On April 25 the National Rifle Association kicks off its three-day annual meeting, hosted this year at the home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, which will feature far-right conservative media figures known for extreme rhetoric.
Tourism officials expect more than 70,000 attendees at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium for the meeting, and attendees will be able to peruse more than 400,000 square feet of exhibition space to enjoy "over 600 of the most spectacular displays of firearms, shooting and hunting accessories in the world!" As in years past, the NRA expects that roughly 80 percent of attendees will be men.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America -- part of the newly launched 1.5 million member Everytown for Gun Safety organization -- is planning on bringing 100 mothers and 20 gun violence survivors to Indianapolis in order to urge NRA leadership to support requiring background checks on gun sales.
Attendees can also view a number of presentations, the most prominent of which include the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, the Annual Meeting of Members, and the Stand and Fight Rally. The NRA-ILA forum will feature several prominent GOP officials including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Far-right conservative figures are a mainstay of these annual meeting events. During last year's Stand and Fight Rally, keynote speaker Glenn Beck depicted then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is Jewish, in a Nazi salute, leading to condemnation from Jewish groups. Other presentations at the 2013 meeting reaffirmed the NRA's hardline stance following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including the claim of new NRA president Jim Porter that President Obama would seek "revenge" against gun owners.
In addition to the NRA's own bombastic CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, this year's meeting will feature Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin, radio host Mark Levin, religious hardliner Franklin Graham, and others known for their extreme right-wing rhetoric:
Mark Levin is a conservative commentator best known as the host of The Mark Levin Show, which is a nationally syndicated radio program by Cumulus Media Networks. Levin delivered a video message at the 2013 annual meeting in which he claimed that the Second Amendment protected a "well-armed militia" in case "the federal government got out of control." (The Second Amendment actually calls for a "well regulated militia.") Levin is known for his inflammatory commentary, including the recent claim that the "key" to a Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016 would be "her genitalia." He has also accused Obama of abusing children, compared marriage equality to incest, polygamy, and drug use, compared supporters of the Affordable Care Act to Nazi "brown shirts," and advocated for Obama to be impeached.
Conservatives are cheering S.E. Cupp's false claim that the gun safety coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has "crumbled" with its member mayors fleeing in droves.
Last week former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he plans to spend $50 million on gun safety efforts, in part through the new group Everytown for Gun Safety, an umbrella organization that merges MAIG and the grassroots organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety in America.
During an appearance on ABC's This Week, Cupp, a host for both CNN and Glenn Beck's network The Blaze, claimed that "Mayors Against Illegal Guns has crumbled because he duped mayors into thinking they were actually going to fight illegal guns. And when they all found out actually they were going after law abiding gun owners, they said that's not what I want to be a part of. His efforts are duplicitous and they're measurably failing." Cupp's remarks were subsequently trumpeted across the right-wing media.
In fact, MAIG currently counts as members "a bipartisan group of more than 1,000 current and former mayors from nearly every state." While some mayors have left the group over the years -- at times while seeking the Republican nomination for higher office -- MAIG's overall membership has dramatically increased in recent years, from 15 mayors at its founding to 450 members in 2009 to roughly 850 in January 2013 to its current level.
Likewise, Cupp's claim that the gun safety effort is "failing" ignores reality. While federal legislation received a majority vote in the Senate but was blocked by a filibuster last year, gun safety efforts resulted in major executive actions; legislative packages passed in New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, California, and Delaware, among others; and the appointment of the first permanent director of the ATF since 2006. Championing gun safety in a swing state and with the support of Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC, Terry McAuliffe and Mark Herring were elected governor and attorney general of Virginia.
Lawless rancher Cliven Bundy praised "hero" Sean Hannity for promoting his cause during an appearance on a conspiracy radio show during which he also warned a civil war could only be avoided if federal "bureaucrats" are disarmed by county sheriffs.
Bundy has been in conflict with the federal government for decades over his refusal to pay grazing fees for his cattle herd's use of public lands. A recent attempt by the Bureau of Land Management to enforce court orders allowing the confiscation of Bundy's cattle to settle unpaid fees and fines was suspended due to safety concerns after armed militias rallied to Bundy's cause and some militia members pointed guns at BLM law enforcement.
