At a press conference held at a Washington, DC, hotel last month, the National Rifle Association's leadership responded to the tragic mass shooting at a Newtown, CT, elementary school by decrying the impact of violent movies on our culture. Less than 20 miles away, their organization's museum was hosting a laudatory exhibit on the firearms used in popular violent films.
During his December 21 speech at Washington DC's Willard Hotel, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre sought to refocus the debate on the political response to the shooting away from new regulations on guns. He instead passed blame to what he called "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people," specifically highlighting "the blood-soaked slasher films like 'American Psycho' and 'Natural Born Killers' that are aired like propaganda loops."
Of course, academic research has discredited the notion that violent movies encourage violent behavior. But it nonetheless seems clear that the NRA's aversion to violent films is extremely inconsistent.
Since 2010, the NRA National Firearms Museum, which is based out of the group's Fairfax, VA, headquarters, has hosted "Hollywood Guns," an exhibit featuring firearms made famous by movies like Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Die Hard. According to NRA magazine American Rifleman, "If you love guns or you love movies or, still luckier, you love guns and movies, this is a trip you cannot miss."
In the video, museum senior curator Phil Schreier says, "[W]e encourage you to come by and visit this sequel and come see a true blockbuster here in Fairfax, where all the stars of the silver screen have descended into these galleries and are represented by some of the firearms that we've fallen in love with in our youth and our adulthood, wishing that we too could be like our matinee idols."
A major flaw in the National Rifle Association's proposal to respond to the Newtown massacre with an increased focus on mental health but no new legislation on guns was exposed during NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's interview on NBC's Meet the Press.
During that interview, LaPierre said that a major flaw in the background check system is that states have failed to input mental health records, allowing people who have mental health issues that would prohibit them from buying a firearm to nonetheless pass a background check. But moments later, he expressed opposition to extending the background check system to all gun sales, maintaining a loophole that would allow the mentally ill to continue to obtain firearms.
From the December 23 interview with Meet the Press host David Gregory:
LAPIERRE: I'll tell you what would work. We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics. ... 23 states are still putting only a small number of records into the system and a lot of states are putting none. So when they go through the National Instant Check System and they go to try to screen out one of those lunatics, the records are not even in the system.
GREGORY: Again, a lot of people would agree with that, there are a lot of difficulties regard to getting that kind of mental health information because there's privacy laws, there are states not contributing to a national registry. Isn't part of the issue background checks? You have 40 percent of sales that go on without any background checks. Are you prepared to back broader background checks if you don't think the ammunition road is the way to go?
LAPIERRE: We have backed the National Instant Check system, we have backed putting anyone adjudicated mentally incompetent into the system. Now I know where you're going with this. They come up with this whole, "oh, it's a gun show loophole." There's not a gun show loophole. It's illegal for felons to do anything like that, to buy guns. What the anti-Second Amendment movement wants to do is put every gun sale in the country under the thumb of the federal government. Congress debated this at length. They said if you're a -- a hobbyist or collector, if someone in West Virginia, a hunter, wants to sell a gun to another hunter, they ought to be able to do it without being under the thumb of the federal government.
Reports from the federal government and gun violence prevention advocates have exposed the failures of states to input mental health data into the National Instant Check System, and made recommendations to fill those gaps. But as Gregory noted, even if all mental health records were put into the system, it would have no effect on the estimated 40 percent of firearms sales that are made through private sellers.
One week after a mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead, the National Rifle Association broke its silence with a question-free "press conference" that featured a number of inaccurate claims about school safety and the role of entertainment in violence.
The media has a responsibility to evaluate the truthfulness of the claims made the NRA and should not merely pass along statements made in the press conference as fact.
During the press conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre claimed that gun free school policies make students less safe, misled about the Obama administration's position on school safety funding, and suggested that increasing armed security at schools is a comprehensive policy to stop violent attacks. LaPierre also falsely suggested there exists a link between violent video games and actual acts of violence while ignoring the documented link between gun availability and violence.
John Lott, a vocal opponent of gun violence prevention legislation, says that the National Rifle Association's plan for armed security guards at schools would be costly and ineffective.
