Memo To Right-Wing Media: Gabby Giffords And Newtown Families Are Not Props

The argument by conservative media that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other survivors of gun violence who supported a failed Senate compromise to expand background checks on firearms sales are “props” of the Obama administration is both hypocritically partisan and logically flawed.

Right-wing media are unable to acknowledge that President Obama's gun violence prevention agenda mirrors the priorities of gun violence survivors, who are not mere “props,” to pass stronger gun laws. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post notes, “the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want”:

All of this aside, the “props” line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn't be thanking the president. [emphasis in original]

Logical flaws aside, those who would call Newtown families and other gun violence survivors “props” fail to acknowledge that presidents routinely evoke the experiences of victims in advocating for policies that would prevent future tragedies.

In 1991, former President Ronald Reagan evoked his own experience of being shot by a would-be assassin, as well as the experiences of others wounded in the 1981 attack in order to advocate for background checks on gun sales. In a New York Times op-ed Reagan wrote about his press secretary, Jim Brady, who was grievously wounded in the attack by a man who acquired a gun despite a lengthy history of serious mental illness. Brady would go on to lend his name to the legislation -- the Brady bill -- that mandated a background check for gun sales conducted by licensed dealers:

It was on that day 10 years ago that a deranged young man standing among reporters and photographers shot a policeman, a Secret Service agent, my press secretary and me on a Washington sidewalk.

I was lucky. The bullet that hit me bounced off a rib and lodged in my lung, an inch from my heart. It was a very close call. Twice they could not find my pulse. But the bullet's missing my heart, the skill of the doctors and nurses at George Washington University Hospital and the steadfast support of my wife, Nancy, saved my life.

Jim Brady, my press secretary, who was standing next to me, wasn't as lucky. A bullet entered the left side of his forehead, near his eye, and passed through the right side of his brain before it exited. The skills of the George Washington University medical team, plus his amazing determination and the grit and spirit of his wife, Sarah, pulled Jim through. His recovery has been remarkable, but he still lives with physical pain every day and must spend much of his time in a wheelchair.

Thomas Delahanty, a Washington police officer, took a bullet in his neck. It ricocheted off his spinal cord. Nerve damage to his left arm forced his retirement in November 1981.

Tim McCarthy, a Secret Service agent, was shot in the chest and suffered a lacerated liver. He recovered and returned to duty.

Still, four lives were changed forever, and all by a Saturday-night special -- a cheaply made .22 caliber pistol -- purchased in a Dallas pawnshop by a young man with a history of mental disturbance.

This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now -- the Brady bill -- had been law back in 1981.

Former President George W. Bush also called attention to the victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks in order to advocate for his administration's policies and for legislation supported by the administration. In a November 2001 speech, Bush urged Congress to pass airport safety legislation and promoted the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the passage of antiterrorism laws in a speech that praised the heroics of passengers on Flight 93 and concluded with the call to action of “Let's roll”:

Courage and optimism led the passengers on Flight 93 to rush their murderers to save lives on the ground.  (Applause.)  Led by a young man whose last known words were the Lord's Prayer and “Let's roll.” (Applause.)  He didn't know he had signed on for heroism when he boarded the plane that day.  Some of our greatest moments have been acts of courage for which no one could have ever prepared.

We will always remember the words of that brave man, expressing the spirit of a great country.  We will never forget all we have lost, and all we are fighting for.  Ours is the cause of freedom.  We've defeated freedom's enemies before, and we will defeat them again.  (Applause.)

We cannot know every turn this battle will take.  Yet we know our cause is just and our ultimate victory is assured.  We will, no doubt, face new challenges.  But we have our marching orders:  My fellow Americans, let's roll.

Conservatives in media have targeted gun violence prevention advocates, particularly Giffords and the families of Newtown victims, for even injecting their horrific experiences with gun violence into the debate at all while simultaneously accusing the Obama administration of exploitation.  

Taking the lead from Fox News, members of right-wing media attacked the Obama administration for using Newtown families as “props” in order to advocate for stronger gun laws.

  • In an April 18 editorialThe Washington Times opinion board wrote that Obama made an April 17 Rose Garden address on gun violence “with families of the children killed at Newtown arranged around him to make a good photo-op” and also accused gun violence prevention advocates of “exploit[ing] the grief” of the Newtown families, “using them at every opportunity as props to make a political argument.”
  • Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin leveled a similar criticism of Obama's remarks, accusing the president of “hiding behind the Newtown parents.”
  • In a recap of the Rose Garden speech, editor-at-large Ben Shapiro accused Obama of “exploitation of victims of violence using guns.”
  • Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes offered comparable commentary on Twitter, writing that Obama defended “using human props” in his speech.

In addition to attacking the Obama administration, a number of conservatives in media also lashed out at Giffords with allegations of “childish” behavior and the use of “all but anti-American” tactics. 

  • Writing for the National Review Online, Kevin D. Williamson criticized a Giffords' New York Times op-ed by stating, “it should be noted that being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions.” Williamson added that Giffords' op-ed was “childish” and “an embarrassment.”
  • Right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds, who writes under the name Instapundit, had a similar reaction to Giffords' frustration with the Senate, advising her to “Try more respect and reason, less emotional bullying next time.”
  • In support of Reynold's comments, right-wing blogger Dan Riehl said that Giffords' tactics were “shameful” and “all but anti-American,” and added, “I'm sorry you were a victim Ms. Giffords. But I refuse to be yours by surrendering my rights in the face of your over-emotional and fundamentally illogical pleading which is not only a form of bullying but the worst sort of emotional blackmail, as well.”
  • Conservative Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto also criticized Giffords' op-ed, writing on April 18 that the former Congresswoman has “turned out to be a practitioner of incivility and unreason.”