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.
Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson and Fox News contributor Keith Ablow distorted research findings to warn of a "terrifying link" between video games and mass shootings while dismissing the role of high powered firearms in those incidents.
During the September 10 edition of Fox & Friends, Carlson claimed, "brand new research suggests there is a terrifying link between video games and violent behavior," before showing images of recent mass shooters who purportedly "were big gamers." Ablow -- claiming that all of the shooters were "addicted to violent video games" -- said that a recent study that found "watching violent video games increases aggression and decreases empathy" to support his claim that video games are linked to mass shootings.
Carlson concluded the segment by saying, "This whole is issue is so much more complicated than just gun control, there are so many other factors, mental illness [and] video games are just two of them":
In fact, the author of the research cited by Carlson and Ablow -- which was actually published in 2010 -- has stated that video games cannot be the sole cause of mass shooting incidents, despite being a proponent of the claim that a relationship exists between video games and real world violence. Ohio State University professor Brad Bushman published the survey of other studies that found a link between playing video games and aggressive thoughts cited by Ablow during his Fox & Friends appearance.
However, in explaining his research on video games in a March 20 New York Daily News op-ed, Bushman wrote, "It is crucial to understand there is no single cause of a crime like [Sandy Hook shooter Adam] Lanza's, and no responsible scholar could claim that violent video games cause murder."
Furthermore, other research disputes the link between violent video games and real world violence.
A Colorado newspaper has repeatedly run an anti-Semitic ad depicting New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is Jewish, as a puppet-master who controls a state senator the ad's sponsor is seeking to recall from office for supporting stronger gun laws.
The September 8 and 9 editions of the Pueblo Chieftain featured the half-page advertisement. The group responsible for the ad, Pueblo Freedom and Rights, is credited with starting the campaign to recall the ad's target, State Sen. Angela Giron, over her support for legislation that expanded background checks on gun purchases and imposed a 15-round limit on firearm magazine size. Early voting is underway with the election concluding on September 10.
The depiction of a Jewish leader as a puppet-master is widely acknowledged as anti-Semitic imagery because of its relation to conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the political process or global economy.
The ad apparently is a play on the fact that a group backed by Bloomberg has contributed a substantial amount of money in opposition to the recall effort. The recall elections targeting Giron and Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) have drawn significant outside spending both for and against the recall, including more than $361,000 spent by the National Rifle Association in favor of the recall.
The Chieftain's decision to allow the publication of Pueblo Freedom and Rights' ad follows a call by progressive groups for a local media outlet to disaffiliate from the Chieftain over its coverage of the recall election.
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller's new book, Emily Gets Her Gun: ...But Obama Wants to Take Yours, is filled with falsehoods about the gun debate and promotes the National Rifle Association's conspiracy theory that President Obama is planning to confiscate privately held firearms.
Reacting to news that the Obama administration will use executive action to curb gun violence, The Drudge Report titled its top story, "HEAD FAKE: OBAMA GOES AFTER GUNS."
Obama reportedly seeks to restrict the importation of military grade firearms for civilian sale and close a loophole that allows felons to obtain highly dangerous guns without a background check. In contrast to fearmongering by Drudge Report, neither policy will interfere with the rights of law-abiding gun owners.