Mainstream media outlets are blindly repeating the claim by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that she supported expanded background checks by voting for Republican legislation that would actually have weakened the background check system.
On April 17, Ayotte voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment, a legislative proposal to expand background checks to sales at gun shows and over the Internet, facing political backlash as a result. Ayotte, however, co-sponsored and voted in favor of a replacement bill offered by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that purported to improve the background check system by increasing the number of mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
In fact, the Grassley-Cruz proposal would weaken the gun background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system. Specifically, Section 103 would change current law by only creating a disqualifying background check record if an individual is designated as dangerously mentally ill by a court or other adjudicative body. Under present law, adjudications by all lawful authorities create a record that prohibits an individual from buying a firearm.
To the contrary, Manchin-Toomey would have increased the number of mental health records in NICS by offering states financial incentives and disincentives to include missing records in the system, in addition to expanding background checks
Members of conservative media are trumpeting a government report indicating that gun homicides have fallen as proof that the need for stronger gun laws is unwarranted, while ignoring multiple factors that could account for the decrease. At the same time, firearm violence continues to be a problem as firearm homicides have fallen less than serious violent crime in general and the rate of gun violence in the United States still far outpaces other high-income nations.
In a May report, the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) indicated that the number of gun homicides fell 39 percent from 18,253 in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011. The Pew Research Center adjusted the figures to represent per capita rates in its report on the BJS data, finding that the incidence of firearm homicide has fallen 49 percent during that time period.
Right-wing media have quickly seized upon this data to dismiss the need for stronger gun laws. According to the National Review Online's Charles C. W. Cooke, the BJS and Pew reports make "embarrassing reading for those who spend their time trying to make it appear as if America is in the middle of a gun-crime wave." John Nolte of Brietbart.com wrote, "This report not only proves the media wrong, it proves the NRA right." Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote that the reports represent "rotten data for anti-gun advocates trying to revive the Newtown, Conn., anti-gun legislative package." Townhall's Katie Pavlich, who is also a contributor at Fox News, added, "Once again more guns do in fact equal less crime."
But there is no logic to their arguments that data from the reports constitutes evidence against proposals to strengthen gun laws. Gun availability has been repeatedly linked to higher incidence of firearm homicides, and firearms remain the driving factor of homicides, with 70 percent of murders involving guns. According to an October 2012 report from BJS, the rate of serious violent crime declined 75 percent between 1993 and 2011, meaning that gun homicides are declining at a slower pace than overall crime.
Other factors may help explain the fall of gun crime since the early 1990s including reductions in lead levels, the end of the crack epidemic, advances in medicine that allow more gunshot victims to survive their wounds, and a declining rate of gun ownership.
During the 2013 National Rifle Association annual meeting, held May 3 - 5 in Houston, Texas, the gun rights organization reaffirmed its hardline stance against any restrictions on firearms and hosted an over-the-top Glenn Beck presentation that depicted one of the NRA's political opponents as a Nazi.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre set the tone of the convention with a May 4 speech that warned of a "long war against our constitutional rights" and concluded with a message for media and political "elites" in America: "Let them be damned."
The meeting also involved the adoption of a resolution put forward by fringe gun activist Jeff Knox that stated the NRA will oppose all future gun restrictions. Also featured at the annual convention was a speech from newly-elected NRA president Jim Porter, a hardline gun rights activist, that included the claim that President Obama seeks to take "revenge" against gun owners.
In a freewheeling presentation billed as the "NRA's most important gathering of the year," conservative radio personality Glenn Beck offensively portrayed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a Nazi giving the Sieg Hail salute before concluding his hour-and-a-half long "Stand and Fight" speech by comparing the struggles of gun owners to those of the African-American civil rights movement.
Here are nine moments from the NRA's annual meeting that typify the fringe nature of the organization:
"We Shall Overcome:" Beck Adopts The Mantle Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Referencing the Underground Railroad and lunch counter protests, Beck said that he hoped the NRA would join him in a passive resistance movement. At the apex of his speech, Beck stated, "We are the law-abiding God-fearing members of the NRA. We are Americans. And we will be clear. We will stand; we'll march if we have to. We'll stand because we must. But we will not be moved. Our right to keep and bear arms will not be infringed. We will follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we will follow the footsteps of Frederick Douglas, Winston Churchill, Thomas Paine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, [David] Ben-Gurion, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Ghandi, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, hear me now. Hear me now. We shall overcome."
Right-wing media are trying to downplay a confrontation over gun sale background checks between a woman who lost her mother in the Newtown, CT, shooting and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) by promoting a report from an Ayotte donor whose wife is the former chair of the New Hampshire GOP.
Erica Lafferty, the daughter of Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, asked Ayotte during an April 30 town hall meeting in Warren, New Hampshire, "why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't more important" than Ayotte's claim that conducting background checks would be burdensome for gun store owners. According to NBC News, the meeting "drew more than 100 people who came to condemn or support Ayotte's vote."
