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:
Scott Bach, the National Rifle Association board member who has been widely condemned for recent comments that trivialized the Holocaust, previously claimed that Hitler was "pro-gun control" and that the Holocaust may have been averted "if the victims had not first been disarmed under the pretext of public safety."
Bach has faced heavy criticism since his December 11 claim on NRA News that Jersey City, New Jersey Mayor Steven Fulop was wrong to require city gun vendors to fill out a survey about gun safety, considering that Fulop's grandparents survived the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the editorial board of New Jersey's largest newspaper, and Fulop himself have all condemned Bach's claim.
As the head of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs (ANJRPC), an official NRA affiliate organization, Bach is the most prominent gun rights activist in New Jersey. He has served on the NRA board since 2003 and an October 2011 profile in an NRA magazine described Bach as "a tenacious Second Amendment activist, who has devoted more than a decade to defending gun rights both nationally and on the 'front lines' of the Northeast--where politicians who control government are hostile to firearm freedoms."
On his website, Bach describes becoming involved in the gun rights movement "after a profoundly painful breakup of an extremely serious relationship with a woman who flat out refused to accept my interest in freedom, firearms, and the Second Amendment." He continued: "In relinquishing love in favor of freedom, I realized that freedom was the higher value in my life, and having paid an ultimate price to uphold that value, I could no longer remain quietly in the shadows."
The Anti-Defamation League says it is "outraged" by recent comments from National Rifle Association Board Member Scott Bach who wondered how the mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, could support a gun safety proposal given that the mayor's grandparents survived the Holocaust.
Bach, who heads the NRA affiliate group Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, criticized Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop on a December 11 NRA News program over Fulop's support for a measure that would require city gun vendors to fill out a six-question survey on gun safety when bidding on contracts. Citing Fulop's past service in the Marines and that his grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust, Bach stated, "So you've got to wonder why he is not getting it." Bach's implication that modern gun safety proposals recall the the Holocaust is a common -- but ahistorical -- theory promoted by right-wing media and the NRA.
Fulop characterized Bach's claim as "asinine" and "backwards" on the December 16 edition of The Brian Lehrer Show, adding, "If my grandparents had guns in their house when the Nazis came, my grandparents would be dead and I wouldn't be here. So that's probably the reality of the situation. But I don't think that you can equate religious persecution to a manipulation of the intent of the Second Amendment."
Fox News Sunday allowed Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt, who has a history of making extremist and conspiratorial claims, to push lies about the gun debate the day after the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
During his appearance on December 15, Pratt pushed the myth that "gun-free zones" are invitations for mass shootings, lied about the popularity and effectiveness of background checks on gun sales, and suggested gun violence could be prevented by putting people with mental health conditions in jail.
Fox hosted Pratt despite his past ties to white supremacists and history of making conspiratorial claims. In 1996, Pratt was forced to leave the presidential campaign of Republican Pat Buchanan after, as The New York Times reported, it was disclosed that he "had spoken at rallies held by leaders of the white supremacist and militia movements." More recently, Pratt has flirted with the claim that Sandy Hook was a government "programmed event" designed to build support for stronger gun laws. Carlee Soto, whose sister Victoria Soto was one of the teachers killed at Sandy Hook, and Mark Kelly, who is the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting, also appeared on Fox News Sunday to discuss gun policy.
Here are four false claims about gun violence made by Pratt on Fox News:
Larry Pratt, the leader of a gun rights group considered to be to the right of the National Rifle Association, will appear on Fox News Sunday to discuss the debate over gun laws in the year following the deaths of 20 children and six educators during a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
According to FoxNews.com, Pratt will debate Gulf War veteran and former astronaut Mark Kelly, whose wife former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was wounded during a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona in 2011. Kelly and Giffords head up gun violence prevention group Americans for Responsible Solutions while Pratt is the executive director of Gun Owners of America, which despite its extremist record was reportedly influential with Republican opponents of the Senate's failed background check legislative proposal.
Despite his prior links to white supremacist groups and history of trafficking in absurd conspiracy theories, Pratt is nonetheless regularly hosted on cable news to discuss gun policy. During a representative appearance on CNN on September 11, Pratt suggested that opponents of guns in schools "like bodies piling up." Days later on CNN's Crossfire, Pratt said he "would strongly encourage" putting firearms in kindergartens. Fox News Sunday previously turned to Pratt on January 13 to discuss Newtown.
Pratt, who has said he will talk to "anyone that will let us have their microphone," is a fixture on the conspiracy theory radio circuit. He has flirted with theories that the Newtown mass shooting was a "programmed event" put on by the government. Right Wing Watch has also documented numerous conspiracy theories and outlandish charges against the Obama administration promoted by Pratt. During a January appearance on a far-right radio show, Pratt endorsed as plausible the host's claim that a race war could occur between "Christian, heterosexual white haves" against "black, Muslim and/or atheist -- not that there's much difference -- black have-nots."
Here are four reasons why mainstream outlets should stop hosting Pratt to discuss gun violence:
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?
As the one-year anniversary of the December 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School approaches, National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent is blaming "the self-inflicted scourge of political correctness" for the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut.
In his regular column for conspiracy website WND, Nugent wrote on December 11 that unless America followed a series of his policy recommendations -- including arming teachers, eliminating "gun-free zones," and getting "deranged people off the streets" -- "then those precious little 20 children and their six teachers and faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary died for nothing."
He also explained mass shootings as a product of "political correctness" run rampant in society:
The first lesson we should take away from the Sandy Hook massacre is that the self-inflicted scourge of political correctness has dumbed down America enough to allow the conditions to continue to exist that will facilitate another twisted individual capable of doing the same thing to flounder about our society. In fact, it already happened at the Washington Naval Yard. It is going to happen again. And again.
There is no evidence, however, that Nugent's recommendations would prevent school shootings or reduce gun violence generally.
Channeling the NRA's first-post Newtown comments, Nugent claimed that, "The only way to stop a madman with a gun is a good guy or two with guns. Nothing else will work." Thus, according to Nugent, "supporting arming teachers and other faculty members is clearly the right choice."
In fact, an analysis of public mass shootings by Mother Jones that covered the past 30 years did not find a single mass shooting ended by an armed civilian. While the Obama administration and the National Education Association have supported funding for placing more armed members of law enforcement in schools, there is no evidence that the NRA and Nugent's unpopular proposal to arm teachers would prevent shootings.
Fox News' Sean Hannity falsely claimed that a background check occurs on every gun sale in America to attack an ad that calls for action on gun violence in memory of the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The December 10 edition of Hannity included a segment on a new ad called "No More Silence" from gun violence prevention groups Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG). The ad depicts a moment of silence for victims of the Newtown tragedy while also advocating for action to be taken on gun violence to prevent future tragedies. Asking if the ad was "politicizing tragedy," Hannity made a number of false claims about gun violence during the segment:
After American Values Institute Executive Director Alexis McGill Johnson said that action on gun violence would include reforms so that "every gun sold has a background check," Hannity replied, "We already have that." (Both MAIG and Moms Demand Action make expanding checks a major component of their advocacy.)
In fact, a significant number of firearms are sold without background checks through so-called private sales, often at gun shows or over the Internet. Gun shows and websites that specialize in private sales have been linked to illegal trafficking operations, both narcoterrorismand international terrorism, and serve as conduits for individuals who would fail a background check because they are prohibited by law from owning a gun. Indeed, research has shown that a large percentage of criminals obtain firearms through private transactions.
A new academic review from the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy contradicts Fox News' conflation of violence and mental health, finding that the two are only related under narrow circumstances and that the vast majority of people with mental health conditions are not violent. The report calls for developing better "evidence-based criteria" for determining who is more likely to commit acts of violence and prohibiting them from owning guns.
The December 11 report is the work of mental health and gun violence researchers from top universities and research programs including the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. The report emphasizes a commitment to create evidence-based gun violence prevention policy recommendations that are informed by "the best available research" on gun violence and mental health.
While noting that it is important not to stigmatize those with mental health conditions, the Consortium's report recommends expanding the federal prohibition on gun ownership by individuals adjudicated as having a serious mental health condition to also include persons receiving involuntary outpatient treatment when a court has ruled the person is a danger to themselves or others.
The Consortium's approach, where the recommendation is based on academic research, stands in sharp contrast to Fox News' reporting. Indeed, Fox News' coverage of the relationship between gun violence and mental health has often failed to provide a nuanced picture of what is a complex issue, with the network unfairly stereotyping individuals with mental health conditions as prone to violence and using mental health to distract from the most significant factor in much of gun violence: access to firearms.
The gun violence prevention movement has won numerous victories in the year since the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, even as the media has often been quick to ordain the demise of the push for stronger gun laws that are overwhelmingly favored by the public.
The year following Newtown has seen the advance of gun safety as an issue important to Americans, including a renewed interest in gun safety legislation at the federal and state levels, new evidence that the NRA cannot determine election outcomes even in its home state of Virginia, increased grassroots and monetary pressure on the gun safety issue, and cultural indicators showing a rejection of the NRA's fringe agenda.
National Rifle Association President Jim Porter falsely claimed that Medicare enrollees are asked to disclose household gun ownership to revive the NRA's decades-old scare tactics about a federal gun registry.
On the December 4 edition of the NRA News show Cam & Company, Porter claimed, "People are not interested in this government going into their records. That's why we are so concerned about everything they are doing to register people in firearms. Even when you go to register for Medicare or under these new programs they ask intrusive questions about -- that they have no business asking, they invade your privacy, and they also are asking questions about whether or not you have firearms in homes." Noting that the NRA has "been concerned about gun registration since 1968," Porter also suggested that his claim about an Obama administration gun registry scheme meant that "the public clearly sees and agrees with us about our concerns."
NRA leadership often baselessly suggests that the Obama administration is attempting to secretly regulate firearms in a manner inconsistent with the administration's public positions. A White House spokesperson has said a national gun registry "is not something that the president has supported" and the post-Newtown massacre Obama administration proposal to reduce gun violence did not call for a registry. In fact, the NRA previously acknowledged in a since-deleted post on its website that the creation of a registry by the government would be currently contrary to two federal laws.
Furthermore, in April, the NRA played a critical role in blocking Obama administration-backed U.S. Senate legislation that would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales while also making it a serious criminal offense for an attorney general to create a national gun registry.
Porter offered no evidence to support his claim that Medicare enrollment includes questions about gun ownership and in fact no such question is included in the application for benefits. A related claim that Medicare Annual Wellness Visits include mandatory questions about gun ownership has also been thoroughly debunked.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent proposed a compromise that would trade closing the gun show loophole for closing what he deemed "the federal voting loophole," which allows individuals who do not pay federal income tax to vote.
Implementing this plan would involve taking away the vote from a large number of Americans who work but do not owe federal income taxes as well as retirees and some individuals who cannot work because of illness or disability.
In a December 4 column for conspiracy website WND, Nugent -- calling himself a "prospective presidential candidate in 2016" -- framed his proposal as "a Great Compromise" and suggested that he would be willing to risk provoking the ire of gun activists (including his fellow NRA board members) in order to ensure its enactment.
The NRA vehemently opposes closing the gun show loophole -- a term used to describe the fact that many firearms sales at gun shows are conducted without a background check -- even though gun shows have been linked to firearms trafficking operations and terrorist activity. Earlier this year, the gun rights organization repeatedly spread false information about a failed U.S. Senate proposal to require background checks on sales at gun shows and at other commercial venues.
While Nugent wrote that his compromise is "mighty presidential of" him and suggested it "will make both sides of the political spectrum happy," his proposal would involve disenfranchising a substantial number of Americans.
With the anniversary of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, CT, on the horizon, CNN is promoting a poorly-worded poll question to suggest that there is "fading support" for new laws that strengthen firearms regulation.
CNN.com reports today:
As memories fade from last December's horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a new national poll indicates that support for stricter gun control laws appears to be fading, too.
According to a new CNN/ORC International survey, 49% of Americans say they support stricter gun control laws, with 50% opposed. The 49% support is down six percentage points from the 55% who said they backed stricter gun control in CNN polling from January, just a few weeks after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a lone gunman killed 20 young students and six adults before killing himself, in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
CNN's Jake Tapper highlighted the new poll numbers, asking Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to explain why "your side of this debate is losing at the public opinion war."
As Media Matters has noted in the past, asking whether respondents would like gun laws to be "more strict" or "less strict" is a particularly poor way to determine their views on the issue. Regardless of their position in the abstract, the vast majority of Americans say they support the passage of specific new restrictions on firearms possession.
That 49 percent support for "stricter gun control laws" represents a slight decline from the 53 percent who supported that aim when CNN/ORC last polled the question, in April. But that April poll also asked respondents whether they supported the specific policy of expanding federal background checks on gun sales -- when asked, 86 percent of respondents said they supported that policy. (As CNN noted, that figure "is in line with just about every other national survey released over the past couple of months.")
