Viewing gun rights as under attack after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the National Rifle Association and its backers in conservative media spent 2013 using inflammatory rhetoric to attack critics and promote an uncompromising pro-gun agenda.
Both the NRA and its conservative media allies frequently attempted to draw modern-day parallels between Adolf Hitler's murder of millions during the Holocaust and the Obama administration's post-Newtown proposal to advance gun safety. One ugly event at the NRA's annual meeting saw the NRA's main political opponent illustrated as a Nazi, leading to condemnation from Jewish organizations.
Even victims of gun violence and the families of those killed at Sandy Hook could not escape the wrath of right-wing media, who insultingly called them "props" of the Obama administration, as if they were unable to think for themselves. The NRA similarly politicized the armed protection of President Obama's daughters in a widely criticized TV spot.
Ted Nugent, perhaps the best known member of NRA leadership, turned heads when he dubbed Trayvon Martin a "dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe" after the deceased Florida teenager's killer was acquitted. Even given his past racially inflammatory rhetoric, Nugent shocked many by piling on his Martin comment with a weeks-long tirade in which he endorsed racial profiling and claimed that the African-American community has a "mindless tendency to violence." The NRA declined to comment.
The year also featured a number of bizarre claims from the NRA, including the host of an NRA-produced television show comparing critics of his elephant hunting to Hitler, NRA head Wayne LaPierre's claim that gun ownership was essential to "survival," and NRA past-president Marion Hammer's comparison of an assault weapons ban to racial discrimination.
What follows are 12 lowlights from a year punctuated by extreme NRA rhetoric:
The Anti-Defamation League says it is "outraged" by recent comments from National Rifle Association Board Member Scott Bach who wondered how the mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, could support a gun safety proposal given that the mayor's grandparents survived the Holocaust.
Bach, who heads the NRA affiliate group Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, criticized Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop on a December 11 NRA News program over Fulop's support for a measure that would require city gun vendors to fill out a six-question survey on gun safety when bidding on contracts. Citing Fulop's past service in the Marines and that his grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust, Bach stated, "So you've got to wonder why he is not getting it." Bach's implication that modern gun safety proposals recall the the Holocaust is a common -- but ahistorical -- theory promoted by right-wing media and the NRA.
Fulop characterized Bach's claim as "asinine" and "backwards" on the December 16 edition of The Brian Lehrer Show, adding, "If my grandparents had guns in their house when the Nazis came, my grandparents would be dead and I wouldn't be here. So that's probably the reality of the situation. But I don't think that you can equate religious persecution to a manipulation of the intent of the Second Amendment."
The gun violence prevention movement has won numerous victories in the year since the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, even as the media has often been quick to ordain the demise of the push for stronger gun laws that are overwhelmingly favored by the public.
The year following Newtown has seen the advance of gun safety as an issue important to Americans, including a renewed interest in gun safety legislation at the federal and state levels, new evidence that the NRA cannot determine election outcomes even in its home state of Virginia, increased grassroots and monetary pressure on the gun safety issue, and cultural indicators showing a rejection of the NRA's fringe agenda.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed to support increasing the number mental health records in the gun background check system, even though his organization was instrumental in blocking legislation that would have made that change earlier this year.
LaPierre appeared on the September 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press to deliver his first public comments since the September 16 mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. During the segment, LaPierre claimed that "the NRA supported the gun check because we thought the mental records would be in the system." In April his organization was singled out by President Obama for influencing the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey proposal to improve the background check system that was filibustered by a largely-Republican coalition of Senators. The NRA falsely claimed that the legislation would have created a national gun registry, even as the bill itself explicitly prohibited such an action. Instead, Machin-Toomey would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales -- including sales at gun shows and over the Internet -- and would have increased the number of disqualifying records in the background check system.
LaPierre bemoaned the fact that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the FBI-administered tool for processing background checks on gun sales from licensed dealers, is missing mental health records that would disqualify individuals from buying a gun. However, Manchin-Toomey would have given states funding incentives and disincentives for submitting records. NRA-backed alternative legislation would have also provided funding incentives to increase the number of records, but would have weakened the background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system.
David Gregory is set to host National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre on this Sunday's Meet the Press. It's LaPierre's first Sunday show interview since March and a rare opportunity to put the NRA chief under the microscope.
In his past coverage of the gun violence debate, Gregory has demonstrated the ability to push back on LaPierre's spin and force him to account for his group's intransigence. But he's also shown a willingness to adopt false media tropes about the supposed electoral weakness of lawmakers who back stronger gun laws.
In recent days, following the recalls of two Colorado state senators who supported stronger gun laws and the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard shooting, some in the media have suggested that no progress on the issue is possible, a lazy claim that could shut down any effort to renew a dialogue on public safety legislation that has gone quiet in the halls of Congress despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws. Here are a few things Gregory should remember to avoid falling into that conventional wisdom trap.
Legislation to expand background checks to cover private sales, which failed to receive a supermajority in the Senate earlier this year, is favored by an overwhelming majority of the American people. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that bill should have passed. A majority of Americans also support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The evidence does not back up the claims from some pundits that the Colorado recall elections show that Democrats should avoid the issue of stronger gun laws if they want electoral success. The gun laws passed in Colorado earlier this year, which remain on the books, are popular statewide, with more than 80 percent of Coloradans supporting the expanded background check law and a plurality supporting the limit on high-capacity magazines. The recall elections featured shockingly low turnouts of 21 and 36 percent; turnout was likely reduced by efforts from recall supporters to prevent the use of mail-in ballots that the state usually uses. While opponents of stronger gun laws did succeed in their efforts to remove two state senators, they originally had targeted two more but failed to qualify for the ballot. And President Obama and the state's governor and senator all won recent elections despite fervent opposition from the NRA.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre baselessly warned that proponents of stronger gun laws could implement a firearm "confiscation scheme" in his latest unhinged column for The Daily Caller.
Despite LaPierre's warnings of a draconian gun registration and confiscation scheme that he wrote "could happen to us if we fail to stand and fight," the plot LaPierre described is illegal under current federal law, has not been proposed by the supporters of stronger gun laws LaPierre singled out in his column, and would likely violate the United States Constitution.
LaPierre's column was published on August 19, the day before BuzzFeed reported that the NRA itself uses a variety of data collection methods to gather information on gun owners. In an article that described myriad ways the NRA collects data on gun owners, BuzzFeed contributor Steve Friess noted the tension between the NRA's warnings about government gun owner databases and the gun rights organization's own actions:
The National Rifle Association has rallied gun owners -- and raised tens of millions of dollars -- campaigning against the threat of a national database of firearms or their owners.
But in fact, the sort of vast, secret database the NRA often warns of already exists, despite having been assembled largely without the knowledge or consent of gun owners. It is housed in the Virginia offices of the NRA itself. The country's largest privately held database of current, former, and prospective gun owners is one of the powerful lobby's secret weapons, expanding its influence well beyond its estimated 3 million members and bolstering its political supremacy.
That database has been built through years of acquiring gun permit registration lists from state and county offices, gathering names of new owners from the thousands of gun-safety classes taught by NRA-certified instructors and by buying lists of attendees of gun shows, subscribers to gun magazines, and more, BuzzFeed has learned.
LaPierre's Daily Caller column is demonstrative of the outlandish gun registration and confiscation plots the NRA warns of while apparently simultaneously collecting information on gun owners for its own purposes.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre criticized President Obama for saying that Americans should disregard those who say "tyranny is always lurking just around the corner," before warning that the administration is attempting to "disarm citizens on multiple fronts -- a step at a time -- not only of their firearms, but of their free speech"
The NRA often engages in hyperbolic language to suggest that Obama wishes to form a tyrannical government and destroy the Second Amendment. From LaPierre's July 30 op-ed appearing on conservative news website The Daily Caller:
Specifically, Obama signaled what he sees as dangerous political speech in his May, 2013 [Ohio University commencement] address:
"Unfortunately, you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate sinister entity that's at the root of our problems. Some of these voices also do their best to gum up the works. They warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices."
As members of the oldest civil rights organization in the nation, NRA members know tyranny when we see it. Five million strong, we proudly "gum up the works" when those "works" are designed to destroy American liberty, be it attacks on rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment or the First Amendment.
"Tyranny." That's Obama's word. The president is right about one thing: Many people are, indeed, warning about tyranny "lurking just around the corner."
Referencing controversy over the Internal Revenue Service's use of improper screening methods when reviewing tax-exempt status for some non-profit groups, LaPierre wrote, "Obama cannot erase the Second Amendment without crippling or controlling exercise of the First Amendment. And that's exactly what is at the heart of the ongoing scandals involving the vindictive assault on conservative Americans by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)."
In fact, this characterization is overblown. There is no evidence of White House involvement in the use of improper screening methods by the IRS. Furthermore, despite initial reports that only conservative non-profits were targeted, it was later revealed that the IRS also used improper screening techniques on liberal organizations as well.
Still, in his opinion piece LaPierre described the IRS as "the president's thug arm" and implored readers to elect candidates who will "root out and prosecute what has morphed from the corruption of the 'Chicago way,' into the much more sinister Obama way," adding that he hopes "Obama's 'transformation' of our nation and our culture" can be stopped.
During the 2013 National Rifle Association annual meeting, held May 3 - 5 in Houston, Texas, the gun rights organization reaffirmed its hardline stance against any restrictions on firearms and hosted an over-the-top Glenn Beck presentation that depicted one of the NRA's political opponents as a Nazi.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre set the tone of the convention with a May 4 speech that warned of a "long war against our constitutional rights" and concluded with a message for media and political "elites" in America: "Let them be damned."
The meeting also involved the adoption of a resolution put forward by fringe gun activist Jeff Knox that stated the NRA will oppose all future gun restrictions. Also featured at the annual convention was a speech from newly-elected NRA president Jim Porter, a hardline gun rights activist, that included the claim that President Obama seeks to take "revenge" against gun owners.
In a freewheeling presentation billed as the "NRA's most important gathering of the year," conservative radio personality Glenn Beck offensively portrayed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a Nazi giving the Sieg Hail salute before concluding his hour-and-a-half long "Stand and Fight" speech by comparing the struggles of gun owners to those of the African-American civil rights movement.
Here are nine moments from the NRA's annual meeting that typify the fringe nature of the organization:
"We Shall Overcome:" Beck Adopts The Mantle Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Referencing the Underground Railroad and lunch counter protests, Beck said that he hoped the NRA would join him in a passive resistance movement. At the apex of his speech, Beck stated, "We are the law-abiding God-fearing members of the NRA. We are Americans. And we will be clear. We will stand; we'll march if we have to. We'll stand because we must. But we will not be moved. Our right to keep and bear arms will not be infringed. We will follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we will follow the footsteps of Frederick Douglas, Winston Churchill, Thomas Paine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, [David] Ben-Gurion, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Ghandi, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, hear me now. Hear me now. We shall overcome."
From the April 4 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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The media should cover the National Rifle Association's forthcoming plan to improve school security in the context of the extreme positions that the gun rights organization has taken on firearms in schools since the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
On April 2, the National Rifle Association will unveil its "National School Shield Program," a package of policy and legislative proposals that reportedly will call for increasing the number of armed guards at schools. The group has vehemently opposed calls to pass stronger gun laws.
While the NRA previously supported a "zero tolerance" policy regarding guns in schools, the gun rights organization has more recently promoted the idea of arming teachers and aired a feature on controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio's school defense "posse" on its media arm, NRA News.
Two weeks after a mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two gunmen killed 13 and wounded 21, the NRA held its annual meeting in nearby Denver. On May 1, 1999, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre delivered a speech endeavoring to "clearly state our positions in a comprehensive way." In his remarks, LaPierre called for a "zero tolerance" policy on guns in schools "with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel":
LAPIERRE: First, we believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools, period ... with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel.
National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who writes a regular column for the NRA's America's 1st Freedom magazine, complained about the enforcement rate of federal gun laws during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, even as his organization lobbies for policies that make these laws harder to administer.
During his March 24 appearance, LaPierre stated, "If you're the President and the Vice President and the Attorney General, and your job is to enforce these laws ... and you don't do it, you bear some responsibility":
Despite the NRA's attempts to hinder enforcement of federal gun laws, a recent report shows positive trends in federal gun prosecutions. According to the Transactional Records Clearing House, a Syracuse University program that tracks federal data, gun prosecutions increased in 2012 and "[d]espite the recent ups and downs, federal [weapons] prosecutions today are a great deal higher than in the pre-9/11 era."
Even so, the NRA has a lengthy track record of frustrating federal gun law enforcement, primarily through attempts to weaken the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the federal law enforcement agency responsible for initiating investigations into federal gun law violations.
National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre appeared on Fox Business' Varney & Company to falsely claim that a legislative proposal to require a criminal background check on almost every gun sale would create a national gun owner registry and possibly lead to firearm confiscation.
LAPIERRE: It is a huge waste of money. It's going to be selectively enforced. It's going to be abused. And the worst thing, you're creating a registry of all the law-abiding people in the country that own firearms. I know the politicians say, "Hey, we'll never use that list to confiscate." That's a pretty darn tall order to believe a promise from people in this town right now.
The list that LaPierre referenced does not exist and would not be created under a proposal to strengthen the background check system.
In fact, federal law prohibits the creation of a gun owner registry and the proposal to expand background checks would not subject gun buyers to any record-keeping requirements that do not already exist for transactions conducted at a gun store. As gun advocate Dave Kopel explains on the NRA's website, "the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) ... prohibited the creation of a registry of gun owners."
The FBI, which administers the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), destroys identifying information about gun owners within 24 hours in order to comply with this law.
Under current law, licensed firearm dealers are required retain a copy of the ATF Form 4473, the form used to complete the background check, as a sales receipt. Under legislation proposed to improve the background check system, a federally licensed firearms dealer would oversee firearms transactions between private individuals by running a background check on the purchaser. The 4473 form used in that transaction would be kept in the dealer's records, just as records are kept for individuals who buy from the licensed dealer directly. The current legislative proposal would exempt transfers between immediate family members and temporary transfers for hunting or self-defense from the background check requirement.
From the February 14 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre wrote that Americans need to buy firearms in order to ensure their "survival" and urged gun owners to join the NRA and buy more weapons in an unhinged February 13 Daily Caller op-ed.
Media Matters has long documented the feedback loop by which the NRA fearmongers about stronger gun laws in order to drive up membership and promote increased firearm sales; gun manufacturers in turn pour millions of dollars into the NRA's coffers.
In his latest op-ed LaPierre took this argument to new levels, arguing that Americans who don't buy firearms risk death from a number of sources:
Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face--not just maybe. It's not paranoia to buy a gun. It's survival. It's responsible behavior, and it's time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that.
Since the election, millions of Americans have been lining up in front of gun stores, Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops exercising their freedom while they still have it. They are demonstrating they have a mass determination to buy, own and use firearms. Millions of Americans are using market forces like never before to demonstrate their ardent support for our firearm freedoms. That's one of the very best ways we can Stand And Fight.
LaPierre writes that this "Stand and Fight" effort involves a "four-year communications and resistance movement." As part of this effort, LaPierre writes that a stronger NRA is necessary "to resist the coming siege" and states:
Every gun owner should be an active member of the NRA. Every gun owner should be sure that every member of his or her family is an active member. [...]
This begins with remembering to keep your own membership active, or reactivate it if it has lapsed. It means reminding yourself, "I have a son and daughter who aren't members and should be." It means reaching out to your hunting and shooting friends and personally telling them why it's so important that they join the NRA now, during this time of peril.
Renewing an NRA membership for one year costs $35; lifetime memberships cost $1,000.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday this week, National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre was pressed about the controversial ad the group created in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre that referenced the armed protection President Obama's daughters receive. Even as host Chris Wallace belittled as "ridiculous" the ad's premise that all children deserve the same kind of protection that the president's children have, LaPierre defend the ad and said, "Tell that to the people of Newtown."
"So they should have Secret Service"? Wallace asked.
In response, LaPierre propagated a favorite falsehood of the pro-gun media lobby [emphasis added]:
LAPIERRE: No, but what they should have is police officers or certified armed security in those schools to keep people safe. If something happens, the police time-- despite all their good intentions, is 15 to 20 minutes. It's too long. It's not going to help those kids.
In the wake of the Newtown shooting, LaPierre bemoaned the fact kids aren't safe at school, in part because it takes police 15 to 20 minutes to respond to a deadly shooting like the one in Connecticut.
But that's not true and it's time the news media start calling out anti-gun control extremists like LaPierre and Larry Pratt, , the executive director of Gun Owners of America, among others, who keep peddling the obvious falsehood in the press.
Fact: The Newtown police station is located approximately two miles from the Sandy Hook Elementary School. There's no way it would have taken law enforcement 20 minutes to respond to the first 911 calls reporting gunfire at the school. (Local cops could have run from the station and been at the school in less than 20 minutes.)
Fast-acting Newtown officers "made it in under three minutes, arriving in the parking lot while gunfire could still be heard," according to New York Times interviews with the first responders that day.
But if you listen to LaPierre as well as other anti-gun control advocates who are making the media rounds, you're led to believe gunman Adam Lanza roamed the hallways of Sandy Hook for nearly half an hour killing people at will before law enforcement finally arrived; that terrified teachers and students were "waiting 20 minutes for the cops to show up," as one pro-gun blogger claimed.
It's not true. The claim is pure gun lobby propaganda.