The false conservative media talking point that Umpqua Community College (UCC) was a "gun-free zone" was frequently pushed on CNN and Fox News in the aftermath of an October 1 mass shooting where a gunman killed nine and wounded several others on the Roseburg, Oregon, campus.
Conservative media figures often claim that mass shootings tend to happen in so-called "gun-free zones" in order to advocate for less restrictive gun laws. In reality, most mass shootings occur where firearms are allowed, and a Mother Jones review of mass public shootings over a 30-year period concluded, "In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. And in other recent (but less lethal) rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, those civilians not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed."
Within the first two hours of breaking news reporting on the UCC shooting, claims that UCC was a "gun-free zone" began to appear on CNN and Fox News. The claim, however, was untrue under any reasonable definition of what a "gun-free zone" could be. According to a Newsweek interview of more than a dozen people connected with UCC, it was "common knowledge" that "many students carried guns" on UCC's campus.
Under Oregon law, individuals with concealed carry permits are allowed to carry guns on the grounds of public colleges and universities. Public colleges and universities can create a policy to not allow guns within campus buildings. UCC did not allow guns in buildings "except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations," which was apparently interpreted by students as allowing concealed carry with a lawfully issued permit.
As one student explained to Newsweek, "You are allowed to conceal and carry on that campus. It's not a gun-free zone":
"You are allowed to conceal and carry on that campus," said Umpqua student and part-time wildland firefighter Jeremy Smith, 24. "It's not a gun-free zone."
Smith said he would never return to campus without a handgun.
"I'm an avid gun owner," he said. "I carry, like just about anybody else does."
Although Oregon state law allows concealed weapons, Umpqua's student handbook says firearms are prohibited on college property "except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations."
The school includes firearms training in its criminal justice program for people accepted into a Police Reserve Academy. Students use the Roseburg Rod and Gun Club, a short drive from campus, to shoot or get help registering for a concealed-carry permit, an employee there said.
While there were two unarmed security guards at the sprawling campus, several current and former students said legally carrying concealed handguns was not unusual, particularly among the hundreds of military veterans who attend classes and frequent the Student Veterans Center.
News reports also established that there were indeed armed students on campus at the time of the shooting. A student who also happened to be a U.S. military veteran described on MSNBC why he and other veterans he was with decided not to intervene, explaining, "Not knowing where SWAT was on their response time, they wouldn't have known who we were, if we had our guns ready to shoot they could think we were bad guys."
Despite this plethora of evidence that UCC was not a "gun-free zone," CNN and Fox News continued to advance the falsehood in the week after the shooting.
According to a review of internal Media Matters video archives of coverage between October 1 and October 6, the "gun-free zone" falsehood as it relates to UCC was mentioned 23 times on Fox News, with just two instances where it was explained that UCC was not a "gun-free zone." The falsehood appeared 25 times on CNN, with four of those instances being debunked with accurate information.
By contrast, the falsehood was advanced just once on MSNBC without pushback, and in two instances the "gun-free zone" claim was pro-actively debunked without someone first pushing the myth:
Fox News ran 23 segments where it was claimed that UCC was a "gun-free zone." The claims came from Fox News reporters, hosts, guests and soundbites of GOP presidential candidates making the claim. The claim was debunked in only two cases.
In one of these instances, during the October 1 broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor, guest David Jaques, the publisher of the Roseburg Beacon News, explained "it's not a gun-free zone," citing a statement from UCC's past president.
False claims about UCC being a "gun-free zone" were not limited to conservative punditry on Fox News. During breaking news coverage of the shooting on October 1, Fox News correspondent and breaking news anchor Trace Gallagher falsely reported, "As we know, and have been reporting, Umpqua Community College is a gun-free zone."
On October 2, Fox News correspondent William La Jeunesse falsely reported UCC was a "gun-free zone" during several news reports. During the October 2 broadcast of Happening Now, La Jeunesse falsely reported, "This was a gun-free zone." Later on Outnumbered, La Jeunesse editorialized further, saying, "This was a gun-free zone, so the gunman had no fear of being shot himself by other students."
CNN ran 25 segments that included claims that UCC was a "gun-free zone," with claims coming from CNN hosts, guests, and unchallenged soundbites of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump pushing the falsehood during a speech.
In four instances, other on-air individuals corrected the claim that UCC was a "gun-free zone."
During the early morning hours of October 2, CNN ran a report several times that erroneously reported UCC was "technically ... a gun-free zone" in a botched attempt to explain Oregon law and UCC policies.
The claim that UCC was a "gun-free zone" was made just once on MSNBC, by co-host Willie Geist during the October 2 broadcast of Morning Joe.
In two other instances, the notion that UCC was a "gun-free zone" was preemptively debunked, once by Mark Kelly, whose wife, then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting, and once by MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff who explained, "This was not a so-called gun-free zone" while relaying reports of concealed carry on campus and students who were carrying guns during the shooting.
