Ahead of tomorrow's hearing on gun violence before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the National Rifle Association released the testimony of its representative, executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. When reporting on LaPierre's remarks, the media have a responsibility to provide context for his frequently inaccurate statements.
In his remarks, LaPierre dismissed the idea of requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale while unwittingly demonstrating how these checks keep guns out of the hands of criminals, falsely suggested that assault weapons are no more dangerous than firearms available to civilians 100 years ago, and exaggerated the effectiveness of armed guards in schools.
In his testimony, LaPierre attacked the proposal to require criminal background checks on nearly all gun sales "because criminals will never submit to them." According to LaPierre's rigid reasoning, because background checks will not stop every dangerous person from acquiring a gun, there is no point in strengthening the system.
But even under our current set of laws that allow a significant proportion of firearms transactions occur without a background check, evidence has shown that over 1.5 million individuals have been prevented from acquiring a firearm after failing a background check.
LaPierre even acknowledged earlier in his testimony that over 76,000 firearms purchases in 2011 were denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It should be noted that LaPierre is either referring to FBI denials only or understating the figure, as over 150,000 purchases a year are typically denied through the background check system, with about half of denials being processed by the FBI.
According to the FBI, less than five percent of denials are reversed upon appeal. The primary reasons for denial were a felony conviction or indictment (47.4 percent) or status as a fugitive (19.1 percent).
The National Rifle Association has released a four-and-a-half minute video in response to the proposals to curb gun violence unveiled by the Obama administration. Chock-full of fast cuts and given a heart-pounding soundtrack, the ad attacks members of the media for criticizing the NRA and calls Obama a hypocrite for protecting his children with armed guards.
The ad opens with a montage of criticisms in media of the NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's December speech calling for armed guards in schools in a response to the massacre at a Newtown, CT, school earlier that month. A narrator then states, "The media speaks for elites. America speaks for itself."
The ad also highlights the number of armed guards at the school attended by President Obama's daughters to make the claim that the President is a hypocrite for stating that he is "skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools." This attack follows up on a similar one made by the NRA in a recently released ad. The release of the White House's gun violence prevention plan today calls for federal funds to be used on school safety programs, including hiring more school resource officers, in addition to a number of proposals for stronger gun laws.
After a graphic purports to show massive increases in NRA membership, the advertisement concludes with the claim that "America agrees with Wayne and the NRA." In fact, polling demonstrates that America does not agree with the group's opposition to the proposals Obama laid out in his address.
Polling has demonstrated nearly unanimous support for requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale, including nearly three-quarters of NRA members who favor such a proposal. The NRA opposes requiring background checks on the private sale of firearms, which constitute up to 40 percent of the gun market. Majorities of Americans also support banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, while the NRA has promised to oppose any new gun violence prevention measures.
Conservatives in media have been quick to draw comparisons between the Obama administration's reported proposals to crack down on gun violence and the actions of Adolf Hitler to suggest that President Obama will engage in firearm confiscation. These historically inaccurate comparisons owe part of their genesis to the National Rifle Association, which has compared proposals to regulate firearms to orders during the Holocaust.
In his book, America Disarmed: Inside the U.N. & Obama's Scheme to Destroy the Second Amendment, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre likened the United Nations Small Arms and Light Weapons Destruction Day, held on July 9, 2001, to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels' order that books authored by Jews be publicly burned.
LaPierre then suggested that the burning of guns could "help set the stage for mass executions of gun owners" just as Goebbels' order precipitated the mass killing of Jews.
At a press conference held at a Washington, DC, hotel last month, the National Rifle Association's leadership responded to the tragic mass shooting at a Newtown, CT, elementary school by decrying the impact of violent movies on our culture. Less than 20 miles away, their organization's museum was hosting a laudatory exhibit on the firearms used in popular violent films.
During his December 21 speech at Washington DC's Willard Hotel, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre sought to refocus the debate on the political response to the shooting away from new regulations on guns. He instead passed blame to what he called "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people," specifically highlighting "the blood-soaked slasher films like 'American Psycho' and 'Natural Born Killers' that are aired like propaganda loops."
Of course, academic research has discredited the notion that violent movies encourage violent behavior. But it nonetheless seems clear that the NRA's aversion to violent films is extremely inconsistent.
Since 2010, the NRA National Firearms Museum, which is based out of the group's Fairfax, VA, headquarters, has hosted "Hollywood Guns," an exhibit featuring firearms made famous by movies like Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Die Hard. According to NRA magazine American Rifleman, "If you love guns or you love movies or, still luckier, you love guns and movies, this is a trip you cannot miss."
In the video, museum senior curator Phil Schreier says, "[W]e encourage you to come by and visit this sequel and come see a true blockbuster here in Fairfax, where all the stars of the silver screen have descended into these galleries and are represented by some of the firearms that we've fallen in love with in our youth and our adulthood, wishing that we too could be like our matinee idols."
Fox News is providing cover for the National Rifle Association as the organization attempts to shift the debate away from implementing stronger gun laws.
In a speech and an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press following last month's school shooting in Newtown, CT, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said that his group would oppose any new gun laws and instead called for Congress to "act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation." His comments were widely panned.
Fox & Friends Sunday host Dave Briggs responded to the criticism by defending LaPierre, claiming that "the mainstream media [is] mocking" the NRA leader. Briggs then suggested that media criticism of the NRA's position was unwarranted because "when you are talking about the mainstream media, it's all in this tiny little bubble up here in the Northeast, [it] has very little representation of most of the people in this country that do make up groups like the NRA."
Beyond Briggs' suggestion that the media should be more representative of the special interest groups it covers, the position of NRA leadership is not largely representative of American views on firearm ownership, or even the views of the majority of gun owners. During a December 23 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, LaPierre stated that the NRA would oppose any new firearms regulations. Meanwhile, public support for bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as mandatory background checks on all gun sales, is strong.
A major flaw in the National Rifle Association's proposal to respond to the Newtown massacre with an increased focus on mental health but no new legislation on guns was exposed during NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's interview on NBC's Meet the Press.
During that interview, LaPierre said that a major flaw in the background check system is that states have failed to input mental health records, allowing people who have mental health issues that would prohibit them from buying a firearm to nonetheless pass a background check. But moments later, he expressed opposition to extending the background check system to all gun sales, maintaining a loophole that would allow the mentally ill to continue to obtain firearms.
From the December 23 interview with Meet the Press host David Gregory:
LAPIERRE: I'll tell you what would work. We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics. ... 23 states are still putting only a small number of records into the system and a lot of states are putting none. So when they go through the National Instant Check System and they go to try to screen out one of those lunatics, the records are not even in the system.
GREGORY: Again, a lot of people would agree with that, there are a lot of difficulties regard to getting that kind of mental health information because there's privacy laws, there are states not contributing to a national registry. Isn't part of the issue background checks? You have 40 percent of sales that go on without any background checks. Are you prepared to back broader background checks if you don't think the ammunition road is the way to go?
LAPIERRE: We have backed the National Instant Check system, we have backed putting anyone adjudicated mentally incompetent into the system. Now I know where you're going with this. They come up with this whole, "oh, it's a gun show loophole." There's not a gun show loophole. It's illegal for felons to do anything like that, to buy guns. What the anti-Second Amendment movement wants to do is put every gun sale in the country under the thumb of the federal government. Congress debated this at length. They said if you're a -- a hobbyist or collector, if someone in West Virginia, a hunter, wants to sell a gun to another hunter, they ought to be able to do it without being under the thumb of the federal government.
Reports from the federal government and gun violence prevention advocates have exposed the failures of states to input mental health data into the National Instant Check System, and made recommendations to fill those gaps. But as Gregory noted, even if all mental health records were put into the system, it would have no effect on the estimated 40 percent of firearms sales that are made through private sellers.
From the December 21 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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One week after a mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead, the National Rifle Association broke its silence with a question-free "press conference" that featured a number of inaccurate claims about school safety and the role of entertainment in violence.
The media has a responsibility to evaluate the truthfulness of the claims made the NRA and should not merely pass along statements made in the press conference as fact.
During the press conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre claimed that gun free school policies make students less safe, misled about the Obama administration's position on school safety funding, and suggested that increasing armed security at schools is a comprehensive policy to stop violent attacks. LaPierre also falsely suggested there exists a link between violent video games and actual acts of violence while ignoring the documented link between gun availability and violence.
The National Rifle Association refused to answer questions at what it had claimed was a "press conference" today in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Instead, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre gave a speech calling for armed police officers at all schools and blaming violent video games for mass shootings, rather than the ability of those shooters to obtain a firearm.
Notably, an armed police officer was present at Columbine High School at the time of the mass shooting there. After attempting to fire on one of the shooters with his pistol, he was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon.
This puts special pressure on the hosts of NBC's Meet The Press and CBS' Face The Nation, who will host LaPierre and NRA president David Keene on Sunday, to ask the questions that the rest of the press corps was unable to.
Any such interview should address the conspiratorial language that LaPierre typically uses in speaking to his base, notably his claim that President Obama plans to use his second term to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights."
In yet another year plagued by horrific instances of gun violence, the media was quick to react to tragedies by labeling gun violence prevention efforts futile on the basis of the alleged ability of the National Rifle Association to ruin the political careers of anyone who dared to stand in the way of its anti-gun regulation agenda.
Earlier this year, Slate's Brian Palmer typified this narrative with an article titled "Why Is The NRA So Powerful?" that suggested that the pro-gun organization "considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country" can "reliably deliver votes." In the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Slate republished the article verbatim. Also following the Newtown massacre, NBC's David Gregory and Fox News' Chris Wallace both suggested that politicians who favored gun violence prevention measures would face serious reprisals.
In making these claims, the media simply advanced a years old narrative suggesting the NRA wields unlimited political power without citing any actual evidence for that position. In fact, 2012 was a year full of indicators that the extent of NRA influence has been wildly exaggerated. The media should keep this in mind as they prepare to cover the NRA's press conference this morning responding to the Newtown massacre.
During the past year, the National Rifle Association was abandoned by political and business allies and spent nearly $18 million in a failed attempt to keep supporters of gun violence prevention out of Congress and the White House.
Even as the NRA's brand was deemed toxic by the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative "model legislation" group, and faced withering criticism in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, the media myth has persisted that the NRA has the capability to punish politicians who oppose its extreme agenda.
National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre will be the "exclusive" guest on NBC's Meet the Press on December 23, nine days after the horrific shooting in Newtown, CT, and five days after the NRA mustered the courage to finally comment on the tragedy. Meet the Press moderator David Gregory is soliciting questions for LaPierre via Twitter, and we're happy to propose a few that touch on LaPierre's and the NRA's credibility on gun rights, drawing from LaPierre's long record of conspiratorial rhetoric in the name of aiding the firearms lobby.
LaPierre: Obama will "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution."
At the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, LaPierre delivered a speech sketching out what he saw coming should President Obama win reelection:
LAPIERRE: We see the president's strategy crystal clear: Get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms' freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution.
The only way to "erase" a constitutional amendment is with another constitutional amendment. Given that the passage of an amendment requires two-thirds supermajorities in both houses of Congress (one of which is controlled by Republicans) and ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures (more than half of which are controlled by Republicans), the chances of the Second Amendment being "erased" any time soon are infinitesimally small - even if Democrats supported such a thing. And in fact, Obama himself has repeatedly stated that he supports both the Second Amendment and passing reasonable restrictions on guns - as do most NRA members.
QUESTION: "There is no plausible scenario in which President Obama or the Democrats could possibly remove the Second Amendment from the Constitution, so how can you justify your claim that the president will do so in his second term?"
Members of the media have been quick to push the myth that the National Rifle Association can remove politicians from office who support new gun violence prevention measures in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The influence wielded by the NRA has been overblown by the media for years, a fact further evidenced by the organization's poor showing during the 2012 elections.
Fox News is reporting that gun owners are rushing to buy firearms in light of President Obama's reelection at the same time it promotes the very conspiracies about the president's gun policies triggering those sales.
A December 6 FoxNews.com article on the firearms "buying spree" reports that to gun owners, "Obama's re-election, and the apocalypse -- amount to the same thing" while also credulously quoting the unfounded claim of NRA president David Keene that, "Obama is coming right at us" and his second term will be "an all-out assault on the Second Amendment."
The simultaneous reporting of an uptick in gun sales and promotion of wild-eyed conspiracy theories about Obama's gun policies is commonplace at Fox News, despite the fact that President Obama expanded, rather than restricted, where a gun can be carried during his first term.
On the December 3 edition of Hannity on Fox News, WorldNetDaily columnist Erik Rush discussed the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher, alleging, "Whenever there is a high-profile gun crime the fearmongering begins, the histrionics begin, and all of this stuff really has its genesis in the political left, and particularly the big government political leftists, who want to disarm the public."
National Rifle Association executive vice president and columnist Wayne LaPierre has unveiled a new conspiracy theory, alleging that NBC sportscaster Bob Costas' discussion of the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher was part of a plan by "media conglomerates" to ban guns.
On Sunday Night Football, Costas' quoted approvingly from a FoxSports.com column that noted, "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and [his victim] Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."
Responding on the December 3 edition of NRA News, LaPierre said Costas was promoting "an anti-Second Amendment agenda by somebody in the media with access to these media conglomerates that are more than happy to amplify that all over the country and try to ram it down the throats of average American citizens."
LaPierre and NRA News host Cam Edwards went on to use Costas' comments to promote joining the NRA:
EDWARDS: [Americans] can join the NRA and join a part of the largest organization in America protecting and defending the right to keep and bear arms.
LAPIERRE: Yeah, I mean we are about to be victim of a siege against the Second Amendment in this country going into Obama's second term. I mean it's going to be ugly. It's going to come hard, fast and soon. And were going to have to survive this period of unprecedented danger. And the best way to survive is to make the NRA stronger than ever. Never has membership in NRA been more important than right now.
The NRA often trades in baseless conspiracy theories to promote gun ownership and NRA membership.
In September 2011, LaPierre announced the existence of a "massive Obama conspiracy" to end private firearm ownership in the United States. The basis for LaPierre's claim that Obama would "[e]rase the Second Amendment" in his second term was that Obama did not act on guns during his first term. The NRA also claims that a United Nations treaty with the stated goal of preventing diversion of weapons to human rights abusers will be used as a pretext for gun confiscation in the United States.
Fox Business host Staurt Varney concluded a softball interview with National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre by telling the NRA top executive the segment had been an "excellent commercial for the NRA."
LaPierre used his appearance as an opportunity to denigrate efforts to pass a new assault weapons ban. He falsely suggested that there are no differences between assault weapons and other guns, calling the term assault rifle "an invented term by the people who hate the Second Amendment in this country to confuse the American public."
Instead of engaging in a discussion about the merits of an assault weapons ban, which LaPierre's organization stridently opposes, Varney played footage of an Arizona gun dealer suggesting that Obama "is going to implement more than just an assault weapons ban" and asked LaPierre open-ended questions such as, "I'm not sure I exactly understand what is an assault weapon as defined by the gun control people. Can you tell me?"