NRA Demands Media Stop Calling Santa Barbara Shooter A “Shooter”

The National Rifle Association's media arm issued a video bemoaning that Elliot Rodger, who murdered six during a recent killing spree in California, is referred to by media as a “gunman” or “shooter.”

19 people were killed or wounded by Rodger near the campus of UC-Santa Barbara in Isla Vista, California on May 23. Reportedly motivated by a hatred of women, Rodger fatally stabbed three in his apartment before going on a public shooting spree. Of 11 hit by gunfire, three died. Rodger also struck four people with his car, and one person suffered an undetermined injury.

In a June 30 video published on the NRA's “commentators” webpage -- a project that is part of the NRA's efforts to attract a younger and more diverse audience -- NRA News commentator Billy Johnson claimed that media coverage of the killing spree only told “half the story,” adding, “Yes, the Santa Barbara murderer had a gun, and yes he killed three people with that gun. But he also killed three people with a knife and injured several others with his car.” (Johnson never mentioned those who were wounded by gunfire but survived.)

Undermining their own point, the NRA originally released the video with the title “Santa Barbara Shooting” (as captured by Media Matters below), but has since changed the title to “Santa Barbara Stabber”:

Johnson complained that because of headlines that refer to Rodger “as a gunman or a shooter, guns become permanently linked with his crime, while cars and knives get a free pass.”

He posited that Rodger is labeled as “the gunman” or “the shooter” and not “the stabber” or “the driver” because “perhaps it would be harder to sell newspapers with those headlines, or perhaps it would be harder to sell gun control policy with those headlines.”

“I think we gravitate toward the label 'gunman' because it is more sensational, it's scarier,” Johnson continued. “We have been conditioned to fear people with guns. The media reinforces this fear while simultaneously exploiting it. We have been conditioned to feel that guns and gunmen in particular are evils from which any decent person should recoil in horror. Well guess what, I'm pretty sure I might be a gunman. Calm down, okay, it's just a word; a word that means a man who is armed with a gun or skilled with a gun.”

Johnson's attempt downplay the role of guns in mass killings in which they are used is an increasingly common theme from the NRA. In a May 30 video, NRA News commentator Dom Raso warned viewers of a “trick” where media figures “race to label anything with a gun as a shooting, because they know how much more attention they are going to get with that word.” In a similar vein to Johnson's logic, Raso said that the media use the word “shooting” so that viewers are being “subconsciously told to think about the tool they used” instead of the perpetrator.

The NRA's top lobbyist Chris Cox appeared on NRA News on June 3 to argue that “the blame” for the killings should be “placed on the politicians in California who time and time again their answer to these issues are more and more gun control laws.” Like Johnson, Cox claimed that “the national news media” didn't want to “talk about” individuals injured or killed in the attack by means other than gunfire.

Here is a before and after from the NRA's website showing how the gun group changed the name of the video from “Santa Barbara Shooting” to “Santa Barbara Stabber”: