A man accused of violating Washington, D.C.'s gun laws is conservative media's latest dubious "hero" in its ongoing effort to attack stronger gun laws.
Right-wing media are defending a Washington, D.C. man on trial for possessing unregistered ammunition by making a flawed comparison between his situation and NBC News host David Gregory's display of a high-capacity ammunition magazine on Meet the Press following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Conservative media's complaint that Washington, D.C. financial advisor Mark Witaschek faces trial while Gregory faced no criminal charges ignores that those two situations rest upon entirely different circumstances.
On the December 23, 2012, edition of Meet the Press, Gregory showed, for demonstration purposes, a 30-round high-capacity ammunition magazine like the one used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that claimed 26 lives nine days earlier. In Washington, it is illegal to own a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds. NBC apparently ran the segment after a miscommunication with law enforcement. Gregory's display of the magazine angered conservative media including Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller who wrote that Gregory "should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." In January 2013, Washington prosecutors announced that Gregory would not be charged with a crime in a letter that explained, "Influencing our judgment in this case, among other things, is our recognition that the intent of the temporary possession and short display of the magazine was to promote the First Amendment purpose of informing an ongoing public debate about firearms policy in the United States."
Witaschek's legal problems began in the summer of 2012. Following alarming allegations that Witaschek threatened his "estranged wife" with a gun, police visited his home on two occasions. During both visits, police found unregistered ammunition in Witaschek's home. In Washington, D.C., only individuals who have registered firearms may possess ammunition. Witaschek was charged with violating Washington's gun laws. The charge from the first police visit was thrown out because even though Witaschek consented to a search, the visit was conducted without a warrant. Witaschek was offered a plea deal that included no jail time and a $500 fine to resolve the charge from the second police visit, which was performed with a warrant. Witaschek rejected the offer and plans to go to trial on the remaining charge.
Right-wing media figures capitalized on provocative advertisements for Obamacare from non-profit groups in Colorado to attack a woman who uses free birth control as a "slut," "whore," and "prostitute."
From the November 8 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom:
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Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller offered false information about gun violence during an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe where she promoted her recently published book, Emily Gets Her Gun... But Obama Wants to Take Yours.
In her book, Miller advanced the National Rifle Association's conspiracy theory that President Obama is planning to confiscate privately held firearms and offered false information about the incidence of mass shootings and the capabilities of assault weapons, while distorting academic research on gun violence.
Miller's Morning Joe appearance offered more of the same as she misled on research about the effectiveness of gun violence prevention measures and made false claims about assault weapons, including advancing the notion that an AR-15 assault weapon is "not any functionally different than a hunting rifle."
Miller claimed that "no gun control law reduces crime, and that's fact," citing a "CDC study, Harvard study." Opponents of stronger gun laws often distort a 2003 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study and a 2007 study from Harvard's Journal of Public Law and Policy to attack gun violence prevention proposals.
In Emily Gets Her Gun, Miller wrote about the 2003 CDC study at length and deceptively quoted from it to make it seem as if the study concluded that gun violence prevention laws are ineffective. Miller wrote:
There has been only one extensive government research study on firearms laws in America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- an agency with a known bias against guns -- looked at the various statutes from the local to national level. The two-year investigation evaluated the following laws: bans on specified firearms or ammunition (which includes the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban), restrictions on firearm acquisition, waiting periods for firearm acquisition, firearms registration and licensing of firearm owners, "shall issue" concealed weapon carry laws, child access prevention laws, and zero tolerance laws for firearms in schools.
The final 2003 CDC report concluded, "The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes." [Emily Gets Her Gun: ...But Obama Wants to Take Yours, pg. 47, 9/3/13]
But when quoted in full, the very next line of the study undermines Miller's characterization:
The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes. (Note that insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness should not be interpreted as evidence of ineffectiveness.) [emphasis added]
The CDC did not conclude that gun violence prevention laws do not work, rather it called for further research on the topic, finding the current body of research insufficient to draw conclusions.
