When a mass shooting occurs, conservative media rush to blame mental health, video games, a lack of armed people present, and even liberal values -- anything but the fact that the shooter was able to get a gun.
But the single proximate factor in all mass shootings, and in all gun violence really, is that it is easy for dangerous people to access high-powered firearms. Lack of access to firearms typically makes it difficult for would-be mass murderers to carry out their plans. For instance, experts say mass stabbings are extremely rare in the United States. To the contrary, 69 percent of all homicides are committed with a gun. Of 37 public mass killings since 2006, 33 involved firearms, while the Boston Marathon bombings, an incident involving a car, and two cases of arson accounted for the other four incidents.
Furthermore, academic research has linked the easy availability of firearms to homicide. According to numerous studies, "where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide." Compared to other high income nations which typically more strongly regulate the availability of firearms, the United States' gun homicide rate is 19.5 times higher, leading to an overall homicide rate that is 6.9 times higher. Research has also shown, "across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded."
Following the April 2 shooting at Fort Hood that left three victims dead and 16 others wounded, conservative media have refused to acknowledge the role of easy access to firearms in shootings and have instead claimed mass shootings are caused by video games, mental health problems, the "culture war," and by a deficiency in the number of firearms carried by the general public.
Thanks to National Rifle Association-backed legislation, commanding officers of the gunman responsible for the latest mass shooting at Fort Hood were barred by law from asking him about the privately owned handgun he used to carry out the shooting.
On April 2, Army Spec. Ivan Lopez killed three and wounded 16 others during a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, before taking his own life. During a press conference that night, Fort Hood's commanding general Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley said that the shooter, a combat veteran, "was undergoing behavioral health and psychiatric treatment for depression and anxiety and a variety of other psychological and psychiatric issues." Milley also said that the shooter "was currently under diagnosis for [posttraumatic stress disorder], but he had not yet been diagnosed with PTSD" and had reportedly "self-reported a traumatic brain injury" but that "he was not wounded in action [according] to our records."
Milley also said that the shooter "was using a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol that was purchased recently in the local area." He added that the weapon was not registered with Fort Hood, which is a requirement for weapons stored on base, but not for those kept off base (Lopez reportedly lived in an apartment off base). Despite the treatment Lopez was undergoing, his commanding officer would not have been allowed to ask Lopez about this privately owned gun.
In 2011, at the behest of the NRA, the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 was amended to prohibit the Department of Defense from collecting or recording any information "relating to the otherwise lawful acquisition, possession, ownership, carrying, or other use of a privately owned firearm." In practice, commanders could no longer ask soldiers about privately-owned firearms kept off base. In celebrating the law's enactment, the NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, said that the legislation was "developed by NRA-ILA and pro-Second Amendment members of Congress" and that the law would "protect the privacy and Second Amendment rights of gun-owning military personnel and their families." It is impossible to know whether Lopez's commander was in a position to ask him about privately owned guns, but the circumstances of the shooting do highlight the NRA's nonsensical foray into interfering with the judgment of commanding officers.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent wrote that opponents of gun safety laws "must learn from Rosa Parks and definitely refuse to give up our guns," citing a Connecticut law that banned assault weapons following the use of an AR-15 in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Nugent's claim in his regular column for conspiracy website WND that Parks is his "hero" because of her efforts to fight segregation came on the same day that Media Matters made available a copy of a 1990 interview where Nugent defended the apartheid, a system of racial segregation enforced in South Africa, with the claim, "All men are not created equal."
In his March 26 column, Nugent wrote, "If anyone believes that gun confiscation is not a real threat here in America or that it couldn't happen here like it did in the U.K. and Australia, just look to what is happening in Connecticut." Connecticut's new law prohibits the future purchase of assault weapons and requires current owners of assault weapons to register their guns. Despite a federal court ruling that the law is a constitutional means of regulating weapons under the Second Amendment, thousands of gun owners are reportedly refusing to register their weapons.
Nugent, who is also a spokesperson for the Outdoor Channel, went on to compare the supposed plight of gun owners to the experiences of victims of racial discrimination who fought against segregation:
In 1955, my hero, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a city bus. Good for her. In 2014, gun owners must learn from Rosa Parks and definitely refuse to give up our guns. As Rosa Parks once said, "You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right."
In a 1990 interview now available online for the first time, National Rifle Association board member and Outdoor Channel spokesperson Ted Nugent defended apartheid in South Africa, said that he uses racial expletives because he "hang[s] around with a lot of niggers," and described the bizarre efforts he claims to have taken to avoid military service during the Vietnam War.
Snippets from "Ted Nugent Grows Up? Older, Bolder, Cruder, Ruder -- And More Unprintable Than Ever," published in Detroit Free Press Magazine on July 15, 1990, have been floating around on the Internet for years. Media Matters requested a copy of the interview from the Detroit Public Library, which archives the Free Press, to authenticate the statements.
Nugent has recently been the subject of widespread controversy after calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel" during an appearance at a January gun industry trade show. That comment resurfaced the next month when Republican Texas governor hopeful Greg Abbott invited Nugent to campaign with him. Abbott's decision created a firestorm of controversy around Nugent that only dissipated after he offered a disingenuous apology for his remark. Fallout continues from that controversy, as a Texas music festival recently announced it would pay Nugent not to show up for a planned performance.
The comments made by Nugent to Detroit Free Press Magazine demonstrate how his slur of Obama is par for the course for the NRA representative (all ellipses are DFP's):
Conservative media's recent smear that surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is controversial because he supports doctors discussing safe gun ownership with their patients is curious given frequent complaints from right-wing media -- albeit false -- that health care reform posed a threat to the inviolable doctor-patient relationship.
Gun researcher John Lott, an economist well known for his thoroughly discredited "More Guns, Less Crime" theory, is the latest member of right-wing media to offer baseless attacks on surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy. According to Lott, one of the "good reasons" to oppose Murthy is that he supports doctors advising parents to safely store firearms so they are inaccessible to children.
In recent weeks Murthy has come under attack from the National Rifle Association and its allies in conservative media because, like the rest of the medical community, he believes gun violence is a public health concern. Murthy has said his concern about gun violence stems from his experiences as a doctor, but has also said that he would not "use the Surgeon General's office as a bully pulpit for gun control," and instead would make his top priority "obesity prevention."
Continuing the National Rifle Association's smear of surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy as anti-gun, the NRA's media arm is now claiming that "doctors are a lot more dangerous than gun owners in this country" because of deaths caused by medical errors.
Even though Murthy holds views on firearms that are conventional within the medical community and supported by many Americans and has said that obesity, not gun safety, would be his top priority as surgeon general, the NRA has launched a smear campaign to portray him as a threat to the Second Amendment. Conservatives in media have taken the NRA's lead to attack Murthy as anti-gun and unqualified for the job.
NRA News host Cam Edwards furthered the NRA's attack, claiming that the "Institutes [sic] of Medicine" had issued a study finding that there are as many as 440,000 deaths per year due to preventable medical errors and commenting, "[m]aybe there's an issue for the Surgeon General to take up instead of your gun ownership and my gun ownership, because it sure that appears doctors are a lot more dangerous than gun owners are in this country."
In fact, the study Edwards cited was actually authored by a medical error-focused non-profit organization that asserts "we are patients looking after each other in a health care system that could easily kill us." According to the Institute of Medicine's "widely accepted" finding, 98,000 people a year die due to hospital errors.
Fox News host Steve Doocy told 9-year-old competitive shooter Shyanne Roberts that "she would have to give up her favorite sport" as a result of a New Jersey legislative proposal to restrict high-capacity gun magazines. But Doocy's warning completely misrepresents the legislation in question, which is intended to minimize mass shootings and save lives.
The New Jersey legislature is currently considering a bill, A2006, which would reduce the legal ammunition magazine capacity from 15 rounds down to 10. The bill was motivated by mass shootings that involved high-capacity magazines including the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the 2011 mass shooting at a constituent meeting held by then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ).
According to The Star-Ledger, "Parents of Newtown victims have traveled to New Jersey twice to support the bill, saying many students escaped death because the shooter had to reload his magazine." One of the sponsors of the bill noted in an op-ed that 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green was killed by the 13th bullet fired during the Tucson shooting, which claimed five other lives. The shooter in that incident was only stopped when bystanders tackled him as he paused to reload after emptying a 33-round magazine into a crowd in just 16 seconds.
But by misrepresenting the legislation as a threat to competitive shooting on Fox & Friends, Doocy hid the bill's life-saving intentions. According to a report from gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns on mass shootings that occurred between January 2009 and September 2013, shootings involving assault weapons or high-capacity magazines are characterized by a significantly higher death and injury rate:
Bloomberg Businessweek senior writer Paul Barrett used reports that several Democratic senators may oppose surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy to advance the tired media myth that the National Rifle Association can determine election outcomes at will.
Amid recent reports that Murthy's nomination could be delayed or withdrawn, Barrett wrote on March 17, "By all indications, the National Rifle Association and allied gun-rights groups have killed the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy to be the next surgeon general."
While Barrett acknowledged that "[i]t seems preposterous that Murthy's attitudes toward guns -- views roughly similar to those of the twice-elected president -- may preclude him from federal office," his analysis quickly veered off-track.
The New York Times repeated the unfounded claims from critics that Obama Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is "antigun," without adequately explaining how Vivek's views on firearms are mainstream within the medical community.
As Murthy's nomination for Surgeon General moves towards a vote in the Senate, which may now be delayed, the National Rifle Association and its allies in conservative media are advancing the false narrative that Murthy is "radical" and "anti-gun" because he views gun violence in the United States as a public health concern and supports allowing doctors to ask patients about gun ownership, among other gun safety measures.
In a March 14 article, the Times devoted significant space to attacks on Murthy while only briefly noting that his views reflect those of many Americans. The article noted that an NRA message to supporters claimed that Murthy is "President Obama's radically antigun nominee," and also mentioned that a Democratic senator had received letters from constituents "who say they are alarmed by what they believe are Dr. Murthy's antigun views."
It took until the 14th paragraph of the article to note that Vivek's views on firearms are "in step with where many Americans stand on gun control," and the article made no mention of the fact that Vivek's views on guns are in keeping with the medical community.