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CNN host S.E. Cupp baselessly suggested that Hillary Clinton's support for a ban on assault weapons is bad politics by promoting the myth that the 1994 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives was fueled by the passage of an assault weapons ban that year.
In fact, political scientists say tax increases and a fight over healthcare reform better explain the Republican takeover. But conservative pundits often incorporate the 1994 assault weapons ban into the media myth that it is politically unwise for politicians to support gun reform and that the National Rifle Association has the ability to use the gun issue to determine election outcomes.
During a June 17 town hall forum on CNN, Clinton expressed support for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as expanded background checks on gun sales. On the gun debate, Clinton added, "we need a more thoughtful conversation, we cannot let a minority of people ... hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people."
Appearing on CNN's The Situation Room after the town hall discussion, Cupp suggested political danger in Clinton's position, stating, "Democrats really suffered, and Hillary Clinton knows this, Democrats really suffered the last time they enacted an assault weapon ban. There were a lot of Democrats who were thrown out of office the last time that passed."
In a January 17, 2013, US News article headlined "Gun Control Laws Weren't Primary Reason Dems Lost in 1994" political scientists and 1994 election experts Philip Klinkner and Gary Jacobson are quoted arguing that assault weapons ban legislation was only one of several controversial votes leading up to the midterm elections but that a "mythology" was formed around the gun vote. Klinkner and Jacobson instead pinned the electoral success of the Republican Party on the failure of health care reform and tax increases:
While the '94 election proved Americans wanted Democrats out of congressional power (more than 50 Democratic seats were lost), it's less clear if the weapons ban, or any one issue, was the primary reason for their loss.
"This is a mythology that has developed," says Philip Klinkner, who edited a book about the '94 elections. "That narrative stretches things way too far."
The truth, political scientists say, is that it can be attributed to a combination of factors, and the "assault weapons" ban was just one of several controversial votes that led to the loss.
With Democrats in charge of the House, Senate and White House, the 103rd Congress tackled a long, progressive wish list. The White House pressured legislators to take on healthcare reform (unsuccessfully), pass the North American Free Trade Agreement and raise taxes through a deficit reduction act, which was fraught with political land mines for congressional Democrats. None of the policies helped earn legislators points back home among their more conservative constituents.
"The vote for gun control mattered, but the vote for the tax increase and healthcare were more important," says Gary Jacobson, who has done a statistical analysis of what votes affected the outcome of the 1994 election.
According to Jacobson's analysis, the 1994 election results were largely due to a political realignment, with voters no longer splitting their tickets and instead voting for Republican congressional challengers in districts in which President Clinton had lost in 1992. Jacobson concluded, "Republicans won the House in 1994 because an unusually large number of districts voted locally as they had been voting nationally."
NRA News aired a special on the AR-15 military-style semi-automatic assault weapon -- ubiquitous for its use in recent mass shootings -- that provided false information about the power of the weapon and downplayed its dangerous features.
The October 7 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel featured a trip to the National Rifle Association's gun range where host Cam Edwards and National Review Online writer Charles C.W. Cooke fired a custom AR-15 assault weapon, .308 bolt-action rifle, .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun, and .357 caliber revolver. At the beginning of the segment, Edwards noted the weapons were provided by gun manufacturer and NRA corporate donor Ruger.
After firing the weapons, Edwards and Cooke advanced the notion that the AR-15 was less powerful than a handgun because the semi-automatic handgun produced larger holes in a paper target than the AR-15 assault weapon:
EDWARDS: Having shot now an AR[-15 assault weapon], what would you tell people who say, "Charles, it's too high-powered, it's too this, it's too that?"
COOKE: Well, I think I'd say what, sort of what you were pointing out. If you look at the targets and you asked people which is the scary AR, they wouldn't say -- much smaller holes, it's quieter, it's much more comfortable to hold, there's less recoil, you wouldn't presume -- in fact that gun is the easiest probably to shoot of all of them, and it's certainly the least scary really, it's just black.
But using bullet hole size as a proxy for wounding power is highly misleading, because assault weapons fire the round at a much higher velocity than a handgun.
According to a 2011 report by doctors who had performed autopsies on soldiers killed by gunfire in Iraq, "The velocity of the missile as it strikes the target is the main determinant of the wounding capacity" and "[t]he greater energy of the missile at the moment of impact the greater is the tissue destruction." Indeed, the study found that rounds with a velocity exceeding 2,500 feet per second cause a shockwave to pass through the body upon impact that caused catastrophic injuries even in areas remote to the direct wound.
Using popular ammunition brand Hornady as a comparison point, the ammunition available for the .45 caliber handgun fires at a muzzle velocity of no more than 1,055 feet per second. The .223 ammunition most often used by the AR-15 assault weapon, however, can achieve a velocity of 4,000 feet per second. Some AR-15s are designed to accept 5.56 NATO ammunition; a similar round to the .223 that has a velocity of up to 3,130 feet per second.
Kathleen Parker, a conservative opinion writer, argued against bans on high-capacity magazines by claiming that "several small magazines" were used in the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech massacres -- even though high-capacity magazines were used in both shootings -- and also falsely suggested that banning assault weapons would necessitate banning all semi-automatic firearms.
In an April 9 column in The Washington Post, Parker falsely suggested that the shooters in those incidents did not use high-capacity magazines:
Limiting the size of magazines also seems like a common-sense solution. Then again, maybe a killer simply would carry several small magazines and swap them out, as Eric Harris did at Columbine High School in 1999 and Seung-Hui Cho did at Virginia Tech in 2007. Harris was armed with a Hi-Point 995 carbine with 13 magazines of 10 rounds each. His partner, Dylan Klebold, carried a semi-automatic handgun and a short-barrel shotgun, which, gun experts will tell you, is the most effective close-range weapon of all. And Cho used two handguns that are not considered "assault weapons."
But like assault weapons, some handguns accept high-capacity magazines. In the 1999 Columbine massacre, where two gunmen killed 13 and injured 21, Dylan Klebold attacked his classmates with an Intratec TEC-9 assault pistol and was found to have brought 52-, 32- and 28-round magazines into the school. Of the 67 rounds fired by Klebold, 55 were fired by the TEC-9, which Klebold was observed carrying -- equipped with a high-capacity magazine -- in an infamous security camera still taken during the shooting. On April 17, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho used two handguns to kill 32 and injure 17 at Virginia Tech. During the shooting, Cho fired 174 rounds from 10- and 15-round magazines. A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) would ban any ammunition feeding device that is capable of accepting more than 10 rounds, the same limit contained in the previous assault weapons ban which expired in 2004.
Parents of some of the children killed in the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School have advocated for a ban on high-capacity magazines after being told by authorities that a number of children were able to escape the shooter when he paused to reload. At a press conference in support of a Connecticut proposal to ban high-capacity magazines in that state, Mark Barden, whose son was killed in the mass shooting, explained, "The more times you have to reload the more opportunities there are to escape and to stop the shooting. In the amount of time -- it was somewhere around four minutes -- he was able to fire 154 rounds. I think that speaks volumes about reducing the size [of magazines]."
Fox News host Eric Bolling baselessly attacked the Senate Democrats' legislative proposal to reduce gun violence -- which includes expanding background checks, cracking down on gun trafficking and improving school security -- by suggesting that amended legislation would include a "national gun registry" and would infringe on the Second Amendment. Bolling's claims stand in contrast to numerous constitutional scholars who have backed the constitutionality of gun violence prevention laws.
On the March 29 edition of Fox & Friends, Bolling addressed remarks made by Obama in favor of the Senate package by stating that Obama "said it's not going to be controversial. Well yes it was. It's not going to infringe on your Second Amendment rights. Well yes they would."
In his remarks, Obama expressed support for the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013, and also advocated for the passage of a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines:
OBAMA: Earlier this month, the Senate advanced some of the most important reforms designed to reduce gun violence. All of them are consistent with the Second Amendment. None of them will infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners.
Now, in the coming weeks, members of Congress will vote on whether we should require universal background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun so that criminals or people with severe mental illnesses can't get their hands on one. They'll vote on tough new penalties for anyone who buys guns only to turn around and sell them to criminals. They'll vote on a measure that would keep weapons of war and high-capacity ammunition magazines that facilitate these mass killings off our streets. They'll get to vote on legislation that would help schools become safer and help people struggling with mental health problems to get the treatment that they need.
None of these ideas should be controversial.
Multiple legal experts have explained how current gun violence prevention proposals, including expanded background checks and an assault weapons ban, are constitutional under the landmark Second Amendment case District of Columbia v. Heller.
Fox News host Sean Hannity used prior comments from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) about her past gun ownership to claim that her proposed assault weapons ban would deny Americans the same gun rights that Feinstein herself bragged about enjoying. In fact, the .38 caliber revolver Feinstein previously carried after being attacked by terrorists in the 1970s would not be banned under her proposal.
Feinstein turned her revolver over to police in 1982, citing the shooting deaths of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk as the impetus. [The Washington Post, 7/31/82 via Nexis] Feinstein, who was president of the Board of Supervisors at the time, discovered Moscone and Milk after they had been shot by ex-supervisor Dan White, and later described the incident as "a devastating moment. For San Francisco, it was a day of infamy."
On the March 18 edition of his show, Hannity played a clip from a 1995 U.S. Senate hearing on terrorism where Feinstein described how she carried a gun in the 1970s and claimed she was "bragging" about her prior gun ownership:
HANNITY: Now the interesting part, with all this gun control talk. You, for example, in New York City, very few people have the right to carry a weapon. It's almost impossible to get a carry permit in New York City. So she's not affording her fellow Americans the same right that she was bragging about back then.
Conservatives in media are hyping the argument of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that a ban on assault weapons would be similar to the government deciding which books people are allowed to read, even though Cruz's argument is based on a misunderstanding of constitutional law and courts have held that assault weapon bans are constitutional.
During a March 14 meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where a party line vote advanced an assault weapons ban proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to the floor of the Senate, Cruz drew an equivalence between banning assault weapons and an act of Congress "to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books" or a law stating that the Fourth Amendment "could properly apply only to the following specified individuals, and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights":
CRUZ: It seems to me that all of us should be begin as our foundational document with the Constitution. And the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights provides that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The term "the right of the people," when the framers included it in the Bill of Rights they used it as a term of art. That same phrase "the right of the people" is found in the First Amendment, the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition their government for readdress of grievances, it's also found in the Fourth Amendment, "the right of the people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures." And the question that I would pose to the senior senator from California is, would she deem it consistent with the Bill of Rights for Congress to engage in the same endeavor that we are contemplating doing with the Second Amendment in the context of the First or Fourth Amendment. Namely, would she consider it constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books, and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights. Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment's protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?
Cruz's comments were promoted by Fox Nation, The Blaze, Red State, Breitbart.com, PJ Media, The Daily Caller and The Gateway Pundit. Breitbart.com wrote that Cruz "destroys" Feinstein's argument for an assault weapons ban. Red State ran a headline that Feinstein was struck by a "Ted Cruz Missile." The Daily Caller titled its article on Cruz's comments, "Ted Cruz offends Dianne Feinstein by bringing up the Constitution."
The praised heaped upon Cruz by conservative media outlets ignores that the junior Texas senator's constitutional argument is flawed because it fails to acknowledge longstanding and widely accepted limitations on all of the liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent relied on a false and outdated report frequently promoted by conspiracy theorists to claim that no assault weapons were used in the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. In fact, Connecticut authorities have stated that all of the Newtown victims were shot with a Bushmaster AR-15 assault weapon, with some victims receiving up to 11 gunshot wounds.
In a February 13 column for birther website WND, Nugent wrote, "No so-called assault weapon was used in the grisly murders of the children and teachers in Newton," and instead suggested that four handguns were used to kill 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. CNN recently promoted Nugent as having a "very firm grasp of the facts" about gun violence.
From Nugent's column:
Newsflash for he the sheeple Redcoat Piers: No so-called assault weapon was used in the grisly murders of the children and teachers in Newton, Conn. NBC has reported the butcher used four handguns, and though we can all agree that anything reported by the networks and so much of the media should be disbelieved out of hand, even if the Bushmaster modern sporting rifle were used in the demonic slaughter of innocents, semi-automatics are not "assault weapons." Period.
On December 15, one day after the Newtown shooting, NBC incorrectly reported that only handguns had been recovered from Sandy Hook Elementary. By that evening NBC Nightly News noted that "most of the shots fired inside the school came from an assault-style rifle" and on the December 16 edition of Today Show, NBC correspondent Pete Williams reported that "The medical examiner in Newtown says the children were each shot several times, all with an assault-style rifle." All other major news outlets have likewise reported that the shooter used a Bushmaster assault weapon.
Conservatives in media have adopted the false National Rifle Association claim that the term "assault weapon" was invented by proponents of assault weapons bans in order to arbitrarily single out certain firearms for further regulation. However, before the gun industry trade association attempted to rebrand assault weapons as "modern sporting rifles" in 2009 -- a change in terminology also adopted by the NRA -- the gun industry and firearm publications routinely used the term assault weapon to describe the very military-style semi-automatic rifles that would be covered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein's assault weapons ban.
As Sen. Feinstein prepares another hearing on gun violence for later this month, members of right-wing media are now dishonestly attempting to hide the history and special capabilities of assault weapons.
In a February 4 appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight, Ted Nugent, a NRA board member who uses his Washington Times column to argue against strengthening gun laws, covered up how assault weapons have been marketed when he claimed that President Obama's proposal to reduce gun violence "still calls personal defense weapons assault weapons, which is a nomenclature created by the anti-gun agenda."
As Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich, who writes about gun policy for the conservative Townhall website, put it, "the term 'assault weapon' is a made up political term." Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller has also attempted to rewrite history, recently claiming, "President Obama and his allies, such as Mrs. [Dianne] Feinstein, deliberately misuse the term 'assault weapon' to confuse the public. Assault weapons are machine guns, automatic rifles that continue to fire until the trigger is released."
On the January 19 edition of Fox News program Fox & Friends Saturday, Miller claimed that the term assault weapon was invented during the 1980s by gun violence prevention organizations for "fearmongering" purposes:
Pundits like Miller and Pavlich are merely adopting the NRA screed on this subject. Miller's claim about the origin of the term assault weapon mirrored a January 14 press release from the NRA's lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action, that claims gun violence prevention advocates coined the term during the 1980s.
During January, NRA News host Cam Edwards frequently spoke about the definition of an assault weapon on his Cam & Company show. According to Edwards, the term assault weapon is "a made up phrase" and assault weapons can be defined as "gun I'm trying to ban" or alternately "gun I want to ban."
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).
Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich, who was recently hired as a Fox News contributor, twisted comments made by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at a press conference announcing the introduction of assault weapons ban legislation to make it seem as if the senator claimed that all weapons used in mass shootings were obtained from gun shows.
Palvich, who reversed the order and altered the content of Sen. Feinstein's statements, used this distortion to claim that "no gun purchased at a gun show has ever been used in a mass shooting," a false statement contradicted by the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. All four firearms used in that shooting -- which left 13 dead and 21 wounded -- passed through an area gun show. From Pavlich's article:
Paul M. Barrett, a senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, cherry-picked polls on gun violence to suggest that the National Rifle Association will be able to block proposed gun violence prevention measures. According to Barrett, who authored a book about the rise of Glock as a popular firearm manufacturer, gun violence prevention proposals are unpopular with the public and the "NRA wins because it's popular with a broad swath of Americans."
Barrett's article is typical of a narrative in the media overemphasizing the NRA's clout. In the wake of the December 14 massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, traditional media have suggested that the NRA will remove from office politicians who favor gun reforms; even though the NRA's massive spending during the 2012 elections was almost entirely ineffectual.
Contrary to Barrett's assertion about NRA popularity, a poll released yesterday found that a plurality of the public holds a negative view of the NRA. Furthermore, specific gun violence prevention proposals, such as making background checks on gun purchases mandatory, are supported by the vast majority of NRA members and the public at large.
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Former National Rifle Association president Marion Hammer compared a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to ban assault weapons to racial discrimination. According to Hammer, "banning people and things because of the way they look went out a long time ago. But here they are again. The color of a gun. The way it looks. It's just bad politics."
Hammer's comparison came during a discussion on NRA News about Sen. Feinstein's plans to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons during the new Congress. Hammer warned that the United States government could engage in firearm confiscation "in order to control the masses."