Viewing gun rights as under attack after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the National Rifle Association and its backers in conservative media spent 2013 using inflammatory rhetoric to attack critics and promote an uncompromising pro-gun agenda.
Both the NRA and its conservative media allies frequently attempted to draw modern-day parallels between Adolf Hitler's murder of millions during the Holocaust and the Obama administration's post-Newtown proposal to advance gun safety. One ugly event at the NRA's annual meeting saw the NRA's main political opponent illustrated as a Nazi, leading to condemnation from Jewish organizations.
Even victims of gun violence and the families of those killed at Sandy Hook could not escape the wrath of right-wing media, who insultingly called them "props" of the Obama administration, as if they were unable to think for themselves. The NRA similarly politicized the armed protection of President Obama's daughters in a widely criticized TV spot.
Ted Nugent, perhaps the best known member of NRA leadership, turned heads when he dubbed Trayvon Martin a "dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe" after the deceased Florida teenager's killer was acquitted. Even given his past racially inflammatory rhetoric, Nugent shocked many by piling on his Martin comment with a weeks-long tirade in which he endorsed racial profiling and claimed that the African-American community has a "mindless tendency to violence." The NRA declined to comment.
The year also featured a number of bizarre claims from the NRA, including the host of an NRA-produced television show comparing critics of his elephant hunting to Hitler, NRA head Wayne LaPierre's claim that gun ownership was essential to "survival," and NRA past-president Marion Hammer's comparison of an assault weapons ban to racial discrimination.
What follows are 12 lowlights from a year punctuated by extreme NRA rhetoric:
Scott Bach, the National Rifle Association board member who has been widely condemned for recent comments that trivialized the Holocaust, previously claimed that Hitler was "pro-gun control" and that the Holocaust may have been averted "if the victims had not first been disarmed under the pretext of public safety."
Bach has faced heavy criticism since his December 11 claim on NRA News that Jersey City, New Jersey Mayor Steven Fulop was wrong to require city gun vendors to fill out a survey about gun safety, considering that Fulop's grandparents survived the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the editorial board of New Jersey's largest newspaper, and Fulop himself have all condemned Bach's claim.
As the head of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs (ANJRPC), an official NRA affiliate organization, Bach is the most prominent gun rights activist in New Jersey. He has served on the NRA board since 2003 and an October 2011 profile in an NRA magazine described Bach as "a tenacious Second Amendment activist, who has devoted more than a decade to defending gun rights both nationally and on the 'front lines' of the Northeast--where politicians who control government are hostile to firearm freedoms."
On his website, Bach describes becoming involved in the gun rights movement "after a profoundly painful breakup of an extremely serious relationship with a woman who flat out refused to accept my interest in freedom, firearms, and the Second Amendment." He continued: "In relinquishing love in favor of freedom, I realized that freedom was the higher value in my life, and having paid an ultimate price to uphold that value, I could no longer remain quietly in the shadows."
The Anti-Defamation League says it is "outraged" by recent comments from National Rifle Association Board Member Scott Bach who wondered how the mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, could support a gun safety proposal given that the mayor's grandparents survived the Holocaust.
Bach, who heads the NRA affiliate group Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, criticized Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop on a December 11 NRA News program over Fulop's support for a measure that would require city gun vendors to fill out a six-question survey on gun safety when bidding on contracts. Citing Fulop's past service in the Marines and that his grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust, Bach stated, "So you've got to wonder why he is not getting it." Bach's implication that modern gun safety proposals recall the the Holocaust is a common -- but ahistorical -- theory promoted by right-wing media and the NRA.
Fulop characterized Bach's claim as "asinine" and "backwards" on the December 16 edition of The Brian Lehrer Show, adding, "If my grandparents had guns in their house when the Nazis came, my grandparents would be dead and I wouldn't be here. So that's probably the reality of the situation. But I don't think that you can equate religious persecution to a manipulation of the intent of the Second Amendment."
National Rifle Association board member Scott Bach wondered on NRA News how the mayor of Jersey City could support a gun safety survey because the mayor is a retired Marine and his grandparents survived the Holocaust.
On December 10, Associated Press reported that Jersey City, New Jersey Mayor Steven Fulop included a six question survey about gun safety in instructions for gun vendors to bid on contracts worth $350,000 to provide Jersey City with firearms and ammunition. Among the survey's inquiries are questions about whether the vendor sells assault weapons to the general public and if they take steps to prevent illegal gun trafficking.
Fulop told AP that he hopes other cities will follow his lead of inserting a "social responsibility component" into the bidding process for government contracts:
A 37-year-old former Marine, Fulop said he hopes larger cities will join the effort. Nearly every other industry, from construction to the garment industry, has some social responsibility component, he said, so why not gun manufacturers, dealers and vendors?
As the one-year anniversary of the December 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School approaches, National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent is blaming "the self-inflicted scourge of political correctness" for the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut.
In his regular column for conspiracy website WND, Nugent wrote on December 11 that unless America followed a series of his policy recommendations -- including arming teachers, eliminating "gun-free zones," and getting "deranged people off the streets" -- "then those precious little 20 children and their six teachers and faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary died for nothing."
He also explained mass shootings as a product of "political correctness" run rampant in society:
The first lesson we should take away from the Sandy Hook massacre is that the self-inflicted scourge of political correctness has dumbed down America enough to allow the conditions to continue to exist that will facilitate another twisted individual capable of doing the same thing to flounder about our society. In fact, it already happened at the Washington Naval Yard. It is going to happen again. And again.
There is no evidence, however, that Nugent's recommendations would prevent school shootings or reduce gun violence generally.
Channeling the NRA's first-post Newtown comments, Nugent claimed that, "The only way to stop a madman with a gun is a good guy or two with guns. Nothing else will work." Thus, according to Nugent, "supporting arming teachers and other faculty members is clearly the right choice."
In fact, an analysis of public mass shootings by Mother Jones that covered the past 30 years did not find a single mass shooting ended by an armed civilian. While the Obama administration and the National Education Association have supported funding for placing more armed members of law enforcement in schools, there is no evidence that the NRA and Nugent's unpopular proposal to arm teachers would prevent shootings.
The gun violence prevention movement has won numerous victories in the year since the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, even as the media has often been quick to ordain the demise of the push for stronger gun laws that are overwhelmingly favored by the public.
The year following Newtown has seen the advance of gun safety as an issue important to Americans, including a renewed interest in gun safety legislation at the federal and state levels, new evidence that the NRA cannot determine election outcomes even in its home state of Virginia, increased grassroots and monetary pressure on the gun safety issue, and cultural indicators showing a rejection of the NRA's fringe agenda.
National Rifle Association President Jim Porter falsely claimed that Medicare enrollees are asked to disclose household gun ownership to revive the NRA's decades-old scare tactics about a federal gun registry.
On the December 4 edition of the NRA News show Cam & Company, Porter claimed, "People are not interested in this government going into their records. That's why we are so concerned about everything they are doing to register people in firearms. Even when you go to register for Medicare or under these new programs they ask intrusive questions about -- that they have no business asking, they invade your privacy, and they also are asking questions about whether or not you have firearms in homes." Noting that the NRA has "been concerned about gun registration since 1968," Porter also suggested that his claim about an Obama administration gun registry scheme meant that "the public clearly sees and agrees with us about our concerns."
NRA leadership often baselessly suggests that the Obama administration is attempting to secretly regulate firearms in a manner inconsistent with the administration's public positions. A White House spokesperson has said a national gun registry "is not something that the president has supported" and the post-Newtown massacre Obama administration proposal to reduce gun violence did not call for a registry. In fact, the NRA previously acknowledged in a since-deleted post on its website that the creation of a registry by the government would be currently contrary to two federal laws.
Furthermore, in April, the NRA played a critical role in blocking Obama administration-backed U.S. Senate legislation that would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales while also making it a serious criminal offense for an attorney general to create a national gun registry.
Porter offered no evidence to support his claim that Medicare enrollment includes questions about gun ownership and in fact no such question is included in the application for benefits. A related claim that Medicare Annual Wellness Visits include mandatory questions about gun ownership has also been thoroughly debunked.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent proposed a compromise that would trade closing the gun show loophole for closing what he deemed "the federal voting loophole," which allows individuals who do not pay federal income tax to vote.
Implementing this plan would involve taking away the vote from a large number of Americans who work but do not owe federal income taxes as well as retirees and some individuals who cannot work because of illness or disability.
In a December 4 column for conspiracy website WND, Nugent -- calling himself a "prospective presidential candidate in 2016" -- framed his proposal as "a Great Compromise" and suggested that he would be willing to risk provoking the ire of gun activists (including his fellow NRA board members) in order to ensure its enactment.
The NRA vehemently opposes closing the gun show loophole -- a term used to describe the fact that many firearms sales at gun shows are conducted without a background check -- even though gun shows have been linked to firearms trafficking operations and terrorist activity. Earlier this year, the gun rights organization repeatedly spread false information about a failed U.S. Senate proposal to require background checks on sales at gun shows and at other commercial venues.
While Nugent wrote that his compromise is "mighty presidential of" him and suggested it "will make both sides of the political spectrum happy," his proposal would involve disenfranchising a substantial number of Americans.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry's trade group, is pushing back on a conspiracy theory promoted by right-wing media that the Obama administration is using the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate the domestic ammunition supply.
In November, The Doe Run Company announced that they will shutter their primary lead smelter at the end of the year -- the last such facility in the country -- as part of a settlement the company reached with the EPA in 2010. The settlement also involves the payment of $7 million in civil fines for violations of environmental law and an agreement to spend $65 million to correct past violations. A Doe Run senior communications liaison explained to The Salem News Online that, "The closure was really a result of increasing standards and an aging facility" and noted that it would be too expensive for the company to comply with clean air regulations.
Conservative media have claimed the EPA move was a backdoor attempt to limit the supply of lead ammunition. But responding to those conspiracies, NSSF senior vice president Lawrence Keane told The Washington Times that, "Manufacturers use recycled lead to make ammunition. They don't buy from smelters. The EPA closing, which has been in the works for a while, will have no impact on production, supply or cost to the consumers."
As Keane suggested, the root of the ring-wing media's conspiracy theory is the mistaken belief that ammunition must be made from lead obtained from the earth as opposed to recycled lead. Even Doe Run, which also operates a secondary lead smelting operation, noted in a November 7 press release that the closure will only affect products that require primary lead.
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.