During a December 21 press conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre laid out the group's proposed response to the December 14 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, CT:
LAPIERRE: Now, the National Rifle Association knows there are millions of qualified and active retired police, active, Reserve, and retired military, security professionals, certified firefighters, security professionals, rescue personnel, an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained, qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every single school.
We could deploy them to protect our kids now. We can immediately make America's schools safer, relying on the brave men and women in America's police forces. The budgets -- and you all know this, everyone in the country knows this -- of our local police departments are strained, and the resources are severely limited, but their dedication and courage is second to none. And, they can be deployed right now.
I call on Congress today, to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation. And, to do it now to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January.
Responding to a question about the press conference from Mayors Against Illegal Guns staffer and Aurora shooting survivor Stephen Barton on Twitter, Lott criticized the idea as costly and ineffective, saying that "identifiable guards are of very limited use in these cases":
Lott frequently appears in the media - despite being thoroughly discredited as a serious academic researcher - to opine against stronger gun laws.
The National Rifle Association refused to answer questions at what it had claimed was a "press conference" today in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Instead, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre gave a speech calling for armed police officers at all schools and blaming violent video games for mass shootings, rather than the ability of those shooters to obtain a firearm.
Notably, an armed police officer was present at Columbine High School at the time of the mass shooting there. After attempting to fire on one of the shooters with his pistol, he was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon.
This puts special pressure on the hosts of NBC's Meet The Press and CBS' Face The Nation, who will host LaPierre and NRA president David Keene on Sunday, to ask the questions that the rest of the press corps was unable to.
Any such interview should address the conspiratorial language that LaPierre typically uses in speaking to his base, notably his claim that President Obama plans to use his second term to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights."
In yet another year plagued by horrific instances of gun violence, the media was quick to react to tragedies by labeling gun violence prevention efforts futile on the basis of the alleged ability of the National Rifle Association to ruin the political careers of anyone who dared to stand in the way of its anti-gun regulation agenda.
Earlier this year, Slate's Brian Palmer typified this narrative with an article titled "Why Is The NRA So Powerful?" that suggested that the pro-gun organization "considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country" can "reliably deliver votes." In the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Slate republished the article verbatim. Also following the Newtown massacre, NBC's David Gregory and Fox News' Chris Wallace both suggested that politicians who favored gun violence prevention measures would face serious reprisals.
In making these claims, the media simply advanced a years old narrative suggesting the NRA wields unlimited political power without citing any actual evidence for that position. In fact, 2012 was a year full of indicators that the extent of NRA influence has been wildly exaggerated. The media should keep this in mind as they prepare to cover the NRA's press conference this morning responding to the Newtown massacre.
During the past year, the National Rifle Association was abandoned by political and business allies and spent nearly $18 million in a failed attempt to keep supporters of gun violence prevention out of Congress and the White House.
Even as the NRA's brand was deemed toxic by the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative "model legislation" group, and faced withering criticism in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, the media myth has persisted that the NRA has the capability to punish politicians who oppose its extreme agenda.
Media are citing the large sum of money the National Rifle Association spent during the 2012 election as evidence of its power, and ignoring the fact that nearly all of that money went to support candidates who lost.
These reports, which come as the NRA prepares to respond to public demands for new gun laws in light of the Newtown massacre, further a years-old media mythexaggerating the NRA's influence on electoral politics.
For example, in a December 19 article, The Wall Street Journal reported that "The NRA spent $18 million to help elect candidates of both parties to Congress in the 2012 elections, placing it among the top 20 in interest-group election spending, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics." CNN offered a similar report the same day.
In a December 20 New York Times op-ed, former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter urged Republicans to "free themselves from the NRA protection racket," writing that "the NRA spent almost $19 million in the last federal election cycle. This money is not just spent to beat Democrats but also to beat Republicans who don't toe the line."
None of these reports noted that of the more than $18 million the NRA spent on independent expenditures during the 2012 election season, 95 percent of those dollars were spent on races in which their preferred candidate lost, according to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation. Indeed, roughly two thirds of the group's total election spending came in support of their failed "all-in" campaign to defeat President Obama.
According to the logic of these media reports, Restore Our Future, the super PAC established to support Mitt Romney's presidential run, is one of the most powerful organizations in politics. The group spent more than $150 million during the 2012 election cycle - all of it in support of a losing candidate.
