The campaign manager for Mark Herring, the declared winner in the Virginia Attorney General race, says they won the election because they ignored the conventional wisdom typically pushed by media pundits that supporting stronger gun laws is a political liability.
Media pundits often claim that it is electoral suicide for candidates to call for stronger gun laws, suggesting that National Rifle Association has the power to punish candidates who oppose any portion of its absolutist pro-gun agenda. After two Colorado state senators who backed stronger gun laws were unseated in a September recall election, the media hyped this narrative and suggested the Colorado recall served as a warning to politicians who would advocate for stricter gun laws. (MSNBC host Chuck Todd, for example, said the lesson of the recall elections was that "every Democrat south of the Mason-Dixon Line" should stay away from the gun issue.)
But Kevin O'Holleran, Mark Herring's campaign manager, writes in a December 1 Washington Post op-ed that they were able to win an extremely narrow victory specifically because they ignored such commentary, ran on Herring's "strong record and advocacy for sensible gun legislation," and hammered his opponent's support for "irresponsible proposals" on the issue:
Political conventional wisdom has it that in a purple state, such as Virginia, support for gun-safety legislation is best played down. As manager of Mark Herring's campaign for attorney general, I got a lot of advice. One of the things I heard most frequently was that we should soft-pedal his strong record and advocacy for sensible gun legislation. It would hurt us outside of Northern Virginia and wasn't a voting issue within the Beltway, I was told.
Like much conventional wisdom, this was wrong -- and we not only ignored this advice but did the opposite. There were stark differences between Herring and his Republican opponent, Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), on gun safety. Obenshain opposed comprehensive background checks and opposed closing the gun-show loophole. He opposed former governor Douglas Wilder's landmark "one-gun-a-month" legislation. Obenshain also made a habit of voting for such irresponsible proposals as allowing guns in bars and restaurants where alcohol is served.
In short, Obenshain has opposed every constructive proposal to help reduce gun violence.
We knew this would open an opportunity for us to draw an effective contrast; public polling showed widespread support for sensible gun-safety laws, as did our own polling. Hence, more than a year out from Election Day, dealing with gun violence was a fundamental messaging point for Herring. And when the primary was over, and Herring and Obenshain met in their first debate, he drew a sharp contrast with his opponent on guns. We would prosecute that case throughout the fall campaign.
The NRA spent $500,000 to defeat Herring -- on ads O'Holleran writes were aimed at the group's base, not the "swing voters" that were motivated by Herring's message. That failure is not unusual for the NRA, whose candidates up and down the ballot were soundly defeated in 2012. The NRA spent a similar amount against Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, who was elected after denigrating the gun lobby and calling for expanding background checks on firearm purchases.
This year several ideological groups and news outlets are trying to prep their readers for the inevitable political conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table. But the National Rifle Association is taking a new tact -- it wants you to lie to your family members about gun violence.
In advance of Thanksgiving, Demand Action -- a project of gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) -- released a fact sheet called "Talking Turkey About Guns." According to Demand Action, "when talk around the table turns to politics and current events, you can help set the record straight on some of the most common myths about guns." The fact sheet offers a number of arguments in support of expanded background checks on gun sales and points out that the United States has more gun violence than any other developed country in the world.
The NRA responded to the fact sheet with a rebuttal titled, "Bloomberg is full of stuffing," a reference to MAIG founder and co-chair Michael Bloomberg. According to the NRA, Bloomberg is attempting to "put a damper on a favorite American holiday" and "he wants to turn Thanksgiving table talk to curtailing our Second Amendment rights." The NRA encourages its supporters to "take a few minutes before dinner to set the record straight about Michael Bloomberg's latest attempt to inject himself into every Americans' life."
The NRA rebuttal, however, is extremely dubious. Most glaringly, in two of its four sections it fabricates quotes that purport to come from the Demand Action fact sheet in a way that distorts Demand Action's points. The other two sections are also suspect. In one, the NRA falsely suggests that a claim in Demand Action's fact sheet was unfavorably fact checked by The Washington Post, when the Post fact check was about a claim Demand Action did not make. The other section fails to debunk a Demand Action claim by pushing the discredited theory that increasing gun ownership reduces crime.
Taking their cues from the National Rifle Association, right-wing media are pointing to a mayoral election in a tiny town in central Pennsylvania as a rebuke to the gun violence prevention movement. In reality, the victorious pro-gun candidate won by a margin of only 167 votes in a Republican town after spending more than six times as much as the losing incumbent.
On November 5, Pete Lagiovane, the mayor of Chambersburg, PA, was defeated for re-election by Darren Brown, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a student at Shippensburg University.
The NRA painted the election as "a huge victory for Second Amendment supporters and sportsmen in Chambersburg" because Brown had promised not to join Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 1,000 mayors that had included Lagiovane. That talking point was picked up this week by Pittsburgh Tribune Review columnist Salena Zito, who said that Lagiovane had lost "in part because he signed up Chambersburg as one of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's anti-gun cities" and thus "[w]hat happens in New York City usually can only happen in New York City, and is best kept there." RealClearPolitics and Breitbart News have since amplified Zito's claims.
In fact, there are a number of other factors that explain Lagiovane's defeat that have nothing to do with the candidates' positions on guns.
Partisanship. 46 percent of registered voters in Chambersburg are Republicans, compared to 39 percent that are Democrats, giving Brown a substantial built-in advantage. Lagiovane won his last election in 2009 by running unopposed. The position pays $5,600 a year for roughly 30 hours of work a month and has little power -- Brown's top campaign promise appears to be creating a series of YouTube videos to highlight local businesses.
Turnout. Brown won the election by a margin of 1,429 to 1,262. The local paper noted that "Democrats failed to get out the vote" for the election, with turnout in the three Chambersburg voting precincts where Democrats outnumber Republicans running at 16, 16, and 11 percent, the lowest in the town. Only 400 people in the town's most ethnically diverse precinct voted; 1,700 voted in the presidential election. It likely did not help Lagiovane that Eugene Rideout, his African-American opponent in the Democratic primary, ran a write-in campaign in the general election that was built around one of Martin Luther King's sermons.
Spending. As of a week before the election, Brown's campaign had spent $6,700 on the election (with more than $500 left in the bank), compared to "less than $1,000" from Lagiovane. According to the local paper, "a candidate typically spends a few hundred dollars to run a mayoral campaign." The additional funds allowed Brown to blanket the town with banners, yard signs, and pamphlets. That spending aided Brown's extensive door-to-door campaign, which he credited with the win.
Media have frequently sought to portray narrowly-won, low-turnout elections as major defeats for gun violence prevention and have for decades promoted the myth of the NRA's electoral supremacy.
NRA News host Cam Edwards claimed that Glamour magazine's Women of the Year Awards had an "anti-gun agenda" and made "the world a more dangerous place for women" because the event honored victims of gun violence, including Pakistani education reformer Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban.
Glamour's 23rd annual award event held on November 11 also honored former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) -- who was wounded during a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona -- and Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Kaitlin Roig-Debellis, who saved the lives of 15 first-graders during the December 2012 mass shooting at her school in Newtown, Connecticut. Yousafzai, who at age 15 was targeted for assassination by the Taliban for protesting a ban on female education, told the crowd, "I believe the gun has no power at all."
On the November 14 edition of NRA News show Cam & Company, guest Laura Carno, the founder of conservative non-profit I Am Created Equal, suggested that Yousafzai could have defended herself from the Taliban with a gun and later said that the award event should have invited Carno and other female gun rights activists.
For decades Guns & Ammo magazine published writings from well-known bigot Jeff Cooper, but recently fired contributing editor Dick Metcalf after he published a column suggesting that the Second Amendment right -- like all rights -- is subject to some regulation.
Cooper, a celebrated commentator at the magazine from 1958 to 2004, used racial slurs, defended the practice of slavery, claimed that "[e]quality is biologically impossible," and suggested that Africans from South Africa's Gauteng province should be called "Oranggautengs" in a popular gun newsletter he published while employed by Guns & Ammo.
Controversy erupted earlier this month after Metcalf authored a column for the December edition of Guns & Ammo that stated, "[W]ay too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be."
After outcry from readers -- and as Mother Jones notes, pressure from gun manufacturers -- Guns & Ammo editor Jim Bequette announced that Metcalf would no longer write for the firearm publication. Bequette also offered readers "a personal apology," writing that he "made a mistake by publishing the column," before turning in his own resignation.
Media touted the incident as evidence of what happens when any dissent from an absolutist view of the Second Amendment is professed in the gun rights community. Indeed, Metcalf's firing follows a string of similar controversies.
Still, in a November 8 letter to Outdoor Wire commenting on his firing, Metcalf expressed a degree of surprise, citing the fact that Guns & Ammo published "Cooper's Corner" between 1986 and 2002, a column that was "intentionally designed to address controversial issues":
From its inception as "Cooper's Corner" in 1986 the back page column in Guns & Ammo has been intentionally designed to address controversial issues, and to invite reader response. By that standard, the December edition certainly succeeded--some might say, too well. But our intention was to provoke a debate, not to incite a riot (which is illegal under laws regulating the 1st Amendment).
It would be an understatement to say that Cooper's Corner or its author -- longtime NRA board member Jeff Cooper -- invited controversy. Cooper -- an unabashed racist, misogynist, Islamophobe, and homophobe -- was also the publisher of the popular newsletter Jeff Cooper's Commentaries where he often used racial slurs and suggested ending slavery in the United States may have been "a mistake."
National Rifle Association News defended the conduct of fringe gun group Open Carry Texas (OCT) after it intimidated four members of the gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action (MDA) by displaying assault weapons as the four members met at a Dallas-area restaurant.
While MDA founder Shannon Watts said the MDA members and other restaurant patrons were "terrified" by the sight of a group of about 40 OCT members milling around the restaurant parking lot, NRA News host Cam Edwards said there was "no evidence" OCT engaged in intimidation.
Edwards' comments on the controversy came during a November 12 segment on Cam & Company that featured National Review Online writer Charles C.W. Cooke, who wrote a series of articles about the OCT protest that attempted to call into doubt MDA's claims that they felt intimidated by the armed protesters.
National Rifle Association board member R. Lee Ermey, best known for his drill sergeant role in the film Full Metal Jacket, claimed that "nowadays lazy is our new cripple" to attack recipients of public assistance during an NRA News special celebrating Veterans Day.
The November 11 holiday honored individuals who served in the United States Armed Forces. As Think Progress notes, "there are roughly 5.5 million disabled American vets and over 3 million receiving disability compensation."
Ermey used the word "cripple" -- a derogatory term for a person with a disability -- several times while describing how his new book Gunny's Rules: How to Get Squared Away Like a Marine "tells you how to take command of your life, get off welfare, unemployment, food stamps and regain a little bit of your self-respect":
ERMEY: I've got a new book that just came out, it's out right now, you can get it on the Internet or you can pick it up at just about any bookshop. It's called Gunny's Rules and basically it tells you how to take command of your life, get off welfare, unemployment, food stamps, and regain a little bit of your self-respect.
You know, those things are like quicksand. Once you get in there, it's real difficult to get back off of it. Welfare back in my time, back when I was a kid, I remember my parents voting for welfare and it was sold to us -- like cripples, we got to look after our crippled people in this country. Crippled, those that can't work, and I guess nowadays lazy is our new cripple.
A spokesperson for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker denied National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent's claim that he collaborated with Walker during a 2011 showdown between the Republican governor and unions. Walker's denial was prompted by Nugent's recent declaration on a Detroit radio station that he "worked close with Scott Walker's team in Wisconsin when he took it away from the hippies and got rid of the debt and got some freedom back in Wisconsin."
During an October 30 Google hangout hosted by 94.7 WCSX, Nugent also said he worked closely with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Michigan Gov. John Engler, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
On November 9 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that spokespersons from both Walker's campaign and state office denied working with Nugent. Campaign spokesperson Jonathan Wetzel stated, "We have not had any interaction with Ted Nugent," and Tom Evenson, a spokesperson for Walker's office, said there had been "no involvement" between Nugent and Walker since the 2006 NRA annual meeting in Milwaukee:
"I worked close with Scott Walker's team in Wisconsin when he took it away from the hippies and got rid of the debt and got some freedom back in Wisconsin," Nugent said.
But Walker staffers said this week that Nugent's statement simply isn't true.
The Motor City Madman doesn't know what he's talking about.
"The governor met Ted Nugent during an NRA convention in Milwaukee years ago when he was Milwaukee county executive," said Tom Evenson, spokesman for Walker's state office. "Other than that, our office has not had involvement with him."
The NRA held its national convention here in 2006, and Nugent -- best known for such hits at "Cat Scratch Fever" and "Dog Eat Dog" -- performed the national anthem on his guitar, as Walker recalled in this interview.
Nugent did campaign last year in Sturtevant for former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson during his failed bid for a U.S. Senate seat.
But officials say he has never worked with the Walker campaign.
"We have not had any interaction with Ted Nugent," said campaign spokesman Jonathan Wetzel. [emphasis in original]
Evenson also issued a denial to the Wisconsin State Journal.
The firing of Guns & Ammo contributing editor Dick Metcalf for making the noncontroversial assertion that the ownership of firearms is subject to some regulation is indicative of how the gun rights community will railroad anyone who offers a modicum of dissent to the absolutist view of the Second Amendment.
On November 6, Guns & Ammo editor Jim Bequette announced that Metcalf would no longer write for the firearm publication. Metcalf's offense was a column in December's magazine that stated, "[W]ay too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be." In defense of laws requiring training before carrying a gun in public he wrote, "I firmly believe that all U.S. citizens have a right to keep and bear arms, but I do not believe that they have a right to use them irresponsibly."
Bequette's groveling column, also appearing in the December issue of Guns & Ammo, offered "each and every reader a personal apology," and stated, "Dick Metcalf has had a long and distinguished career as a gunwriter, but his association with 'Guns & Ammo' has officially ended." Clarifying that the Guns & Ammo position is that the Second Amendment has "[n]o strings attached," Bequette wrote, "I made a mistake by publishing the column. I thought it would generate a healthy exchange of ideas on gun rights. I miscalculated, pure and simple. I was wrong, and I ask your forgiveness."
Members of the gun rights community face attack for debating any regulation on firearms or expressing support for background checks on firearm sales, a position extremely popular with the American public.
National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent claimed that an FBI investigation into the fatal police shooting of a teenager with a pellet gun was "another hollow attempt" by President Obama "to stir up racial controversy and divide America further in order to keep Americans from focusing on the gross ineptitude of Obamacare and the never-ending scourge of lies and scams spun by his administration."
On October 22, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot seven times by a sheriff's deputy in Santa Rosa, California. The deputy, identified by media as a "gun expert", apparently believed that the pellet gun Lopez was spotted carrying was an AK-47 assault weapon. Indeed, the toy gun had a striking resemblance to a real AK-47. Controversy stemming from the shooting has spurred numerous protests and vigils in Santa Rosa.
In addition to internal investigations by two local law enforcement agencies, the FBI has begun an independent investigation. An FBI spokesperson told local newspaper The Press Democrat that "It's a civil rights-type of case." Local law enforcement have welcomed the FBI investigation, with Sheriff Steve Freitas stating, "They notified us what they were going to do and we said 'Great we'll welcome that.'"
The premise of Nugent's column -- that the investigation is meant to create racial strife -- is suspect. Civil rights investigations are not always about racial discrimination. In fact, according to the FBI, the most common civil rights complaint "involves allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel."
National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent claimed on a Detroit radio station that he works closely with a number of prominent Republican officeholders, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Michigan Gov. John Engler, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
During an October 30 Google hangout hosted by 94.7 WCSX, Nugent was asked about his new role as co-chair of Republican Sid Miller's campaign for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. While answering the question, Nugent referenced his close relationship with other conservative politicians, and suggested he played a role in the 2011 showdown between Walker and labor unions. According to Nugent, he "worked close with Scott Walker's team in Wisconsin when he took it away from the hippies."
NUGENT: I'm contacted all the time, I work close with Ted Cruz who is a great patriot, a great statesman. I worked close with Scott Walker's team in Wisconsin when he took it away from the hippies and got rid of the [unintelligible] and got some freedom back in Wisconsin. I've worked with Governor Engler in the past. I've worked with different sheriffs and different attorney generals. I work closely with Greg Abbot and Governor Perry in Texas.
Despite his history of racially inflammatory rhetoric -- for example he recently endorsed racial profiling -- Nugent has served as a surrogate and done other work for Republican political campaigns. (He is also known for making offensive remarks about women, Muslims, immigrants, and LGBT individuals.)
Despite heavy spending from the National Rifle Association, Terry McAuliffe was elected Virginia governor on a platform that included strengthening gun laws, in direct contradiction to the media myth that the NRA can determine election outcomes at will.
Conventional media wisdom outsizes the NRA's scope of influence by suggesting that the gun rights group has the ability to punish any politician who opposes its absolutist Second Amendment agenda. Following the September recall of two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws, media hyped this narrative -- ignoring low voter turnout and other factors -- to suggest that the outcome should serve as a warning to politicians who would advocate for stronger gun laws.
According to the Associated Press, these elections represented "for some, a warning to lawmakers in swing states who might contemplate gun restrictions in the future." MSNBC host Chuck Todd said the lesson of the recall elections was that "every Democrat south of the Mason-Dixon Line" should stay away from the gun issue. At The Atlantic, Molly Ball wrote that the recall meant "The Death of Gun Control."
The recall elections in Colorado did not shift the balance of power in the Colorado state senate. McAuliffe's election, however, means that for the first time since 1973, Virginians elected a governor who shares the same political affiliation as the sitting president. Here are three ways in which gun policy played an important role in the governor's race.
Lott, pictured left of Jordan Davis' mother, Lucia McBath.
Discredited gun researcher John Lott attacked the presence of the mothers of deceased African-American teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis at a congressional hearing on Stand Your Ground, describing them as "props" used to make "the case that there was racial bias" in the controversial self-defense law.
On the October 30 edition of the National Rifle Association's news show Cam & Company, Lott said the two mothers "were there to go and try serve as props essentially for the case that there was racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws," before falsely claiming that the self-defense law had no relevance to either of their son's shooting deaths:
LOTT: Well I thought [the hearing] was somewhat surreal. Look, we had two very sympathetic witnesses that were there. Trayvon Martin's mom and another mother who had lost her son in a shooting, both of them were black, and they were there to go and try serve as props essentially for the case that there was racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws. As I say, it's very hard to say anything when you're having to deal with a mother who has lost her son, under any circumstances. I have five kids; I can't imagine what it would be like to deal with that situation.
The problem was, the reason why I was saying it was somewhat surreal is that neither of their cases really had anything to do with the debate over Stand Your Ground laws.
On October 29, Lott, along with Martin's mother Sybrina Fulton and Davis' mother Lucia McBath, testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on Stand Your Ground that was held to examine a number of issues surrounding the law, including whether the law made it more likely for homicides of minorities to be ruled "justifiable."
National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent compared himself to civil rights icon Rosa Parks in a column for conspiracy website WND where he celebrated the right to free speech. The NRA and its representatives frequently compare their movement to the civil rights struggle, claiming that restrictions on guns are similar to the conditions of segregation or racial discrimination.
In an October 30 column, Nugent called Parks his "hero" for exercising her First Amendment rights and referenced his celebrity as a guitar player to write, "I'm Rosa Parks with a Gibson":
Heavily armed with whatever media bully pulpit I can muster, I exercise my First Amendment rights like my hero Rosa Parks who refused to sit at the back of the bus when that numb-nut law existed. I'm Rosa Parks with a Gibson.
Parks, who died in 2005, was a civil rights activist best known for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus to a white passenger. She was honored by Congress in 1999 as the "first lady of civil rights" and the "mother of the freedom movement" and was a 1996 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Nugent previously claimed in a January interview with WND that "the law-abiding gun owners of America, will be the Rosa Parks and we will sit down on the front seat of the bus." Civil rights leaders called those comments a "very disingenuous comparison," "offensive" and a "far-fetched fantasy."
Following a tragic incident in Northern California where police fatally shot a teenager whose pellet gun was mistaken for an assault weapon, questions are being raised over the National Rifle Association's role in blocking a 2011 state legislative proposal to require BB and pellet guns to be brightly colored in order to avoid confusion.
On October 22, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot seven times by a sheriff's deputy in Santa Rosa, California. The deputy, identified by media as a "gun expert", apparently believed that the pellet gun Lopez carried was an AK-47 assault weapon. Indeed, an image from a law enforcement press conference taken by The Press Democrat demonstrates the similarity between the pellet gun and an assault weapon. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department also released a photo of the pellet gun Lopez was carrying:
Photo Credit: Sonoma County Sheriff's Department
The tragic shooting, now under investigation by the FBI, could have been avoided if the NRA did not block a 2011 legislative proposal in California that would have required pellet and BB guns to be brightly colored to avoid confusion with real firearms. The NRA used its lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action, to fearmonger about the proposal, while NRA News repeatedly hosted an NRA lobbyist to attack the bill.