Viewing gun rights as under attack after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the National Rifle Association and its backers in conservative media spent 2013 using inflammatory rhetoric to attack critics and promote an uncompromising pro-gun agenda.
Both the NRA and its conservative media allies frequently attempted to draw modern-day parallels between Adolf Hitler's murder of millions during the Holocaust and the Obama administration's post-Newtown proposal to advance gun safety. One ugly event at the NRA's annual meeting saw the NRA's main political opponent illustrated as a Nazi, leading to condemnation from Jewish organizations.
Even victims of gun violence and the families of those killed at Sandy Hook could not escape the wrath of right-wing media, who insultingly called them "props" of the Obama administration, as if they were unable to think for themselves. The NRA similarly politicized the armed protection of President Obama's daughters in a widely criticized TV spot.
Ted Nugent, perhaps the best known member of NRA leadership, turned heads when he dubbed Trayvon Martin a "dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe" after the deceased Florida teenager's killer was acquitted. Even given his past racially inflammatory rhetoric, Nugent shocked many by piling on his Martin comment with a weeks-long tirade in which he endorsed racial profiling and claimed that the African-American community has a "mindless tendency to violence." The NRA declined to comment.
The year also featured a number of bizarre claims from the NRA, including the host of an NRA-produced television show comparing critics of his elephant hunting to Hitler, NRA head Wayne LaPierre's claim that gun ownership was essential to "survival," and NRA past-president Marion Hammer's comparison of an assault weapons ban to racial discrimination.
What follows are 12 lowlights from a year punctuated by extreme NRA rhetoric:
National Rifle Association board member Scott Bach wondered on NRA News how the mayor of Jersey City could support a gun safety survey because the mayor is a retired Marine and his grandparents survived the Holocaust.
On December 10, Associated Press reported that Jersey City, New Jersey Mayor Steven Fulop included a six question survey about gun safety in instructions for gun vendors to bid on contracts worth $350,000 to provide Jersey City with firearms and ammunition. Among the survey's inquiries are questions about whether the vendor sells assault weapons to the general public and if they take steps to prevent illegal gun trafficking.
Fulop told AP that he hopes other cities will follow his lead of inserting a "social responsibility component" into the bidding process for government contracts:
A 37-year-old former Marine, Fulop said he hopes larger cities will join the effort. Nearly every other industry, from construction to the garment industry, has some social responsibility component, he said, so why not gun manufacturers, dealers and vendors?
NRA News host Cam Edwards claimed that Glamour magazine's Women of the Year Awards had an "anti-gun agenda" and made "the world a more dangerous place for women" because the event honored victims of gun violence, including Pakistani education reformer Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban.
Glamour's 23rd annual award event held on November 11 also honored former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) -- who was wounded during a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona -- and Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Kaitlin Roig-Debellis, who saved the lives of 15 first-graders during the December 2012 mass shooting at her school in Newtown, Connecticut. Yousafzai, who at age 15 was targeted for assassination by the Taliban for protesting a ban on female education, told the crowd, "I believe the gun has no power at all."
On the November 14 edition of NRA News show Cam & Company, guest Laura Carno, the founder of conservative non-profit I Am Created Equal, suggested that Yousafzai could have defended herself from the Taliban with a gun and later said that the award event should have invited Carno and other female gun rights activists.
National Rifle Association News defended the conduct of fringe gun group Open Carry Texas (OCT) after it intimidated four members of the gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action (MDA) by displaying assault weapons as the four members met at a Dallas-area restaurant.
While MDA founder Shannon Watts said the MDA members and other restaurant patrons were "terrified" by the sight of a group of about 40 OCT members milling around the restaurant parking lot, NRA News host Cam Edwards said there was "no evidence" OCT engaged in intimidation.
Edwards' comments on the controversy came during a November 12 segment on Cam & Company that featured National Review Online writer Charles C.W. Cooke, who wrote a series of articles about the OCT protest that attempted to call into doubt MDA's claims that they felt intimidated by the armed protesters.
Following a tragic incident in Northern California where police fatally shot a teenager whose pellet gun was mistaken for an assault weapon, questions are being raised over the National Rifle Association's role in blocking a 2011 state legislative proposal to require BB and pellet guns to be brightly colored in order to avoid confusion.
On October 22, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot seven times by a sheriff's deputy in Santa Rosa, California. The deputy, identified by media as a "gun expert", apparently believed that the pellet gun Lopez carried was an AK-47 assault weapon. Indeed, an image from a law enforcement press conference taken by The Press Democrat demonstrates the similarity between the pellet gun and an assault weapon. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department also released a photo of the pellet gun Lopez was carrying:
Photo Credit: Sonoma County Sheriff's Department
The tragic shooting, now under investigation by the FBI, could have been avoided if the NRA did not block a 2011 legislative proposal in California that would have required pellet and BB guns to be brightly colored to avoid confusion with real firearms. The NRA used its lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action, to fearmonger about the proposal, while NRA News repeatedly hosted an NRA lobbyist to attack the bill.
The National Rifle Association's media arm, NRA News, attacked an academic study on gunshot injuries to children by conspiratorially suggesting that the study was part of a "kids and anti-gun hype" movement to ban firearms. NRA News host Cam Edwards further dismissed teenage victims of gun violence by falsely stating that they are culpable for their injuries because of their supposed involvement in criminal activity.
The NRA is notorious for blocking scientific research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. During the 1990s, the gun rights organization successfully lobbied for legislation that prevented the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in practice, from researching gun violence. While the legislation -- which prohibited CDC funding "to advocate or promote gun control" -- did not technically ban research on firearms, it was widely acknowledged in practice to have a chilling effect on the CDC's research priorities. The Obama administration advocated for $10 million in funding for the CDC to study gun violence in January, noting that "research on gun violence is not advocacy."
An October 18 interview on NRA News demonstrated how the gun lobby handles scientific studies when they are actually forced to confront them. During that segment, Edwards hosted Dr. Timothy Wheeler, founder and director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO), to attack a study in the November edition of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
DRGO often attacks research conducted by AAP, accusing the organization of being "motivated by deep-seated prejudice against gun owners." The organization told NBC News that its "mission is to expose the poor medical scholarship -- and the anti-gun bias behind it -- held out as truth by organized medicine and medical journalism." DRGO is a project of the Second Amendment Foundation, a group that recently caused controversy by announcing plans -- since altered -- to hold a "Guns Save Lives Day" on the one-year anniversary of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.
During his appearance, Wheeler, along with Edwards, suggested that the Pediatrics study -- which chronicled nearly 30,000 gun fatalities and 155,000 serious gunshot wounds in children between 2001 and 2010 -- was part of an effort to "hype" child gun injury in order to ban firearms.
NRA News aired a special on the AR-15 military-style semi-automatic assault weapon -- ubiquitous for its use in recent mass shootings -- that provided false information about the power of the weapon and downplayed its dangerous features.
The October 7 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel featured a trip to the National Rifle Association's gun range where host Cam Edwards and National Review Online writer Charles C.W. Cooke fired a custom AR-15 assault weapon, .308 bolt-action rifle, .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun, and .357 caliber revolver. At the beginning of the segment, Edwards noted the weapons were provided by gun manufacturer and NRA corporate donor Ruger.
After firing the weapons, Edwards and Cooke advanced the notion that the AR-15 was less powerful than a handgun because the semi-automatic handgun produced larger holes in a paper target than the AR-15 assault weapon:
EDWARDS: Having shot now an AR[-15 assault weapon], what would you tell people who say, "Charles, it's too high-powered, it's too this, it's too that?"
COOKE: Well, I think I'd say what, sort of what you were pointing out. If you look at the targets and you asked people which is the scary AR, they wouldn't say -- much smaller holes, it's quieter, it's much more comfortable to hold, there's less recoil, you wouldn't presume -- in fact that gun is the easiest probably to shoot of all of them, and it's certainly the least scary really, it's just black.
But using bullet hole size as a proxy for wounding power is highly misleading, because assault weapons fire the round at a much higher velocity than a handgun.
According to a 2011 report by doctors who had performed autopsies on soldiers killed by gunfire in Iraq, "The velocity of the missile as it strikes the target is the main determinant of the wounding capacity" and "[t]he greater energy of the missile at the moment of impact the greater is the tissue destruction." Indeed, the study found that rounds with a velocity exceeding 2,500 feet per second cause a shockwave to pass through the body upon impact that caused catastrophic injuries even in areas remote to the direct wound.
Using popular ammunition brand Hornady as a comparison point, the ammunition available for the .45 caliber handgun fires at a muzzle velocity of no more than 1,055 feet per second. The .223 ammunition most often used by the AR-15 assault weapon, however, can achieve a velocity of 4,000 feet per second. Some AR-15s are designed to accept 5.56 NATO ammunition; a similar round to the .223 that has a velocity of up to 3,130 feet per second.
NRA News host Cam Edwards issued a correction the day after after Breitbart.com's A.W.R. Hawkins claimed on his show that the mass shooting at Washington Navy Yard "happened because Bill Clinton mandated that" military bases "be gun-free zones." In truth, the policy cited by Hawkins to support this claim allows guns to be carried on military bases under a substantial number of circumstances and was actually enacted during the George H.W. Bush administration.
The myth that a Clinton-era policy was responsible for the shooting, which claimed the lives of 12 victims, was the centerpiece of right-wing media's failed attempt to establish that the Navy Yard shooting took place in a "gun-free zone."
Edwards issued a correction during his September 18 broadcast, citing a Media Matters blog that addressed Hawkins' claim, during a segment with Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller. After Edwards acknowledged that the policy was enacted under George H.W. Bush, Miller said, "Then I've written that wrong too," and she added, "Are you sure that's correct before I change it too? ... Because I don't believe anything Media Matters says."
Hawkins' claim in a Breitbart.com article about the supposed Clinton-era policy originated from a 2009 Washington Times editorial that falsely stated, "Among President Clinton's first acts upon taking office in 1993 was to disarm U.S. soldiers on military bases." Miller promoted that editorial on September 17 on Twitter.
After Edwards issued the correction, Miller attempted to downplay the importance of whether Clinton disarmed members of the military, suggesting that Hawkins' claim was inconsequential to the "public's knowledge of the issues." In reality, Miller was just one of many right-wing media figures who seized on Hawkins' false claims to politicize the mass shooting in its immediate aftermath.
While commentators have noted the National Rifle Association's tendency to go silent in the wake of mass shootings such as the one at the Washington Navy Yard, the gun organization's media arm, NRA News, has stayed on the air to conclude that no new gun law could have prevented the attack, promote false information about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, and allege a media conspiracy against guns.
Since the September 16 shooting that claimed the lives of 12 victims, the NRA has failed to issue a substantive official statement on the tragedy. The gun rights organization has posted a single tweet not related to the shooting and, according to MSNBC.com, a message on the group's homepage on September 16 said, "We grieve and pray for those who lost their lives and for those hurt at the Washington Navy Yard." The message has apparently been removed.
CNN reported that the NRA did not respond to a request for comment on September 16, noting, "The gun rights organization has typically not responded to similar shootings immediately." Indeed, after a December 14, 2012, mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, claimed 26 lives, the NRA was silent until a December 21 question-free press conference where Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
The NRA has claimed that it refuses to discuss gun policy in the wake of mass shootings "out of respect for those grieving families and until the facts are known." However, the following excerpts from the September 17 broadcast of NRA News' radio program Cam & Company demonstrate how the NRA uses its own media arm to push its talking points:
The NRA's newly launched campaign to oppose a California legislative proposal to ban lead ammunition for hunting, Hunt for Truth, has already been pulled from the Internet along with an accompanying NRA press release announcing the initiative. Using archived webpages, Media Matters documents the NRA's repeated denial that lead ammunition poses a danger to wildlife, despite scientific evidence that lead ammunition threatens the survival of the critically endangered California condor.