Reacting to news reports of the confrontation between Lafferty and Ayotte, Shawn Millerick, editor of the conservative New Hampshire Journal, complained of "liberal media bias" and wrote that reports of Ayotte being confronted over her failure to support expanded background checks were exaggerated by the national media. Millerick also posted photographs of cars with out-of-state license plates that he says belonged to the individuals who opposed Ayotte's background check vote.
Breitbart.com, The Daily Caller, The Blaze, RedState and NewsBusters are all promoting Millerick's report as evidence that the media was dishonest in its coverage of Ayotte's town hall meeting while also characterizing Millerick's online newspaper as a "local" media source and not mentioning its partisan slant. According to Breitbart.com's John Nolte, Millerick's report "expose[d] the leftist national media for the liars they are." The Daily Caller's Alex Pappas framed the issue as a discrepancy between "local" and "national" media:
The Daily Caller discounted the experiences of some victims of gun violence who have promoted stronger gun laws by claiming they suffer from "hoplophobia," a fake psychological disorder defined by the gun rights movement as "the morbid fear of guns."
This baseless attack found in the featured article of Daily Caller's "Guns and Gear" section is the latest salvo from a conservative media that have launched vicious attacks on survivors of gun violence who support reforms to current gun laws.
The Daily Caller article purported to examine "hoplophobia" as an actual psychological condition, asking, "Is America required to accept psychological acting out as a legitimate form of legislative discourse?" However this "disorder" is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and instead is a term coined by the late National Rifle Association board member and famed shooting instructor Jeff Cooper.
In the May 1 article, the authors singled out Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and prominent gun violence prevention campaigner Sarah Brady as allegedly suffering from psychological problems due to their direct experience with gun violence. The article further claimed that the promotion of gun violence prevention is "perilous" to the public:
At least three of the most virulent anti-gun-rights crusaders in the nation suffered extreme gun trauma before entering the fray: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (discovered Harvey Milk's body), Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (husband shot dead on commuter train) and Sarah Brady (husband disabled in assassination attempt on President Reagan). Are there others? Have they received counseling for the gun trauma they experienced? And to what extent, if any, does hoplophobic displacement influence and skew what otherwise seems like politics as usual? The biggest question here would be: Is America required to accept psychological acting out as a legitimate form of legislative discourse?
The debate over the precise nature of the condition is likely to continue for a long period of time. This is normal in the psychiatric and mental-health field. The more pressing concern, it seems to us, is the scope of the condition, the numbers of people who may be afflicted, and the extent to which they sublimate their fear by pressing politicians to act in denying the rights of their fellow citizens. That, it seems to us, is intolerable -- the idea that a festering and untreated psychological condition may have more influence over the acts of Congress than does intelligent consideration of life-or-death issues.
In seeking to quell their own turmoil, those so afflicted project their own fears and rage onto others. This is a fairly normal method for handling overwhelming fear and anger, but in doing so, politically active hoplophobes infringe on the rights of healthy law-abiding citizens and the stability of our society. This makes hoplophobia not only unique among all phobias, it makes it perilous. [emphasis in original]
The National Rifle Association's annual meeting on May 3-5 will feature a number of conservative media figures -- including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Ted Nugent -- who often use violent rhetoric and promote gun-related conspiracy theories.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin incorrectly wrote that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is proposing to "ban explosive powder" as a response to the Boston Marathon bombings when in fact Reid has proposed requiring a criminal background check for individuals who buy explosive powder.
The Senate proposal, originally sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), but being shepherded by Reid in his absence, would require a background check to "purchase black powder, black powder substitute, or smokeless powder, in any quantity." Furthermore the legislation would allow the Attorney General to stop explosives sales to suspected terrorists. Under current law inclusion on the terrorist watch list alone does not prohibit individuals from buying explosives or firearms.
While Rubin's apparent aim was to make Reid's response to the Boston bombings seem ridiculous -- explosive powder has many legitimate uses -- explosive powder is a common component in domestic bombings. Furthermore, because of lobbying by the National Rifle Association, it is currently legal to purchase up to 50 pounds of black or smokeless powder without undergoing a background check.
Decades before the Boston bombings -- where the perpetrators reportedly may have used black or smokeless powder -- explosive powder has been known to be regularly employed by domestic bombers. According to a 1980 report issued by the Office of Technology Assessment, a now defunct office of Congress, in incidents involving both successfully detonated and undetonated bombs, "black and smokeless powders and cap sensitive high explosives all occur with high frequency." A 2005 report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) found that "because black powder is relatively inexpensive (between $5 and $15 per pound), it is the most common explosive used in pipe bombs." The report also found that explosive powders were present in the most fatal of bombings between 2002 and 2004:
According to National Repository data, 8 people were killed and 49 people were injured by explosives from January 2002 through December 2004. Explosive powders, which may be obtained legally in quantities up to 50 pounds without a license or permit, were the largest cause of deaths and injuries. Over 50 percent of those killed and injured during this period were victims of explosive devices containing black powder. Twenty-five percent of those injured were victims of improvised explosives devices, many of which containing common chemicals.
Still the NRA has spent decades lobbying against the regulation of black and smokeless powder -- which can be components of gunpowder -- and is largely responsible for the current background check exemption for purchasers of up to 50 pounds of explosive powder.
Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto questioned the authenticity of a New York Times op-ed authored by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by claiming that the op-ed appeared online too quickly to have been written by someone "who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions."
Giffords' April 18 op-ed was written in response to the failure of expanded background checks legislation. On January 8, 2011, Giffords was shot in the head during a constituent meeting in an attack that killed six and left 13 wounded.
Taranto's comments occurred on the April 19 edition of the National Rifle Association's news show, Cam & Company, where he said it was "odd" that the Times op-ed, which Taranto described as "Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence," was published approximately five hours after the Senate voted on background checks. Taranto cast doubt on the idea that Giffords had authored the piece, commenting, "So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it."
From Cam & Company:
TARANTO: One fascinating thing about this is this piece was published no later than 9:03 PM on Wednesday evening, because that's when it first appears on the New York Times' Twitter feed. The last Senate vote on amendments to the gun bill was a bit after 6 [PM]. Giffords appeared at the White House at 5:35 [PM] when we saw that enraged rant by the president. The Manchin-Toomey [background check] provision was the first vote. That was at 4:04 PM. So if you read this piece it's presented as a cry from the heart, as Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence to the betrayal of these Senators. So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it. So I think that's a little bit odd.
Taranto offers no evidence for his offensive insinuation that Giffords would not have been capable of authoring the piece herself. He also ignores the possibility that Giffords could have authored the op-ed ahead of time in expectation of the widely-predicted outcome - hardly an unusual practice.
The argument by conservative media that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other survivors of gun violence who supported a failed Senate compromise to expand background checks on firearms sales are "props" of the Obama administration is both hypocritically partisan and logically flawed.
Right-wing media are unable to acknowledge that President Obama's gun violence prevention agenda mirrors the priorities of gun violence survivors, who are not mere "props," to pass stronger gun laws. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post notes, "the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want":
All of this aside, the "props" line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn't be thanking the president. [emphasis in original]
Logical flaws aside, those who would call Newtown families and other gun violence survivors "props" fail to acknowledge that presidents routinely evoke the experiences of victims in advocating for policies that would prevent future tragedies.
In 1991, former President Ronald Reagan evoked his own experience of being shot by a would-be assassin, as well as the experiences of others wounded in the 1981 attack in order to advocate for background checks on gun sales. In a New York Times op-ed Reagan wrote about his press secretary, Jim Brady, who was grievously wounded in the attack by a man who acquired a gun despite a lengthy history of serious mental illness. Brady would go on to lend his name to the legislation -- the Brady bill -- that mandated a background check for gun sales conducted by licensed dealers:
Conservatives in media gloated and launched political attacks in reaction to a coalition of largely Senate Republicans blocking a package of stronger gun laws, including compromise legislation on expanded background checks for gun sales -- a legislative proposal supported by roughly 90 percent of Americans.
Before, during, and after President Obama delivered a speech from the Rose Garden on April 17 vowing to continue the dialogue on gun laws, conservatives in media offered triumphal comments and launched vicious attacks on advocates for gun violence prevention, including family members of Newtown victims and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
As Politico noted, conservative bloggers "claimed victory ... saying that their ideology and principles were the keys to their success." The right-wing reaction, however, went beyond basic policy arguments:
In an op-ed for The Washington Times, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro opined that family members of Newtown victims -- many of whom advocated for the passage of stronger gun laws -- did not deserve to be heard because of his apparent belief that background checks infringe on the Second Amendment. Shapiro previously accused Obama of attempting to implement socialism in a piece for The New American, the magazine publication of the far-right John Birch Society. From Shapiro's April 18 op-ed:
I don't believe the families of the victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., deserve a vote.
It may sound harsh and uncaring, but even the greatest tragedies are not a valid reason to disregard the Supreme Court and the Constitution of the United States. If they were, our free speech and our rights against unreasonable search and seizure and against self-incrimination would have all been abolished long ago amid every crime wave in American history.
Five years ago, the Supreme Court settled the issue of the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller, making it clear that guns in "common use" were constitutionally protected. Nevertheless, President Obama recently flew several family members of Sandy Hook victims to Washington on Air Force One to pressure congressional legislators to enact new gun laws.