Media Matters reviewed internal video archives for MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News beginning at 2 P.M. EST on October 1 and ending at 11:59 P.M. EST on October 6, searching for the term "gun-free zone." Segments that included this term were reviewed to determine whether the claim that UCC was a "gun-free zone" was either advanced, debunked, or both advanced and debunked. Segments that referenced Oregon gun law or UCC gun policy but ultimately concluded that UCC was a "gun-free zone" were coded as "Segments Pushing 'Gun-Free Zones' Myth."
Chart by Craig Harrington.
Some in the media reacted to the killing spree in Isla Vista, California that claimed the lives of six victims with offensive or bizarre commentary.
On May 23, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed three people in his house with blunt or sharp objects before driving to a sorority house near the University of California, Santa Barbara. Outside that house he shot three women, killing two. He then shot to death a young man at a nearby convenience store. Rodger reportedly committed suicide with one of his guns, but not before killing six people and wounding 13 others.
Much attention has focused on a video uploaded by Rodger on YouTube where he describes his desire to kill women in a "day of retribution" against those who has refused his sexual advances and a 140-page manifesto that described his hatred towards the world and in particular women.
Media reactions to the killings included: A Fox News guest suggested the shooting was the result of "homosexual tendencies"; a Fox News contributor who blamed a "war on masculinity" for the killing spree; conservative commentators who lashed out at a victim's father who castigated the National Rifle Association during an emotional press conference; and a CNN reporter described Rodger's manifesto as "really well written" and compared it to a Dickens novel.
Writing at RedState.com, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson claimed that Rodger "lived the very lifestyle the cultural left thinks men should live" and that his actions were a consequence of a "war on masculinity." One of the features of this "war," according to Erickson, is that "[i]nstead of men and women complimenting each other, they're supposed to be perfectly equal even if they are not."
Best we can tell, Elliot Rodger lived the very lifestyle the cultural left thinks men should live and that is regularly glorified on the silver screen. For all the talk of a "War on Women," there has actually been a war on masculinity for a few decades. And more and more twenty-something young men are getting lost and acting out while society tries to find something new to replace the tried and true.
Society used to expect men to open doors, protect their families, and be champions of modesty and virtue. But chivalry is dead. Instead of men and women complimenting each other, they're supposed to be perfectly equal even if they are not. The hook up culture, instant gratification, and selfishness pervade our culture.
CNN host Erin Burnett and reporter Deb Feyerick gave serious treatment to National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent's baseless claim that President Obama will attempt to confiscate firearms, even discussing what would happen if the government tried to "take all the guns away tomorrow." Significantly, none of the proposals to reduce gun violence supported by the Obama administration in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre involve firearm confiscation.
Even though Nugent, who in part blamed the Newtown massacre on an "embarrassing, politically correct culture," is not a credible figure in the gun policy debate, Feyerick repeated his wild-eyed conspiracy theories on Erin Burnett OutFront:
BURNETT: President Obama has said he doesn't have any intention of confiscating guns, that that is not his goal, he's not trying to attack the Second Amendment. Nugent, though, doesn't believe him, why?
FEYERICK: No, he doesn't believe him at all. Because the way he sees it, he says, look, the majority of guns, 310 million guns, are in the hands of law-abiding citizens. The minority are in the hands of criminals, they're the ones who are committing the crimes. And that's why he says, look, why is the government coming after us saying we are going to ban these guns when we are not the ones who are doing anything. And so he focuses on criminality, on people who have mental illness, on making sure people stay in prisons long enough. But he says it's not the gun. And that's really the point that the NRA is trying to convey as part of this debate that is going on in the country right now.
BURNETT: So what would you do if there were a gun ban, just ignore it?
FEYERICH: Well, in many cases, yes. Because how do you enforce a gun ban? What do you do? If you take all the guns away tomorrow, people are out there who are going to find and get their hands on guns --
BURNETT: And as you said there are hundreds of millions already out there.
FEYERICH: Absolutely. What do you do? Do you give them -- do you hand in your guns? And that's the slippery slope that [Nugent] sees. That in fact once you start in that direction you're going to be giving up these things, or law enforcement is going to be coming, and trying to register them. So there is a whole series of reasons why they simply do not trust any sort of gun restriction in that way.
While much of Obama's plan to reduce gun violence involves strengthening the background check system for gun transactions, improving mental health services and making schools safer, the proposals that directly regulate firearms don't involve confiscation.
Previewing her upcoming special, CNN reporter Deb Feyerick praised NRA board member Ted Nugent for his "deep connection with the facts" on gun violence. But Nugent's radical views on gun ownership and outrageous and offensive comments about President Obama and prominent Democrats demonstrate that he is not a credible source for information on guns.
On Erin Burnett OutFront, Feyerick previewed a CNN special recorded at Nugent's home that featured a conversation about strengthening gun laws. During the segment Feyerick lauded Nugent for his "very firm grasp of the facts" about gun violence. Feyerick went on to describe Nugent as having "a very deep connection with the facts and the facts that he needs to make his argument":
But despite Feyerick's repeated praise, Nugent is an extremist on the subjects of both guns and government. Nugent has espoused numerous outrageous and offensive comments about gun violence and prominent Democratic politicians.