Fox Helps Gun Extremist Use Newtown Anniversary To Push Lies

Fox News Sunday allowed Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt, who has a history of making extremist and conspiratorial claims, to push lies about the gun debate the day after the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

During his appearance on December 15, Pratt pushed the myth that “gun-free zones” are invitations for mass shootings, lied about the popularity and effectiveness of background checks on gun sales, and suggested gun violence could be prevented by putting people with mental health conditions in jail.

Fox hosted Pratt despite his past ties to white supremacists and history of making conspiratorial claims. In 1996, Pratt was forced to leave the presidential campaign of Republican Pat Buchanan after, as The New York Times reported, it was disclosed that he “had spoken at rallies held by leaders of the white supremacist and militia movements.” More recently, Pratt has flirted with the claim that Sandy Hook was a government “programmed event” designed to build support for stronger gun laws. Carlee Soto, whose sister Victoria Soto was one of the teachers killed at Sandy Hook, and Mark Kelly, who is the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting, also appeared on Fox News Sunday to discuss gun policy.

Here are four false claims about gun violence made by Pratt on Fox News:

Pratt Falsely Claims Places Where Guns Are Not Allowed Are “Murder Magnets”

Pratt claimed that legislation prohibiting the carrying of guns in schools and other public places is “lethal” and “is killing people.” He went on to say that “all of these gun-free zones are murder magnets,” based on his previous claim that "[e]very one of our mass murders in our country has occurred in places where guns were prohibited."

But according to a September report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns that analyzed mass shootings between January 2009 and September 2013, “All told, no more than 14 of the shootings (15%) took place entirely in public spaces that were so-called 'gun-free zones.'” The report stated that two-thirds of mass shootings occurred in private residences. Pratt's claim is especially nonsensical considering that fellow guest Mark Kelly's wife was shot in a public parking lot where guns could be carried while holding a meeting with her constituents.

There is no evidence that laws that generally prohibit the carrying of guns in schools are “killing people.” In fact, schools are usually much safer for children than their surrounding communities and even their homes, even taking into account horrific shootings like Newtown. A December 10 Mother Jones report noted that 127 of the 194 children under the age of 12 killed by guns since Newtown were shot in their own homes, “while dozens more died in the homes of friends, neighbors, and relatives.”

By comparison, since the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics began recording homicides at schools in the 1992-3 school year, the proportion of youth homicides that occurred at school has never exceeded 2 percent of total youth homicides:

When school shootings do occur, there is no evidence that armed guards -- like the ones present at mass shootings in Columbine High School in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007 -- can offer a panacea solution.

Pratt's suggestion that more permissive gun carrying rules would prevent mass shootings at all locations is also contradicted by historical evidence. An analysis of public mass shootings by Mother Jones that covered the past 30 years did not find a single mass shooting ended by an armed civilian.

Despite Plethora Of Polling Data, Pratt Denies Popularity Of Background Checks On Gun Sales

Pratt said that he would “dispute” polls that show overwhelming popular support for requiring a background check on almost every gun sale and that his organization “doesn't put any credence in” polls showing that gun owners and National Rifle Association members support background checks.

In fact, poll after poll from major outlets demonstrates the overwhelming support of proposals to expand background checks and close the “private sales” loophole that allows a significant percentage of gun transactions to occur without a check. Support for background checks has remained strong even since a proposal to require background checks on commercial gun sales was filibustered in the Senate. A November United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found only 22 percent of respondents would be somewhat or very disappointed if Congress passed background check legislation. The measure even had majority support from Republican men.

Polling has also established that 74 percent of current or former NRA members and 82 percent of gun owners support background checks.

Pratt Uses Misleading Statistic To Attack Effectiveness Of Background Check System

Arguing that “the problem is not how are we going to be able to keep bad guys from getting guns, they're going to get guns,” Pratt suggested that the fact that there were only “something like 42” instances last year where someone with a criminal record was prosecuted for attempting to purchase a gun after being flagged by a background check, meant that the background check system is “futile.”

While the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System is hampered by the existence of the private sales loophole, it and state background check systems have nonetheless prevented more than 2 million prohibited purchasers from obtaining firearms since 1998. Pratt's citation of prosecutions for lying on the background check form is a red herring. The low number of prosecutions is explained by wording in the criminal statute that makes it difficult to obtain convictions and that federal law enforcement has decided to prioritize instances where prohibited individuals actually obtain a gun, as opposed to when they lied on a form in the process of failing to buy a gun.

Even host Chris Wallace recognized the absurdity of Pratt's argument, noting that while the system is not perfect, it can be “the difference” between a dangerous individual getting “his hands on a gun and not getting his hands on one.”

Pratt Suggests Putting Those With Mental Health Conditions In Jail To Stop Gun Violence

Pratt suggested that people with a mental “problem” should be jailed in order to prevent gun violence, ignoring that the vast majority of individuals with mental health conditions are not violent and that the existence of a mental health condition has little probative value in predicting whether someone has a propensity for violence.

Pratt stated, “We ought to put them in jail, not just think that somehow saying you can't get a gun, but go on down the street, we're not going to bother with you, that's silly, that's just really not a very good idea.”

Pratt's purported solution to gun violence is contradicted by a recent report from the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy authored by gun violence and mental health experts. While Pratt considers farcical the idea that measures can be put in place to prevent dangerous people from getting guns, the report -- relying on academic research -- suggested that prohibitions on gun ownership should be expanded to individuals in circumstances where research suggests they are at a higher risk for violence.

To that end, the report recommends prohibiting gun ownership by individuals convicted of violent misdemeanors, people subject to temporary domestic violence restraining orders, individuals with multiple substance abuse- or alcohol-related convictions and under the very limited circumstance of individuals receiving mandatory outpatient mental health care where a court has ruled the individual is a danger to themselves or others.

Given the track record of the background check system in stopping dangerous individuals from getting guns, this expansion would surely prevent some dangerous people from obtaining firearms, despite Pratt's claims.