CNN is previewing the National Rifle Association's response to the Newtown school massacre by suggesting that the NRA will "leverage" money spent during the 2012 elections during the forthcoming debate over stronger gun restrictions without noting that the vast majority of money spent by the NRA on the elections went to races where its preferred candidate lost.
CNN's citation of the NRA's unsuccessful election spending as evidence of its political influence fits within a years old narrative in media exaggerating the NRA's clout.
In a December 19 article, CNN's Halimah Abdullah credulously reported a claim by unnamed "policy experts" that the National Rifle Association will "leverage the $17 million it spent in federal races this year helping elect candidates who it considers supporters of the NRA's mission" during a potential congressional fight over new gun regulations. However, CNN failed to mention that of the nearly $18 million the NRA poured into the 2012 elections, over 95 percent was spent on races where the NRA-backed candidate lost.* Furthermore, in six of seven Senate races where the NRA spent more than $100,000, the NRA-approved candidate was defeated. CNN's reporting is typical of a myth in media that the NRA possesses the ability to remove from office politicians who favor gun violence prevention measures. From the article:
A Fox News contributor who network CEO Roger Ailes reportedly uses to communicate his views on-air suggested that he might support new gun laws in the wake of the Newtown massacre.
Peter Johnson, Jr., a Fox News legal analyst, said that "the government has the right to register and regulate... firearms" and suggested that we should consider restricting ownership of assault weapons in light of recent events during a monologue on the December 18 edition of Fox & Friends.
JOHNSON: People have the right under the Second Amendment to own firearms. The government has the right to register and regulate those firearms. At the same time we need to be thinking about where should we be allocating law enforcement resources. How can we better register?
Let's look at AK-47s and AR-15s. The numbers show that it's a small portion of the deaths and violence in America. But it's a high portion, it's a high proportion of these mass violence episodes. Let's look at everything in a dispassionate, smart, objective way that protects Americans and protects the Constitution both.
During the same segment, Johnson suggested that Americans should also examine the "entertainment industry" because of their support for "videos." The Washington Post has noted that data show no correlation between video game spending per capita and gun-related homicides.
Johnson's role at Fox is reportedly much greater than a typical contributor. In addition to his regular appearances on Fox & Friends, Johnson serves as Ailes' personal attorney, confers regularly with the Fox chief and is reportedly the outlet Ailes uses to channel his views on the network.
Members of the media have been quick to push the myth that the National Rifle Association can remove politicians from office who support new gun violence prevention measures in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The influence wielded by the NRA has been overblown by the media for years, a fact further evidenced by the organization's poor showing during the 2012 elections.
With every tragic shooting comes the same series of media narratives. Some in the right-wing media will proclaim that now is not the time for a discussion about the larger issue of gun violence, and the steps that can be taken to prevent it. Other conservatives will claim that the tragedy could have been averted if the victims were armed. And inevitably, someone in the traditional media will push the myth that no action can be taken because of the supposed power of the National Rifle Association.
National Journal Editor-in-Chief Reid Wilson is the latest to go down the latter path. In a December 13 column, he writes in response to the "missing conversation" that followed NFL linebacker Jovan Belcher's murder of his girlfriend and suicide and the subsequent response from sports journalists:
The president is unlikely to devote political capital to any sort of serious push for new gun-control legislation. Though the National Rifle Association's power has waned from its peak, Republicans remain firmly on the NRA's side while Democrats remain deeply scarred by the gun-rights group's success in ousting pro-gun-control legislators.
While Wilson acknowledges that the NRA's power has diminished, he does not question the central premise of the myth of the NRA's electoral dominance. While reporters have cited this phenomenon for years, there is little evidence to support the notion that the group has an outsized role in winning elections.
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller falsely claimed that guns are used to prevent crimes about 2 million times a year, a defensive gun use statistic that has been repeatedly debunked.
Miller's claim comes in response to a statement by NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, who noted that "bad things happen" as a result of firearm use. Miller compared the defensive gun use statistic, which comes from the discredited research of criminologist Gary Kleck, to the 30,000 gun deaths that occur on average annually in the United States to conclude that firearm use is actually a net social benefit.
