UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler took to The Daily Beast yesterday with a confusing message: Gun violence prevention is a "serious issue that deserves our leaders' attention," but those who care about the issue should avoid at all costs actually discussing it in public. He claims that doing so puts both progressive electability and gun violence prevention itself in peril before a wrathful gun lobby and its massive political war chest.
This argument simply doesn't hold up: the gun lobby is planning a massive campaign whether progressives push for stronger gun laws or not, and progressives have won in the face of such efforts in the past.
The impetus for Winkler's befuddled argument is Sunday's Super Bowl ad in which New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston mayor Thomas Menino, the leaders of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), state that they "both support the Second Amendment and believe America must do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals."
In the past, Winkler has been criticized for "tr[ying] too hard ... to present himself as one of the few rational voices" in the debate while improperly implying that the gun violence prevention movement is "defined by extremists." But while Winkler calls gun violence "a serious issue that deserves our leaders' attention," he never actually engages with the solutions that Bloomberg and Menino have brought to the table. At least not in this piece; in a previous op-ed for the Beast, he wrote:
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has proposed a viable and worthwhile set of reforms that would provide more funds to states to help cover the costs of record-keeping; stiffening penalties for states that don't submit records to the federal government; and clarifying the current gun laws' definition of mental illness.
So Winkler agrees that gun violence is a "serious issue," and largely approves of how the group would deal with that problem. And yet, he opposes the group actually trying to enact the legislation he supports. When or how this "serious issue" could receive "our leaders' attention" without anyone pushing for it goes unmentioned.
Since 2008, the gun lobby and right-wing media have been pushing various theories suggesting Barack Obama was secretly plotting against the Second Amendment. The National Rifle Association set up www.gunbanobama.com as Glenn Beck warned Obama was working to "take away your gun." Three years after Obama's election the purported plans to enact sweeping gun bans and confiscation haven't materialized, but according to gun lobby chief Larry Keane, Rupert Murdoch's media empire is now engaging in "corporate gun control."
Last week online reports indicated that FOX Sports Media Group had told the Ultimate Fighting Championship's parent company that gun-related sponsorships would no longer be permitted for their events. Fox and the Ultimate Fighting Championship recently signed a 7-year broadcast agreement. On Wednesday the gun lobby trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation announced they had confirmed the sponsorship ban.
FOX's decision to ban advertisements for lawful products owned by more than 80 million Americans is nothing more than corporate gun control. We expect better from FOX. So should you.
The Gun Store and ammotogo.com are among the UFC sponsors who would be affected by this ban. If no sponsorships in a single sport doesn't sound like a big deal to you, then you probably aren't working to contrive controversies in a gun lobby press shop.
Eric Bolling's gun antics at Fox Sports' corporate cousins apparently won't stop the gun lobby, which apparently wants fighters sporting monikers like "Natural Born Killer" and "American Psycho" to be allowed to be sponsored by gun retailers. What part of the Second Amendment doesn't Fox understand?
Is there any national tragedy the National Rifle Association won't exploit to make a buck?
Last year the NRA marked the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks by sending its members two separate fundraising emails referencing the terrorist strikes. Over the weekend the NRA continued the trend, marking the anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster by encouraging their members to buy NRA-brand products from the NRAstore.com. Quoting President John F. Kennedy's words over a photo spread of the assassinated president and the shuttle, the NRA told their members, "The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it."
Then the email proceeds try to unload some the NRA's "Pursue Freedom" products in the hope that Americans are willing to pay for them as well. Now you too can "Pursue Freedom of Buckle Choices" with a selection of official "NRA Western Tooled Belts."
Much like the NRA store's 9-11 fundraising effort the recent email shows real-life images of fiery explosions seen by millions of Americans above advertisements for NRA branded mugs, clothing and other various trinkets.
The Daily Caller's Guns and Gear section recently featured two op-eds authored by retired Major General Jerry Curry. In previous statements Curry has raised questions about President Obama secretly being a Muslim, demanded that Obama release his long-form birth certificate or resign, and derided Muslims as inherently violent.
The Daily Caller is currently running an "urgent poll" on its website asking its readers if the United States should "sign on to the UN gun ban."
There's just one problem: there is no "UN gun ban." While the right-wing media and theNational Rifle Association have consistently fearmongered over a proposed UN Arms Trade Treaty, there is no evidence their dark claims will come to pass. In December, the Daily Caller launched a "Guns and Gear" section, featuring content and advertising largely provided by the NRA.
The treaty in question seeks to regulate international arms deals to prevent weapons trafficking to human rights violators; the U.N. General Assembly's resolution on the treaty makes clear that countries will "exclusively" maintain the authority within their borders to "regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership." The goal of U.S. negotiators is get other countries to agree to follow import and export rules that the U.S. already has already instituted.
The Daily Caller promises to "share the poll results with major media outlets across the country," but it's unlikely that such outlets would be interested with the results of an unscientific online poll that features a flagrantly inaccurate description of the proposed treaty. The more likely purpose of the exercise is likely to allow the Caller to harvest its readers' email addresses, the submission of which is required to see the poll's results.
In a press release announcing the launch of its Guns and Gear section, Caller publisher and CEO Neil Patel criticized the media as "hopelessly out of touch with American values and interests" for not providing news coverage to "[t]he millions of Americans who own and are interested in guns." But now it appears that the publication is happy to treat those millions as rubes, playing to their fears pushing gun lobby nonsense in order to get their email addresses.
Long discredited gun researcher John Lott recently took to FoxNews.com to push for weakened restrictions on carrying concealed guns. Not surprisingly Lott again uses distorted anecdotes to support the gun lobby favored National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act. In fact, the same examples Lott cites to suggest gun laws are unreasonably punitive and inflexible actually show that even in states where gun charges can lead to stiff penalties, prosecutors have used discretion to avoid excessive punishments.
The legislation in question would force any state that issues its residents permits to carry concealed guns to accept the concealed-carry permits of all the other states -- no matter how weak the standards for getting a permit in those states. Several law enforcement associations have spoken out against the National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act suggesting it would "endanger" police officers and "compromise public safety."
Lott focuses on two prominent cases where travelers to New York were arrested on gun charges. In both cases the individuals had concealed carry permits from their home states that were not valid in New York, and were voluntarily seeking to check their guns with authorities. Standards to carry concealed guns vary among states and states like New York with stronger restrictions sometimes don't accept permits from other states with less stringent restrictions. Lott's inaccurate description of these cases largely serves to falsely create the appearance that without concealed carry reciprocity, New York guns laws result in long jail terms for accidental offenders without consideration of possible mitigating factors.
Just a few days before Christmas, Meredith Graves made a mistake that could end her medical career and send her to prison for at least 3 ½ years. The 39-year-old fourth-year medical student was carrying a permitted concealed handgun when she saw the sign at the 9/11 Memorial saying "No guns allowed." She did the responsible thing and asked a security guard where she could check her weapon. Unfortunately, while her Tennessee concealed carry license is recognized in 40 states, New York isn't one of them. Meredith was arrested.
Just a week earlier, Californian Mark Meckler told LaGuardia Airport officials that he had licensed handgun in a locked safe in checked baggage. At virtually any other airport in the country, checking a gun locked in a box wouldn't be a problem. Meckler was arrested and charged with second-degree possession of an illegal weapons. He faces up to 15 years in prison.
But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the local District Attorneys don't seem interested in showing mercy. They take a zero tolerance approach towards these mistakes.
However, four days before Lott's opinion piece was published, Meckler reached a plea agreement allowing him to pay a $250 fine for disorderly conduct with the gun charge conditionally dropped if Meckler stays out of trouble for a year.
A spokesman for the New York Port Authority police also challenged the suggestion that Meckler's violation was exclusively related to bringing the gun to the airport saying, "It's not a case that Mr. Meckler was in transit. He was in New York for several days having that weapon illegally. The bottom line is he violated the law."
The details of Graves' case doesn't support Lott's depiction of New York prosecutors taking a zero tolerance approach to honest mistakes either.
While her case hasn't been resolved yet, six days before Lott's piece was published The New York Post reported that Manhattan prosecutors were trying to work out a plea deal with Graves that according to sources cited by the paper could include no jail time. New York prosecutors also showed discretion in the case of a Maryland man accused of illegal gun possession, working out a deal in exchange for a misdemeanor plea involving no jail time earlier this month.
These cases show that when concealed carry permit holders from other states violate New York's laws unintentionally, there are already mechanisms in place to shield them from serious punitive action, without the passage of dramatic new national legislation.
During a recent interview with National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre, Glenn Beck wondered if the NRA would be able to raise the money to effectively launch political attacks against President Obama in 2012. Not surprisingly, LaPierre was confident the NRA would be able to fund a 2012 campaign blitz. Depicting unions as a political counter weight to the gun lobby, Beck asked LaPierre how the NRA could hope to match campaign spending by unions:
BECK: You have to go out and drum up the money, the unions just take it. They just have it. They just take it out of everybody's paycheck.