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller mischaracterized President Obama's remarks at a September 22 memorial for victims of the Washington Navy Yard mass shooting to claim that the president "outright trashed our nation" during his speech.
In a September 25 opinion piece, Miller claimed that Obama used his speech to "drive support to restrict Second Amendment rights" and falsely stated that the president "said that the United States is not as good as other developed nations because of our crime rates."
Just as he did at the prayer vigil two days after the horrific Newtown, Conn., school shootings last December, the president used the memorial service for the victims of the Washington Navy Yard tragedy to drive support to restrict Second Amendment rights.
Mr. Obama railed about politics for more than half of his remarks at the Sunday service for the 12 innocent people killed last week. He said the mass shooting by an apparently psychotic schizophrenic who claimed to hear alien voices should "obsess us" and "lead to some sort of transformation."
Mr. Obama has never believed in American exceptionalism, but he outright trashed our nation. He said that the United States is not as good as other developed nations because of our crime rates. He claimed that after the total bans on firearms in the United Kingdom and Australia, "mass shootings became a great rarity."
As his remarks demonstrate, Obama didn't trash America. In fact, he said that the 12 victims who lost their lives in the rampage did "the unheralded work that keeps our country strong." While Obama referenced the fact that the United Kingdom and Australia took legislative action after mass shootings, he did not say that the United States was "not as good" as those countries:
OBAMA: So these families have endured a shattering tragedy. It ought to be a shock to us all as a nation and as a people. It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation. That's what happened in other countries when they experienced similar tragedies. In the United Kingdom, in Australia, when just a single mass shooting occurred in those countries, they understood that there was nothing ordinary about this kind of carnage. They endured great heartbreak, but they also mobilized and they changed, and mass shootings became a great rarity.
No other advanced nation endures this kind of violence -- none. Here in America, the murder rate is three times what it is in other developed nations. The murder rate with guns is ten times what it is in other developed nations. And there is nothing inevitable about it. It comes about because of decisions we make or fail to make. And it falls upon us to make it different.
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.
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller deceptively attacked President Obama for briefly discussing the Washington Navy Yard shooting, downplaying the frequency of such mass shootings to allege that "[s]caring the American public is one of President Obama's favorite political tactics to get gun control."
Before a scheduled September 16 speech on the economy, Obama addressed the shooting earlier that day at the Washington Navy Yard, where at least one gunman opened fire at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command and claimed at least 13 lives. During those remarks, Obama said:
I've been briefed by my team on the situation. We still don't know all the facts, but we do know that several people have been shot, and some have been killed. So we are confronting yet another mass shooting -- and today, it happened on a military installation in our nation's capital.
After offering "gratitude to the Navy and local law enforcement, federal authorities, and the doctors who've responded with skill and bravery," and sending "our thoughts and prayers to all at the Navy Yard who've been touched by this tragedy," Obama concluded, "we're going to be investigating thoroughly what happened, as we do so many of these shootings, sadly, that have happened, and do everything that we can to try to prevent them." At no point in the speech did Obama address gun laws.
Miller suggested that by referring to "yet another mass shooting" and "so many of these shootings," Obama was exaggerating the incidence of mass shootings. She contrasted Obama's words with her false claim that "[t]he last mass shooting was over nine months ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown." She added that, "While we mourn every one of those children and educators lost that day -- and today in Washington, D.C. -- these events are not a cause for increased alarm."
According to reporting from Mother Jones there have actually been four mass shootings between Newtown and the Navy Yard shooting that each claimed at least 5 lives. Recent research by criminology professor Pete Blair has found that the number of shootings where mass murder is the primary motive is on the rise:
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller's new book, Emily Gets Her Gun: ...But Obama Wants to Take Yours, is filled with falsehoods about the gun debate and promotes the National Rifle Association's conspiracy theory that President Obama is planning to confiscate privately held firearms.
In a press briefing July 19, President Obama responded to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, saying, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago...the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that - that doesn't go away." Right-wing media figures responded to the president's remarks with attacks.
Right-wing media is disingenuously suggesting that Attorney General Eric Holder has disarmed George Zimmerman amid reports that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is holding all evidence -- including the gun used to kill Trayvon Martin -- from the Zimmerman trial as part of an ongoing civil rights investigation.
According to The Drudge Report, Zimmerman "can't have his gun back":
Zimmerman, who was acquitted on July 13 of charges of unlawfully killing 17-year-old Martin, is allowed to own a firearm because he is not disqualified from doing so under state and federal law and the current hold on evidence does not prevent him from buying another weapon.
Zimmerman reportedly already owned more than one handgun before the February 2012 shooting. Commenting on the handgun used to kill Martin, Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara, told CBS, "that particular weapon, he should never carry again. There's no reason to carry a weapon that's already killed somebody."
Conservative activist David Keene, who finished serving a two-year term as National Rifle Association president in May, will join The Washington Times as opinion editor. The conservative newspaper has often provided a platform for opponents of stronger gun laws and for the promotion of the NRA.
In April, after a Senate proposal to expand background checks on gun sales was blocked by a predominately Republican coalition of senators, the Times editorial board fawned over the NRA, which was credited with influencing the legislation's defeat.
According to the Times, the failure of the proposal was, "a decisive victory for the National Rifle Association (NRA), which led the fight to protect the rights of all." The April 18 editorial also employed the right-wing media canard that family members of victims of the December 14, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School who supported expanded background checks were used as "props" by the Obama administration "to make a political argument." The April 18 Times opinion page also featured an op-ed that began, "I don't believe the families of the victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., deserve a vote."
Keene, an irregular contributor to the Times opinion page, has also used the Times to promote the interests of the NRA. In a March 27 op-ed, the then-NRA president complained about a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Bass Pro Shops over the allegation that the hunting and fishing supply company engaged in a pattern of racially discriminatory hiring practices. Beyond misleading on the substance of the lawsuit -- Keene wrongfully described it as an attempt by the EEOC to force Bass Pro Shops to hire felons -- at no point did Keene mention the NRA's business relationship with Bass Pro Shops, which includes a collaborative effort to open a 10,000-square foot firearms museum.
Keene, in his capacity as NRA president, often used interviews with Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller to promote his organization's message. Miller authors a blog about guns for the newspaper and is a frequent guest on the National Rifle Association's news programming. The 2011 recipient of the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund Harlon B. Carter - George S. Knight Freedom Fund Award, Miller also is a source of misinformation about gun violence. (She is reportedly "THRILLED about [her] new boss.")
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller compared proposals to tax firearms for the benefit of victims of gun violence to poll taxes, which were used to deny African-Americans the right to vote.
Miller, who writes a gun blog for the Times, is the latest conservative commentator to compare the processes involved in gun ownership to racial discrimination.
Poll taxes are prohibited by the Twenty-fourth Amendment and have been found to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by the Supreme Court.
Most commercial firearms and ammunition sales are already subject to an excise tax which funds conservation programs. Recently, a number of states have proposed levying additional taxes on firearm and ammunition sales in order to set aside money for victims of gun violence, fund mental health initiatives and pay for the implementation of firearm licensing programs.
From the June 27 edition of the National Rifle Association News' Cam & Company:
MILLER: Chicago passed a law this year that adds a 25 dollar tax to firearm sales in Chicago, and obviously that's meant to discourage people to buy guns. Puts them out of range or reach for some people, cost wise.
Well now it's about eight states that are following suit with ideas of taxing ammo and guns as high as 50 percent in Maryland on ammo and in Connecticut on ammo. Massachusetts has a tax on guns and ammo in its main bill that is going through the legislature at pretty rapid speed on gun control. So Congressman Graves in the House, Sam Graves, has a bill that would eliminate the ability of these states and jurisdictions to basically tax your Second Amendment, which is pretty much a poll tax.
