"We saw a parade of hypotheticals by those who opposed this... What's important is the message it sends, and that's, 'don't attack me.'" - National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, comment to The Tallahassee Democrat, 5/12/2005
George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who confronted, shot, and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, has not been arrested or charged with any crime after pleading self-defense. While critics have pointed out that this claim is dubious given that Zimmerman was both much larger that Martin and armed, legal experts say that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law could prevent him from ever being successfully prosecuted.
McClatchy Newspapers reports that "legal experts say Zimmerman, if arrested, would probably be charged with manslaughter and not murder -- and would have a strong defense under Florida's law, with a judge needing to decide first whether he is immune from prosecution." As Mother Jones points out, Florida courts have found that under that statute, "defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable" while "the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense."
While the NRA's Hammer scoffed at the "parade of hypotheticals" cited by those who opposed Florida's 2005 passage of the law, the concerns of those prosecutors who raised alarm at the statute both at the time and since now seem prophetic.
In a 2005 interview with UPI, former prosecutor and Democratic state representative Dan Gelber warned of the bill, which he voted against:
"Two people in an altercation, that happens every day. Someone thinks you're looking at their wife the wrong way, somebody spills coffee on you, someone bumps into you, someone cuts you off, then all of a sudden they're in a fight... Do we tell those people that they're supposed to walk away or do we tell them that you're supposed to stand your ground and fight to the death?"
The case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African-American teenager who was tragically gunned down near his home in the Florida suburbs late last month, has begun to receive national media attention. The potential impact of Florida's gun laws has become a front-and-center issue at some outlets as the events in question receive scrutiny.
On the evening of February 26, Martin was returning from the local 7-Eleven to the apartment of his father's fiancé with a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea when he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic man legally carrying a concealed handgun who acted as a neighborhood watch volunteer in that gated community. According to recordings released late Friday, Zimmerman called 911 from his car to report Martin as a "real suspicious guy" and "a black male" with "his hand in his waistband," then left the car to pursue the youth against the dispatcher's recommendation.
A struggle then occurred which ended with Zimmerman shooting and killing Martin. Zimmerman has not been arrested by police after stating that he had acted in self-defense. This has resulted in a public outcry and demands for the Department of Justice to intervene.
Media outlets have noted that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law may have effectively immunized Zimmerman from prosecution. As Mother Jones points out, Florida courts have found that under that statute, "defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable" while "the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense." This has led to a legal situation wherein it is possible for someone to kill a member of a rival gang in a shootout, claim they were acting in self-defense, and avoid prosecution.
On Friday, The New York Times noted the role that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law may play in the case:
Florida's self-defense law, known as Stand Your Ground, grants immunity to people who act to protect themselves if they have a reasonable fear they will be killed or seriously injured.
"Stand Your Ground is a law that has really created a Wild West type environment in Florida," said Brian Tannebaum, a criminal defense lawyer in Florida. "It allows people to kill people outside of their homes, if they are in reasonable fear for their lives. It's a very low standard."
This morning's edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom hosted Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips to discuss efforts by Tea Party leaders to pressure Republican congressional leadership regarding the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious.
Media Matters has previously noted that Phillips has a questionable claim to genuine Tea Party leadership and has made many inflammatory, conspiratorial and extremist statements that call into question the media's treatment of Phillips as either a mainstream or authoritative Tea Party figure.
Not surprisingly, Phillips spent the interview promoting the right-wing conspiracy theory that Fast and Furious was a plot to promote gun control instead of a failed law enforcement investigation. Phillips:
It [Fast and Furious] should be investigated, but we also have to remember the program itself was a partisan program. This was never a law enforcement sting as you described it earlier, this was purely a political operation. You send the guns down to Mexico, therefore you support the political narrative that the Obama administration wanted supported; that all these American guns are flooding Mexico, that they're the cause of the violence in Mexico and therefore we need draconian gun control laws here in America. So because the whole operation itself was political, yes by all means Congress should be all over this.
The suggestion that Fast and Furious was a gun control plot became a central talking point for the gun lobby last year and Fox News has been glad to help promote the conspiracy theory in spite of a report by House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) saying the purpose of Fast and Furious was to "identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case."
Media Matters has previously discussed the right-wing media's efforts to malign Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's suggestion that Egypt look to South Africa's constitution for guidance as they draft Egypt's new Constitution. Ginburg's inoffensive suggestion that Egypt look to constitutions drafted more recently than the U.S. Constitution was aggressively distorted to suggest Ginsburg represented a "perverted judicial philosophy." The description was categorically nonsense. Ginsburg's full comments show her admiration for how the U.S. Constitution has served America and persevered over time.
With a new strain of the long running attacks against liberal Supreme Court Justices created, it comes as no surprise to see the National Rifle Association signaling that they're integrating the Ginsburg smear into their 2012 campaign.
The NRA's lobby shop has been pushing the depiction of Obama's future Supreme Court nominees and Ginsburg herself as broadly hostile to the U.S. Constitution:
But it was a much bigger shock when the [New York] Times reported in the same story that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a sitting associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and grande dame of the Court's liberal voting bloc, shares the Times' dim view of the Constitution. Ginsburg said "I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012." Her personal recommendations would instead include "the South African Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights."
None of this should come as a surprise. One wonders, for example, if Justice Ginsburg even looks to the United States Constitution when interpreting it in 2012. [...]
While it is lamentable that the Times cannot see the greatness of our Constitution, it is far more troubling that Justice Ginsburg cannot. And most troubling of all is the possibility that if elected to a second term, President Obama could appoint even more justices who share Justice Ginsburg's views.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre also made potential Obama Supreme Court appointees a central focus in his speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, calling Justices Sonia Sotamayor and Elena Kagan "two of the most rabidly anti-gun justices in history." LaPierre also belittled Ginsburg, saying she looked like a "giddy school girl" when she hugged President Barack Obama at the State of the Union address, and suggested her comments on Egypt called into question her oath to "uphold and defend our Constitution."
Speaking to Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox pledged a piece of the gun lobby's reported $225 million dollar war chest to making the Supreme Court an issue in every Senate race in 2012. It remains to be seen whether their distortion of Ginsburg's constitution comments will be a part of that effort.
National Rifle Association chief lobbyist, Townhall.com columnist, and Daily Caller contributor Chris Cox is currently pushing for Tennessee state legislation that would prevent employers from banning their employees from storing guns in their vehicles in company parking lots while opposing any compromise that would allow employer exemptions for special circumstances. Tennessee business leaders and law enforcement groups oppose the legislation.
The National Rifle Association has long pushed the suggestion that their electoral efforts were responsible for both George W. Bush's victory in 2000 and Republicans winning control of Congress in 1994. As evidenced by NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, it's a key talking point cited as evidence that the NRA will be able to defeat President Obama in this year's presidential election as well as a cautionary tale for progressives not to push for gun violence prevention legislation.
Recently the narrative of the NRA's massive electoral power has extended beyond the usual gun lobby sounding boards. A recent article by UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler in The Daily Beast that argued that the NRA's electoral strength would doom Obama should he propose even modest proposals and suggested the 1994 midterms elections were evidence that talking about gun violence prevention "will hurt Democrats all the way down the ballot."
A December Bloomberg News report chronicling the NRA's massive fundraising apparatus similarly noted the belief that the NRA hurt Al Gore in 2000. The narrative was also reflected in a report by Reuters that reported that passing gun violence prevention measures, such as the 1994 assault weapons ban, leads to "sharp backlashes" from voters.
However, a detailed new analysis suggests that the NRA's past electoral impact is massively overblown.
The most recent installment of a Think Progress series examining the electoral strength of the NRA by American Prospect contributing editor Paul Waldman (who previously worked for Media Matters) debunks the long running narrative that the NRA had a huge impact on the 1994 and 2000 elections, calling this a "mistaken reading of history." According to Waldman, "what the NRA claims credit for usually turns out upon closer examination to be nothing more than elections in which Republicans do well," while when Democrats win, as they did in 2006 and 2008, "the NRA is quiet."
The National Rifle Association is running into a problem as it rolls out its "Trigger the Vote" voter registration campaign: several of the campaign's spokesmen have histories of inflammatory comments.
Last week we noted NRA board member Ted Nugent's record of extremism, but he's not alone. Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, points out of fellow board member and Full Metal Jacket actor R. Lee Ermey:
At a "Toys for Tots" fundraiser held in December 2010, Ermey delivered a fiery speech, telling those in attendance, "We're having a big problem this year. The economy really sucks. Now I hate to point fingers at anybody, but the present administration probably has a lot to do with that. And the way I see it they're not going to quit doing it until they bring this country to its knees. So I think we should rise all rise up and we should stop his administration from what they are doing because they are destroying this country. They're driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us." These comments generated so much public attention and outrage that Ermey was forced to apologize.
It's obviously less than ideal for the NRA to have as its standard bearer someone who called on Americans to "rise up" to stop President Obama from "destroying this country" by imposing "socialism." And so when Ermey visited Fox News to promote the NRA's efforts, he made sure to pick up a complimentary Hannitization. Here's how he described Ermey's comments:
HANNITY: You are great American. God bless you and appreciate you being on the program.
You know, you made these comments about the president that you deal with "Toys For Tots." You said this economy really sucks and you were talking about administration, "Toys For Tots," wasn't doing as well as they would in a good economy.
And they're not going to quit until they bring this country to its knees. I'm sick and damn tired of it. I know you are too. You got thunderous applause. You said, well, the Marine Corps will be here forever, but the administration won't. And then you said, you kind of sorry, you regretted it. I didn't think what was offensive about it.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak with David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). As an Air Force veteran myself, I was specifically interested in learning more about the NRA's support of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011.
What the NRA describes as a "pro-Second Amendment provision" is legislation that prohibits the Defense Department from "collecting or recording any information relating to the otherwise lawful acquisition, possession, ownership, carrying, or other use of a privately owned firearm." In short, the amendment, signed into law along with the underlying act in January 2011, bars commanders from even questioning their troops about privately-owned firearms kept off-base.
The NRA's involvement with this defense legislation rose more than a few eyebrows. Senior military leaders reportedly say the "law will make it virtually impossible to get private weapons out of the hands of some potentially suicidal soldiers." The Christian Science Monitor reported that General Peter Chiarelli, the 2nd ranking officer for the Army, "expressed concern...that this law amounts to a prohibition on commanders engaging in vital discussions with US soldiers about weapons and personal safety":
"I am not allowed to ask a soldier who lives off post whether that soldier has a privately owned weapon," he says.
While commanders are permitted to ask troops who appear to be a danger to themselves or others about private firearms - or to suggest perhaps locking them temporarily in a base depot - if the soldier denies that he or she is thinking about harming anyone, then the commander cannot pursue the discussion further.
Nearly half of all soldiers who commit suicide use a firearm, General Chiarelli points out. He added that "suicide in most cases is a spontaneous event" that is often fueled by drugs and alcohol. But "if you can separate the individual from the weapon," he added, "you can lower the incidences of suicide."
During our interview, David Keene, who said his own daughter is in the Army and currently deployed in Afghanistan, was unapologetically sold on the idea that troops "have to deal with their problems, not with the group of tools that they have... if you have depression and depression creates a suicidal situation if you don't have a gun, you'll use something else. And there are a million ways to commit suicide."
Keene's statements fly in the face of analysis by public health experts, who say that many suicide attempts are impulsive and that the high lethality of guns makes suicide attempts using them much more likely to succeed. His claims are also inconsistent with my own experiences as a veteran who deployed to a combat zone.
In his latest Washington Times column, "American rock 'n' roll, sporting and political activist icon" and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent criticizes MSNBC in response to Pat Buchanan's announcement that he is departing the network. According to Nugent, Buchanan "was fired by MSNBC for doing nothing more than voicing his rock-solid conservative thoughts" on the air.
Nugent also criticizes "leftists" for using "anti-American guerrilla warfare tactics" by attempting to "silence" conservatives, adding that their "real message" is "intolerance, zealotry, bigotry and hate."
As Buchanan noted in his column, his parting from MSNBC came in the face of sustained criticism from Media Matters, Color of Change, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Anti-Defamation League, among others, in response to Buchanan's lengthy record of bigoted comments.
Nugent, of course, has his own history of inflammatory rhetoric.
Today for the fourth time the Daily Caller has written about the Ryan Jerome, the New York City tourist and former Marine that was arrested last September for illegally carrying a concealed firearm. They currently have the story splashed across their front page:
The right-wing media is engaged in a campaign to falsely suggest New York City tourists are in danger of having "their lives destroyed" because New York has stiff penalties for illegal gun possession. In fact, New York prosecutors have repeatedly used their discretion to reach plea agreements for misdemeanor charges that keep people that made honest mistakes and are arrested for carrying concealed guns illegally out of jail.
Not surprisingly given The Daily Caller's status as a gun lobby propaganda dumping ground, they continued the depiction of New York's strong gun laws as callous, despite yet again a New York prosecutor showing a willingness to consider the mitigating circumstances of the alleged crime.
This morning's Politico Playbook reports that the National Rifle Association will again be featuring sometime rocker, Washington Times columnist, and NRA board member Ted Nugent in their voter registration campaign.
In his 2010 spot for the group, the Nuge alternatively wielded an AR-variant rifle and a guitar and proclaimed himself "cocked, locked, and ready to rock, doc" before urging viewers to go to an NRA website to register to vote.
In recent years, Nugent has drawn far more attention for his vicious and extreme rhetoric than he has for his music. This is apparently of concern to his publicist, who last year rejected an email interview with Media Matters after receiving our questions, several of which focused on those questionable comments.
The NRA, however, appears to have no problem associating with someone who called Barack Obama a "piece of shit" and Hillary Clinton a "two-bit whore," referred to the Muslim community as "rude and stupid," said "[i]f it was up to me, if you uttered the word 'gun control,' we'd put you in jail," and uses homophobic language. (Nor have those comments kept Nugent off of Fox News.)
Below, with assistance from our archive and that of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence's MeetTheNRA.org, Media Matters presents Nugent's top 10 most inflammatory, offensive, and extreme comments.
10. After The Tucson Shooting, "Conservatives Should Turn Up The Rhetoric." In the wake of last year's tragic mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that left six dead and 19 injured, including horrific injuries to then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), many condemned the sort of hateful, insurrectionist rhetoric that spurs on episodes of anti-government violence.
Nugent, on the other hand, used his Washington Times column to state that while "liberals and others who should know better are calling for political rhetoric to be toned down," he believes that "conservatives should turn up the rhetoric." He added that "[o]nly softheaded, feel-good fantasizers from the cult of denial could believe that toning down the political rhetoric will somehow keep lunatics from doing loony things." He went on to urge his readers to "[e]xpose, isolate and eliminate liberals and their fuzzy-headed policies" and to "do America a favor and crush liberalism."
National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference that "if you don't remember anything else I say today, write this down: this is the most dangerous election of our lifetimes." He warned that "all of our freedom, all of our rights" are at stake, asking, "Will we save America and our freedom? Will we save the Second Amendment from a second Obama White House?"
LAPIERRE: If you believe in freedom, and if you're as sick and tired of all the lies and schemes and Obama failures as I am, join us and stand up in this great fight. If you don't remember anything else I say today, write this down: this is the most dangerous election in our lifetimes. If Obama wins, we'll go to our graves mourning the freedoms we've lost. This election is all in, all of our freedom, all of our rights, and that means all of you. All in. No one sits this one out. So stand up right now and you tell me, will you defend freedom will all of your might? Come on, stand up. Let them hear you over at the White House. Will we fight to preserve our liberty and keep our nation strong and safe and free? Will we save America and our freedom? Will we save the Second Amendment from a second Obama White House?
LaPierre's warnings were based on his reiterated claim that the White House has not pushed for gun violence prevention measures because it is engaged in a "massive Obama conspiracy" to get re-elected, and then use President Obama's second term to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution."
LaPierre promised that Obama's purported strategy will not succeed, saying that the NRA is "all-in" for the 2012 elections and promising that "gun owners will be responsible" for Obama's defeat. New research from the American Prospect's Paul Waldman brings such claims from the NRA into question, demonstrating that "the NRA has virtually no impact on congressional elections."
When LaPierre first asserted the existence of a "massive Obama conspiracy" at Florida's version of CPAC, he was widely mocked by media figures including Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews for what Maddow called "the insane paranoid message from the NRA this year." Today, LaPierre offered a rejoinder to such criticisms, saying that "the media won't win this election, gun owners will."
The NRA leader also suggested that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder had acted "like some South American dictator" with regards to the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious,again offering up the baseless conspiracy that the operation had been deliberately designed by the White House to go wrong in order to justify stricter U.S. gun laws.
UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler took to The Daily Beast yesterday with a confusing message: Gun violence prevention is a "serious issue that deserves our leaders' attention," but those who care about the issue should avoid at all costs actually discussing it in public. He claims that doing so puts both progressive electability and gun violence prevention itself in peril before a wrathful gun lobby and its massive political war chest.
This argument simply doesn't hold up: the gun lobby is planning a massive campaign whether progressives push for stronger gun laws or not, and progressives have won in the face of such efforts in the past.
The impetus for Winkler's befuddled argument is Sunday's Super Bowl ad in which New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston mayor Thomas Menino, the leaders of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), state that they "both support the Second Amendment and believe America must do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals."
In the past, Winkler has been criticized for "tr[ying] too hard ... to present himself as one of the few rational voices" in the debate while improperly implying that the gun violence prevention movement is "defined by extremists." But while Winkler calls gun violence "a serious issue that deserves our leaders' attention," he never actually engages with the solutions that Bloomberg and Menino have brought to the table. At least not in this piece; in a previous op-ed for the Beast, he wrote:
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has proposed a viable and worthwhile set of reforms that would provide more funds to states to help cover the costs of record-keeping; stiffening penalties for states that don't submit records to the federal government; and clarifying the current gun laws' definition of mental illness.
So Winkler agrees that gun violence is a "serious issue," and largely approves of how the group would deal with that problem. And yet, he opposes the group actually trying to enact the legislation he supports. When or how this "serious issue" could receive "our leaders' attention" without anyone pushing for it goes unmentioned.
Since 2008, the gun lobby and right-wing media have been pushing various theories suggesting Barack Obama was secretly plotting against the Second Amendment. The National Rifle Association set up www.gunbanobama.com as Glenn Beck warned Obama was working to "take away your gun." Three years after Obama's election the purported plans to enact sweeping gun bans and confiscation haven't materialized, but according to gun lobby chief Larry Keane, Rupert Murdoch's media empire is now engaging in "corporate gun control."
Last week online reports indicated that FOX Sports Media Group had told the Ultimate Fighting Championship's parent company that gun-related sponsorships would no longer be permitted for their events. Fox and the Ultimate Fighting Championship recently signed a 7-year broadcast agreement. On Wednesday the gun lobby trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation announced they had confirmed the sponsorship ban.
FOX's decision to ban advertisements for lawful products owned by more than 80 million Americans is nothing more than corporate gun control. We expect better from FOX. So should you.
The Gun Store and ammotogo.com are among the UFC sponsors who would be affected by this ban. If no sponsorships in a single sport doesn't sound like a big deal to you, then you probably aren't working to contrive controversies in a gun lobby press shop.
Eric Bolling's gun antics at Fox Sports' corporate cousins apparently won't stop the gun lobby, which apparently wants fighters sporting monikers like "Natural Born Killer" and "American Psycho" to be allowed to be sponsored by gun retailers. What part of the Second Amendment doesn't Fox understand?
Is there any national tragedy the National Rifle Association won't exploit to make a buck?
Last year the NRA marked the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks by sending its members two separate fundraising emails referencing the terrorist strikes. Over the weekend the NRA continued the trend, marking the anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster by encouraging their members to buy NRA-brand products from the NRAstore.com. Quoting President John F. Kennedy's words over a photo spread of the assassinated president and the shuttle, the NRA told their members, "The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it."
Then the email proceeds try to unload some the NRA's "Pursue Freedom" products in the hope that Americans are willing to pay for them as well. Now you too can "Pursue Freedom of Buckle Choices" with a selection of official "NRA Western Tooled Belts."
Much like the NRA store's 9-11 fundraising effort the recent email shows real-life images of fiery explosions seen by millions of Americans above advertisements for NRA branded mugs, clothing and other various trinkets.