LAPIERRE: We raise it all through 5, 10, 15, 20 dollar contributions that Americans are willing to preserve freedom. And they're willing to support it. But, you know, that's what NRA is about. I mean, I always say we're about our membership and we're about giving voice to our membership.
There's no doubt that as in previous election cycles, the NRA will be able to funnel tens of millions of dollars towards their favored candidates, but LaPierre's claim that the NRA's fundraising is based exclusively on small dollar donations is false. The reality is that under LaPierre's leadership, the NRA has built extensive financial ties to the gun industry and other corporations. These arrangements have netted the NRA tens of millions dollars according to a recent Bloomberg News account and the gun companies funneling cash into the NRA's coffers have greatly benefited from the NRA's lobbying efforts. One former president of the NRA credited NRA-backed legislation that limited the legal liability of gun makers with saving "the American gun industry from bankruptcy."
The NRA pitches itself as a low-dollar, grassroots organization -- an annual membership currently costs $35 -- and maintains it is "not affiliated with any firearm or ammunition manufacturers or with any businesses that deal in guns and ammunition." However, the NRA has formally established many lucrative arrangements with "corporate partners."
Last April, the Violence Policy Center issued a report, titled Blood Money: How the Gun Industry Bank Rolls the NRA, which details these intimate ties between the gun industry and the NRA. From Blood Money:
Since 2005, corporations--gun related and other--have contributed between $19.8 million and $52.6 million to the NRA as detailed in its Ring of Freedom corporate giving program. In a promotional brochure for the program, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre promises that the "National Rifle Association's newly expanded Corporate Partners Program is an opportunity for corporations to partner with the NRA....This program is geared toward your company's corporate interests."
Last week, teenage mother Sarah McKinley used a shotgun to shoot and kill a home intruder in defense of her infant son. The case made national news after the media obtained the audio of her call to 911, in which she asked the operator for permission to fire.
It didn't take long for the National Rifle Association supporters in the right-wing media to deploy her harrowing experience as a cudgel against their political foes. Here'sNational Review editor Rich Lowry in his latest column:
Instances of self-defense are the anecdotes that gun controllers never want to hear. The NRA keeps a running list of them on its website: attempted armed robberies, home invasions, and other attacks rebuffed every month by the would-be victims. Surely, Sarah McKinley's assailants thought the young, slender, widowed mother was an easy mark. Her shotgun meant they were wrong. Who would have it any other way? Otherwise, the intruder has the knife and she has nothing except a cellphone and the wan hope that someone armed with a gun makes it to her in time.
Lowry's question is revealing, largely because he doesn't bother to attempt to name any of the "gun controllers" who wouldn't want McKinley to be able to defend herself.
Major gun violence prevention groups are upfront about their support for law-abiding citizens to be able to keep firearms for their own protection. Here's what the website of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says:
We believe that law-abiding citizens should be able to buy and keep firearms. And we believe there are sensible gun laws that we can and should insist upon when it comes to gun ownership.
And here's Mayors Against Illegal Guns:
We support the Second Amendment and the rights of citizens to own guns. We recognize that the vast majority of gun dealers and gun owners carefully follow the law. And we know that a policy that is appropriate for a small town in one region of the country is not necessarily appropriate for a big city in another region of the country.
The NRA's "running list" of self-defense anecdotes to which Lowry refers exists simply to push the myth that "gun controllers" don't want law-abiding citizens to be able to defend themselves.
Back in September, National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre drew ridicule after claiming the existence of a "massive Obama conspiracy" to take no action on gun control in his first term, get reelected, and then "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights."
What the "Obama not coming after your guns is really evidence of his desire to come after your guns" thesis lacks in accuracy or logic it makes up for in convenience. The NRA's "massive Obama conspiracy" justifies the need to help them raise contributions and encourage people to buy more guns.
It's no surprise the NRA's election year message is starting to spread to their faithful allies at Fox.
During a segment last night on Fox Business' Follow the Money, guests Bo Dietl and Lars Larson agreed that the reason gun sales have supposedly seen a "dramatic increase" is because of this fear that if Obama is re-elected "they're going to go after your guns." Of course, since gun manufacturers heavily contribute to the NRA, this fear helps the organization as well.