Mr. Costas expanded on his theme by saying, "Far more often, bad things happen -- including unintentional things -- than things where the presence of a gun diminishes or averts danger." He's only telling half the story. About 30,000 people are killed by firearms, but guns are are [sic] also used to prevent crimes approximately 2 million times a year.
Fox News is reporting that gun owners are rushing to buy firearms in light of President Obama's reelection at the same time it promotes the very conspiracies about the president's gun policies triggering those sales.
A December 6 FoxNews.com article on the firearms "buying spree" reports that to gun owners, "Obama's re-election, and the apocalypse -- amount to the same thing" while also credulously quoting the unfounded claim of NRA president David Keene that, "Obama is coming right at us" and his second term will be "an all-out assault on the Second Amendment."
The simultaneous reporting of an uptick in gun sales and promotion of wild-eyed conspiracy theories about Obama's gun policies is commonplace at Fox News, despite the fact that President Obama expanded, rather than restricted, where a gun can be carried during his first term.
On the December 3 edition of Hannity on Fox News, WorldNetDaily columnist Erik Rush discussed the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher, alleging, "Whenever there is a high-profile gun crime the fearmongering begins, the histrionics begin, and all of this stuff really has its genesis in the political left, and particularly the big government political leftists, who want to disarm the public."
Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich makes a facile comparison between "two gun cultures" in America and claims that gun violence is largely limited to urban areas. However, high levels of gun death exist throughout America, and many of the states with the highest rates of gun death are rural states with weak gun laws.
In one gun culture, Pavlich claims firearms are used "to celebrate American history, for collection, personal protection, hunting and sport" while the other gun culture "can be found in the inner city of Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and others."
In publishing today's column, Pavlich joined a growing chorus of conservatives in media scrambling to deny the link between firearm availability and gun violence in the wake of the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher. From her column:
Historically in America we've had a deep respect for firearms. The vast majority of people have used them to celebrate American history, for collection, personal protection, hunting and sport. We see American gun culture celebrated each year when dads take their kids elk hunting for the first time. We see it when women head to the range to safely practice shooting their new pink pistols. We see it when a mother shoots an intruder while she is home alone in order to protect her children. We see it practiced when thousands of people sign up for concealed carry permit and hunters' safety classes each year. Not to mention, the multi-billion-dollar firearms industry employs millions of people and provides the government with billions in tax revenue every year.
The other gun culture in America can be found in the inner city of Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and others. Ironically, violent gun culture is found within gangs in cities with the strictest gun laws. It is the same culture promoted in Hollywood films made by liberals, glorified by rappers whose music is worshiped in violent gang plagued neighborhoods and disrespectfully joked about at NBA parties.
National Rifle Association executive vice president and columnist Wayne LaPierre has unveiled a new conspiracy theory, alleging that NBC sportscaster Bob Costas' discussion of the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher was part of a plan by "media conglomerates" to ban guns.
On Sunday Night Football, Costas' quoted approvingly from a FoxSports.com column that noted, "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and [his victim] Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."
Responding on the December 3 edition of NRA News, LaPierre said Costas was promoting "an anti-Second Amendment agenda by somebody in the media with access to these media conglomerates that are more than happy to amplify that all over the country and try to ram it down the throats of average American citizens."
LaPierre and NRA News host Cam Edwards went on to use Costas' comments to promote joining the NRA:
EDWARDS: [Americans] can join the NRA and join a part of the largest organization in America protecting and defending the right to keep and bear arms.
LAPIERRE: Yeah, I mean we are about to be victim of a siege against the Second Amendment in this country going into Obama's second term. I mean it's going to be ugly. It's going to come hard, fast and soon. And were going to have to survive this period of unprecedented danger. And the best way to survive is to make the NRA stronger than ever. Never has membership in NRA been more important than right now.
The NRA often trades in baseless conspiracy theories to promote gun ownership and NRA membership.
In September 2011, LaPierre announced the existence of a "massive Obama conspiracy" to end private firearm ownership in the United States. The basis for LaPierre's claim that Obama would "[e]rase the Second Amendment" in his second term was that Obama did not act on guns during his first term. The NRA also claims that a United Nations treaty with the stated goal of preventing diversion of weapons to human rights abusers will be used as a pretext for gun confiscation in the United States.