"Take a look to your left," said the Hon. Philip Journey. "Now take a look to your right. What do you see?"
It was Saturday morning inside a hotel ballroom at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport. We, the several hundred congregants of the twenty-eighth annual Guns Rights Policy Conference, did as instructed. Looking to my left, I saw the pundit and National Review columnist John Fund struggling to attach a new credit card reader to his smart phone. Looking to my right, I exchanged nods with an older gentleman wearing suspenders and a VFW hat. He looked like he could have served in the Navy with the airport's nearly nonagenarian namesake.
"You'll notice there's a lot of grey in this room," said Judge Journey, who when not sitting on a Kansas district court bench serves as an officer for the Kansas State Rifle Association. "That's the problem with our movement. We've got to get children into the shooting sports and develop an appreciation by them in the right to keep and bear arms. Because in 20 years, where will we be?"
This question -- "In 20 years, where will we be?" -- is one of gnawing urgency for the gun-rights movement. At the National Rifle Association convention last summer, I heard gun industry veterans joke that NRA now stood for "Normal Retirement Age." At this smaller but no less influential meeting of leading pro-gun minds, most speakers circled back to their fear that those in the room represented the end of a proud line. Even as the movement's leading activists boasted of recent victories at the federal and state level -- and there are many, from successful recall elections in Colorado to a carry law in Illinois -- they warned of a deadly demographic drop-off, that the energy and the youth was all in the gun-reform corner. "The people on the other side, like [the Stimson Center's] Rachel Stohl, they are very young and they are motivated," said Julianne Versnel, of the International Association for the Protection of Civilian Arms Rights. "They know how to Tweet and Facebook, and they are doing a very good job."
If only winning the battle for young hearts and minds was as simple as opening a Twitter account. Like the GOP it overwhelming supports, the pro-gun movement does not sound like a modern army positioned to win a culture war for the allegiance of young Americans. Beverly Zaslow, a protégé of Andrew Breitbart who produces right-wing documentaries, used to the GRPC podium to slam the television program Glee for not having "normal kinds of relationships in it." Another speaker advised the pro-gun movement to "accept the gays, if they're with us." This kind of outreach is unlikely to draw the required levels of new blood needed to replace the men in suspenders and VFW hats. The severity of the crisis was put most bluntly by Andrew Sypien, content manager for the online retail gun giant CheaperThanDirt.com. "It's the 25 to 35 year-olds who are going to replace you in ten years," he said. "If you don't get them, it's going to die here with you."
The "it" here refers to a Second Amendment absolutism that rejects as unconstitutional restrictions on the right of Americans to buy, sell, transport, and carry firearms as they see fit. For the last 30 years, no single figure has done more to advance this vision of an Armed America than the diminutive, bow-tied organizer behind the Gun Rights Policy Conference. Though few Americans have ever heard of Alan Gottlieb, we live in a country he helped create.
NBC Sports will not be a sponsor of the nation's largest gun trade show next year, a spokesperson confirmed to Media Matters. The network had served for several years as a top sponsor of the event, which has billed itself as a show of industry strength against stronger gun laws.
"Our level of sponsorship has varied each year, and this January we will not be sponsoring the show because it does not make business sense for us at this time," said the NBC Sports spokesperson.
The Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show calls itself the "the largest and most comprehensive trade show for all professionals involved with the shooting sports, hunting and law enforcement industries" and "the world's premier exposition of combined firearms." Manufacturers use the event to show off their latest products, typically including an array of assault rifles, tactical shotguns, and pistols with high-capacity magazines.
According to its organizer, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (the trade association for firearms manufacturers and dealers), the trade show is also "a powerful display of industry unity and its resolve to meet any challenge affecting the right to make, sell and own firearms."
In January, NBC Sports returned as the sponsor of the show's New Product Center, "the showcase for innovative, new equipment being introduced to the hunting, shooting, outdoors and law enforcement markets," using the event to promote their hunting programming. That sponsorship drew criticism since it came in the wake of NBC Sports host Bob Costas' on-air censure of the nation's "gun culture" and the December 2012 mass shooting in Sandy Hook, CT.
