Fox & Friends presented emerging smart gun technology as "fascinating," reliable, and not vulnerable to hacking in a segment that highlighted a shotgun that can only be fired by an authorized user who wears a special ring.
The National Rifle Association claims that it does not oppose the development of smart gun technology, but in practice it often raises unfounded concerns that the technology is unreliable or could be disabled by hackers. The NRA has also promoted the conspiracy theory that the government could use the technology to take control of private firearms to implement a de facto ban on gun ownership.
A November 24 segment on Fox & Friends featured an interview with Jonathan Mossberg, the inventor of a "Magnetic Tag-enabled shotgun," that debunked these myths.
According to Mossberg's website, authorized users for the firearm wear a ring and "when the ring comes in close range to the normal ring-finger placement on the firearm's stock, the iGun compares a unique code from the ring to the gun to see if there is a match. If the code matches, the trigger unlocks" and the gun can be fired.
Proponents of smart guns promote the technology as a way to prevent unauthorized users -- such as children or someone trying to access a law enforcement officer's gun -- from accessing a weapon.
A segment on the November 24 broadcast of Fox & Friends opened by comparing smart gun technology with something that might be seen in a James Bond movie. Fox News "CyberGuy" Kurt Knutsson participated in a demonstration of the technology with Mossberg and concluded, "I tested it out, I can tell you right now that guns are about to become a lot like an iPhone where you could just simply use your fingerprint to open a gun, or even in this case you use a ring."
During the demonstration Knutsson attempted to fire Mossberg's shotgun, but was unable to do so. He then passed the firearm to Mossberg, who was able to fire the gun instantly because he was wearing a ring for an authorized user.
After the demonstration, Mossberg explained that people who oppose the technology are "people that jump to conclusions, that don't do homework, and don't do research are against it. You may not want to buy one. That's fine. But don't be against it."
Mossberg's explanation of the unfounded reasons people oppose smart gun technology sounds like a summation of the attacks on the technology from the NRA's media arm, NRA News. (Interestingly, Mossberg's family operates O.F. Mossberg & Sons, a sponsor of the NRA News web series Noir.)
In contrast to the successful demonstration of the technology on Fox News, the NRA's radio show, Cam & Company has spread false information about the failure rate of the technology, featured content suggesting smart guns are a "dumb idea" and that "gun owners won't trust an electronic firearm to save the day," and hosted guests to claim the technology doesn't work. The NRA's online magazine America's 1st Freedom has endlessly criticized smart gun technology, recently describing it as "floundering."
These attacks are baseless -- market-ready smart guns have a similar mechanical failure rate compared to firearms that do not have the technology.
The Fox & Friends segment also addressed claims that the technology could be hacked by criminals or by the government for nefarious purposes. Knutsson explained, "The fact is, this particular technology right here, 15 million combinations to that ring is what it would take to hack through it."
"The people who hate technology, smart guns, they think that big bad government can shut my guns down. Mine does not work on WiFi, mine does not work on any signal other than this far apart," added Mossberg, demonstrating the distance between his thumb and index finger.
NRA News has promoted the type of conspiratorial claims described by Mossberg. In April 2014, conservative media distorted comments made by then-Attorney General Eric Holder about smart gun technology similar to Mossberg's -- it would use a bracelet rather than a ring -- to claim that the government wanted to track gun owners using the technology. Conservative media falsely claimed Holder promoted "tracking" bracelets, when instead the purpose of the bracelet Holder discussed was to send a signal to the firearm authorizing its use.
Despite being a complete distortion of what Holder said, NRA News hosted multiple guests to push the conspiracy theory, with one guest claiming, "For some reason they feel like they need to keep an eye on where your gun is and where my gun is, and Eric Holder can do pretty much whatever he wants with government funds."
The NRA's publication American Rifleman also promoted the conspiracy theory that "a criminal, a hacker or even a government agency could turn your gun on or off anytime they wanted" if smart gun technology was adopted. The author of the article appeared on NRA News to claim the technology could be hijacked by "politicians, let's be frank, who would just as soon ban all handguns."
During the Fox & Friends segment, Mossberg and Kilmeade both expressed opposition to legislation that would mandate the adoption of the technology, which is in line with the NRA's position, but nonetheless Kilmeade concluded the segment by describing Mossberg's invention as "fascinating."
Fox & Friends' treatment of smart gun technology stands in sharp contrast to previous coverage of the technology on Fox & Friends; the show was one of many conservative media outlets to push the conspiracy theory about Holder and "gun tracking bracelets."
During the Sunday news shows on November 22, Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and John Kasich were all challenged by hosts over the fact that under current federal law, people who are on the FBI's consolidated terror watch list are not legally prohibited from buying guns. The questions over what is known as the "terror gap" followed widespread media discussion of legislation in Congress -- opposed by the National Rifle Association -- that would prohibit people on terror watch lists from buying guns.
In the wake of the recent terror attacks in France, the fact that someone on a terrorist watch list can still pass a background check and buy a firearm from a licensed gun dealer is making media headlines. But terrorists and other dangerous individuals don't actually need to subject themselves to the scrutiny of a background check because of a loophole in federal law.
Media discussions on how a terrorist might get a gun in the U.S. have largely centered on what is known as the "terror gap." Under current federal law, individuals who are on terror watch lists are not prohibited from buying firearms. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, more than 2,000 people on the FBI's consolidated terror watch list were approved to purchase firearms between 2004 and 2014, despite the fact that they underwent background checks. The National Rifle Association opposes barring individuals on this list from buying firearms, arguing that doing so would violate Second Amendment rights.
But potential terrorists don't need to submit themselves to a background check at all. Due to a loophole in federal law, a significant number of gun sales can occur without a background check, even to those on the terror watch lists.
The federal background check law only requires individuals "engaged in the business" of selling firearms to obtain a license and perform background checks on customers. People who are engaged in "occasional sales" or sell out of their "personal collection" do not need to obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL) or run checks on buyers. (Eight states have closed this loophole by enacting laws requiring a background check at the point of sale for all firearms.)
Some so-called "private" gun sellers, including firearms traffickers, take advantage of the vagueness of the definition of what it means to be "engaged in the business" of selling firearms in order to sell large numbers of guns without a background check. These types of sales occur at gun shows, and increasingly over the Internet.
Terrorists have already been caught exploiting gun shows to obtain weapons. In 2001, the New York Times reported on the conviction of a Hezbollah member who attempted to divert weapons from gun shows in Michigan into Lebanon. In June 2015, a North Carolina teenager who was arrested by the FBI was allegedly planning on obtaining an assault weapon from a local gun show to use in an ISIS-inspired attack.
A 2011 undercover investigation by the City of New York of seven gun shows in three states found that 19 out of 30 private sellers agreed to a sale where the buyer said he probably couldn't pass a background check. One seller who was surreptitiously filmed sold a gun to an undercover investigator who told him three times that he couldn't pass a background check. Other sellers simply laughed and continued with the sale when the investigator said he couldn't pass a check:
An investigation of online sales in 2011, also by the City of New York, found a similar trend, with 62 percent of sellers agreeing to complete a sale to someone who said he or she probably couldn't pass a background check.
Al-Qaeda is aware of the private sale loophole, and has urged its followers to exploit it. In a 2011 video, American born al-Qaeda propagandist Adam Gadahn urged al-Qaeda's followers to go to gun shows in order to buy firearms without undergoing a background check, asking his audience, "So what are you waiting for?"
The Blaze's Dana Loesch joined the NRA's media arm with the release of a commentary video that falsely and conspiratorially suggested that President Obama could require a family member who gives another family member a gun to register as a federally licensed firearm dealer and open their house to inspection by the government.
Loesch is now listed on the NRA News website as part of its commentators series, which the NRA describes as showcasing a "new generation of advocates and activists for the Second Amendment." She is also employed by Glenn Beck's conservative network The Blaze, hosts a nationally syndicated conservative radio show, and is a frequent guest on Fox News.
In her first video for the NRA, released on November 18, Loesch claimed, "The president could use his phone and his pen to require that even the simple transfer of a firearm between family members -- like if my husband handed down his rifle to our oldest son -- be treated in accordance with FFL [Federal Firearm License] requirements."
"So right now the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] doesn't issue FFLs for total personal use only," Loesch continued, "But if this were to change, then the ATF would be required to treat your home, and your family, as they do all gun dealers. This means regular inspections. You would be publicly listed with the other licensees and you must allow the ATF to inspect your recordkeeping. Ta-da. National registry. It's the same thing, by the way, that Hillary Clinton has proposed as an executive action should she ever become president."
The scenario described by Loesch is absurd. In recent months both the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign have expressed interest in executive action that would partially close the "private sales loophole" that allows a significant number of guns to be sold without a background check.
Under current federal law, individuals "engaged in the business" of selling firearms must obtain a Federal Firearm License (FFL) and run background checks on customers. People who are engaged in "occasional sales" or sell out of their "personal collection" do not need to obtain an FFL or run checks on buyers.
Some gun sellers, including firearms traffickers, take advantage of the vagueness of the definition of what it means to be "engaged in the business" of selling firearms in order to sell large numbers of guns without a background check.
The Obama administration and the Clinton campaign are considering proposals to require people who are engaged in significant commercial firearm activity to perform background checks on customers, but the suggestion that these proposals would reach a father handing a gun down to a son is baseless and conspiratorial.
According to The Washington Post, the Obama administration is examining proposals "to impose background checks on individuals who buy from dealers who sell a significant number of guns each year." The paper reported that one such proposal considered in 2013 by the administration would impose the requirement for individuals who sell more than 50 guns a year.
Likewise, Clinton is also only considering an FFL requirement for sellers of large numbers of guns. According to a Clinton aide the proposal would "ensure that high-volume gun sellers are covered by the same common-sense rules that apply to guns stores -- including requiring background checks on gun sales."
Policy papers by leading gun safety advocacy groups also make it clear that proposals would target people who are actually commercial sellers, and nothing in their proposals approaches requiring a father to obtain an FFL to give a gun to his son.
Loesch's claim about home inspections by the ATF, the agency charged with enforcing federal gun laws and regulating gun dealers, is also baseless fearmongering.
The ATF has limited resources, in large part due to the NRA's repeated efforts to hinder the agency. There are currently around 140,000 FFLs, and the ATF aims to inspect dealers every three to five years. According to The Trace, just 7 percent of dealers were inspected in 2014, and in 2013 just 42 percent of FFLs had been inspected by the ATF in the previous five years. If transfers of firearms between family members were to require an FFL, the ATF would be tasked with tens of millions of inspections each year, a scenario that highlights the absurdity of Loesch's claim.
Loesch concluded her video with another conspiracy, claiming that proponents of "common sense" gun laws actually want anyone who ever told a doctor or mental health professional that they were "moody" or anyone who ever got angry or shouted at work to be put into a database that disqualifies gun ownership. In reality, the Affordable Care Act contains NRA-backed provisions that prohibit certain data collection about gun ownership and laws that prohibit people from owning guns on the basis of serious mental health conditions do so on the basis of the individual being a danger to themselves or others, not whether they got angry at work.
The Associated Press purported to fact-check Hillary Clinton's statement that "nearly 3,000 people have been killed by guns" over the past month but did so by erroneously citing a source that only counts about one-third of total gun deaths. According to the federal government, around 33,000 Americans die in gun-related incidents each year, meaning Clinton's statement aligns with the available data.
During the November 14 Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Clinton said, "Since we last debated in Las Vegas, nearly 3,000 people have been killed by guns. Two hundred children have been killed. This is an emergency." The Las Vegas debate took place on October 13.
In a November 15 article, the AP falsely wrote that Clinton's "claim appears to be unsupported on all counts," and claimed Clinton's statistic was "highly exaggerated." To support its conclusion, the AP cited the Gun Violence Archive, which counted "an average of just under 1,000" gun deaths "per month" in 2015:
THE FACTS: The claim appears to be unsupported on all counts.
The Gun Violence Archive has recorded 11,485 gun deaths in the U.S. so far this year, an average of just under 1,000 per month, making Clinton's figure appear to be highly exaggerated. The archive had more detailed data for children and teenagers, showing 70 from those age groups killed by firearms since the Democratic candidates debated Oct. 13 - not 200 as she claimed.
The AP erred by citing the Gun Violence Archive as a source for the total number of gun deaths. While the Gun Violence Archive is a valuable resource for a number of reasons -- especially because it aggregates detailed information about individual shootings -- it's not a comprehensive count of the total number of gun deaths in the United States because its methodology does not capture every shooting.
Researchers on the issue of gun violence have known that for years the gold standard for a total count of gun deaths in the United States comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS).
WISQARS found that in 2013, the most recent year in which complete data is available, there were 33,636 gun deaths in America. This figure is consistent with the number of gun deaths over the past 10 years - although the death toll is steadily climbing - and indicates that Clinton's figure aligns with the best available data:
In its article, the AP also wrote, "The archive had more detailed data for children and teenagers, showing 70 from those age groups killed by firearms since the Democratic candidates debated Oct. 13 - not 200 as [Clinton] claimed."
Again, this criticism of Clinton is erroneous because it treats the Gun Violence Archive as a comprehensive source.
The botched AP fact check was subsequently touted by the National Rifle Association.
Chart by Oliver Willis.
Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney used the terrorist attacks in Paris to push the stock of U.S. gun manufacturers and hype an ad from the National Rifle Association.
On November 13, terrorists suspected to be affiliated with ISIS attacked multiple locations throughout Paris, leaving at least 129 people dead and hundreds more wounded.
During the November 16 broadcast of Varney & Co., host Varney appeared to advise viewers on how to profit from the attacks saying, "How's this for a question. Is it a good time to buy when chaos strikes? I mean that's a little strange thing to be saying on a Monday morning like this, but what do you say?"
Varney went on to recommend the stocks of two publicly traded gun manufactures: "Here's an interesting group of stocks which I would expect to see have some movement today, and that would be gun stocks. Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger, where are they now? They're up. They had a nice run last week, they are up again this morning. 2.5 percent for Smith & Wesson, 1 percent for Sturm and Ruger."
He also used the attacks to promote a widely discussed ad from the NRA, saying, "I am thinking of that ad from the NRA, where the young man comes on the screen and says the Islamists, they hate us, you're not going to take my country, and it's an ad for buying a gun."
Both Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson are "corporate partners" with the NRA.
Discredited gun researcher John Lott was twice interviewed about mass shootings by the anti-Semitic publication American Free Press (AFP). In one instance, Lott was interviewed by Victor Thorn, the author of The Holocaust Hoax Exposed: Debunking The 20th Century's Greatest Fabrication. In the other instance, Lott was interviewed by Keith Johnson, who has called President Obama "the house nigger for the Jews."
Lott is a well-known pro-gun advocate and frequent source of conservative misinformation about gun violence. He rose to prominence during the 1990s with the publication of his book, More Guns, Less Crime, although his conclusion that permissive gun laws reduce crime rates was later debunked by academics who found serious flaws in his research. (Reputable research indicates that permissive concealed carry laws do not reduce crime and may actually increase the occurrence of aggravated assault.)
Lott was interviewed by Thorn in August 2012, just days after a gunman killed 12 people and wounded dozens of others during a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. In his interview, Lott pushed the debunked conservative media talking point that places where guns are not allowed attract mass violence:
During a July 25 interview with this writer [Victor Thorn], Lott expanded on this notion.
"Guns were banned from the movie theater where that shooting took place," said Lott. "So, law-abiding citizens obeyed, but the criminal didn't. Obviously, these gun-free zones make it easier for lawbreakers to engage in this type of violent behavior, producing the opposite effect of what we want to see happen."
Thorn has repeatedly promoted the conspiracy theory that the Aurora shooting was an event staged by the government. In an article published at AFP two weeks before his interview with Lott, Thorn suggested that a "federal operation" was behind the shooting, arguing that, "The high-profile mass murder in Aurora, Colorado doesn't add up." Thorn continued, suggesting that James Holmes, who was sentenced to life in prison for carrying out the attack in August 2015, was a "patsy" or alternately had been brainwashed by the government into carrying out the attack.
Thorn has continued to promote conspiracy theories about the Aurora mass shooting. In an April 2015 article, Thorn interviewed an anonymous engineer who theorized that multiple gunmen carried out the attack based on "anomalies" in law enforcement's account of the shooting.
Similar to his Aurora conspiracy theory, he has also suggested that the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting was staged by the government.
Beyond his mass shooting conspiracy theories, Thorn is a prominent anti-Semite who has been accused by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of "promoting anti-government and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories." A summary of his book, The Holocaust Hoax Exposed: Debunking The 20th Century's Greatest Fabrication, states that it purportedly exposes "the mythology surrounding 'concentration camps,' the truth about Zyklon B, Anne Frank's fable, how the absurd 'six million' figure has become a laughingstock, and the betrayal by maniacal Zionists of their own Jewish people that led to their deaths." AFP lavished praise on the book writing, "Once again, with THE HOLOCAUST HOAX EXPOSED: DEBUNKING THE 20TH CENTURY'S BIGGEST LIE, our expectations have been met -- even exceeded. In 25 concise chapters he demolishes once and for all the Zionist-Jewish Holocaust fable."
In another release, Thorn argued that Israel was responsible for the 9-11 terrorist attacks in his book MADE IN ISRAEL: 9-11 And The Jewish Plot Against America.
AFP is a well-known anti-Semitic organization that has drawn condemnation from ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). SPLC describes AFP as an "anti-Semitic weekly" that "was founded by Holocaust denier Willis Carto." ADL called Carto "one of the most influential American anti-Semitic propagandists" and "the mastermind of the hate network."
Lott was interviewed by another AFP writer, Keith Johnson, in January 2014 to argue that mass shooters are influenced to carry out their attacks by a copycat effect.
During the September 4, 2012 broadcast of his anti-Semitic radio show, Johnson said, "Yeah, I did deliberately call Barack Obama -- the word nigger would apply, or house nigger -- and the reason I say that, folks, is because that's not how I consider him, well wait a minute, it all depends on the context, but what I am trying to say is that's how he is viewed and if I was to see Obama, I would tell him, 'You're the house nigger for the Jews.'"
In July 2012, Thorn appeared on Johnson's radio show where they both promoted Holocaust denial conspiracy theories.
A commentary video from the National Rifle Association claimed it's "a complete lie" that "the only acceptable definition of minority is non-white, or sometimes non-straight" before drawing a parallel between the experiences of gun owners and racial and LGBT minorities.
The claim was made on the NRA's Noir web series, a show hosted by gun blogger turned NRA News commentator Colion Noir. The series is part of the NRA's increasing efforts to appeal to a younger demographic.
The November 10 episode of Noir displayed stock footage of civil rights marches and suffragette protestors while Noir said, "No other country empowers its minorities the way that we do. We defend minorities' speech, minority opinion, and yes, minority gun rights, because differences are the foundation of our greatness."
While suggesting that gun owners are a minority and that "majorities by definition accept the status quo, minorities change it," Noir likened people who have guns to several great Americans, including "Martin Luther King Jr., who thought about race differently."
Noir drove his claim home that gun owners are like minorities by saying it's "a complete lie" that "in today's media-driven world, the only acceptable definition of minority is non-white, or sometimes non-straight."
Noir's grouping of gun owners with racial minorities, LGBT people, and women who fought for equal rights falls flat. Protected classes are often formed upon the theory that it is wrong to discriminate against people because of their immutable characteristics, such as skin tone, gender, or sexual orientation. Gun ownership is not immutable, it's a choice.
Another common characteristic of a protected class is that it encompasses an individual or group who has unequal access to the political process, something that cannot be said for gun owners, especially given the political efforts of the NRA.
And Noir did nothing to establish that gun owners have faced the type of systematic and institutional discrimination that protected classes have historically faced.
A better argument might be to contend that gun ownership falls within the same class as other rights that the Supreme Court has deemed "fundamental," but that wouldn't produce the type of inflammatory hot take that Noir is known for.
The claims in the November 10 episode of Noir represent the other side of the coin to the NRA's common claim that restrictions on firearms are tantamount to Jim Crow, segregation, or other laws that discriminate on the basis of race. Past NRA president Marion Hammer infamously put forward this argument with her claim that assault weapons bans are like racial discrimination because "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."
PolitiFact Rhode Island acknowledged that both halves of a two-part claim about the incidence of mass shootings in the United States were "true," but bizarrely concluded that the overall claim was only "half true."
In a November 1 article, PolitiFact Rhode Island purported to fact check a claim by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who said that "There have been more than 300 mass shootings in the United States this year -- more than any other country in the world."
There is strong evidence for both the claim that more than one mass shooting happens each day in the United States and that mass gun violence occurs in the U.S. in a way that is not seen in other countries, as PolitiFact acknowledged.
PolitiFact, however, rated the overall claim "half true," arguing, "while both parts are basically correct, Cicilline was off base when he put them together. ... The first half of his sentence is true and the second half is true. But two trues, in this case, don't make the whole truth."
This conclusion is as convoluted as the reasoning used to reach it.
PolitiFact first acknowledged that it is "true" that there have been more than 300 mass shootings in the United States this year. PolitiFact cited the same data source as Cicilline, the Mass Shooting Tracker, which counts any shooting in the United States where four or more people are shot, regardless of whether anyone was killed, or whether the incident occurs in public or in private residences.
PolitiFact asserted, however, that "The second half of the congressman's claim" -- which dealt with mass shootings in other countries -- "is more problematic because it has little in common with the first half of the claim."
To determine the incidence of mass shootings in other countries, PolitiFact cited a study of public mass shootings in foreign countries by University of Alabama professor Adam Lankford.
The difference between the definition of a "mass shooting" and a "public mass shooting" is that mass shootings encompass all incidents where large numbers of people are shot (even in private homes), while "public" mass shootings are a subset, only including shootings at shopping centers, movie theaters, churches, and schools, and other places where victims are typically shot indiscriminately in a public or semi-public space.
The other distinction is that the Lankford study only included public mass shootings where at least four people were killed, while the Mass Shooting Tracker counts incidents where four individuals were shot regardless of whether the victims were injured or killed.
Lankford's study concluded that public mass shootings are more common in the United States than other countries, and significantly, Lankford told PolitiFact "Any politician who says that is correct."
But in its summation, PolitiFact argued, "The problem with [Cicilline's claim] is that he mixes disparate facts to draw a single conclusion. The 'mass shootings' of the first part are not the same as the 'public mass shootings' of the second part":
And so while both parts are basically correct, Cicilline was off base when he put them together. The Mass Shooting Tracker does not tally foreign shootings. And the social scientist from the University of Alabama looked at different events from a different period of time.
The first half of his sentence is true and the second half is true. But two trues, in this case, don't make the whole truth.
The problem with this logic is that the disparities in the data could actually strengthen Cicilline's point. Lankford's study identified 90 individual public mass shooters -- who killed at least four victims -- in the U.S. between 1966 to 2012. That was five times more mass shooters than the next highest foreign country, according to his study. Even if the Mass Shooting Tracker captures more private shootings than Lankford would have counted, it still identified 65 shootings just this year where 4 or more people died; and the chances of another country increasing their incidents of public mass shootings enough to gallop past the U.S. just since 2012 seems deeply unlikely.
Overall, the evidence is on Cicilline's side concerning the grotesque incidence of mass shootings in the United States, and PolitiFact's criticism of his claim seems to rest more on grammar than on the data.
A Washington Post article on the 2015 Virginia elections relied on punditry rather than data to suggest that "advocacy of gun control in a pivotal Senate race in the Richmond area may have backfired," costing Democrats a chance to gain control of the state Senate.
Prior to statewide Virginia elections on November 3, Democrats needed to pick up one seat to effectively obtain control of the chamber (the Senate would have been split 20 - 20 with a Democratic lieutenant governor casting tie-breaking votes). Democrats did not gain the seat, retaining the 19 - 21 party split.
A November 4 Post articled claimed that following the election "one possible mistake stands out: [Democrats'] aggressive advocacy of gun control in a pivotal Senate race in the Richmond area may have backfired by producing a pro-Republican backlash," referring to the defeat of Democrat Dan Gecker in the 10th Senate district.
According to the Post, victorious Republican Glen Sturtevant "beat Democrat Daniel A. Gecker after GOP supporters ran ads blasting Gecker for trying to win the seat with $700,000 of outside help from pro-gun-control TV advertisements paid for by a group linked to former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg."
The article quotes several elected officials and political strategists who suggested that advocacy for gun safety or pro-gun safety TV advertisements explained Gecker's loss.
Here are the actual facts on the ground in Virginia and how they relate to gun safety advocacy:
- While Gecker did not win, he outperformed expectations. According to unofficial election results issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Gecker lost with 47 percent to Sturtevant's 49 percent. Four years ago, during the last District 10 Senate race, the Democratic candidate received 43 percent of the vote and lost by more than 13 points. Gecker was running in a district where Republican voters outnumber Democrats. According to internal polling viewed by Media Matters, the party ID of the district was 41 percent Republican versus 36 percent Democrat. The poll, taken in July before the spending highlighting Gecker's support of stronger gun laws began, showed a generic Republican defeating a generic Democrat for the seat by a 48 percent to 39 percent margin. Gecker would ultimately lose the seat by just 2 points.
- The Post article made no mention of the race in Senate District 29 where Democrat Jeremy McPike defeated Republican Hal Parrish in a "high-stakes race." According to an October 22 Post article, Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety spent $1.5 million on the race in support of McPike. Notably there is no Post article positing that but for spending on pro-gun safety ads, Democrats would have had a net loss of one Senate seat. Just last week the Post reported that the race in the 29th district was "guns vs. tolls," noting that McPike was being hammered by ads that associated him with a plan by McAuliffe that Republicans claim would cause a siginficant increase in toll fees on Route I-66, which passes through the 29th district. Significantly, McPike prevailed with the help of gun safety ad spending and in the face of spending that tied him to higher tolls.
- According to Senator Donald McEachin, Chair of the Virginia Democratic Senate Caucus, gun safety ads helped both Gecker and McPike. In a statement, McEachin said in part, "In both races, polls showed our candidates trailing in the weeks before Election Day. Gun safety advocates helped us to close those gaps. As a result, we won one race and came very close in the other -- despite running in a difficult political environment."
Media often blame the issue of gun safety for losses by progressive candidates, even when there is no actual evidence to support the claim. This is due to a longstanding but fact-free conventional wisdom within the media that the gun lobby has the ability to defeat pro-gun safety candidates for office at will.
After the publication of this post, The Washington Post added language to its article that tempered the claim that the gun issue was responsible for conservative voter turnout in the 10th district. While the original article said, "Sturtevant won the District 10 seat after benefiting from huge turnout in the conservative Powhatan area that analysts attributed to the gun issue," it now reads (emphasis added), "Sturtevant won the 10th District seat after benefiting from a huge turnout in conservative Powhatan County, which analysts attributed in part to the gun issue."
The Post also added language to indicate that "leaders from both sides said the gun issue cut both ways because it helped energize the Democratic base in the district's liberal neighborhoods in Richmond."
The article now has a quote from Sen. Ryan McDougle, who chairs the Senate Republican caucus, stating, "It certainly increased the intensity for some people who were pro-Second Amendment but also for some people who were pro gun control."
Putting claims about the relationship between the gun issue and turnout in Powhatan County in clearer context, the article added language explaining that McDougle "and others also said that hotly contested local races, such as for sheriff and county supervisor, had boosted turnout in Powhatan."
The article is still largely premised on the fact-free claim that the gun issue cost Gecker his election and thus Democrats control of the Senate.