Former National Rifle Association (NRA) chief Ray Arnet once said, "You keep any special interest group alive by nurturing the crisis atmosphere." The organization has long taken this sentiment to heart. For years, the NRA has warned that nationwide gun bans and confiscation were right around the corner. These threats made up in hysterical rhetoric for what they lacked in credibility.
Arnet's comments demonstrate why the organization has adopted such a dishonest strategy. To sustain its $200-million-plus annual budget, the organization relies upon donations from both its members and the gun industry; constant fearmongering boosts donations from both. By working their members into a frenzy, they can better convince them to financially support the NRA and thus stave off that dark future.
The effort also encourages existing gun owners to purchase more firearms in case such laws are actually passed; new sales to current gun owners are essential to the gun industry given that the number of households owning a gun is in long term decline. Terrifying gun owners bolsters gun sales, which in turn keeps the gun industry profitable enough to direct more funds back to the NRA.
But sometimes, your run-of-the-mill fearmongering just isn't enough. In 2011 the NRA repeatedly turned to one of their favorite weapons to keep alive this crisis atmosphere justifying their extremist political agenda and their own existence: conspiracy theories. Below, Media Matters documents a few of our favorites of the year.
Charlie Savage's New York Times profile of Attorney General Eric Holder and how he has become a "lightning rod" for partisan criticism must have seemed like an early Christmas present to The Daily Caller's Matthew Boyle: It lets him accuse The New York Times of bias and attack Holder in one fell swoop.
It was clearly so exciting that he didn't bother to put together even a minimal arrangement of facts before suggesting the Times should issue a retraction.
Boyle suggests that Savage inaccurately reported that neither testimony nor documents have contradicted Holder's statements that he didn't know about the controversial 'gunwalking' tactic used in Operation Fast and Furious. In fact, just as Savage reported, there has not been any documents or testimony that suggest Holder knew about those tactics.
"Mr. Holder has denounced the tactics used in the operation, known as 'gunwalking,' but said he did not know about them or sanction their use," Savage wrote. "No documents or testimony have shown otherwise, but Republicans have pummeled him at oversight hearings and in news media appearances."
Savage made these statements without attribution.
Despite those assertions, Holder's office was provided with multiple briefings and memos about Operation Fast and Furious by top Justice Department officials. The memos contained intimate details of how Holder's DOJ allowed guns to walk.
The claim is specific: neither documents or testimony have shown that Holder himself knew about gunwalking tactics.
It seems that this year's effort to wage war against Christmas will be better armed than usual.
The National Rifle Association's website is currently featuring a "Happy Holidays" message from NRA radio hosts Cam Edwards and Ginny Simone and "the entire NRA News team."
This follows an email fundraising missive from NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox, who offered his "best wishes to you and your family for the holiday season" before asking for donations to stop "four more years of President Barack Obama imposing his anti-freedom values on the American people."
When National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice president Wayne LaPierre isn't pontificating about the purported "massive Obama conspiracy," there's a decent chance he's hurling personal insults and employing other types of overheated rhetoric in pursuit of his political agenda. Some of LaPierre's greatest hits:
LaPierre is free to say whatever he wants, but do the media really have to cover his comments? According to the Media Research Center (MRC), the answer yes, even when the NRA doesn't bother to the return its calls.
This morning, the MRC blog NewsBusters posted a critique of Reuters' coverage of a recent investigation of online guns sales by New York City that showed that many private sellers were willing to sell guns to people who identified themselves as unable to pass a background check.
MRC complained there was insufficient gun lobby criticism of Bloomberg in the article:
The next big misstep in this article is its one-sentence dismissal of Bloomberg critics. "The National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, was not immediately available for comment on the study."
MRC's message to the media: Print overheated NRA talking points whether or not the NRA gets around to giving you a comment before your deadline.
What should Reuters have done according MRC? Dig through the NRA's website and find the most recently available blog posts written about Bloomberg's efforts with Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The blog posts the MRC identifies as appropriate representations of the NRA's views were written before the online gun sale investigation was announced, so naturally, they weren't responsive to the topic of the article.
The first of the two blog posts MRC suggests could have been represented in the Reuters report includes LaPierre's suggestion that Bloomberg could aptly be viewed as a "petty tyrant." The MRC:
In the first post, which deals with an earlier anti-gun address Bloomberg gave to students at MIT, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre made the observation that "Bloomberg should also remember that a 'ruler' (which is what he seems to think he is) that denies the people of their Right to Keep and Bear Arms while maintaining a large 'army' (the NYPD) is apt to be viewed as a petty tyrant, not a benevolent and wise leader."