While NBC Sports will not sponsor the event, their executives will be at the show conducting meetings and entertaining clients, according to the network's spokesperson, who stressed that the network is participating for the show's focus on hunting and outdoor sports, not firearms.
The statement comes just days after a controversy involving the network's firearms programming.
National Rifle Association commentator Billy Johnson released a video that sought to shift focus away from guns and onto domestic violence following widespread discussion of gun policy in the wake of a mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. This new-found concern for domestic violence ignores both the lethal consequences of armed domestic abusers and the NRA's lengthy history of blocking measures to keep guns out of the hands of abusers.
Notably, Johnson did not offer a single policy solution for domestic violence, concluding his September 30 commentary by stating, "I don't have a silver bullet to solve domestic violence, but what I do know is that we can no longer avoid this issue."
In his commentary, Johnson referenced mass shootings to claim, "Everyone from President Obama to Mayor Bloomberg's Demand a Plan campaign will shamelessly exploit the stories of children who are killed in tragic -- but isolated -- incidents, yet these same people are noticeably silent about millions of children and innocent adults in our country who are victims of, or witness to, violence in the place they should feel safest, their homes."
Johnson also stated, "If we sincerely want to decrease violence against children in our country, it's time we stop talking about AR-15s" -- the assault weapon ubiquitous for its use in mass shootings, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre -- "and start talking about real threats that millions of our children face every year."
While Johnson concluded his video by stating that "we can no longer avoid this issue" of domestic violence, the NRA has not avoided the issue in the past. In fact, it has fought legislative efforts to remove guns from the homes of individuals subject to a restraining order because of domestic violence.
NBC Sports Network host Tony Makris defended his controversial killing of an elephant on an NRA-sponsored hunting show during the September 26 edition of NRA News by claiming that opponents of elephant hunting have a philosophy similar to Hitler's.
Makris has faced widespread criticism since he shot and killed an elephant on the September 22 episode of Under Wild Skies on NBC Sports, which also showed him celebrating the kill with Champagne. A petition calling for the cancellation of Under Wild Skies, which Makris hosts, currently has more than 47,000 signatures.
Makris has longstanding ties to the NRA. According to the Los Angeles Times, "he helped install Charlton Heston as president" of the NRA in 1998. Makris has also been previously identified as an employee of Ackerman McQueen, an ad agency employed by the NRA for decades that was responsible for a controversial ad that politicized security measures that protect the president's children.
On the NRA News show Cam & Company, Makris offered a number of rationales for shooting the elephant, including suggesting that people who oppose elephant hunting but accept other forms of hunting are practicing "animal racism." He added that he would respond to someone who said elephants should not be hunted because of their size, scarcity or intelligence by saying, "Hitler would have said the same thing."
Right-wing media dishonestly reacted to Secretary of State John Kerry's signature to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by promoting the National Rifle Association's conspiracy theory that the treaty -- which aims to stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers -- would threaten gun rights and require the United States to create a civilian gun registry.
In fact, the treaty only regulates the international trade of arms and explicitly affirms the right of a nation to regulate domestic firearm ownership "pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system." As the American Bar Association noted in an analysis that found the treaty to be consistent with the Second Amendment, "the treaty would not require new domestic regulations of firearms."
Still, Fox News continued its checkered coverage of the ATT, promoting baseless conspiracy theories about the treaty.
On September 25, Fox host Heather Nauert reported on Fox & Friends that "gun supporters are opposing part of [the ATT] because it requires the United States government to adopt a new civilian gun tracking system, and that could sidestep the Second Amendment":
Reacting to the release of surveillance footage from the Washington Navy Yard mass shooting, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich claimed that, "[w]atching Aaron Alexis stalking his victims in these videos prove a proficient armed person could have stopped him, easily." Her commentary ignores that there were armed guards at Navy Yard and that Alexis reportedly fatally shot an armed guard before taking and then using the fallen guard's Beretta 9mm handgun.
She also wrote:
Alexis fatally shot 12 people and wounded others during the morning of September 16 before he was killed by police. On September 25, the FBI released a 31-second video, some of which showed Alexis moving through Building 197 at the Navy Yard.