That shows the paradox of polling on "stricter gun control laws": in that April poll, a full third of the total respondents said they didn't support "stricter gun control laws" in the abstract, but when specifically asked about one such law, they said they were for it.
Unfortunately, CNN/ORC doesn't seem to have polled specific "stricter gun control laws" in their latest poll, leading to results and thus media coverage that is far less informative.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry's trade group, is pushing back on a conspiracy theory promoted by right-wing media that the Obama administration is using the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate the domestic ammunition supply.
In November, The Doe Run Company announced that they will shutter their primary lead smelter at the end of the year -- the last such facility in the country -- as part of a settlement the company reached with the EPA in 2010. The settlement also involves the payment of $7 million in civil fines for violations of environmental law and an agreement to spend $65 million to correct past violations. A Doe Run senior communications liaison explained to The Salem News Online that, "The closure was really a result of increasing standards and an aging facility" and noted that it would be too expensive for the company to comply with clean air regulations.
Conservative media have claimed the EPA move was a backdoor attempt to limit the supply of lead ammunition. But responding to those conspiracies, NSSF senior vice president Lawrence Keane told The Washington Times that, "Manufacturers use recycled lead to make ammunition. They don't buy from smelters. The EPA closing, which has been in the works for a while, will have no impact on production, supply or cost to the consumers."
As Keane suggested, the root of the ring-wing media's conspiracy theory is the mistaken belief that ammunition must be made from lead obtained from the earth as opposed to recycled lead. Even Doe Run, which also operates a secondary lead smelting operation, noted in a November 7 press release that the closure will only affect products that require primary lead.
The campaign manager for Mark Herring, the declared winner in the Virginia Attorney General race, says they won the election because they ignored the conventional wisdom typically pushed by media pundits that supporting stronger gun laws is a political liability.
Media pundits often claim that it is electoral suicide for candidates to call for stronger gun laws, suggesting that National Rifle Association has the power to punish candidates who oppose any portion of its absolutist pro-gun agenda. After two Colorado state senators who backed stronger gun laws were unseated in a September recall election, the media hyped this narrative and suggested the Colorado recall served as a warning to politicians who would advocate for stricter gun laws. (MSNBC host Chuck Todd, for example, said the lesson of the recall elections was that "every Democrat south of the Mason-Dixon Line" should stay away from the gun issue.)
But Kevin O'Holleran, Mark Herring's campaign manager, writes in a December 1 Washington Post op-ed that they were able to win an extremely narrow victory specifically because they ignored such commentary, ran on Herring's "strong record and advocacy for sensible gun legislation," and hammered his opponent's support for "irresponsible proposals" on the issue:
Political conventional wisdom has it that in a purple state, such as Virginia, support for gun-safety legislation is best played down. As manager of Mark Herring's campaign for attorney general, I got a lot of advice. One of the things I heard most frequently was that we should soft-pedal his strong record and advocacy for sensible gun legislation. It would hurt us outside of Northern Virginia and wasn't a voting issue within the Beltway, I was told.
Like much conventional wisdom, this was wrong -- and we not only ignored this advice but did the opposite. There were stark differences between Herring and his Republican opponent, Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), on gun safety. Obenshain opposed comprehensive background checks and opposed closing the gun-show loophole. He opposed former governor Douglas Wilder's landmark "one-gun-a-month" legislation. Obenshain also made a habit of voting for such irresponsible proposals as allowing guns in bars and restaurants where alcohol is served.
In short, Obenshain has opposed every constructive proposal to help reduce gun violence.
We knew this would open an opportunity for us to draw an effective contrast; public polling showed widespread support for sensible gun-safety laws, as did our own polling. Hence, more than a year out from Election Day, dealing with gun violence was a fundamental messaging point for Herring. And when the primary was over, and Herring and Obenshain met in their first debate, he drew a sharp contrast with his opponent on guns. We would prosecute that case throughout the fall campaign.
The NRA spent $500,000 to defeat Herring -- on ads O'Holleran writes were aimed at the group's base, not the "swing voters" that were motivated by Herring's message. That failure is not unusual for the NRA, whose candidates up and down the ballot were soundly defeated in 2012. The NRA spent a similar amount against Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, who was elected after denigrating the gun lobby and calling for expanding background checks on firearm purchases.