The second post highlighted by the MRC suggested that by opposing the NRA's favored legislation, Mayors Against Illegal Guns was engaging in a "shameful attack on the individual liberties of law-abiding Americans".
LaPierre's history of demonizing those who disagree with him might well deserve more media attention than it gets, but it's hardly essential context for a news report documenting the ease with which criminals can get guns online.
Daily Caller "reporter" Matthew Boyle's emerging second career as a gun lobby lackey is clearly on the fast track, judging from his recent coverage of Attorney General Eric Holder's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Having used his platform to amplify seemingly every Republican line of questioning asked to Holder about the failed ATF operation Fast and Furious, Boyle found time on NRA Radio to attack Rep. Hank Johnson's (D-GA) questioning at the hearing.
Not surprisingly given his embarrassing disregard for the facts, Boyle completely ignored the well-established factual basis of Rep. Johnson's questioning and even went so far as to smear Rep. Johnson with the false suggestion that he "played the race card".
Before asking about the gun lobby's role in blocking a permanent director of the ATF, Rep. Johnson asked Holder about the 'gun show loophole' and how many guns from gun shows had fallen into the hands of dangerous people (from Nexis):
JOHNSON: It's about 2,000 [guns trafficked through Fast and Furious]? Now, how many firearms are sold to Al Qaida terrorists, to other convicted felons, to domestic violence perpetrators, to convicted felons, to white supremacists?
Do you think the NRA and other Second Amendment rights radicals have -- have confidence that the U.S. will not have a competent ATF head if the Senate continues to deny a leader for that organization, thus rendering it rudderless? Is that -- is politics causing that, do you think?
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) later seized on the Johnson's use of the term "radicals" to suggest he was attacking the NRA's entire membership. Boyle dutifully wrote up an article uncritically echoing Issa's complaints. Speaking during the latest of what appear to be daily appearances with NRA News, Boyle bizarrely threw out the suggestion that Johnson's comments represented playing the "race card":
Yesterday the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) put out the message that hunting with firearms is really, really, really safe. As you can see in their handy table, the gun-lobby group proclaims hunting with firearms is safer than golfing, bowling, or jogging. From the NSSF blog:
Don't let anyone tell you otherwise: Hunting with firearms is safe; in fact, hunting with firearms is one of the safest recreational activities in America.
Look just a little deeper and you can see that the NSSF's methodology is almost laughably shoddy. Safety analysis, according to the NSSF, need not include a relative measure of chance of death. Nor does it use a single source to form its estimated number of accidents, but rather mashes together two different data sources to make up for the lack of statistics about hunting in their primary data source.
The NSSF's blog post and its safety activity chart don't mention fatal hunting accidents at all. Perhaps sensing the obvious question coming from the reporters it hopes will write up its findings, the NSSF includes this factoid in the middle of a press release on the hunting safety report:
Though recent accurate figures on fatalities related to hunting are not available, statistics from 2002 show 99 fatal hunting accidents.
The NSSF makes no effort to evaluate the lethality or seriousness of different types of injuries in each activity it claims is less safe than hunting with firearms. A bullet to the chest and a sprained ankle are both counted as one injury in their statistics, and that's the basis of their claim that hunting with guns is safer then all but the least strenuous activities. According to a 2004 Good Morning America report, the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) estimated that hunters were accidentally shooting more than 1,000 people a year in the United States and Canada.
Additionally, the methodology used to determine the number of injuries for every other activity is different than the methodology used to determine the safety of hunting. For every other activity, the NSSF relies on the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) 2010 data, but for hunting, it's data from CPSC combined with IHEA data to fill in the gaps. The NSSF never says if it has any reason to think that the IHEA collects data in a comparable way to the CPSC. It doesn't even say if it's using data from the same year, which it's also probably in the dark on, given that it apparently doesn't know the number of hunting related fatal accidents in 2010.
The media regularly go to NSSF for comment on articles related to gun statistics. The NSSF also publishes data on background checks that it claims are adjusted to properly reflect the number of gun sales made in the United States. The NSSF's shoddy hunting safety research casts serious doubts about the credibility of the organization as a source of accurate information.
Within a day of publication, the NSSF's hunter safety report was featured on the popular Truth About Guns blog under the title of "NSSF: Hunting Safer then Sex" and on the blog Shall Not Be Questioned under the title "Cheerleading More Dangerous Than Hunting With Guns." Outdoor-themed news sites have also picked up the story.