Pavlich's claim that more guns would have improved the Navy Yard shooting situation is the latest attempt by conservative media to brand the Navy Yard a "gun-free zone," despite clear evidence that armed individuals were on the base when the shooting happened.
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.
Conservative media are citing an article in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (JPandS) to attack legitimate research on the causes of gun violence. While its title suggests that it is a serious research publication, the journal is published by a conspiracy-minded right-wing organization and has printed articles questioning the link between HIV and AIDS and theorizing that undocumented immigrants are spreading leprosy in the United States.
JPandS is published by conservative non-profit Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), an anti-healthcare reform advocacy group that opposes almost all government involvement in healthcare. The National Library of Medicine, which bills itself as "[t]he world's largest biomedical library," has twice declined to index JPandS in its database of medical reports.
Still, an article by AAPS Executive Director Dr. Jane M. Orient has been cited by conservative media to attack calls for more research into the causes and prevention of gun violence by the Obama administration and the medical and scientific communities. AAPS aided the gun lobby in its successful endeavor to block the Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence during the 1990s.
In a September 23 op-ed for The Daily Caller, National Shooting Sports Foundation Senior Vice President and General Counsel Larry Keane cited Orient's article to attack the scientifically supported claim that "fewer guns equals less violence":
One of the anti-gun lobby's leading arguments is that fewer guns equals less violence. This seems like a logical argument, and is often passed on as fact. But, as with most of the arguments the anti-gun left recycles over and over, the facts simply do not back it up.
In the fall issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons , Jane M. Orient, M.D. argues there is no evidence-based support for more gun control measures. Rather, the statistics gun-control proponents cite are cherry-picked from larger data sets that show no correlation between more gun laws and less violence.
Orient's article was also approvingly cited by Breitbart.com's AWR Hawkins and promoted by Guns.com. During a September 4 appearance on the National Rifle Association's media arm, NRA News, Orient attacked "organized medicine" for calling for gun violence research and stated that "the best evidence we have" on gun violence "was collected by John Lott." Lott, whose research on gun violence was cited in Orient's JPandS article, has been widely discredited.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed to support increasing the number mental health records in the gun background check system, even though his organization was instrumental in blocking legislation that would have made that change earlier this year.
LaPierre appeared on the September 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press to deliver his first public comments since the September 16 mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. During the segment, LaPierre claimed that "the NRA supported the gun check because we thought the mental records would be in the system." In April his organization was singled out by President Obama for influencing the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey proposal to improve the background check system that was filibustered by a largely-Republican coalition of Senators. The NRA falsely claimed that the legislation would have created a national gun registry, even as the bill itself explicitly prohibited such an action. Instead, Machin-Toomey would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales -- including sales at gun shows and over the Internet -- and would have increased the number of disqualifying records in the background check system.
LaPierre bemoaned the fact that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the FBI-administered tool for processing background checks on gun sales from licensed dealers, is missing mental health records that would disqualify individuals from buying a gun. However, Manchin-Toomey would have given states funding incentives and disincentives for submitting records. NRA-backed alternative legislation would have also provided funding incentives to increase the number of records, but would have weakened the background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system.
David Gregory is set to host National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre on this Sunday's Meet the Press. It's LaPierre's first Sunday show interview since March and a rare opportunity to put the NRA chief under the microscope.
In his past coverage of the gun violence debate, Gregory has demonstrated the ability to push back on LaPierre's spin and force him to account for his group's intransigence. But he's also shown a willingness to adopt false media tropes about the supposed electoral weakness of lawmakers who back stronger gun laws.
In recent days, following the recalls of two Colorado state senators who supported stronger gun laws and the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard shooting, some in the media have suggested that no progress on the issue is possible, a lazy claim that could shut down any effort to renew a dialogue on public safety legislation that has gone quiet in the halls of Congress despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws. Here are a few things Gregory should remember to avoid falling into that conventional wisdom trap.