Despite threats of violence from Bundy and his supporters -- and the fact his legal claim against paying grazing fees is incredibly weak -- right-wing media have praised Bundy as a conservative champion standing against an outsized federal government. Amid endless sympathetic coverage on Fox News, host Sean Hannity emerged as the network's leading advocate for Bundy.
Media Matters and others have criticized Hannity's "totally irresponsible" journalism, including his support of Bundy's extreme positions, invocation of the deadly Waco standoff, and his touting of the possibility that the federal government will kill Bundy.
During an April 21 appearance on 9-11 truther Alex Jones' conspiracy radio show, Bundy offered thanks to Hannity for promoting his cause. While he said the men disagreed about whether armed militias are the first or last line of defense against government overreach, Bundy said of Hannity, "He is my hero and he supported me and this movement and I appreciate and love him for it. Support him 100 percent." For his part Jones said, "I want to commend Sean Hannity because he has been really bad on a lot of issues but he has a lot of courage doing the right thing here. So I appreciate him being supportive of this."
The National Rifle Association's top lobbyist reacted to the formation of new gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety by calling the group's founder, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a "billionaire nanny" and attacking the group's plan to spend $50 million on gun safety initiatives.
Everytown for Gun Safety was launched on April 16, and will feature the recently combined efforts of Bloomberg initiative Mayors Against Illegal Guns and grassroots gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Everytown says it "will ask Americans to join the fight to reduce the gun violence that kills 86 Americans every day and affects every town -- big cities and small towns alike." The group will work in Washington while also "moving beyond Congress to bring the fight for common-sense gun policies to state capitols, corporate boards, and state and federal elections -- fields of play formerly occupied almost solely by the gun lobby."
Bloomberg announced in The New York Times that he plans to spend $50 million this year on gun safety initiatives. Republican and Democratic officials, including President Bush's secretary of homeland security and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sit on the board of Everytown, as do several prominent survivors and family members of victims of gun violence.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza baselessly criticized former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun safety efforts, claiming without evidence that Bloomberg's "persona could hurt" the campaign.
Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million this year "building a nationwide grass-roots network to motivate voters who feel strongly about curbing gun violence," The New York Times reported. Republican and Democratic officials, including President Bush's secretary of homeland security and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sit on the board of Bloomberg's new group, Everytown for Gun Safety, as do several prominent survivors and family members of victims of gun violence.
Responding to the news, Cillizza criticized Bloomberg for allegedly making himself "the face of his new gun violence push." Cillizza wrote that Bloomberg "doesn't fully grasp how he is viewed by many people outside of major cities and the Northeast," who supposedly see the former Mayor as "the living, breathing symbol of the sort of nanny government they loathe."
It's true that Bloomberg has been harshly criticized by conservative media outlets for his work as mayor of New York City. But Cillizza errs in conflating this "conservative vitriol" from critics like Michelle Malkin -- hard-right types who will never support a gun safety agenda -- with the views of the people Bloomberg "needs to convince."
As Cillizza himself notes, polling data doesn't bear out the contention that there's a massive wave of anti-Bloomberg sentiment. According to the 2013 poll Cillizza cites, roughly equal numbers of Americans view the former New York City mayor favorably or unfavorably, while slightly fewer haven't heard of him or have no opinion. Other polls likewise show no massive anti-Bloomberg movement of the type Cillizza suggests.
Cillizza claims Bloomberg's persona impedes his efforts with the Republican-leaning women Bloomberg "needs to convince" for his efforts to be successful. But he provides no evidence that a sizable number of those women see Bloomberg unfavorably -- or that any block of swing voters, moderates, or independents do so. Indeed, the proposals Bloomberg supports, such as universal background checks on firearms purchases, have overwhelming public support.
Cillizza's case study for the supposed opposition also doesn't hold up. He writes:
The more groups opposed to gun control are able to cast the effort to pass measures that would tighten said laws as the efforts of a New York City billionaire bent on telling you how to live your life, the less effective the effort will be. Look at how badly Virginias reacted when Bloomberg ran stings in the Commonwealth in 2007 and when he made comments in 2012 about how so many guns used in New York City came from Virginia. People don't like others telling them how to handle their business -- especially if that person is a billionaire New York City resident who wants to regulate things like sugar in soda.
Cillizza leaves out what happened in Virginia in 2013, when pro-gun safety candidates backed by millions in election spending from Bloomberg-supported groups were elected as the state's governor and attorney general. Either the people of Virginia weren't as opposed to Bloomberg as Cillizza thinks, or their opinion of him didn't matter as much as Cillizza thinks.
Cliven Bundy, a cattle rancher in Nevada, is embroiled in a decades-long fight with the federal government over grazing rights on public land. Since 1993, Bundy has refused to pay for his use of 600,000 acres of public land to feed his cattle because he does not recognize the federal government's ownership of the land. Tensions recently escalated when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began confiscating -- pursuant to court orders -- Bundy's cattle in order to pay off the $1 million in fees and trespassing fines Bundy owes.
During the dispute, Bundy and his family have repeatedly threatened violence, invoked revolutionary rhetoric, and issued public statements making known that they own firearms and are willing to use them.
Drudge's hyping of the dispute comes as armed militia groups are reportedly entering the area to support Bundy; the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that "[s]erious bloodshed was narrowly avoided" during an April 9 confrontation between Bundy supporters and federal law enforcement agents. BLM says one of its agents used a Taser on one of Bundy's sons after BLM authorities were assaultedand intimidated during that incident.
The dispute has been given top billing on Drudge, with the headline, "Heavily-Armed Feds Surround Nevada Ranch," accompanied with an image of anti-BLM protest signs. Also featured on Drudge's homepage is the headline, "Militia Members Arrive: We're not 'afraid to shoot'...":
After Attorney General Eric Holder discussed his support for developing and improving technology that would allow guns to only be fired by authorized users, members of the right-wing media concocted a baseless conspiracy theory that the technology would be used by the government to spy on lawful gun owners.
The 2014 National Rifle Association annual meeting's prayer breakfast will be keynoted by a reverend who claimed that the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre "is what happens when a society turns its back on God" by separating religion from public education or government.
According to the NRA, Dr. Franklin Graham will lead an April 27 prayer breakfast during the NRA's 2014 annual meetings and exhibits. Graham, who is the son of evangelist Billy Graham, is described by the NRA as "a world humanitarian and spiritual voice for our country."
Six days after a gunman killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch flagged a radio interview where Graham discussed the shooting, saying, "we've taken God our of our school, we've taken him out of our government and now we seem shocked at all of these things. Why are we shocked? We shouldn't be shocked. This is what happens when a society turns its back on God":
Following the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona that left six dead and 13 wounded, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Graham criticized a nationally televised memorial service for the victims because it included a Native American prayer. In The Washington Times, Graham wrote that the prayer "can do nothing to comfort" the victims of the shooting and added, "For the sake of these innocent people and for Americans everywhere, I wish someone could have prayed to the One who created all of us, Almighty God."
When a mass shooting occurs, conservative media rush to blame mental health, video games, a lack of armed people present, and even liberal values -- anything but the fact that the shooter was able to get a gun.
But the single proximate factor in all mass shootings, and in all gun violence really, is that it is easy for dangerous people to access high-powered firearms. Lack of access to firearms typically makes it difficult for would-be mass murderers to carry out their plans. For instance, experts say mass stabbings are extremely rare in the United States. To the contrary, 69 percent of all homicides are committed with a gun. Of 37 public mass killings since 2006, 33 involved firearms, while the Boston Marathon bombings, an incident involving a car, and two cases of arson accounted for the other four incidents.
Furthermore, academic research has linked the easy availability of firearms to homicide. According to numerous studies, "where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide." Compared to other high income nations which typically more strongly regulate the availability of firearms, the United States' gun homicide rate is 19.5 times higher, leading to an overall homicide rate that is 6.9 times higher. Research has also shown, "across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded."
Following the April 2 shooting at Fort Hood that left three victims dead and 16 others wounded, conservative media have refused to acknowledge the role of easy access to firearms in shootings and have instead claimed mass shootings are caused by video games, mental health problems, the "culture war," and by a deficiency in the number of firearms carried by the general public.
MSNBC military analyst and retired colonel Jack Jacobs pushed back against the conservative claim that all soldiers should be armed on U.S. military bases in a contentious head-to-head interview alongside pro-gun researcher John Lott.
Right-wing media have rushed to blame restrictions on the ability of soldiers to carry sidearms on military bases for the April 2 mass shooting at Fort Hood. But military veterans and base commanders, including Fort Hood's own commanding officer, have said that calls to expand access to firearms on bases are flawed.
Jacobs, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, added his voice to those critics during the April 4 edition of Jansing and Co.
"The situation that existed at Fort Hood the other day, in a circumstance in which everybody has weapons, could very easily result and probably would have resulted in an enormous mass fratricide, and you would have this all the time," said Jacobs. "Arming everybody in a civilian situation like at Fort Hood would result in a terrible, terrible tragedy, larger than this one."
Later in the segment, Lott repeatedly tried to interrupt Jacobs, with the MSNBC analyst responding, "Be quiet... please, don't be rude. Please, don't be rude... Be quiet."
Jacobs concluded: "No responsible commander would ever agree to arm all of his soldiers on post, that's all there is to it, and I know, I've commanded lots of troops in and out of combat."
Thanks to National Rifle Association-backed legislation, commanding officers of the gunman responsible for the latest mass shooting at Fort Hood were barred by law from asking him about the privately owned handgun he used to carry out the shooting.
On April 2, Army Spec. Ivan Lopez killed three and wounded 16 others during a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, before taking his own life. During a press conference that night, Fort Hood's commanding general Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley said that the shooter, a combat veteran, "was undergoing behavioral health and psychiatric treatment for depression and anxiety and a variety of other psychological and psychiatric issues." Milley also said that the shooter "was currently under diagnosis for [posttraumatic stress disorder], but he had not yet been diagnosed with PTSD" and had reportedly "self-reported a traumatic brain injury" but that "he was not wounded in action [according] to our records."
Milley also said that the shooter "was using a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol that was purchased recently in the local area." He added that the weapon was not registered with Fort Hood, which is a requirement for weapons stored on base, but not for those kept off base (Lopez reportedly lived in an apartment off base). Despite the treatment Lopez was undergoing, his commanding officer would not have been allowed to ask Lopez about this privately owned gun.
In 2011, at the behest of the NRA, the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 was amended to prohibit the Department of Defense from collecting or recording any information "relating to the otherwise lawful acquisition, possession, ownership, carrying, or other use of a privately owned firearm." In practice, commanders could no longer ask soldiers about privately-owned firearms kept off base. In celebrating the law's enactment, the NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, said that the legislation was "developed by NRA-ILA and pro-Second Amendment members of Congress" and that the law would "protect the privacy and Second Amendment rights of gun-owning military personnel and their families." It is impossible to know whether Lopez's commander was in a position to ask him about privately owned guns, but the circumstances of the shooting do highlight the NRA's nonsensical foray into interfering with the judgment of commanding officers.
In the wake of the shooting that left four dead, including the gunman, several conservative media figures are urging the Pentagon to change its policy that typically bars the carrying of concealed weapons or side arms by soldiers who are not involved in law-enforcement activities.
Conservative radio host Mark Levin asked "how many more deaths" it will take before service members are "allowed to have weapons." TownHall.com editor and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich tweeted, "Should we stop giving soldiers guns? Oh wait, already did that. Result? mass shootings in gun free, defenseless military bases." Fox News host Martha MacCallum suggested that it's "highly possible" lives could have been saved at Fort Hood "if other people had been armed on that base."
But those who have commanded military bases and served as officers disagree, citing the concerns about increased violence and potential danger to innocent bystanders.
"My own personal feeling is that I would be against that. I don't think that's an appropriate solution to what we have seen at Fort Hood," said retired Lt. Gen. Edward Anderson, a 39-year Army veteran and West Point graduate. "This has to be very, very carefully thought out. The implications of what that would result in. There are other means by which you can enhance security on installations than arming everyone -- increasing security patrols, let's take a look at all the options."
