winner of the race for president will inherit a group of justices who frequently split 5 to 4 along ideological lines. That suggests that the next president could have a powerful impact if he gets to replace a justice of the opposing side." The Associated Press has added that "[d]ecisions on many of the hot-button issues in recent years have been by 5-4 votes. These include upholding Obama's health care overhaul, favoring gun rights, limiting abortion, striking down campaign finance laws, allowing consideration of race in higher education and erecting barriers to class-action lawsuits." Both articles note that because four justices are currently in their seventies, the next president's prospects for appointing multiple justices are very real.
Right-wing bloggers have echoed an accusation that Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, allegedly practiced law without a license. But the charge was dismissed by the general counsel of the agency responsible for enforcing Massachusetts bar rules, who said that Warren's activities are not a violation of those rules.
The accusation against Warren originally appeared in the blog Legal Insurrection in a post titled "Elizabeth Warren's law license problem." Author William A. Jacobson, an associate professor at Cornell Law School, writes that, "Warren has practiced law in Massachusetts without a license in violation of Massachusetts law for well over a decade." He notes that Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School, listed her law school office as her address on a handful of legal briefs, and is not a member of the Massachusetts bar. The charge was quickly echoed by other right-wing bloggers ranging from Jim Geraghty at National Review Online, who termed the accusation a "bombshell," to Breitbart.com's Michael Patrick Leahy, who wrote that "though Warren operated a law practice from her Cambridge office for more than a decade, she never obtained a license to practice law in Massachusetts."
But according to a post on The Docket, the blog of the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Jacobson's charge has been rejected by Michael Fredrickson, the general counsel of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers, which is "an independent administrative body to investigate and evaluate complaints against lawyers." According to The Docket:
Rule 5.5 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct states that an attorney cannot, without a license to practice in Massachusetts, "establish an office or other systematic and continuous presence in this jurisdiction for the practice of law." It also states an attorney cannot, without a license, "hold out to the public or otherwise represent that the lawyer is admitted to practice law in this jurisdiction."
Michael Fredrickson, general counsel for the BBO, says he does not believe a law professor would be considered to have "a continuous presence" or "an office practicing law."
"If they actually practice here - as some part-time law professors at some of the smaller schools do - they might," Fredrickson says. "But being a professor at one of the large schools, their office is a professor's office, and the fact that they tend to dabble in the practice of law doesn't run afoul of our rule. I don't think Elizabeth Warren would fall within that, such that she would have to register here."
During his show today, Rush Limbaugh advanced the myth that the public doesn't support gun violence prevention measures. The radio host quoted a 1998 statement by then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama, who said that "the vast majority of Americans would like to see serious gun control," and falsely claimed that it was incorrect. In fact, two gun violence prevention measures that Obama has indicated favor for -- the reauthorization of the assault weapons ban and mandatory background checks at gun shows -- are broadly supported by the general public.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST: Here's Obama on gun control in that 1998 tape. I just want to play it for you, because [Washington Post columnist] Colbert King says when I say it, you don't believe it. So here's Obama himself saying it. October 19, 1998, Loyola University.
THEN-STATE SENATOR OBAMA: The vast majority of Americans would like to see serious gun control. It does not pass. Why does it not pass? It does not pass because there is a huge disconnect between what people think and what legislators think and are willing to act upon.
LIMBAUGH: So in Obama's world, the American people wanted gun control but elected officials didn't. And that's why we didn't have it. It's the other way around. Every president -- every Democrat president, Democrat senator, Democrat House of Representatives member, they've all wanted gun control. It's the people that don't want it and never have. Not the kind of gun control these guys are talking about. Anyways, that's Obama. He said it. Not I.
Contrary to Limbaugh's suggestion, the public favors a multitude of legislative proposals to prevent gun violence. A June 2011 Time magazine poll found that 62 percent of Americans supported banning assault weapons, including 61 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans. A January 2011 American ViewPoint/Momentum Analysis poll found that 86 percent of Americans support requiring all gun buyers to undergo a background check when buying a firearm, including those sales conducted at gun shows.
Indeed, in spite of conjecture by some in the media, the majority of Americans support bans on high capacity magazines like the one used in the Aurora theater massacre, limiting the number of guns that can be purchased at one time, a prohibition on gun purchases by individuals on the terrorist watch list, and a requirement for gun owners to notify police if they discover a gun they own has been lost or stolen.
From the September 24 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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From the September 23 edition of ABC's This Week:
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During his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh again claimed that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was hatched as an Obama administration plot to disarm Americans.
Limbaugh's baseless claim was refuted by a report onthe failed gun trafficking sting released by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General on Wednesday. The DOJ watchdog found "no evidence" that the agents involved in Fast and Furious had "improper motives" and that the goal of the operation was "dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization."
RUSH LIMBAUGH: American people don't want to give up their guns. What do you do? What liberals always do. Try to create a false narrative or impression that the American people have had it and are fed up with it and we got to get guns out of people's hands. They want that cry erupting from all over America. So many people think that the point of Fast and Furious was very simple: get these guns into the hands of some of the deadliest, vicious, trigger happy criminals you can find. And they are very close. They run drug cartels south of the border. They're in Mexico. So you give them the guns and they will go crazy. Because people die in gun raids, drug cartel activities every day. And what happened was one of our agents, Brian Terry, died and more than a hundred Mexicans. And what was supposed to happen, the American people were supposed to hear this news and they were supposed to be outraged at two things. A, that drug cartels have American guns. You mean it's that easy that some local weed can cross the border buy a gun and take it home to Mexico and another to stop -- that's right. And then they start shooting people. The outcry was supposed to -- the American people were supposed to rise up in indignation. So you've gotta shut that down. We've got to stop making guns so easily. That's what they were trying to shape public opinion so that you ended up demanding gun control.
But Limbaugh's theory -- which MSNBC host Rachael Maddow termed the "specific" version of the National Rifle Association's grand conspiracy that Obama secretly plans to eliminate the Second Amendment if re-elected -- was debunked by the Inspector General report:
The right-wing media's conspiracy theory that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was hatched as a nefarious plot by the Obama administration to impose draconian gun control upon the United States has been debunked by an independent investigation into the failed gun trafficking sting.
According to a report issued by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, there is "no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization." This is consistent with a June 2011 report by Republican congressional staff, which found that "The operation's goal was to establish a nexus between straw purchasers of assault-style weapons in the United States and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) operating on both sides of the United States-Mexico border." From the OIG report (emphasis added):
ATF's Phoenix Field Division, together with the U.S. Attorney's Office, bore primary responsibility for the conduct of Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. While we found no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization, we concluded that the conduct and supervision of the investigations was significantly flawed. For reasons described in Chapters Three and Four, the Phoenix and Tucson offices adopted and adhered to a strategy that deferred taking overt action against subjects, even when evidence of the illegality of the purchasing activity was overwhelming, and we concluded, did so without adequate consideration of how that strategy placed the public at risk and what measures could be taken to minimize that risk. Further, as the case progressed, there was no discussion about whether the goals of the investigation should yield to what should have been an imperative to end the firearms trafficking taking place.
The Inspector General also specifically found no link between Operation Fast and Furious and plans to regulate firearms. According to the report, there is "no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation." The report also found that then-Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson did not use Fast and Furious as a justification for an ATF-backed reporting requirement for the sale of multiple assault rifles that went into effect in August 2011. From the report (emphasis added):
Melson told the OIG that the impetus for the long gun reporting requirement came from him, though he could not recall the date that he asked his staff to pursue the matter. He also stated that when he discussed the long gun reporting requirement with staff at ATF Headquarters, "[n]o one ever suggested that [Operation Fast and Furious] was being done for purposes of supporting our position on the long guns," and that he did not make any decisions concerning the case in order to increase the likelihood that the long gun reporting requirement would be implemented. We found no evidence that contradicted Melson's statements to us concerning the long gun reporting requirement; and no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation.
This report directly contradicts baseless claims made about Fast and Furious by members of the right-wing media and National Rifle Association leadership.