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.
Fox News' Chris Wallace challenged National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's false claims about strengthening gun laws, even going so far as to describe one of his talking points as "ridiculous." Wallace's treatment of LaPierre is a departure from his Fox colleagues who have allowed LaPierre to push his agenda without challenge.
On Fox News Sunday, Wallace challenged LaPierre's attempt to mislead on criminal background checks for gun sales and debunked the NRA claim that the Obama administration wants to create a national registry of gun owners. Wallace also dismissed LaPierre's defense of an NRA advertisement that charged President Obama with hypocrisy for protecting his children with armed guards, responding to the NRA leader's comparison between threats faced by the president's children and school children nationwide by saying "that's ridiculous and you know it, sir."
The refusal of Wallace to acquiesce to all of LaPierre's claims during Fox News Sunday was markedly different from Fox's typical treatment of the gun issue, which has included giving the NRA a platform to spread falsehoods.
During the interview, Wallace dismissed LaPierre's attempt to obfuscate the fact that over a million people have been stopped from obtaining a firearm since 1999 after failing a criminal background check by stating, "It worked enough that 1.7 million people were denied."
LAPIERRE: I don't think you can say that those 1.7 million people have been stopped from getting a gun at all because the government didn't prosecute virtually any of them. They let them walk in, they were denied, they let them walk out. And who really thinks if they really wanted to commit a crime they didn't go on and get a gun.
WALLACE: I don't know. It seems to me if 1.7 million people were denied. I understand the hardened criminal. But the disturbed person. The Adam Lanza in Newtown. The James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado. Those aren't hardened criminals, and if they are stopped from getting a gun by a universal background check won't that make a difference?
LAPIERRE: You know the instant check was actually the NRA's proposal. We offered it as an amendment to the Brady Bill to put it on dealers. And I've been in this fight for 20 years, we supported it, we put it on the books. But I have finally become convinced after fighting to get the mental records computerized for 20 years and watching the mental health lobby, the HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] laws, and the AMA [American Medical Association] oppose it, I don't think it's going to happen. I mean the fact is the check now, these people are not --
WALLACE: It worked enough that 1.7 million people were denied. I mean I completely agree with you, I mean as Captain Kelly pointed out [Tucson shooter] Jared Loughner was able to pass the test. So there are holes in it, but that doesn't mean, you know, because it's not perfect doesn't mean that it doesn't work.
As Wallace pointed out, there is a logical fallacy in LaPierre's argument that because background checks will not stop all criminals there is no value in attempts to improve the background check system.
LaPierre's attack on the effectiveness of the background check system also exposes the hypocrisy of the NRA's opposition to requiring criminal background checks on every gun sale. LaPierre speculated that individuals denied a firearm by a background check were still able to "go on and get a gun." A loophole in federal law allows a significant proportion of firearms to be obtained through private sales where no background check is required, with one 2004 study indicating that criminals are even more likely to use private transactions to obtain firearms.
During the January 30 hearing on gun violence, National Rifle Association representative Wayne LaPierre said a proposal to expand background checks would be a "nightmare" for Americans, contradicting his 1999 testimony on behalf of the NRA in support of such an expansion -- a flip-flop highlighted by Sen. Pat Leahy during the hearing. In their coverage of the hearing, several major national newspapers failed to pick up on this important position switch, which highlighted the hardline stance of the NRA towards gun violence prevention proposals.
While polling has consistently shown that nearly all Americans support requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale, some conservatives in the media are writing in opposition to expanding background checks, a position also held by the National Rifle Association.
A January 23 Gallup poll indicates that 91 percent of Americans would vote for a law that required a criminal background check on every gun sale. Only eight percent of respondents would vote against such a law. As ThinkProgress notes, this polling indicates that opposition to strengthening background checks is less popular than human cloning, polygamy and the perennially unpopular Congress.
[ThinkProgress, accessed 1/30/13]
In recent columns, Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller, MSNBC host S.E. Cupp and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich all expressed opposition to expanding background checks, even as research demonstrates that a significant proportion of firearms are sold and purchased without a check.
In a New York Daily News column, Cupp quoted the faulty logic of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who said before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 30 that checks should not be strengthened "because criminals will never submit to them," before worrying about the "psychological" impact of background checks on gun purchasers.
Ultimately, Cupp compared criminal background checks -- the vast majority of which are completed in seconds -- to Arizona's infamous SB 1070 immigration law:
But even though we accept background checks as a necessary preemptive measure, there is a real psychological and cultural impact when law-abiding gun owners are routinely treated en masse like suspects.
If it sounds silly to worry about the hurt feelings of gun owners, let me point out that liberals are both familiar and comfortable with this argument. Arizona's so-called "papers please" law, which allowed law enforcement officials to determine an individual's immigration status during a lawful stop, barred the use of racial profiling as the sole basis for investigating immigration status. But that didn't stop liberal critics of SB 1070 from insisting it was offensive, prejudicial and unfairly treated minorities as if they were criminals.
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.