He added that a broader access policy might not have stopped the Fort Hood shooter: "The person who shot the folks down there would have been able to have the weapon. You could make the case they would have gotten him; maybe yes, maybe no. But then you have a Wild West situation there. It is just not the right thing to do."
Paul Eaton, a retired Army major general and former commander at Fort Benning, Ga., stressed that anyone on military bases who carries weapons, such as military police, receives extra training.
"We train our military police to a higher standard, they are trained first as infantry and then additional training in law enforcement and how to handle situations like a law enforcement officer," he said.
Asked about the idea of expanding weapons access to all soldiers and even allowing concealed weapons on bases, Eaton stated, "I am not in favor of that."
Jamie Barnett, a former Navy rear admiral and 32-year veteran, called more weapons "a bad idea."
"We already have lots of weapons on base," he said in an interview. "We have great law enforcement personnel, we have great military personal who can protect us. It seems to me that the real focus should be on people who have some type of mental or emotional problem, we should concentrate on that."
Asked what the negative impact of more weapons access would be, Barnett stated, "It seems like it would interfere with the legitimate law enforcement function. It does not increase safety. The more weapons you have, the more potential to have them stolen, get out of hand."
Jon Soltz, chairman at VoteVets.org and an Iraq War veteran, said adding weapons to military personnel on bases would add danger.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent wrote that opponents of gun safety laws "must learn from Rosa Parks and definitely refuse to give up our guns," citing a Connecticut law that banned assault weapons following the use of an AR-15 in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Nugent's claim in his regular column for conspiracy website WND that Parks is his "hero" because of her efforts to fight segregation came on the same day that Media Matters made available a copy of a 1990 interview where Nugent defended the apartheid, a system of racial segregation enforced in South Africa, with the claim, "All men are not created equal."
In his March 26 column, Nugent wrote, "If anyone believes that gun confiscation is not a real threat here in America or that it couldn't happen here like it did in the U.K. and Australia, just look to what is happening in Connecticut." Connecticut's new law prohibits the future purchase of assault weapons and requires current owners of assault weapons to register their guns. Despite a federal court ruling that the law is a constitutional means of regulating weapons under the Second Amendment, thousands of gun owners are reportedly refusing to register their weapons.
Nugent, who is also a spokesperson for the Outdoor Channel, went on to compare the supposed plight of gun owners to the experiences of victims of racial discrimination who fought against segregation:
In 1955, my hero, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a city bus. Good for her. In 2014, gun owners must learn from Rosa Parks and definitely refuse to give up our guns. As Rosa Parks once said, "You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right."
In a 1990 interview now available online for the first time, National Rifle Association board member and Outdoor Channel spokesperson Ted Nugent defended apartheid in South Africa, said that he uses racial expletives because he "hang[s] around with a lot of niggers," and described the bizarre efforts he claims to have taken to avoid military service during the Vietnam War.
Snippets from "Ted Nugent Grows Up? Older, Bolder, Cruder, Ruder -- And More Unprintable Than Ever," published in Detroit Free Press Magazine on July 15, 1990, have been floating around on the Internet for years. Media Matters requested a copy of the interview from the Detroit Public Library, which archives the Free Press, to authenticate the statements.
Nugent has recently been the subject of widespread controversy after calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel" during an appearance at a January gun industry trade show. That comment resurfaced the next month when Republican Texas governor hopeful Greg Abbott invited Nugent to campaign with him. Abbott's decision created a firestorm of controversy around Nugent that only dissipated after he offered a disingenuous apology for his remark. Fallout continues from that controversy, as a Texas music festival recently announced it would pay Nugent not to show up for a planned performance.
The comments made by Nugent to Detroit Free Press Magazine demonstrate how his slur of Obama is par for the course for the NRA representative (all ellipses are DFP's):
Conservative media's recent smear that surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is controversial because he supports doctors discussing safe gun ownership with their patients is curious given frequent complaints from right-wing media -- albeit false -- that health care reform posed a threat to the inviolable doctor-patient relationship.