Fox's Sean Hannity gave 2016 GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush a platform to claim that the gun policies he supported as governor of Florida helped create "a less violent society," even though he signed the nation's first "Stand Your Ground" law, which studies show has actually contributed to more violence.
Bush appeared on the June 16 broadcast of Hannity for a wide-ranging interview in front of a studio audience. Hannity asked, "Should citizens, if they are law-abiding, no records, have the right to carry a weapon?"
Bush responded, "Absolutely, and in Florida, you know who leads the nation in concealed weapons permits by far? Over a million. It's Florida. It creates a ... less violent society and crime goes down when law-abiding citizens that don't commit crimes have guns."
But experts say controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws, like the one the jury used to acquit George Zimmerman of killing unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, make society more violent.
The National Rifle Association used riots in Baltimore to promote controversial "Stand Your Ground" self-defense laws by citing an article from conservative website Breitbart.com that claimed such laws "are an antidote for brazen in-your-face attacks on city streets."
In fact, several pieces of academic research indicate that "Stand Your Ground" laws increase the incidence of homicides. More generally, research has shown that allowing guns to be carried in public increases crime, particularly aggravated assault. "Stand Your Ground" laws have also been criticized due to research indicating that the laws are applied to minorities in a disparate manner.
On Facebook, the NRA wrote, "Videos of rioters wreaking havoc in Baltimore and photos of them risking the lives of innocents by punching, throwing objects, and, in one instance, drawing back a knife with which to stab a bystander were reminders that Stand Your Ground laws are an antidote for brazen in-your-face attacks on city streets," borrowing language from a Breitbart.com article that the Facebook post promoted:
The NRA helped draft the nation's first "Stand Your Ground" law, which was enacted in Florida in 2005. "Stand Your Ground" subsequently spread through legislatures nationwide due to efforts by the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2012, the law became highly controversial after the shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. The law would then play a substantial role in Zimmerman's acquittal on murder charges.
A donation website that George Zimmerman used to raise money for his legal defense reportedly "lit up" every time Fox News host Sean Hannity mentioned the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, according to a profile of the Zimmerman family in GQ.
Reporter Amanda Robb's GQ piece focuses on events following the acquittal of Zimmerman on second-degree murder charges stemming from a February 2012 shooting that left Martin, an unarmed Sanford, Florida, area high school student, dead of a gunshot wound. The shooting brought national attention on Zimmerman and also Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law, which played an important role in Zimmerman's acquittal.
Robb spoke with members of Zimmerman's family, and reported that the only media figure Zimmerman "liked" was Hannity, and that mentions of the Martin shooting on Hannity's Fox News show "lit up" donations to Zimmerman's website:
George hated journalists. He blamed them for turning him into a national villain. There was only one media figure he liked: Hannity. Fortunately, Hannity--and especially Hannity's viewers on Fox News--liked him back. George, whose legal debt was in the seven figures, briefly had a website that accepted PayPal donations, and it lit up every time Hannity mentioned the incident on-air.
Robb also reported that the Zimmerman family now lives in seclusion, citing security concerns, and passes time by "watching Spanish-language telenovelas and Duck Dynasty and Real Housewives and Fox News."
In reporting on an omnibus gun bill in the Georgia legislature, state media have largely overlooked that the legislation would expand the state's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law to allow those in illegal possession of firearms to avail themselves of the law's defenses and immunity provision.
House Bill 875, which would weaken Georgia's already lax gun laws in several ways including allowing guns in churches and bars, has garnered significant media attention in Georgia. The latest development involved a procedural move by Georgia House Republicans to force a vote on the bill in the Senate amid worries by House Republicans that the Senate version of H.B. 875 would remove several of the House Republican's provisions.
While the media has devoted significant attention to the issue of allowing guns in churches and bars, and the decision of House Republicans to eliminate a provision that would decriminalize the carrying of guns on campuses as part of its procedural move to force the Senate's hand, it has largely overlooked the provision in H.B. 875 that significantly expands Georgia's "Stand Your Ground" law.
Under current Georgia law, individuals claiming immunity from prosecution under "Stand Your Ground" must be complying with Georgia gun laws when they use their firearm.
However under H.B. 875, "Stand Your Ground" claimants would no longer be required to have been in compliance with Chapter 11, Article 4, Part 3 of Georgia's criminal code. That part of Georgia's code includes provisions on carrying weapons on school grounds, carrying a handgun without a license, the possession of firearms by convicted felons, the possession of handguns by minors, and the discharging of a firearm "while under the influence of alcohol or drugs."
Jayne Weintraub -- an attorney hired by George Zimmerman to defend him against domestic abuse charges -- criticized Florida's "terrible" Stand Your Ground self-defense law during a television appearance earlier this year defending Zimmerman over the accusation that he murdered Trayvon Martin.
In July, Zimmerman was acquitted on charges of second degree murder and manslaughter after fatally shooting 17-year-old Martin in Sanford, Florida in February 2012. Zimmerman's acquittal was in part made possible by Stand Your Ground, which was specifically cited by a juror as a reason for acquittal. Zimmerman has had a number of law enforcement interactions since his acquittal. On November 18 he was charged with felony aggravated assault and domestic violence battery after his girlfriend accused him of choking her and threatening her with a gun on separate occasions.
Weintraub, a Florida defense attorney who often appears on TV to provide the viewpoint of the defense in a criminal trial, said on the July 12 edition of CNN's Piers Morgan Live that Stand Your Ground "is a terrible, terrible law" and that "it's almost giving extra permission for those who carry guns." She added that she doesn't believe the evidence supports a guilty verdict.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: I look at what's happened with gun control in America, where absolutely zero happened after Sandy Hook and Aurora. Why should I have any confidence living in America that anything will change here?
WEINTRAUB: Personally, I think Stand Your Ground is a terrible, terrible law. I think it's almost giving extra permission for those who carry guns.
MORGAN: It's a license to kill people, isn't it?
WEINTRAUB: And I think it's an awful law.
Lott, pictured left of Jordan Davis' mother, Lucia McBath.
Discredited gun researcher John Lott attacked the presence of the mothers of deceased African-American teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis at a congressional hearing on Stand Your Ground, describing them as "props" used to make "the case that there was racial bias" in the controversial self-defense law.
On the October 30 edition of the National Rifle Association's news show Cam & Company, Lott said the two mothers "were there to go and try serve as props essentially for the case that there was racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws," before falsely claiming that the self-defense law had no relevance to either of their son's shooting deaths:
LOTT: Well I thought [the hearing] was somewhat surreal. Look, we had two very sympathetic witnesses that were there. Trayvon Martin's mom and another mother who had lost her son in a shooting, both of them were black, and they were there to go and try serve as props essentially for the case that there was racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws. As I say, it's very hard to say anything when you're having to deal with a mother who has lost her son, under any circumstances. I have five kids; I can't imagine what it would be like to deal with that situation.
The problem was, the reason why I was saying it was somewhat surreal is that neither of their cases really had anything to do with the debate over Stand Your Ground laws.
On October 29, Lott, along with Martin's mother Sybrina Fulton and Davis' mother Lucia McBath, testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on Stand Your Ground that was held to examine a number of issues surrounding the law, including whether the law made it more likely for homicides of minorities to be ruled "justifiable."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is facing criticism for explaining to a congressional hearing panel that featured Trayvon Martin's mother that Stand Your Ground self-defense laws benefit African-Americans, a dubious theory invented by right-wing media.
Seeking to rebut statements that Stand Your Ground laws are racially discriminatory during the October 29 hearing before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee, Cruz defended the laws by citing "press reports" that detailed how in Florida African-American defendants were successful 55 percent of the time asserting a Stand Your Ground defense compared to a 53 percent success rate for white defendants:
CRUZ: In Florida the data show that African-American defendants have availed themselves of the Stand Your Ground defense more frequently than have Anglo defendants. According to press reports, 55 percent of African-American defendants have successfully invoked the Stand Your Ground defense in prosecutions compared to a 53 percent rate in the Anglo population. This is not about politicking, this is not about inflaming racial tensions, although some might try to use it to do that, this is about the right of everyone to protect themselves and protect their family.
The press report Cruz referred to is likely a July 16 article from conservative website The Daily Caller that used Florida Stand Your Ground data to assert that "African Americans benefit from Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' self-defense law at a rate far out of proportion to their presence in the state's population, despite an assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder that repealing 'Stand Your Ground' would help African Americans," while reporting the same figures cited by Cruz.
Media coverage of the Senate hearing on the controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law should not ignore the role the law played in the acquittal of George Zimmerman, research indicating the negative consequences of the law, and that a hearing witness who favors Stand Your Ground has had his research widely discredited by academics.
Fox News is using an ad opposing Stand Your Ground self-defense laws that reenacted the fatal 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to revive the false claim that Florida's Stand Your Ground statute played no role in the acquittal of Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman.
On August 19, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence released an online ad reenacting the night Martin was killed as part of an effort to seek the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws, which are on the books in more than 20 states. Those laws drew controversy after Martin's death, with critics claiming Florida's broad self-defense statute had provided Zimmerman with too much leeway to kill Martin without repercussion. On July 13, a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty of murder or manslaughter in Martin's killing. Two days later, a juror told CNN that they felt neither crime applied because Zimmerman had "a right to defend himself" by killing Martin under Stand Your Ground, which should have ended all debate over whether the law played a role in the case.
But while discussing the CSGV ad on the August 20 edition of America Live, guest anchor Shannon Bream said, "Let me also start with the fact that the Stand Your Ground law was not used in the Zimmerman case, but that's what this ad is all about. Does it do a disservice to both sides of this debate if we're starting from a place that's not even factually accurate?"
After radio host Richard Fowler attempted to correct Bream by accurately stating that the Stand Your Ground defense was described in instructions to the jury, Larson falsely responded, "No, it wasn't."
From the August 20 edition of America Live:
BREAM: Richard, let me also start with the fact that the Stand Your Ground law was not used in the Zimmerman case, but that's what this ad is all about. Does it do a disservice to both sides of this debate if we're starting from a place that's not even factually accurate?
FOWLER: The facts are that the Stand Your Ground law was in the jury instructions and beyond that --
LARSON: No, it wasn't. No it wasn't.
Larson is wrong. The publicly available Zimmerman trial jury instructions -- which were entirely based on Florida's Stand Your Ground self-defense law -- stated: "If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."
The jury instructions are nearly identical in wording to the text of Florida's Stand Your Ground law. According to Dan Gelber, a former Florida state senator and former prosecutor who opposes the law, Stand Your Ground "fundamentally changed the analysis used by juries to assign blame in these cases." The law was also important to the case because it was cited by authorities as a reason for why Zimmerman was not initially arrested after shooting Martin.
National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent continued to stereotype African-Americans as violent, exemplifying a media trend of coverage that exaggerates African-American criminality.
In his regular column for conspiracy website WND, Nugent addressed the topic of race and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, claiming in a July 24 opinion piece that there is a "mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America":
Why wasn't Trayvon [Martin] educated and raised to simply approach someone he wasn't sure about and politely ask what was going on and explain he was headed home? Had he, I am confident that Zimmerman would have called off the authorities and everything would have been fine.
Why the nasty "creepy a-- cracker" racism and impulse to attack? Where does this come from? Is it the same mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America, most heartbreakingly in Chicago pretty much every day of the week? Where does this come from? And why is it so prevalent?
This type of generalization about African-Americans is in line with racially charged comments Nugent made on entertainer Nick Cannon's podcast on July 23. In advocating for the racial profiling of African-Americans, Nugent said that his views were informed by watching news reports featuring African-Americans accused of rape, burglary and murder:
NUGENT: I think that typically when you see the, I don't even remember the term they use, but the gangs of blacks lately that have been just been going down the downtown streets and breaking windows on cars. We played the Milwaukee state fair a couple years ago and these black mobs were just attacking white folks coming out of the fair. And over and over again I watch the news and here's a rape and here's a burglary and here's a murder in Chicago. 29 shot. 29 blacks shot by 29 blacks. At some point you got to be afraid of black and white dogs if the Dalmatian's doing the biting.
In fact research into media portrayals of African-American crime indicates that media is responsible for creating a perception of criminality that does not reflect reality. According to research by Kelly Welch, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Villanova University, African-American criminality is exaggerated due to media portrayals of young African-American men as criminal and racial profiling by criminal justice officials:
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent claimed to be "so anti-racist" that people "would be hard pressed ... to find someone who has fought racism more than [he has]," moments before suggesting that African-Americans should be profiled the same way members of a community might profile a breed of dog that was attacking children.
Nugent's comments, which he made on entertainer Nick Cannon's July 23 podcast, are the latest inflammatory remarks he has made on the topic of race since the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Referencing July 19 remarks by President Obama that addressed issues of race in the country, Nugent said that a "little old white lady" who "clutches her purse tightly and shivers" when an African-American man joins her on an elevator has not wrongly "prejudged" in the same sense that "stormy clouds" are accurate predictors of a destructive weather event.
Nugent elaborated on this point, saying when "we've witnessed a number of storms that have destroyed homes, and threatened lives, and tipped over cars, I don't think we're prejudging those storm threats. I don't think we are prejudging. I think we are taking evidence, and going, 'uh-oh black clouds coming in, wind is picking up, I think I better head for a shelter.' "
Nugent made a second analogy concerning racial profiling, stating, "I think when you use the word profile, if a Dalmatian has been biting the children in the neighborhood, I think we're going to look for a black and white dog."
Punctuated by the statement, "Trayvon Martin could've been me, 35 years ago," President Obama laid out his personal experiences as a black man in America July 19 in the White House briefing room.
There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
In response, a group of white, male, and conservative media figures decided to lecture the nation's first black president as to why his own personal experiences with race in America were not genuine.
Commentator Ben Ferguson attempted to explain on CNN how all men, not just black men, evoke fear from women. Host Don Lemon called the conservative pundit "sadly naïve."
Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes accused the president of "trying to tear our country apart."
Ben Shapiro of Breitbart.com tweeted: "Shorter Obama: Look at me! America is racist."
His Breitbart.com colleague, Dr. Timothy Daughtry, wrote on July 21: "If Martin had been white, Zimmerman would have been portrayed in the media as the minority victim. Obama might have even said, 'If I had a son, he would look like George Zimmerman.' "
He went on to declare: "For Americans who see the world through a Judeo-Christian worldview, it is the content of one's character and not the color of one's skin that matters."
The conservative movement likes to fantasize that a world where decisions are based on the "content of one's character and not the color of one's skin" is already the reality and no longer just a dream Dr. King asked Americans to strive for.
Conservatives do not just reject the president's personal narrative; they also deny all those who have faced discrimination the right to their own experiences.
The same voices that declare the president's story illegitimate also dismiss those with stories to tell about voter disenfranchisement at the hands of laws designed to solve the nonexistent problem of voter fraud. Those who face a racially imbalanced criminal justice system are also ignored. And any attempt to correct generations of economic imbalance caused by structural racism are further shunted to the side.
While it is shockingly offensive that a cohort of white male pundits would deny the president ownership over his own story, it also exemplifies the core ignorance embedded in the conservative media's reaction to conversations about race.
Skin color doesn't matter as much if you come from a position of privilege, which I am able to write from a position of privilege. If you've never had to experience the pain of discrimination based on the pigmentation of your skin cells, it's easier to ignore or even criticize black Americans' personal experiences.
Fox News host Gregg Jarrett falsely claimed that "Stand Your Ground had nothing whatsoever to do in the [George] Zimmerman case" as a means to attack July 19 remarks made by President Obama on the controversy surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman's subsequent acquittal. Despite convincing evidence that Stand Your Ground was influential in the trial's outcome, Jarrett said that Obama was either "oblivious" or "simply trying to bring on more acrimony over a controversial subject" by discussing the law.
From the July 19 edition of America Live:
Jarrett's claim that Stand Your Ground (also called "Shoot First" or "Kill at Will") had no bearing on the Zimmerman case is contradicted by the statements of a Zimmerman juror who said the law, in part, provided a legal justification for Zimmerman's actions. The juror's statement was no surprise, as the text of Stand Your Ground was included in instructions to the jury explaining Zimmerman's possible defenses.
Right-wing media is disingenuously suggesting that Attorney General Eric Holder has disarmed George Zimmerman amid reports that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is holding all evidence -- including the gun used to kill Trayvon Martin -- from the Zimmerman trial as part of an ongoing civil rights investigation.
According to The Drudge Report, Zimmerman "can't have his gun back":
Zimmerman, who was acquitted on July 13 of charges of unlawfully killing 17-year-old Martin, is allowed to own a firearm because he is not disqualified from doing so under state and federal law and the current hold on evidence does not prevent him from buying another weapon.
Zimmerman reportedly already owned more than one handgun before the February 2012 shooting. Commenting on the handgun used to kill Martin, Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara, told CBS, "that particular weapon, he should never carry again. There's no reason to carry a weapon that's already killed somebody."
Even after a juror in George Zimmerman's trial for killing Trayvon Martin said that Florida's Stand Your Ground self-defense law influenced the outcome of the case, Fox News hosts and contributors continue to claim otherwise as a means to attack Attorney General Eric Holder for opposing such laws.