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:
Colorado State Sens. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) were recalled yesterday in an election that the media is describing as having major implications for the future of the gun debate. Both senators were targeted for recall over their support for Colorado's new gun laws, which include expanded background checks and a 15-round limit for firearm magazines.
National groups on both sides of the political divide poured money into the recall elections over the past months. Supporters of stronger gun laws would surely have preferred that Giron and Morse had won.
But before the media returns to promoting the myth of National Rifle Association electoral dominance and suggests that the recall of the two Colorado state senators proves that all elected officials who push for stronger gun laws risk their jobs, here are a few things they should consider.
The Gun Laws Supported By Giron And Morse Are Popular Statewide. On March 20, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three gun violence prevention measures into law: requiring a background check on all gun sales except those between family members, imposing a $10 fee to process background checks, and limiting firearm magazine capacity to 15 rounds. Giron and Morse's support for these measures was the catalyst for the recall efforts. An August 22 poll by Quinnipiac University found that the majority of voters in Colorado approve of the specific pieces of the gun law package -- they expressed support for expanded background checks by an 82 to 16 percent margin and support for the limit on magazine capacity by a 49 to 48 percent margin. While Giron and Morse were defeated, the legislation they support is popular with state voters at large.
The Recall Turnout Was Extremely Low. A very small number of voters determined the recall election. In fact, voter turnout in Morse and Giron's districts were both substantially lower in the recall election compared to the 2010 state senate elections. Only 21 percent of 84,029 registered voters in Morse's district voted in the recall election. A mere 9,094 people voted in favor of recall; he lost his seat by a margin of 343 votes. Turnout was about 11,000 voters higher in Morse's 2010 senate election. Turnout in Giron's district was only 36 percent; 10,000 more people voted in her 2010 Senate election. Deriving national trends from low-turnout recall elections seems unwise.
Efforts To Recall Other Members Who Supported Stronger Gun Laws Failed. Opponents of stronger gun laws didn't intend to recall just Giron and Morse; they originally targeted two other lawmakers as well. But an effort to recall Sen. Evie Hudak was suspended by organizers three weeks before the deadline. And an effort to recall Rep. Mike McLachlan also failed when the Colorado Secretary of State reported that no signatures were turned in before a deadline.
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller's new book, Emily Gets Her Gun: ...But Obama Wants to Take Yours, is filled with falsehoods about the gun debate and promotes the National Rifle Association's conspiracy theory that President Obama is planning to confiscate privately held firearms.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent used the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech to claim that the Great Society programs of the 1960s are "responsible for more destruction to black America than the evils of slavery and the KKK combined."
Conservatives frequently attack the federal programs initiated through President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, ignoring the major impact they have had in reducing the ranks of the poor, particularly among the elderly.
In Nugent's August 28 column for conspiracy website WND the conservative commentator also termed the Great Society "for all practical and statistical purposes, a War on Black America":
While the stains of institutional racism have faded into our nation's past, Dr. King's dream of economic equality remains unfulfilled for many black Americans who remain mired in poverty.
Just one year after Dr. King delivered his memorable speech, President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society began a systematic and engineered welfare juggernaut that would do more damage, cause more harm and become responsible for more destruction to black America than the evils of slavery and the KKK combined.
President Johnson's Great Society's War on Poverty has turned out to be, for all practical and statistical purposes, a War on Black America.
Nugent added that the $16 trillion spent on the War on Poverty since 1964 "has largely been wasted."
In fact, the President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society initiative -- which included Medicare, Medicaid and a variety of other anti-poverty programs -- was responsible for significant and lasting reductions in poverty. As Washington Post reporter Dylan Matthews noted, "the best evidence indicates that the War on Poverty made a real and lasting difference":
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre baselessly warned that proponents of stronger gun laws could implement a firearm "confiscation scheme" in his latest unhinged column for The Daily Caller.
Despite LaPierre's warnings of a draconian gun registration and confiscation scheme that he wrote "could happen to us if we fail to stand and fight," the plot LaPierre described is illegal under current federal law, has not been proposed by the supporters of stronger gun laws LaPierre singled out in his column, and would likely violate the United States Constitution.
LaPierre's column was published on August 19, the day before BuzzFeed reported that the NRA itself uses a variety of data collection methods to gather information on gun owners. In an article that described myriad ways the NRA collects data on gun owners, BuzzFeed contributor Steve Friess noted the tension between the NRA's warnings about government gun owner databases and the gun rights organization's own actions:
The National Rifle Association has rallied gun owners -- and raised tens of millions of dollars -- campaigning against the threat of a national database of firearms or their owners.
But in fact, the sort of vast, secret database the NRA often warns of already exists, despite having been assembled largely without the knowledge or consent of gun owners. It is housed in the Virginia offices of the NRA itself. The country's largest privately held database of current, former, and prospective gun owners is one of the powerful lobby's secret weapons, expanding its influence well beyond its estimated 3 million members and bolstering its political supremacy.
That database has been built through years of acquiring gun permit registration lists from state and county offices, gathering names of new owners from the thousands of gun-safety classes taught by NRA-certified instructors and by buying lists of attendees of gun shows, subscribers to gun magazines, and more, BuzzFeed has learned.
LaPierre's Daily Caller column is demonstrative of the outlandish gun registration and confiscation plots the NRA warns of while apparently simultaneously collecting information on gun owners for its own purposes.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent is well known for making inflammatory remarks during his performances, as evidenced by an infamous video from a 2007 concert where the machinegun-toting rocker called then-Sen. Barack Obama a "piece of shit" and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton a "worthless bitch."
Fan videos posted online from Nugent's "Black Power 2013" tour -- which he named as a way to pay "tribute to our black heroes nightly" -- indicate that Nugent has only ramped up his rhetoric, launching inflammatory attacks on President Obama and using violent imagery to describe his opposition to the federal government.
Among the lowlights, Nugent attacked the "lying racist in the White House," "criminal pieces of shit in the IRS," "dirty cocksuckers in the government," "the jack boot Nazi motherfuckers in the Department of Justice," "fucking retarded mongrels" who support animal rights, and "well-fed motherfucker food stamp cocksuckers." He also drew a comparison between the American Revolution and the present, stating, "When the British came to take our guns we met them at Concord Bridge and we blew their fucking brains out," and warned his audience, "keep a fucking gun in your hand, boys."
As a musician and conservative commentator, Nugent is to many the public face of the NRA. Nugent has had a longstanding relationship with the gun rights organization, serving on its board of directors since 1995. In the group's 2013 board elections Nugent was second only to Fox News contributor Oliver North for most votes in favor of reelection. Nugent is also a fixture of the NRA's annual meeting, delivering talks in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. After the 2012 meeting, Nugent drew the attention of the Secret Service for saying he would be "dead or in jail" if Obama was reelected as president. An NRA memo indicated that he was paid $50,000 by the NRA for a "spoken presentation" in 2011. Nugent is also the author of a song, "I Am The NRA" that includes the lyrics: "If you hate tyrants and dictators and are ready to give freedom a whirl/Celebrate the NRA and the shot heard round the world."
Despite his lengthy history of inflammatory comments, Nugent twice appeared on CNN to discuss gun violence prevention legislation proposed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. While previewing an interview with Nugent, CNN reporter Deb Feyerick said on the February 1 edition of Erin Burnett OutFront that Nugent has a "very firm grasp of the facts" about gun violence and "a very deep connection with the facts and the facts that he needs to make his argument." After airing the Nugent interview on February 4, host Erin Burnett and Feyerick treated Nugent's conspiracy theory that the Obama administration was planning to confiscate firearms as a credible argument. Notably Nugent botched an indisputable fact of the Sandy Hook massacre in a February 13 column for conspiracy website WND, where he claimed that the shooter did not use an assault weapon. Still, Nugent made an appearance on Erin Burnett OutFront on April 11 to again discuss gun violence prevention legislation, although no mention was made of his past inflammatory rhetoric or false claims about gun violence.
Below are 10 inflammatory moments from Nugent's "Black Power" tour:
A spokesperson for the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, the NRA-backed group behind an effort to recall two Colorado Democratic state senators over their votes for stronger gun laws, baselessly claimed on NRA News that the campaign of recall-targeted Senate President John Morse was plotting to commit "massive amounts of voter fraud including ballots possibly even being mailed in from Chicago."
Reacting to an August 12 court decision which will necessitate that the recall election be conducted with polling centers instead of solely through mail-in ballots, BFDF spokesperson Jennifer Kerns said the change could stymie what she described as a plot by Chicago-based groups hired by Morse's campaign to commit voter fraud by sending in fraudulent ballots from out of state. From the August 13 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News:
KERNS: The state of Colorado, in keeping with its crazy election year tradition, the state of Colorado passed a very controversial same day voter registration bill that completely changed the election laws in the state of Colorado and turned this election into an all mail ballot election.
Well we've been bracing ourselves for massive amounts of voter fraud including ballots possibly even being mailed in from Chicago. As you know, John Morse and his campaign, as they say follow the money in politics, he has hired -- even his own political consulting firms are from Chicago. They represent the Chicago Federation of Labor, the AFL-CIO and AFSCME, some of the hardest players in politics. So we've been bracing ourselves for an all mail-in ballot situation where you could potentially have ballots coming in from people out of the state.
Kerns added, "I think it's much harder for the Democrats to cheat if they have to do it in person. They have to spend their time and treasure busing people in to try to commit fraud."
The registration fraud scenario described by Kerns -- where out of district or state individuals would use Colorado's same day voter registration law to obtain mail-in ballots -- has circulated in state conservative media, but is in fact based on a misreading of Colorado's new election laws.
The NRA's newly launched campaign to oppose a California legislative proposal to ban lead ammunition for hunting, Hunt for Truth, has already been pulled from the Internet along with an accompanying NRA press release announcing the initiative. Using archived webpages, Media Matters documents the NRA's repeated denial that lead ammunition poses a danger to wildlife, despite scientific evidence that lead ammunition threatens the survival of the critically endangered California condor.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent compared himself to a "black Jew" in Nazi Germany while discussing widespread criticism he has faced after making a series of inflammatory comments on race.
Since the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman, Nugent has used his media platform to stereotype African Americans as violent and make disparaging comments about deceased Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. As a result, he has faced calls for his removal from the NRA's board of directors, criticism in cable and print media, and a boycott of an upcoming concert in New Haven, Connecticut.
Responding to his critics during an August 1 interview with Mark Reardon on NewsRadio 1120 KMOX, Nugent said he was "like a black Jew in Nuremberg 1938 and the Brownshirts can't stand me. So I'll just keep derailing their trains, shall we say."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent endorsed the conspiracy theory that President Obama's birth certificate is a forgery in his regular column for conspiracy website WND.
Riffing on a recent claim by Obama that his critics promote "phony scandals" involving his administration, Nugent wrote in his July 31 column that "more of us believe in the American hero Sheriff Joe Arpaio's thorough investigation into your phony birth certificate and phony history than the phony media's smoke and mirrors."
In July 2012 Arpaio, a controversial Arizona sheriff, announced that a "Cold Case Posse" under his direction determined that Obama's "long-form birth certificate was manufactured electronically and that it did not originate in a paper format as claimed by the White House." The "Cold Case Posse" reportedly attempted to uncover evidence that Obama was born in Kenya.
Nugent also suggested in his column that Obama is engaged in a "Saul Alinsky inspired attack on America" which involves "intentionally implementing the 'Rules for Radicals' agenda so appropriately dedicated to Satan."
Beyond his endorsement of birtherism, Nugent made a number of inflammatory attacks on Obama including accusing him of engaging in "phony racism" and suggesting that Nidal Hasan, the man allegedly responsible for a 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, is Obama's "Allah Ahkbar buddy."
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre criticized President Obama for saying that Americans should disregard those who say "tyranny is always lurking just around the corner," before warning that the administration is attempting to "disarm citizens on multiple fronts -- a step at a time -- not only of their firearms, but of their free speech"
The NRA often engages in hyperbolic language to suggest that Obama wishes to form a tyrannical government and destroy the Second Amendment. From LaPierre's July 30 op-ed appearing on conservative news website The Daily Caller:
Specifically, Obama signaled what he sees as dangerous political speech in his May, 2013 [Ohio University commencement] address:
"Unfortunately, you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate sinister entity that's at the root of our problems. Some of these voices also do their best to gum up the works. They warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices."
As members of the oldest civil rights organization in the nation, NRA members know tyranny when we see it. Five million strong, we proudly "gum up the works" when those "works" are designed to destroy American liberty, be it attacks on rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment or the First Amendment.
"Tyranny." That's Obama's word. The president is right about one thing: Many people are, indeed, warning about tyranny "lurking just around the corner."
Referencing controversy over the Internal Revenue Service's use of improper screening methods when reviewing tax-exempt status for some non-profit groups, LaPierre wrote, "Obama cannot erase the Second Amendment without crippling or controlling exercise of the First Amendment. And that's exactly what is at the heart of the ongoing scandals involving the vindictive assault on conservative Americans by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)."
In fact, this characterization is overblown. There is no evidence of White House involvement in the use of improper screening methods by the IRS. Furthermore, despite initial reports that only conservative non-profits were targeted, it was later revealed that the IRS also used improper screening techniques on liberal organizations as well.
Still, in his opinion piece LaPierre described the IRS as "the president's thug arm" and implored readers to elect candidates who will "root out and prosecute what has morphed from the corruption of the 'Chicago way,' into the much more sinister Obama way," adding that he hopes "Obama's 'transformation' of our nation and our culture" can be stopped.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent claimed that he is "the antithesis of a racist" and that instead President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder "are clearly guilty of racism" because "they make public judgments based on the color of someone's skin instead of the content of their character."
In his regular column for conservative website Rare, Nugent attacked the "hateful media" for leveling charges of racism against him after he made a series of racially charged comments in wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman. According to Nugent, the people he meets across the country are "aghast at the vulgar dishonesty of a media that has plummeted into the soulless abyss of hurling the hateful accusation of 'racism' at [him] and anybody they disagree with."
The real racists, according to Nugent, are Obama and Holder, who he suggests judged Zimmerman -- who was acquitted of murdering Florida teenager Trayvon Martin -- on the basis of his race and not his character:
National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent continued to stereotype African-Americans as violent, exemplifying a media trend of coverage that exaggerates African-American criminality.
In his regular column for conspiracy website WND, Nugent addressed the topic of race and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, claiming in a July 24 opinion piece that there is a "mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America":
Why wasn't Trayvon [Martin] educated and raised to simply approach someone he wasn't sure about and politely ask what was going on and explain he was headed home? Had he, I am confident that Zimmerman would have called off the authorities and everything would have been fine.
Why the nasty "creepy a-- cracker" racism and impulse to attack? Where does this come from? Is it the same mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America, most heartbreakingly in Chicago pretty much every day of the week? Where does this come from? And why is it so prevalent?
This type of generalization about African-Americans is in line with racially charged comments Nugent made on entertainer Nick Cannon's podcast on July 23. In advocating for the racial profiling of African-Americans, Nugent said that his views were informed by watching news reports featuring African-Americans accused of rape, burglary and murder:
NUGENT: I think that typically when you see the, I don't even remember the term they use, but the gangs of blacks lately that have been just been going down the downtown streets and breaking windows on cars. We played the Milwaukee state fair a couple years ago and these black mobs were just attacking white folks coming out of the fair. And over and over again I watch the news and here's a rape and here's a burglary and here's a murder in Chicago. 29 shot. 29 blacks shot by 29 blacks. At some point you got to be afraid of black and white dogs if the Dalmatian's doing the biting.
In fact research into media portrayals of African-American crime indicates that media is responsible for creating a perception of criminality that does not reflect reality. According to research by Kelly Welch, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Villanova University, African-American criminality is exaggerated due to media portrayals of young African-American men as criminal and racial profiling by criminal justice officials:
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent claimed to be "so anti-racist" that people "would be hard pressed ... to find someone who has fought racism more than [he has]," moments before suggesting that African-Americans should be profiled the same way members of a community might profile a breed of dog that was attacking children.
Nugent's comments, which he made on entertainer Nick Cannon's July 23 podcast, are the latest inflammatory remarks he has made on the topic of race since the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Referencing July 19 remarks by President Obama that addressed issues of race in the country, Nugent said that a "little old white lady" who "clutches her purse tightly and shivers" when an African-American man joins her on an elevator has not wrongly "prejudged" in the same sense that "stormy clouds" are accurate predictors of a destructive weather event.
Nugent elaborated on this point, saying when "we've witnessed a number of storms that have destroyed homes, and threatened lives, and tipped over cars, I don't think we're prejudging those storm threats. I don't think we are prejudging. I think we are taking evidence, and going, 'uh-oh black clouds coming in, wind is picking up, I think I better head for a shelter.' "
Nugent made a second analogy concerning racial profiling, stating, "I think when you use the word profile, if a Dalmatian has been biting the children in the neighborhood, I think we're going to look for a black and white dog."
Two recent stories based on faulty premises -- an Illinois Review post that falsely claimed President Obama had supported "Stand Your Ground" as an Illinois state legislator, and a since-corrected BuzzFeed report that pushed the erroneous conclusion that gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has suffered a membership drop -- have nonetheless spread throughout the right-wing media.
The cases are not parallel -- Illinois Review is a minor conservative Illinois political blog (their Twitter handle has about 3,000 followers) whose story was too good to check for the right-wing media, while the BuzzFeed story is an unfortunate outlier for a publication that typically produces good reporting. But the articles nonetheless illustrate the first-mover problem of correcting misinformation -- once a charge is levied and begins gaining momentum it becomes difficult to stop, no matter how clearly false the claim, due to the right-wing media apparatus that will push any story considered damaging to progressives.
The basis of the July 22 BuzzFeed article was that MAIG is losing membership ("is finding it hard to keep its membership up") because it has become too strident in its recent push for stronger gun laws. But BuzzFeed's premise was false: MAIG has actually seen an increase in membership during the period the article covered, with more than 100 mayors joining the coalition during that time of increased political action.
Buzzfeed has since updated its article, making a minor change to the text "to reiterate the fact that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gaining more members than it's losing." But of course, that "fact" completely repudiates the premise of the article.
And of course, the damage has been done. The idea of MAIG shedding membership has already spread through the conservative echo chamber. The story was picked up by a number of right-wing outlets, with Breitbart News and the New York Post stating outright that the story indicated that the group's membership was down overall. The Post article in particular, which ran under the headline "weakened arsenal," linked the group "struggling to replace ex-members" to their focus "on banning weapons and other tough new gun-control measures" (by contrast, a New York Daily News piece cited the BuzzFeed report but framed the story with the fact that the group is larger and growing faster than ever before).
These sorts of misguided stories have an impact on the political debate. One NRA activist, who acknowledged that the number of mayors leaving "isn't a huge blow to MAIG," wrote that BuzzFeed's story "isn't good for MAIG. They will have to counter this meme, and that's good for us. Make them work for it."