So his bill would say that Congress has authority under its ability to regulate interstate commerce, because guns and ammo are manufactured and sent interstate, that Congress can intervene and say you can't add taxes onto them, these states and cities. So that has been introduced and will go through the Judiciary Committee and I think that is a really positive move for Congress to do because it is -- I can't believe it will be held up in court that you can tax guns and ammo, you can tax the Second Amendment. I mean I'm sure these things will be eventually taken to court and I would bet they get overturned.
Right-wing media are attempting to rebut a TV ad calling for stronger gun laws by claiming that it depicts unsafe gun handling.
According Fox News, conservative bloggers, and the National Rifle Association's news program, an ad calling for expanding the background check system features a man with his finger on the trigger of a firearm that is not ready to be fired, an unsafe practice. In fact, footage from another ad featuring the same firearm clearly indicates that the right-wing media are wrong about where the gun's trigger is; the man's finger is actually nowhere near the trigger in either ad.
The claim originated with Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller, who claimed in a March 25 article that ads recently released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) are "irresponsible" because the man in the ad "violates all three gun safety rules taught by the National Rifle Association." Miller specifically claims that "the man has his finger on the trigger, as if ready to shoot," and comments, "To make an ad demonstrating actual gun responsibility, the man would put a straight forefinger above the trigger guard to make sure he doesn't accidentally touch the trigger."
Miller was referencing this moment from the ad "Responsible":
But another ad released by MAIG, "Family," which features the same man and firearm, shows the position of the trigger on that particular firearm to be much closer to the buttstock than where the man's index finger is in "Responsible":
Based on the trigger location clearly seen in "Family," the trigger of the firearm would sit approximately behind the base of the man's hand in "Responsible" making it impossible for his finger to be on the trigger or within the trigger guard.
Miller's claims have nonetheless been picked up by The Daily Caller, The Blaze, Hot Air, and a Townhall column authored by Fox contributor Katie Pavlich and have also been featured on Fox & Friends and the NRA's Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel.
Conservatives in media have adopted the false National Rifle Association claim that the term "assault weapon" was invented by proponents of assault weapons bans in order to arbitrarily single out certain firearms for further regulation. However, before the gun industry trade association attempted to rebrand assault weapons as "modern sporting rifles" in 2009 -- a change in terminology also adopted by the NRA -- the gun industry and firearm publications routinely used the term assault weapon to describe the very military-style semi-automatic rifles that would be covered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein's assault weapons ban.
As Sen. Feinstein prepares another hearing on gun violence for later this month, members of right-wing media are now dishonestly attempting to hide the history and special capabilities of assault weapons.
In a February 4 appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight, Ted Nugent, a NRA board member who uses his Washington Times column to argue against strengthening gun laws, covered up how assault weapons have been marketed when he claimed that President Obama's proposal to reduce gun violence "still calls personal defense weapons assault weapons, which is a nomenclature created by the anti-gun agenda."
As Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich, who writes about gun policy for the conservative Townhall website, put it, "the term 'assault weapon' is a made up political term." Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller has also attempted to rewrite history, recently claiming, "President Obama and his allies, such as Mrs. [Dianne] Feinstein, deliberately misuse the term 'assault weapon' to confuse the public. Assault weapons are machine guns, automatic rifles that continue to fire until the trigger is released."
On the January 19 edition of Fox News program Fox & Friends Saturday, Miller claimed that the term assault weapon was invented during the 1980s by gun violence prevention organizations for "fearmongering" purposes:
Pundits like Miller and Pavlich are merely adopting the NRA screed on this subject. Miller's claim about the origin of the term assault weapon mirrored a January 14 press release from the NRA's lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action, that claims gun violence prevention advocates coined the term during the 1980s.
During January, NRA News host Cam Edwards frequently spoke about the definition of an assault weapon on his Cam & Company show. According to Edwards, the term assault weapon is "a made up phrase" and assault weapons can be defined as "gun I'm trying to ban" or alternately "gun I want to ban."