Legislation to expand background checks to cover private sales, which failed to receive a supermajority in the Senate earlier this year, is favored by an overwhelming majority of the American people. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that bill should have passed. A majority of Americans also support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The evidence does not back up the claims from some pundits that the Colorado recall elections show that Democrats should avoid the issue of stronger gun laws if they want electoral success. The gun laws passed in Colorado earlier this year, which remain on the books, are popular statewide, with more than 80 percent of Coloradans supporting the expanded background check law and a plurality supporting the limit on high-capacity magazines. The recall elections featured shockingly low turnouts of 21 and 36 percent; turnout was likely reduced by efforts from recall supporters to prevent the use of mail-in ballots that the state usually uses. While opponents of stronger gun laws did succeed in their efforts to remove two state senators, they originally had targeted two more but failed to qualify for the ballot. And President Obama and the state's governor and senator all won recent elections despite fervent opposition from the NRA.
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.
Media pundits never seem to tire of writing gun violence prevention's obituary. They seem determined to create a conventional wisdom that no progress on the issue is possible, and shut down any effort to renew a dialogue on public safety legislation that has gone quiet in the halls of Congress despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws.
Last week it was the recall election defeats of two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws that caused some commentators to declare "The Death of Gun Control." They didn't let the facts stand in their way -- the gun laws in question were broadly popular statewide, the recall turnout was extremely low, and efforts by conservatives to recall other pro-gun safety legislators failed. In years past, media have that the power of the National Rifle Association would prevent stronger gun laws from getting consideration.
Now pundits are claiming that comments from the Obama administration following the Navy Yard shooting, deemed insufficiently robust in their calls for stronger laws, mean "RIP for gun control," in the words of The Washington Post's Dana Milbank.
Milbank writes in his September 17 column that "President Obama didn't even try to use the massacre at the Washington Navy Yard to revive the gun-control debate," apparently considering Obama's statement in response to the attack that his administration will "do everything that we can to try to prevent" future tragedies insufficiently specific. In fact, it's not appreciably less specific than his remarks in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, in which he did not lay out any policy goals but said only that "we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
One tea leaf Milbank reads to bolster his case that the gun violence prevention debate is over is a selective quotation of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:
At the White House on Tuesday, the Associated Press's Julie Pace noted Obama's subdued response to the shooting and asked if "maybe there's some sort of numbness among the public since these shootings have happened so frequently." Another questioner asked if there's "an exhaustion and an acceptance that this is the new normal."
Press secretary Jay Carney said the president "doesn't accept that it's the new normal."
Maybe not. But the loss of hope for gun control is becoming a durable abnormal.
In fact, a fuller account of Carney's remarks shows that he said the Obama administration would continue to use executive action to address gun violence (the White House announced two new executive actions on gun violence on August 29) and that the administration "continue[s] to call on Congress to listen to the voices of their constituents and legislate accordingly."
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:
Soon after news broke about the shooting spree at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. -- a gun rampage that claimed the lives of 12 victims -- conservative commentators rushed to blame gun regulations for the carnage. Specifically, they blamed the fact that the Navy Yard is a "gun-free zone," which they suggested meant none of the employees could defend themselves while a madman targeted victims.
The "gun-free zone" argument has become a favorite fallback position for gun advocates in the wake of deadly shooting sprees. Desperate to turn attention away from the epidemic of gun violence in America and shooters' ability to get access to firearms, conservatives insist that if everyone were armed, mass shootings wouldn't occur. (i.e. The "good guys" would stop the "bad guys.") And in terms of shootings on military bases, the universal right-wing truth now is that it's all Bill Clinton's fault because in 1993 he banned guns on military bases, making it impossible for soldiers to respond to eruptions of hostile gunfire. Bases are "unarmed" due to a "Clinton-era law," according to Rush Limbaugh, while killers "pick places where there are no guns."
In reality, the rules on military bases don't ban all guns, which is obvious since among the shooter's first victims were armed security personnel. And those rules were actually issued during the first Bush administration and survived the second, despite their alleged perfidy.
But since Monday, lamenting "gun-free zones" has become the preferred battle cry.
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: