Last week's House vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over documents related to the Operation Fast and Furious scandal has brought back the media myth that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a hugely-powerful organization that swings elections with its money and endorsements. But there's no evidence -- aside from the organization's media-abetted campaign to inflate its own influence -- that the NRA is an electoral force.
All 17 Democrats who voted to hold Holder in contempt received donations from the NRA. Additionally, the NRA, in an attempt to scare up more support for the contempt vote, announced that it would be scoring the vote for its candidate rating system. And based on the vote, the tactics seem to have worked, to some extent. As a result, some media coverage has predictably inflated the NRA's supposed electoral influence. But the vote is merely evidence that the NRA's campaign to portray itself as the most important lobbying group in the country has been successful.
In a post pondering "Why Is the NRA So Powerful?," Slate's Brian Palmer reinforces many of the media's favorite myths about the NRA, writing that the group "is considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country, despite relatively modest financial resources and just 4 million members." According to Palmer, the NRA "can reliably deliver votes."
But in truth, the NRA can't "reliably deliver votes" -- far from it.
During today's edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and guest Betsy McCaughey choose to ignore the significant role that the National Rifle Association played in yesterday's contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder.
Doocy twice highlighted the fact that 17 Democrats joined Republicans to cite Holder for contempt of Congress concerning Holder's failure to satisfy an inquiry led by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee investigation into the failed ATF Fast and Furious Operation. When Fox News contributor and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi suggested that the vote was about "politics," guest Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, disagreed, citing the decision of some Democrats to cross the aisle.
What was left unsaid is that every Democrat who voted to cite Holder in contempt has recently received money from the rabidly anti-Holder NRA.
DOOCY: As we've been telling you, the House of Representatives yesterday on a bipartisan basis voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
DOOCY: Joe [Trippi], it was a bipartisan vote, 16 Democrats went along with Republicans and said, You know, you really should give up those documents there is a dead guy we are talking about. A border patrol agent.
JOE TRIPPI: We don't do this like you know bullet vote [where] everyone has to vote the same way on the Democratic side of the aisle.
TRIPPI: I'm not talking about the credible facts [in Fast and Furious], whether they are there or not. It looks like its politics.
BETSY MCCAUGHEY: I don't think it does because Democrats voted for the contempt. And you know what, all of those Democrats walked out, the Congressional Black Caucus --
TRIPPI: 16 Democrats --
MCCAUGHEY: -- they didn't have the nerve to vote against the contempt motion. They posed this as a walk out. But you know what, that was cowardice. Either you vote for it or you vote against it. Walking out that's just stage show but with no convictions.
The NRA has, of course, been trying to effectuate Holder's ouster since the beginning. On April 30, 2011, in the earliest stages of the House Oversight Committee's investigation into Fast and Furious, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre declared, "Holder's got to go!" In media appearances, LaPierre continues to promote his insane belief that Fast and Furious was an Obama administration plot to destroy the Second Amendment.
In a June 20 letter to lawmakers in support of citing Holder for contempt, the NRA's top lobbyist, Chris Cox, informed Members of Congress that the NRA would score the vote for its candidate rating system. Of the 17 Democrats who voted for contempt, 16 protected their A or A+ NRA rating. Rep. Kathleen Hochul (D-NY) possesses an NRA endorsement, but no rating.
UPDATE: During yesterday's broadcast of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Doocy predicted that Democrats who voted for contempt would be influenced by the NRA's decision to score the contempt vote. Even though his prediction appears to have come true, Doocy did not mention the NRA's influence during today's Fox & Friends and instead adopted the narrative that the bipartisan outcome suggested that partisanship was not a motivating factor.
DOOCY: Regarding how come there are going to be so many Democrats vote against Eric Holder is the fact that the NRA said, "Ok, you know what we're going to do? We're going to score that vote." And what happens in Washington is anytime there is something that involve gun control the NRA says, "We're going to score it." And if people want a good score with the NRA, and if you're in a district where the NRA is important, you vote with what the NRA wants, which is contempt of Congress for Mr. Holder.
Since President Obama asserted executive privilege earlier this week over a set of Department of Justice internal documents, the National Rifle Association has been quick to claim that the president's action is proof at last for the organization's insane conspiracy theory that Operation Fast and Furious was actually designed as a nefarious plot against the Second Amendment.
But the NRA's "evidence" could not be more lacking, as the documents over which Obama asserted executive privilege were generated after the conclusion of the failed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) operation. A June 19 letter sent from the Justice Department to Obama which asked the president assert his privilege clearly states that the request only covers documents "from after February 4, 2011 related to the Department's response to Congress." Fast and Furious was terminated in January 2011. The documents deal with how DOJ handled congressional inquiries into the program, not its authorization.
That NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre has not actually seen the documents in question did little to temper his belief, expressed on NRA News, that the contents of the privileged documents prove that he was right about the Obama administration all along.
LAPIERRE: There must be something in those papers that just really stinks that they would be willing to walk into this briar patch and bust this whole issue out in the open.
GINNY SIMONE, NRA NEWS HOST: Do you think just maybe it has to do with what the NRA, and many others, have been talking about from the start? That this was planned, that this was about advancing an anti-gun agenda that this president had? Your thoughts?
LAPIERRE: Well my thoughts are that this was an attack on the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. That that's what Fast and Furious really was about. The fact is that's what they are trying to hide. That's what I believe is in these papers that they don't want out, is proof of that.
The president is trying to fog the issue. He's trying to say "I'm not attacking the Second Amendment." I believe what's in these papers is proof that this administration was attacking the Second Amendment. They knew exactly what they were doing. This was about putting these guns down there in Mexico and then why they found them at crime scenes going, "Aha, we need more gun laws in the United States." And that's what I believe is in these papers. And that's why I believe the president has joined with the attorney general to cover this whole thing up.
Last week Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent used opinion pieces to unleash racial tirades against both the African-American and Latino communities.
The unemployment rate among Latinos stands at 11 percent, which is much higher than the national average. Mr. Romney must continue to remind Latinos that improving the economy is key to improving their livelihood. He should tell them that Mr. Obama's economic policies are a complete disaster and that the president has failed them miserably.
Mr. Romney should continue to press for education reform, and remind Latino voters that education is vital to success. He should illustrate the importance that Americans of Asia-Pacific descent place on education and how fast their children move into the middle class. It doesn't have to be an Asian thing.
He should praise Latinos for their strong work ethic and remind them that this work ethic coupled with an education is an unstoppable combination that will catapult them into the middle class and beyond.
Then in a June 15 column for Newsmax Nugent claimed that "overwhelming majority of blacks are slaughtered by other black hoodlums":
I do agree with Mr. [Bill] Cosby that the Trayvon Martin shooting has nothing to do with race. Only empty-headed racists such as our black-panther loving Department of Justice believe otherwise.
Race does, however, play a significant role in the percentage of black Americans who are killed and wounded every single day in America.
The overwhelming majority of blacks are slaughtered by other black hoodlums, the overwhelming majority of whom are involved in gangs and drugs -- you know, that "victimless crime" thing.
Mr. Cosby is right about this tragedy. These black punks do use guns to solve their gang-related differences. None of them carry or use their guns legally.
Media Matters has previously noted that Nugent has made inflammatory comments on a number of topics, particularly race.
From the June 20 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre appeared on Fox News' America Live yesterday to comment on the controversial "Kill At Will" law that has been connected to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. LaPierre's appearance came the day after The Wall Street Journal reported on a new study that linked the NRA-backed "Kill At Will" laws to higher homicide rates, though America Live host Shannon Bream failed to raise the results of the study with LaPierre.
Starting with Florida in 2005, at least 25 states have enacted some form of "Kill At Will." The study, conducted by Texas A&M University economics professor Mark Hoekstra, reached the damning conclusion that the expansion of such self-defense laws since 2005 led to an increase in the incidence of homicides:
[W]e find the laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant 7 to 9 percent, which translates into an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the states that adopted castle doctrine [Hoekstra's term for laws passed since 2005 that expand the right to self-defense]. Thus, by lowering the expected costs associated with using lethal force, castle doctrine laws induce more of it. This increase in homicides could be due either to the increased use of lethal force in self-defense situations, or to the escalation of violence in otherwise non-lethal conflicts. We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent. This is important because murder excludes non-negligent manslaughter classifications that one might think are used more frequently in self-defense cases. But regardless of how one interprets increases from various classifications, it is clear that the primary effect of strengthening self-defense law is to increase homicide. [emphasis added]
Hoekstra also found no link between the enactment of "Kill At Will" laws and a decrease in other types of crime:
Results indicate that the prospect of facing additional self-defense does not deter crime. Specifically, we find no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. Moreover, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out meaningful deterrence effects.
The study undermines LaPierre's organization's defense of "Kill At Will" laws, which were enacted across the nation after dogged lobbying efforts by the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council. LaPierre wasn't asked about the study during his Fox appearance, but was instead given free rein to make a number of misleading claims about the nature of "Kill At Will" laws.
LaPierre described Florida's "Kill At Will" law, and similar laws nationwide that remove the duty to retreat before employing deadly force outside of the home while often adding the presumption that the use of deadly force was lawful, as "completely unremarkable." Contrary to LaPierre's characterization, increased scrutiny of "Kill At Will" laws has uncovered numerous instances in which the laws have been tied to seemingly avoidable killings.
This week, National Rifle Association president David Keene will moderate a "conservative conversation" at the Chicago Conservative Political Action Conference with NRA board member Maria Heil, Illinois State Rifle Association executive director Richard Pearson, and Wisconsin Tea Party figure Kimberly Jo Simac. Keene and the panelists all have a history of extreme and conspiratorial rhetoric.
During an interview on NRA News, Mike Piccione, editor of Daily Caller's "Guns and Gear" section, and host Ginny Simone spoke of "a team effort" between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Caller to promote gun ownership. During the interview Piccione said he hoped to expand his online publication's controversial gun giveaway promotion by giving away a firearm to a Caller email list subscriber who signs up for an NRA membership.
MIKE PICCIONE, DAILY CALLER GUNS AND GEAR EDITOR: Check back though because we're going to do a few things. One thing I want to do is I want to give a gun to somebody that joins the National Rifle Association from the Daily Caller.
GINNY SIMONE, HOST: Alrighty.
PICCIONE: Absolutely. Join the NRA and we'll support you.
SIMONE: It's a team effort.
Piccione also admitted that the gun giveaway promotion was the result of a brainstorm session with far right-wing gun manufacturer Jim Pontillo.
The Caller at one point distanced themselves from Pontillo's political views when confronted with extreme and racial comments about President Obama made by prize gun manufacturer Pontillo, telling The Washington Post, "All that's germane to the contest is that he's a fully licensed firearms manufacturer. If we were giving away iPads, the political views of Apple would also be irrelevant." But the next day, Piccione told NRA News host Ginny Simone that he came up with the idea for the promotion with his "friend" Pontillo in order to "remind people" that Caller is "pro-Constitution" and "pro-gun."
During a May 23 appearance on NRA News' Cam & Company, John Frazer, the research director for the National Rifle Association's lobbying arm, attacked a new Violence Policy Center (VPC) study while failing to acknowledge that the main premise of the study is true: gun deaths now outpace motor vehicle deaths in 10 states.
[Violence Policy Center, 5/22/2012]
Using the most recently available data, VPC also demonstrated that nationwide motor vehicle deaths have declined over the last decade while gun related deaths ticked up during this period. VPC attributes this difference to successful regulation of motor vehicles and a lack of such regulation with regard to guns.
[Violence Policy Center, 5/22/2012]
In response to the study, Frazer was forced to make the contrived argument that only fatal accidents involving firearms should be compared to accidental motor vehicle deaths. At no point during the interview did he acknowledge that in a number of states the total number of deaths as a result of firearm use exceeded deaths resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle or that the gap between the firearm and motor vehicle death rate is narrowing.
FRAZER: What [VPC] are talking about is a pure apples and oranges comparison. They are comparing total numbers across the board, which is a completely invalid comparison because obviously most vehicle deaths are accidents. So if they really want an aggregate comparison they should compare motor vehicle accidents to firearmsaccidents, and firearms accidents are at their lowest point in recorded history.
But an aggregate comparison is exactly what VPC did.
Just one day after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) disbanded its Public Safety and Elections Task Force that was responsible for model voter ID and "Kill At Will" self-defense legislation like that linked to Trayvon Martin's death, a new organization emerged to carry the torch for the implementation of voter ID laws nationwide.
In an April 18 press release, the innocuous-sounding National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) heralded "the formation of a 'Voter Identification Task Force,' intended to continue the excellent work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in promoting measures to enhance integrity in voting." According to NCPPR chair Amy Ridenour, "conservatives will kick up our support for voter integrity programs. We're putting the left on notice: you take out a conservative program operating in one area, we'll kick it up a notch somewhere else. You will not win. We outnumber you and we outthink you, and when you kick up a fuss you inspire us to victory."
NCPPR's press release ominously concluded with a claim that NCPPR was prepared to pull a metaphoric gun on its political opponents: "Unlike [ALEC critic] the Center for American Progress, the National Center for Public Policy Research eschews the use of violent references such as 'War Room.' We are, however, inspired by a particular passage in the 1987 movie 'The Untouchables': 'They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way.' Indeed." So much for eschewing violent references.
It was only fitting then that the National Rifle Association, the former private sector co-chair of ALEC's disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force, would give NCPPR free publicity. During the May 22 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company, NCPPR adjunct fellow Horace Cooper appeared to discuss his organization's voter fraud hysteria.
Model legislation supported by the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council that would make it illegal for private citizens to conduct stings exposing illegal gun sales is being criticized by veteran investigative reporters and media law experts who say it could negatively impact undercover journalists who report on such activities.
"This law appears to create a shield for illegal conduct. We would be very concerned as investigative reporters with any attempt to criminalize legitimate reporting. Reporters don't go out and somehow force gun dealers to make these sales," said Stephen Engelberg, managing editor at ProPublica.org, the Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporting site. "The illegal activity is the sale of the guns, not the failure to flash a press badge for the sale of the gun."
The so-called "Honesty in Purchasing Firearms" bill was presented in August 2011 by NRA lobbyist Tara Mica to ALEC's since-disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force. The task force adopted it as model legislation.
The bill states, in part, that:
Any person who knowingly solicits, persuades, encourages or entices a licensed dealer or private seller of firearms or ammunition to transfer a firearm or ammunition under circumstances which the person knows would violate the laws of this state or the United States is guilty of a felony.
The bill also makes it illegal to intentionally give a licensed firearm dealer or private seller "materially false information with intent to deceive the dealer or seller about the legality of a transfer of a firearm or ammunition." Violators are punished with up to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.
The NRA has explicitly stated that such legislation, which has been adopted in several states, is intended to target undercover stings by gun violence prevention activists seeking to shine a light on illegal private sellers.
Those efforts typically involve private dealers selling firearms to undercover activists after those individuals tell the buyer they don't think they could pass a federal background check. Such checks are not required for the transfer of firearms by private sellers, only federal firearms licensees, but it is illegal for anyone to sell a firearm if they have reason to believe the buyer can't legally own the weapon.
Critics contend the proposed law could block undercover reporters who seek to purchase weapons in this manner in an effort to expose the criminal practice.
Earlier this year NBC national investigative reporter Jeff Rossen engaged in such a sting and produced an extensive report for Today which the network said "exposes how simple it is for criminals and even terrorists to purchase deadly weapons in public places - with no questions asked."
"It's ill-guided, or misguided or worse," said Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, which advises media outlets on legal issues, when asked about the bill. "It might also provide some basis for a constitutional challenge to such a bill if it were enacted in that it is intended to single out the press and those with a particular perspective on illegal gun sales."
She later added, "The whole notion is that if we can make it unlawful to show and tell, then no one will ever know about it. It is an extraordinary effort and I believe it is a desperate one when you have to penalize those who would make public unlawful acts; it is a pretty desperate measure."
In an April 25 op-ed for the Daily Caller, National Rifle Association CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre took to the opinion pages to once again deploy faulty logic to claim that the reelection of President Barack Obama will precipitate an "all-out war on the Second Amendment."
LaPierre's primary piece of evidence concerning what he calls "the web of lies spun about the president's phony, claimed support of the Second Amendment," is that current Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has been "tapped as the star co-chair for Obama's re-election effort." LaPierre claims that this is "no honorary job" but rather "real power linking Obama's re-election with Emanual's fanaticism for destroying the Second Amendment." But if Emanuel wanted to work with Obama to push gun bans nationwide he most certainly missed his best chance, which would have occurred when he worked in the highest levels of the Obama Administration.
The record is clear that the Obama Administration did not enact any gun violence prevention legislation during the time that Emanuel served as the highly influential White House chief of staff. Between January 2009 and October 2010, President Obama signed only two gun-related bills into law, both of which expanded, rather than restricted, the right to carry firearms.
In May 2009 President Obama signed into law legislation allowing firearms to be carried in national parks. A later bill allowing guns onto Amtrak trains was enacted in December 2009. At the time, the NRA called the legislation "a major step forward." Gun violence prevention groups, however, were furious. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave President Obama an "F" rating in every category that it assesses. The failing report card was accompanied by a scathing publication entitled, "President Obama's First Year: Failed Leadership, Lost Lives," that called the president's record on gun violence prevention "an abject failure."
Repeatedly burned by stings intended to demonstrate the ease with which individuals who are banned from purchasing firearms can buy guns from private sellers without passing a background check, the National Rifle Association appears to have found a solution: Make those stings illegal. As usual, their allies at the American Legislative Exchange Council are happy to help.
ALEC documents obtained by Common Cause indicate that in August 2011, NRA lobbyist Tara Mica presented an "Honesty in Purchasing Firearms" bill to ALEC's since-disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which the task force adopted as model legislation. Mica has at times served as the task force's Private Sector Chair.
The bill states that "[a]ny person who provides to a licensed dealer or private seller of firearms or ammunition what the persons knows to be materially false information with intent to deceive the dealer or seller about the legality of a transfer of a firearm or ammunition is guilty of a felony." Violators are punished with up to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.
According to the group's minutes, the state legislators on the task force voted unanimously to adopt the legislation; the motion to adopt the bill also passed among its private sector members.
The NRA has explicitly stated that such legislation is intended to target undercover stings by gun violence prevention activists intended to shine a light on some unscrupulous private sellers. Those efforts typically involve individuals telling private sellers that they don't think they could pass a federal background check, which are not required for the transfer of firearms by private sellers, and being permitted to purchase the weapon nonetheless.
Since it is illegal to sell firearms to individuals if you have reason to suspect they cannot legally possess them, the NRA-backed ALEC law effectively shields criminal activity.
Discredited gun "researcher" John Lott has done it again. In an April 25th op-ed for the New York Daily News, Lott strongly defended the "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law that is at the center of the shooting death of 17-year-old Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Lott provides a number of distortions about "Stand Your Ground" in voicing support for the law.
Lott opens his piece by stating, "Call them what you will: 'Stand Your Ground' or 'Castle Doctrine' laws." In doing so, he is grouping together two laws that are in fact radically different - this faulty conflation is at the center of his entire argument. For example, Lott later claims that "In states adopting Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine laws from 1977 to 2005, murder rates fell by 9% and overall violent crime by 11%." But "Stand Your Ground" largely was not implemented until after 2005, making his point meaningless.
On the morning of Saturday, April 14, 2012, things were going well for the National Rifle Association. The gun rights organization's annual meeting was in full swing. Bloggers crowed about record attendance at the St. Louis, Missouri event. Friday's "Celebration of American Values Leadership Forum" went off without a hitch--all 13 featured speakers were Republican men. Barack Obama was called a "post-American President," "incompetent," and the most "radically liberal" president since Jimmy Carter. But the most incendiary comments about the president had yet to come.
On Saturday afternoon, Ted Nugent, a member of the NRA's Board of Directors, addressed the NRA faithful. Nugent implored NRA members to support the Republican ticket in the fall, declaring, "Your goal should be to be able to get a couple of thousand people, per person who's here, to vote for Mitt Romney in November." After that rather innocuous endorsement, Nugent turned his sights on President Obama, and things quickly spiraled out of control.
"If that dead Marine isn't worth it to you to demand that the enemies in the White House are ousted, then you probably ought to just move to France," ranted Nugent. He continued, "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. Why are you laughing? Do you think that's funny? That's not funny at all. I'm serious as a heart attack." Nugent then characterized the Obama administration as "vile," "evil," and "America-hating," before concluding his diatribe with a call for the audience to "ride into that battlefield and chop [Democrats] heads off in November."