Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller mischaracterized President Obama's remarks at a September 22 memorial for victims of the Washington Navy Yard mass shooting to claim that the president "outright trashed our nation" during his speech.
In a September 25 opinion piece, Miller claimed that Obama used his speech to "drive support to restrict Second Amendment rights" and falsely stated that the president "said that the United States is not as good as other developed nations because of our crime rates."
Just as he did at the prayer vigil two days after the horrific Newtown, Conn., school shootings last December, the president used the memorial service for the victims of the Washington Navy Yard tragedy to drive support to restrict Second Amendment rights.
Mr. Obama railed about politics for more than half of his remarks at the Sunday service for the 12 innocent people killed last week. He said the mass shooting by an apparently psychotic schizophrenic who claimed to hear alien voices should "obsess us" and "lead to some sort of transformation."
Mr. Obama has never believed in American exceptionalism, but he outright trashed our nation. He said that the United States is not as good as other developed nations because of our crime rates. He claimed that after the total bans on firearms in the United Kingdom and Australia, "mass shootings became a great rarity."
As his remarks demonstrate, Obama didn't trash America. In fact, he said that the 12 victims who lost their lives in the rampage did "the unheralded work that keeps our country strong." While Obama referenced the fact that the United Kingdom and Australia took legislative action after mass shootings, he did not say that the United States was "not as good" as those countries:
OBAMA: So these families have endured a shattering tragedy. It ought to be a shock to us all as a nation and as a people. It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation. That's what happened in other countries when they experienced similar tragedies. In the United Kingdom, in Australia, when just a single mass shooting occurred in those countries, they understood that there was nothing ordinary about this kind of carnage. They endured great heartbreak, but they also mobilized and they changed, and mass shootings became a great rarity.
No other advanced nation endures this kind of violence -- none. Here in America, the murder rate is three times what it is in other developed nations. The murder rate with guns is ten times what it is in other developed nations. And there is nothing inevitable about it. It comes about because of decisions we make or fail to make. And it falls upon us to make it different.
Conservative media are citing an article in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (JPandS) to attack legitimate research on the causes of gun violence. While its title suggests that it is a serious research publication, the journal is published by a conspiracy-minded right-wing organization and has printed articles questioning the link between HIV and AIDS and theorizing that undocumented immigrants are spreading leprosy in the United States.
JPandS is published by conservative non-profit Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), an anti-healthcare reform advocacy group that opposes almost all government involvement in healthcare. The National Library of Medicine, which bills itself as "[t]he world's largest biomedical library," has twice declined to index JPandS in its database of medical reports.
Still, an article by AAPS Executive Director Dr. Jane M. Orient has been cited by conservative media to attack calls for more research into the causes and prevention of gun violence by the Obama administration and the medical and scientific communities. AAPS aided the gun lobby in its successful endeavor to block the Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence during the 1990s.
In a September 23 op-ed for The Daily Caller, National Shooting Sports Foundation Senior Vice President and General Counsel Larry Keane cited Orient's article to attack the scientifically supported claim that "fewer guns equals less violence":
One of the anti-gun lobby's leading arguments is that fewer guns equals less violence. This seems like a logical argument, and is often passed on as fact. But, as with most of the arguments the anti-gun left recycles over and over, the facts simply do not back it up.
In the fall issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons , Jane M. Orient, M.D. argues there is no evidence-based support for more gun control measures. Rather, the statistics gun-control proponents cite are cherry-picked from larger data sets that show no correlation between more gun laws and less violence.
Orient's article was also approvingly cited by Breitbart.com's AWR Hawkins and promoted by Guns.com. During a September 4 appearance on the National Rifle Association's media arm, NRA News, Orient attacked "organized medicine" for calling for gun violence research and stated that "the best evidence we have" on gun violence "was collected by John Lott." Lott, whose research on gun violence was cited in Orient's JPandS article, has been widely discredited.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed to support increasing the number mental health records in the gun background check system, even though his organization was instrumental in blocking legislation that would have made that change earlier this year.
LaPierre appeared on the September 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press to deliver his first public comments since the September 16 mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. During the segment, LaPierre claimed that "the NRA supported the gun check because we thought the mental records would be in the system." In April his organization was singled out by President Obama for influencing the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey proposal to improve the background check system that was filibustered by a largely-Republican coalition of Senators. The NRA falsely claimed that the legislation would have created a national gun registry, even as the bill itself explicitly prohibited such an action. Instead, Machin-Toomey would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales -- including sales at gun shows and over the Internet -- and would have increased the number of disqualifying records in the background check system.
LaPierre bemoaned the fact that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the FBI-administered tool for processing background checks on gun sales from licensed dealers, is missing mental health records that would disqualify individuals from buying a gun. However, Manchin-Toomey would have given states funding incentives and disincentives for submitting records. NRA-backed alternative legislation would have also provided funding incentives to increase the number of records, but would have weakened the background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system.
NRA News host Cam Edwards issued a correction the day after after Breitbart.com's A.W.R. Hawkins claimed on his show that the mass shooting at Washington Navy Yard "happened because Bill Clinton mandated that" military bases "be gun-free zones." In truth, the policy cited by Hawkins to support this claim allows guns to be carried on military bases under a substantial number of circumstances and was actually enacted during the George H.W. Bush administration.
The myth that a Clinton-era policy was responsible for the shooting, which claimed the lives of 12 victims, was the centerpiece of right-wing media's failed attempt to establish that the Navy Yard shooting took place in a "gun-free zone."
Edwards issued a correction during his September 18 broadcast, citing a Media Matters blog that addressed Hawkins' claim, during a segment with Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller. After Edwards acknowledged that the policy was enacted under George H.W. Bush, Miller said, "Then I've written that wrong too," and she added, "Are you sure that's correct before I change it too? ... Because I don't believe anything Media Matters says."
Hawkins' claim in a Breitbart.com article about the supposed Clinton-era policy originated from a 2009 Washington Times editorial that falsely stated, "Among President Clinton's first acts upon taking office in 1993 was to disarm U.S. soldiers on military bases." Miller promoted that editorial on September 17 on Twitter.
After Edwards issued the correction, Miller attempted to downplay the importance of whether Clinton disarmed members of the military, suggesting that Hawkins' claim was inconsequential to the "public's knowledge of the issues." In reality, Miller was just one of many right-wing media figures who seized on Hawkins' false claims to politicize the mass shooting in its immediate aftermath.
Media pundits never seem to tire of writing gun violence prevention's obituary. They seem determined to create a conventional wisdom that no progress on the issue is possible, and shut down any effort to renew a dialogue on public safety legislation that has gone quiet in the halls of Congress despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws.
Last week it was the recall election defeats of two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws that caused some commentators to declare "The Death of Gun Control." They didn't let the facts stand in their way -- the gun laws in question were broadly popular statewide, the recall turnout was extremely low, and efforts by conservatives to recall other pro-gun safety legislators failed. In years past, media have that the power of the National Rifle Association would prevent stronger gun laws from getting consideration.
Now pundits are claiming that comments from the Obama administration following the Navy Yard shooting, deemed insufficiently robust in their calls for stronger laws, mean "RIP for gun control," in the words of The Washington Post's Dana Milbank.
Milbank writes in his September 17 column that "President Obama didn't even try to use the massacre at the Washington Navy Yard to revive the gun-control debate," apparently considering Obama's statement in response to the attack that his administration will "do everything that we can to try to prevent" future tragedies insufficiently specific. In fact, it's not appreciably less specific than his remarks in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, in which he did not lay out any policy goals but said only that "we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
One tea leaf Milbank reads to bolster his case that the gun violence prevention debate is over is a selective quotation of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:
At the White House on Tuesday, the Associated Press's Julie Pace noted Obama's subdued response to the shooting and asked if "maybe there's some sort of numbness among the public since these shootings have happened so frequently." Another questioner asked if there's "an exhaustion and an acceptance that this is the new normal."
Press secretary Jay Carney said the president "doesn't accept that it's the new normal."
Maybe not. But the loss of hope for gun control is becoming a durable abnormal.
In fact, a fuller account of Carney's remarks shows that he said the Obama administration would continue to use executive action to address gun violence (the White House announced two new executive actions on gun violence on August 29) and that the administration "continue[s] to call on Congress to listen to the voices of their constituents and legislate accordingly."
While commentators have noted the National Rifle Association's tendency to go silent in the wake of mass shootings such as the one at the Washington Navy Yard, the gun organization's media arm, NRA News, has stayed on the air to conclude that no new gun law could have prevented the attack, promote false information about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, and allege a media conspiracy against guns.
Since the September 16 shooting that claimed the lives of 12 victims, the NRA has failed to issue a substantive official statement on the tragedy. The gun rights organization has posted a single tweet not related to the shooting and, according to MSNBC.com, a message on the group's homepage on September 16 said, "We grieve and pray for those who lost their lives and for those hurt at the Washington Navy Yard." The message has apparently been removed.
CNN reported that the NRA did not respond to a request for comment on September 16, noting, "The gun rights organization has typically not responded to similar shootings immediately." Indeed, after a December 14, 2012, mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, claimed 26 lives, the NRA was silent until a December 21 question-free press conference where Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
The NRA has claimed that it refuses to discuss gun policy in the wake of mass shootings "out of respect for those grieving families and until the facts are known." However, the following excerpts from the September 17 broadcast of NRA News' radio program Cam & Company demonstrate how the NRA uses its own media arm to push its talking points:
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller deceptively attacked President Obama for briefly discussing the Washington Navy Yard shooting, downplaying the frequency of such mass shootings to allege that "[s]caring the American public is one of President Obama's favorite political tactics to get gun control."
Before a scheduled September 16 speech on the economy, Obama addressed the shooting earlier that day at the Washington Navy Yard, where at least one gunman opened fire at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command and claimed at least 13 lives. During those remarks, Obama said:
I've been briefed by my team on the situation. We still don't know all the facts, but we do know that several people have been shot, and some have been killed. So we are confronting yet another mass shooting -- and today, it happened on a military installation in our nation's capital.