Frank Borelli, a frequent guest on NRA News, noted the excuse used by Nazis who operated concentration camps that they were "just following orders" to applaud sheriffs who would "selectively enforce" Maryland's new gun violence prevention laws.
On May 16, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law a ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines and a handgun licensing scheme.
Borelli, who is the editor of the law enforcement news site Officer.com and is a regular guest on NRA News, made the Nazi comparison as a counterpoint to an editorial by Maryland House of Delegates member Jon S. Cardin that criticized a Maryland sheriff who said he would not enforce the new laws.
From the June 20 edition of Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel:
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: The Baltimore Sun is very upset, particularly Jon Cardin is incensed that there are sheriffs in the state of Maryland who say that they will not be enforcing the new gun control laws against otherwise legal law-abiding gun owners. He says this is a horrible idea, in a country dependent on the rule of law, he says, to protect civil rights and public safety this is dangerous and distressing. I'm curious, what's your take, Frank?
FRANK BORELLI: I'd like to ask Mr. Cardin one question. Does he feel that when Nazis working the death camps used the excuse of, I was just following orders, was that an acceptable excuse and did it exempt them for moral turpitude for their actions? And I'd like to hear him justify that.
These sheriffs have stepped up, again this is my opinion, these sheriffs have stepped up and said you know what, we don't [sic] feel these laws are unconstitutional therefore we're not going to enforce them. They're saying, hey, this isn't a lawful order. These laws aren't enforceable. We choose not to enforce them. I commend them for their courage to do so.
The National Rifle Association's news show inaccurately portrayed a California program that seeks to recover guns from felons and other prohibited individuals as a means of placing law-abiding gun owners in danger of firearm confiscation.
The June 20 special targeted a California law enforcement program that works with the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), a database of individuals who are no longer legally allowed to possess guns. The database works by combining gun registration records with the records of individuals who are barred from owning a firearm because of a felony conviction, restraining order or adjudication of serious mental illness.
According to Pacific Standard magazine, the database includes 20,000 people who possess at least 38,000 handguns and 1,600 assault weapons.
Setting up the segment, NRA News' investigative reporter Ginny Simone said that the special would tell the story of a person who was "wrongly targeted," despite the fact that the person featured is prohibited by federal law from owning a gun. NRA News host Cam Edwards also claimed that "there are so many issues right now for the law-abiding in California because you got lawmakers going after their rights, meanwhile the criminals are getting put back out onto the streets, and it sounds like you've got a government that is in many ways just out of control."
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:
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."
As media scrutinize accidental shootings involving children, the National Rifle Association's news program Cam & Company has instead repeatedly highlighted incidents where students clashed with administrators over school policies that relate to guns.
Accidental shootings involving children have been a much discussed topic over the past few weeks, with some incidents receiving widespread coverage. In particular, a fatal accident in Burkesville, Kentucky, where a 5-year-old boy unintentionally shot his 2-year-old sister with a rifle designed to be used by young children, was covered by The New York Times, CNN, the Associated Press, CBSNews.com, and MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes.
Between the Kentucky accident that occurred on April 30 and May 14, Cam & Company spent only 5 minutes and 33 seconds covering gun accidents, mostly by attacking the media for reporting on the incidents. In comparison, the show spent 71 minutes and 13 seconds highlighting instances where host Cam Edwards felt that students had been unfairly treated by schools for their participation in gun culture. During the sole segment that covered a gun accident, Edwards criticized The New York Times for its reporting on the Burkesville accident.
School incidents that received ample coverage on Cam & Company, which airs on The Sportsman Channel, include: