Eleven days after a 22-year-old California man killed six in a shooting and stabbing spree near the University of California, Santa Barbara, the National Rifle Association responded, placing "the blame" for the tragedy on gun safety efforts.
On May 23 Elliot Rodger, apparently motivated by hatred of women, went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California, stabbing three victims to death before shooting 11 people; three fatally. Several other people were injured by Rodger's car.
The NRA typically goes silent in the wake of mass shooting incidents, and the Isla Vista killings were no different. As The New York Times noted after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, "Over the years the N.R.A. has perfected its strategy for responding to mass shootings: Lie low at first, then slow-roll any legislative push for a response." (Slate's Dave Weigel has noted that when the NRA finally does weigh in, its response is nearly identical to past incidents.)
During a June 3 appearance on the NRA's radio program Cam & Company, NRA top lobbyist Chris Cox addressed the Isla Vista killings, stating, "The blame needs to be placed on the politicians in California who time and time again their answer to these issues are more and more gun control laws."
Cox also claimed that not enough attention had been paid by the media to the victims who were stabbed to death, adopting a similar argument used in a May 30 NRA commentary video that attacked media for using the word "shooting" when describing murders committed with guns.
From the June 3 edition of Cam & Company:
From the June 3 edition of MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell:
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UPDATE: In a June 10 article, Mother Jones reported that a Department of Justice official said of Operation Choke Point, "There's been a lot of misunderstanding, there's been accusations were going after gun owners...None of our cases involve gun merchants":
Nonetheless, Issa's report alleges that the Justice Department is using the FDIC guidance as a hit list. "The FDIC's policy statements on firearm and ammunition sales carry additional weight in light of FDIC's active involvement in Operation Choke Point," the report reads. But a Justice Department official tells Mother Jones that this conclusion is incorrect. "We're not using the FDIC's list at all," the official says. "There's been a lot of misunderstanding, there's been accusations were going after gun owners...None of our cases involve gun merchants or porn."
Conservative media are advancing baseless claims about a Department of Justice program that targets fraud in order to manufacture a conspiracy theory that the Obama administration is trying to put gun retailers out of business.
The DOJ program in question is called Operation Choke Point and was conceived as a project of the DOJ Consumer Protection Branch in November 2012. Based on the suspicion that some banks -- acting with knowledge or willful blindness -- conducted business with fraudulent merchants or those merchants' third-party payment processors, an assistant United States attorney drafted a proposal to investigate banks for possible civil or criminal violations. As an early memo stated, Choke Point was designed as "a strategy to attack Internet, telemarketing, mail, and other mass market fraud against consumers, by choking fraudsters' access to the banking system." The memo called for an initial investigation of 10 banks and the creation of a "database to map relationships among fraudulent merchants (beneficial owners and trade names), third-party payment processors, and banks."
In April 2014, The Washington Post reported DOJ had "issued 50 subpoenas to banks and payment processors." In a May 7 blog post, DOJ described a settlement it obtained from Four Oaks Bank in North Carolina. The bank agreed to $1.2 million in fines to settle allegations it profited from its business relationship with a clearly fraudulent third-party payment processor. While touting the settlement, DOJ also noted, "We're committed to ensuring that our efforts to combat fraud do not discourage or inhibit the lawful conduct of these honest merchants." On May 29, The Wall Street Journal reported the existence of at least 15 DOJ investigations under Choke Point.
Conservative media, however, are hyping the evidence-free claims of various gun retailers that they have been targeted by Choke Point because of the Obama administration's supposed antipathy for guns. (Hysteria over Choke Point falls within a pattern of conservative media's embrace of conspiracy theories about the Obama administration attacking gun rights.) But recently released DOJ documents show that Choke Point is entirely focused on fraud, not firearms retailers.
The National Rifle Association is walking back its statement criticizing gun activists who carry loaded assault weapons in public as a form of protest, with the NRA's top lobbyist apologizing and calling the statement "a mistake."
In recent months Open Carry Texas and several other gun activist groups have made headlines for openly carrying loaded assault weapons in public and into restaurants in the Dallas area. This tactic of attempting to "normalize" open carry of rifles has spectacularly backfired, as gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has persuaded several restaurant chains where open carry rallies were staged to ask customers not to bring firearms into their businesses.
On June 2, Mother Jones reported on a statement on the NRA's website that criticized the open carry protests as "downright weird" and suggested that the practice was "downright scary" to onlookers and "counterproductive for the gun owning community." The Mother Jones report was widely circulated in media as it was an aberration from the NRA's typical absolutist position on firearm issues. Open Carry Texas called the NRA's statement "disgusting and disrespectful" and some gun activists cut up their NRA membership cards.
The NRA's top lobbyist, Chris Cox, appeared on the NRA's radio show Cam & Company on June 3 to repudiate the NRA's article criticizing the open carry movement. Cox said that the statement was "a mistake" and that "it shouldn't have happened," adding "our job is not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners." Cox also blamed the statement on a "staffer" who Cox said "expressed his personal opinion." Referencing media interest in the statement, Cox termed it a "distraction."
Cox went on to describe the NRA's official policy: "The National Rifle Association unapologetically and unflinchingly supports the right of self-defense and what that means is that our members and our supporters have a right to carry a firearm in any place they have a legal right to be. If that means open carry, we support open carry. If it means concealed carry, it means concealed carry. So unequivocally we support open carry, we've been the leader of open carry efforts across this country, the leader in opposing efforts to curtail the ability to carry firearms, and that's something we're proud of and we do every day for our members."
Cox added that the NRA "apologize[s] again for any confusion that that post caused."
Although the National Rifle Association is refusing to comment on the recent mass murder in Isla Vista, California, the group has released a video complaining the media "race[s] to label anything with a gun as a shooting."
On May 23 a young man apparently motivated by hatred of women went on a killing spree where he stabbed three victims to death before shooting 11 people; three fatally. In the ten days since the killing spree, the NRA has declined to issue a comment, a common tactic of the gun group.
Without mentioning the Isla Vista killings by name, on May 30 the NRA published a video commentary called "Propaganda," in which "NRA News Commentator Dom Raso exposes the inaccuracy of the media - especially regarding their reports of mass shootings."
During a critique of the media, Raso warned viewers of a "trick" where media figures "race to label anything with a gun as a shooting, because they know how much more attention they are going to get with that word." According to Raso, the media use the word "shooting" so that viewers are being "subconsciously told to think about the tool they used" instead of the perpetrator.
Ken Blackwell -- who cited "the attack on ... natural marriage" as a reason for the May 23 mass murder in Isla Vista, California -- has longstanding ties to the National Rifle Association.
Blackwell, who is also a senior fellow at anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, was flagged by People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch linking gay marriage to the killing spree that left six dead. From FRC's radio show:
BLACKWELL: When you see there's a crumbling of the moral foundation of the country, you see the attack on the -- on natural marriage and the family that has been a part of the, not only the moral foundation and the upbringing of our children but the teaching of sexual roles and the development of human sexuality in our culture. When these fundamental institutions are attacked and destroyed and weakened and abandoned, you get what we are now seeing and that is a flood of these disturbed people in our society that are causing great, great pain. And as opposed to dealing with the foundational problems, we look for ways of blaming the Second Amendment, or blaming knives or blaming cars when they are used. At the end of the day, you have just underscored the problem. This is a convenient way of avoiding talking about what's at the root cause.
Fox News promoted Colion Noir, the host of a new National Rifle Association web series that aims to promote guns to young people, with a fawning interview.
In a May 20 interview on Fox & Friends, Elisabeth Hasselbeck termed Noir "really passionate," asking him "where does this come for you, the passion for the Second Amendment?" She offered up softball questions such as "will they succeed in silencing you, your critics?" Hasselbeck concluded the interview by promising, "we will continue to check you out there and all that you have to say with regard to our constitutional rights."
Fox News regularly provides a platform for gun misinformation from the NRA and its supporters.
A new web series for young people produced by the National Rifle Association is being widely panned by critics as a phony and out-of-touch attempt at messaging. And for good reason -- the NRA's Noir is really about the same themes the NRA has been ranting on for decades, that the NRA is the only group that can stand up for persecuted gun owners and save America in the face of machinations by anti-gun elites.
Recently launched on the NRA's new "Freestyle" network, Noir promises to report on "the latest on firearms, fashion, pop culture and other hot topics." The show is hosted by NRA News commentator Colion Noir -- best known for his bizarre claim Martin Luther King Jr. was a gun proponent -- along with co-host Amy Robbins and is sponsored by gun manufacturer Mossberg.
Early reviews of Noir report that it reeks of inauthenticity. Indeed the 16-minute premiere episode is rife with product placements and lame pop culture and sports references, all awkwardly interspersed between features on high-powered, expensive-looking firearms.
In one cringe-worthy moment, Noir complains that the cardboard box his $5,000 rifle came in looks like "a Build-A-Bear beginning set of a homeless guy's apartment." During a glowing review of a compact Smith & Wesson handgun, Noir analogizes the pistol to Denver Nuggets guard Nate Robinson: "Sure he is small and unimposing, but the moment you drop your guard he will tear your ass up." There is also an obligatory twerking reference.
This fakery led Gawker's Adam Weinstein to describe the show as "hilariously bad poser garbage." Writing for Vocativ, Mike Spies summed up the show as "public-access television: Think Wayne's World, but with a focus on sleek weapons" and concluded that "NRA employs millenial-friendly tropes to attract younger members -- and fails miserably." While Spies imagined the show being "produced by aliens who spent an hour studying American pop culture," Weinstein poked fun at "the cringe-inducing 'urban' script copy dropping out of Noir's mouth like it was written by a white Mitch McConnell intern on summer break from Liberty University."
Beyond the widely noted production and messaging problems, the NRA has failed to create a different message that can resonate with young people with Noir. The NRA must realize that young people are unlikely to embrace the bombastic paranoid rants of its executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. But as the video below shows, Noir is more of the same from the NRA, only delivered with a less abrasive tone and buried between pop culture references.
Reports that the handgun used by Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev originated in Maine should come as no surprise given guns are routinely trafficked from states with weak gun laws to states with stronger gun laws like Massachusetts. Meanwhile, attempts to create a federal law to crack down on gun trafficking have been stifled by the National Rifle Association.
Following the April 15, 2013, bombings that left three dead and hundreds wounded, the Tsarnaev brothers attempted to elude a massive police manhunt. On the evening of April 18 a Ruger handgun was used by the brothers to kill MIT police officer Sean Collier. Hours later the pistol was used again in a firefight that left MBTA officer Richard Donohue seriously wounded. On May 12, Los Angeles Times federal law enforcement and terrorism reporter Richard Serrano reported that the firearm was purchased at a Maine gun store, and "passed" to a well-known Portland, ME gang leader, before being obtained by Tsarnaev.
Massachusetts has the sixth strongest gun laws in the United States and also has the second lowest gun death rate, according to rankings by The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. When guns are used in crimes in Massachusetts, they are most often trafficked from other states (although the National Rifle Association's official state affiliate has denied this regularly occurs).
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was able to determine the origin of 999 Massachusetts crime guns in 2012; 453 came from in-state while 546 were trafficked from other states. Maine accounted for the second largest number of out of state gun traces after New Hampshire. The top six crime gun importers to Massachusetts -- New Hampshire, Maine, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina -- all received a D or worse grade in the Brady Campaign/LCPGV gun law ranking. Overall the rankings found a correlation between weak gun laws and the exporting of crime guns into states with strong gun laws.
NRA News host Cam Edwards tied the kidnapping of scores of Nigerian schoolgirls by terrorist organization Boko Haram to the National Rifle Association's recent annual meeting. According to Edwards, the girls' would-be rescuers are not "Pajama Boy" or fans of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, but instead are men "who look like they just came from the NRA annual meeting."
The NRA frequently interjects itself into seemingly-unrelated situations involving heroism or sacrifice to enhance the NRA's brand. Just days after the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, NRA board member Ted Nugent claimed that the heroism of first responders to the attack "represents what the NRA is." A January 2012 NRA fundraising email marked the anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and also featured an image of President John F. Kennedy with the assassinated president's quote, "The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it." The NRA also used the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks to solicit donations.
From the May 8 edition of NRA News show Cam & Company:
The National Rifle Association has used its media arm to dissuade gun owners from embracing "smart gun" technology through falsehoods and the promotion of conspiracy theories about the federal government.
Advances in technology that uses RFID chips, fingerprint identification, or other measures to ensure that a gun can only be fired by authorized users have been in the news following a Maryland gun store's failed attempt to bring a smart gun to market.
Engage Armament, a gun store in Rockville, MD, planned to begin sales of the Armatix iP1 handgun -- the first U.S. market-ready smart gun -- but later changed course and apologized for being involved with smart gun technology after receiving death threats from pro-gun activists. An earlier plan by a California gun store to offer the iP1 suffered a similar fate.
In a separate development, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg has promised to repeal New Jersey's smart gun law -- which makes adoption of the technology mandatory once smart guns come to market -- if the NRA promises to not interfere with the retail sale of smart guns nor target manufacturers who develop smart gun technologies.
While Armatix produced the first smart gun ready for sale to the public, a 2013 Department of Justice report identified 13 entities -- including gun manufacturers, universities, and other research entities -- working to develop smart gun technology. In its 2015 budget request, DOJ asked for $2 million "to support the Administration's challenge to the private sector to develop innovative and cost-effective gun safety technology." Ron Conway, a prominent Silicon Valley angel investor, has also announced a $1 million competition for the development of "technology that reliably authorizes approved use -- and blocks the unauthorized use -- of firearms."
That the NRA is attacking smart gun technology -- and by doing so putting negative pressure on companies that would develop the technology with the hope of selling guns -- is ironic given the organization's philosophy on firearm sales. In an unhinged February 2013 op-ed that urged NRA members to "stand and fight" against gun safety measures proposed in the wake of the Newtown massacre, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre urged gun owners to "buy more guns than ever." And during a paranoid 2014 address at the NRA annual meeting LaPierre said, "there is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want."
INDIANAPOLIS-- The theme of last week's National Rifle Association annual meeting was an odd one: maternity.
It was not an official theme in the way macho slogans like "All In" and "Stand and Fight" have formally defined recent NRA congresses. But it was a thick running thread, one that signals the quickening of a broad shift underway across the gun rights movement, from the gun makers to the grassroots.
Red schwag set the tone. At tables throughout the complex, NRA staffers handed out "I'm an NRA MOM" buttons and t-shirts. At the building's main entrance hung an enormous banner of a woman, looking a little pouty, next to a populist taunt of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently said he would spend big on behalf of the gun safety movement.
While it is unclear if the woman is an NRA mom, she is notably not NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre or board member Ted Nugent. The billboard captures perfectly the NRA's double-pronged messaging campaign of the moment, best summarized as "Glocker Moms against Mayor Mike."
For years the role of women in the politics and business of guns has been growing. We may look back at 2014 as the year it flipped. In Indianapolis, women constituted a full quarter of NRA attendees for the first time -- up to a five-fold increase over the past decade, according to the group.
The NRA is pivoting quickly to adjust, and for the first time its convention program featured two major events for women. In addition to the $250-a-plate Women's Leadership Forum Luncheon and Auction, the group held the first annual Women's New Energy Breakfast, where female gun owners and NRA moms mixed and networked over a $15 breakfast buffet.
These same women are the target of a female-oriented media push, anchored by a running NRA web series called "Armed and Fabulous." An early episode looks admiringly at the Potterfield women of the Midway ammunition empire, whose scion, Larry, is one of the NRA's biggest industry donors.
The women-and-guns motif carried over into the male-dominated dog-and-pony show known as the Leadership Forum, where 2016 hopefuls bragged about their wives' gun racks. Rick Santorum boasted that his wife owns more guns than he does, and that his five-year old daughter is already an NRA member. Indiana Governor Mike Pence talked about falling in love with his wife for her handgun. Florida Senator Marco Rubio bemoaned the paperwork required for his female staffers to carry and conceal. And after two years in which Glenn Beck delivered the keynote, this year's honor fell to the pistol-packin' Mama Grizzly, Sarah Palin.
What's going on? The modern NRA is, above all, a thinly veiled industry group. Its "mom" offensive reflects basic gun industry economics: manufacturers' continued growth depends in no small part on making up for the duck and deer hunting demographic, which has been static or declining for generations.
The industry hopes that women can be their growth market. Thus far its degree of success is anyone's guess. Anecdotal evidence and some polling shows an increase in female gun ownership in recent years. But according to the General Social Survey, the gold standard for survey research, only 12 percent of women owned guns in 2012, a lower level than in the mid-1990s.
Whether or not there's a real demographic sea change at hand, the transformation is unfolding in the gun media, both popular and trade, where designers and analysts discuss the need for new models representing the past and future of the industry. Gun makers are rolling out more rifles fitted for arthritic fingers, as well as handguns like the Pavona pistol, "designed for the discerning woman."
Scott Bach, an NRA board member and head of the NRA's New Jersey affiliate, dismissed the family of a child who died during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as "a prop" in response to the family's support for a New Jersey bill that would limit gun magazine size.
The New Jersey legislature is currently considering a bill which would reduce the legal ammunition magazine capacity from 15 rounds down to 10. Supporters of the legislation have pointed to mass shootings where high-capacity magazines were used, including Sandy Hook, to argue that such magazines threaten public safety. On May 5, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing and possibly advance the bill to the full New Jersey Senate. The General Assembly version of the bill passed in March.
Bach, who is executive director of the official NRA affiliate group Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, made an April 30 appearance on the NRA News show Cam & Company in order to warn NRA members about the hearing, but while doing so he insulted Newtown families who have supported the legislation. In claiming that the real purpose of the legislation is to make Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "uncomfortable because of the emotional component," Bach claimed the bill's backers "brought out the Newtown victim's family and frankly used them as a prop or a show."
Right-wing media are heaping praise upon Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. over his remarks at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting, ignoring his association with extremists.
Clarke has drawn praise from conservative pundits for a speech at the NRA's annual meeting where he proposed that the words "keep your hands off our guns dammit" be appended to the Second Amendment. On Fox & Friends Saturday, co-host Anna Kooiman said Clarke delivered a "very powerful speech," while co-host Tucker Carlson said he was going to send Clarke fan mail, rated his speech "awesome," and fist-pumped as Fox's Peter Johnson Jr. said Clarke "put it out there in straight language that people can understand."
On April 28, Clarke joined Fox & Friends for a laudatory interview that co-host Steve Doocy introduced by saying, "He is one law enforcement officer doing more than protecting you on the streets, he's standing up for all of our constitutional rights as well."
Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, praised lawless Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's actions in a sparsely attended speech outside the National Rifle Association's annual meeting.
"I think that this is a very positive development that came out of the confrontation out on that ranch," said Pratt, who regularly sits for credulous interviews with mainstream media outlets. "And hopefully we will look back on what happened there as a turning point in modern American history. The American people are saying 'Enough, no farther.'"
After Bundy refused for decades to pay the government fees required for his cattle to graze on public land, federal officials attempted to execute court orders to confiscate and sell the cattle to pay off the more than $1 million he owes the public. Bundy became a right-wing folk hero after he threatened violence against those officials, drawing the support of both conservatives in the media and hundreds of armed men -- including militia extremists -- who descended on Bundy's ranch, triggering an armed standoff with the government.
When the government stopped the confiscation fearing an outbreak of violence, Bundy's supporters cheered, but most of those allies abandoned him last week after The New York Times reported Bundy's racist comments, in which he questioned whether black Americans were "better off as slaves" or "better off under government subsidy."
But on April 26 Pratt praised the rancher's standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, which he described as "an illegitimate entity" whose employees "shouldn't have guns, not as government officials." He linked the event to the surge in sheriffs who have said they will refuse to enforce expanded federal or state gun laws.
"I think we really are hopefully on an upswing," he said to a group of roughly 20 onlookers, including a Media Matters reporter. "We are seeing, finally, a proper, legitimate, lawful response to illegitimate, unlawful exercise of government power, particularly on the federal level."
Pratt frequently appears in the media as an advocate for gun rights, most recently responding to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's expanded gun safety efforts in a New York Times article earlier this month. The Times profiled Pratt and his "upstart group" that takes positions "farther right" than the NRA in April 2013, featuring praise from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Dean Heller (R-NV), and reported that the organization has been successful in "freezing senators, particularly Republicans" from taking positions in support of gun violence prevention legislation.
But Pratt also has a long record of anti-government extremism; he was forced out of his position as co-chair of Pat Buchanan's 1996 presidential run following the "disclosure that he had spoken at rallies held by leaders of the white supremacist and militia movements," as the Times reported at the time. More recently, he has suggested that the shooting at the Aurora, CO, movie theater may have been staged and flirted with the claim that the Sandy Hook shooting was a government "programmed event" designed to build support for stronger gun laws.
Pratt's speech came during a "Safety & Self-Protection Showcase" held in the park across the street from the Indiana Convention Center, where 70,000 members of the NRA were meeting this weekend. The event was sponsored by groups including Moms With Guns Demand Action, Gun Rights Across America, American Gun Rights, Indiana Moms Against Gun Control, 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control, 2A Friendly, and Armed American Women. Other speakers included Jan Morgan of Armed American Women, Indiana state representative Jim Lucas, Doc Greene of Raging Elephants Radio, and Nikki Goeser, author of "Denied A Chance."