After offering "gratitude to the Navy and local law enforcement, federal authorities, and the doctors who've responded with skill and bravery," and sending "our thoughts and prayers to all at the Navy Yard who've been touched by this tragedy," Obama concluded, "we're going to be investigating thoroughly what happened, as we do so many of these shootings, sadly, that have happened, and do everything that we can to try to prevent them." At no point in the speech did Obama address gun laws.
Miller suggested that by referring to "yet another mass shooting" and "so many of these shootings," Obama was exaggerating the incidence of mass shootings. She contrasted Obama's words with her false claim that "[t]he last mass shooting was over nine months ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown." She added that, "While we mourn every one of those children and educators lost that day -- and today in Washington, D.C. -- these events are not a cause for increased alarm."
According to reporting from Mother Jones there have actually been four mass shootings between Newtown and the Navy Yard shooting that each claimed at least 5 lives. Recent research by criminology professor Pete Blair has found that the number of shootings where mass murder is the primary motive is on the rise:
A CNN segment described recall elections that removed two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws from office as pitting an anti-recall billionaire against a pro-recall plumber "with no real money," ignoring hundreds of thousands of dollars of spending in favor of the recall by the National Rifle Association and other national groups.
On September 10, State Sens. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) were defeated in recall elections after being targeted over their support for expanded background checks on gun sales and a 15 round limitation on firearm magazine size.
Introducing an interview with Giron, host Brooke Baldwin described the recall effort as "a war by proxy between gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire from New York and a Pueblo plumber by the name of Victor Head ... a political novice and a gun rights supporter with no real money to speak of here. And you know the end of the story here, the plumber won."
Baldwin said that the recalls were successful "despite the fact that Bloomberg's group spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Giron's behalf" and also described the recall as "mega mega cash from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Mayor Bloomberg versus this grassroots effort" during a September 12 segment:
While Baldwin is correct that Head's organization, Pueblo Freedom and Rights, raised little, she ignored the fact that conservative groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of the recall effort.
CNN hosted Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt -- who has suggested the government may have been behind a recent mass shooting -- to discuss the status of the national gun debate following the recall of two Colorado state senators over their support for stronger gun laws.
During his September 11 appearance on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, Pratt expressed opposition to background checks on any gun sale and suggested that fellow guest Jim Kessler, the co-founder of centrist think tank Third Way, "like[s] bodies piling up," because of Kessler's opposition to guns in schools:
To support his attack on Kessler, Pratt claimed that "all the mass murders occurred in gun-free zones, pure gun-free zones, in the last 20 years, all of them." In fact, an analysis conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 13 of 56 mass shooting incidents that occurred between January 2009 and January 2013 took place where guns were prohibited. Schools, where guns are typically not allowed, are actually among the safest places for young people.
Colorado State Sens. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) were recalled yesterday in an election that the media is describing as having major implications for the future of the gun debate. Both senators were targeted for recall over their support for Colorado's new gun laws, which include expanded background checks and a 15-round limit for firearm magazines.
National groups on both sides of the political divide poured money into the recall elections over the past months. Supporters of stronger gun laws would surely have preferred that Giron and Morse had won.
But before the media returns to promoting the myth of National Rifle Association electoral dominance and suggests that the recall of the two Colorado state senators proves that all elected officials who push for stronger gun laws risk their jobs, here are a few things they should consider.
The Gun Laws Supported By Giron And Morse Are Popular Statewide. On March 20, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three gun violence prevention measures into law: requiring a background check on all gun sales except those between family members, imposing a $10 fee to process background checks, and limiting firearm magazine capacity to 15 rounds. Giron and Morse's support for these measures was the catalyst for the recall efforts. An August 22 poll by Quinnipiac University found that the majority of voters in Colorado approve of the specific pieces of the gun law package -- they expressed support for expanded background checks by an 82 to 16 percent margin and support for the limit on magazine capacity by a 49 to 48 percent margin. While Giron and Morse were defeated, the legislation they support is popular with state voters at large.
The Recall Turnout Was Extremely Low. A very small number of voters determined the recall election. In fact, voter turnout in Morse and Giron's districts were both substantially lower in the recall election compared to the 2010 state senate elections. Only 21 percent of 84,029 registered voters in Morse's district voted in the recall election. A mere 9,094 people voted in favor of recall; he lost his seat by a margin of 343 votes. Turnout was about 11,000 voters higher in Morse's 2010 senate election. Turnout in Giron's district was only 36 percent; 10,000 more people voted in her 2010 Senate election. Deriving national trends from low-turnout recall elections seems unwise.
Efforts To Recall Other Members Who Supported Stronger Gun Laws Failed. Opponents of stronger gun laws didn't intend to recall just Giron and Morse; they originally targeted two other lawmakers as well. But an effort to recall Sen. Evie Hudak was suspended by organizers three weeks before the deadline. And an effort to recall Rep. Mike McLachlan also failed when the Colorado Secretary of State reported that no signatures were turned in before a deadline.