Ahead of tomorrow's hearing on gun violence before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the National Rifle Association released the testimony of its representative, executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. When reporting on LaPierre's remarks, the media have a responsibility to provide context for his frequently inaccurate statements.
In his remarks, LaPierre dismissed the idea of requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale while unwittingly demonstrating how these checks keep guns out of the hands of criminals, falsely suggested that assault weapons are no more dangerous than firearms available to civilians 100 years ago, and exaggerated the effectiveness of armed guards in schools.
In his testimony, LaPierre attacked the proposal to require criminal background checks on nearly all gun sales "because criminals will never submit to them." According to LaPierre's rigid reasoning, because background checks will not stop every dangerous person from acquiring a gun, there is no point in strengthening the system.
But even under our current set of laws that allow a significant proportion of firearms transactions occur without a background check, evidence has shown that over 1.5 million individuals have been prevented from acquiring a firearm after failing a background check.
LaPierre even acknowledged earlier in his testimony that over 76,000 firearms purchases in 2011 were denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It should be noted that LaPierre is either referring to FBI denials only or understating the figure, as over 150,000 purchases a year are typically denied through the background check system, with about half of denials being processed by the FBI.
According to the FBI, less than five percent of denials are reversed upon appeal. The primary reasons for denial were a felony conviction or indictment (47.4 percent) or status as a fugitive (19.1 percent).
Gun researcher and FoxNews.com columnist John Lott is ignoring the evidence in an attempt to undermine claims from supporters of strengthening gun laws that a large percentage of guns are purchased without the buyer undergoing a background check.
In a National Review Online article, Lott wrote that President Obama's recent claim that "as many as 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check" is false, instead stating that "it closer to 10 percent." However, research shows that significant numbers of firearms are in fact sold without a background check - perhaps a figure greater than the 40 percent cited by Obama.
It is true that the 40 percent figure is based on a 1994 poll with a small survey sample, and that the authors of the study have said that they estimated that the actual figure for gun sales from private sellers ranges from 30 to 40 percent of all sales. But no data has been compiled that contradicts that figure, while several more recent data points support a figure in that range.
In finding that the "40 percent" statistic is "Mostly True," Politifact pointed out that neither the National Rifle Association nor the National Shooting Sports Foundation, groups that oppose expanding background checks to private sales, provided data contradicting that figure.
As Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler reported, part of the problem in obtaining up-to-date figures on the private sales of firearms is that National Rifle Association lobbyists have been successful in convincing Congress to block funding for such research. In his analysis of the 40 percent figure, Kessler quoted one of the authors of the 1994 study, Jens Ludwig, who stated, "While there is no perfect estimate in social science, we'd have a better estimate for this proportion had the federal government not decided to get out of the business of supporting research on guns and gun violence several years ago."
But the data that has been made available since the 1994 report lends credence to that estimate. For example, a 2012 analysis of how handguns are sold in Michigan, the Michigan State Police reported that 48 percent of all handguntransfers in the state are conducted through private sales where no background check is required. Criminals in particular tend to seek weapons from sources where they are not subject to background checks - only 11 percent of inmates incarcerated for gun crimes said that they got the weapon from a licensed gun dealer, according to a 2004 survey.
Data from the gun industry itself also suggests sales without a background check are commonplace. According to 2010 data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, only 45 percent of assault weapon owners reported buying their firearm from a retail location, including independent and chain retail stores. Approximately half of respondents reported buying their firearm from venues where a background check is not necessarily required, including over the Internet, from gun shows, or through a face-to-face sale.
Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich, who was recently hired as a Fox News contributor, twisted comments made by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at a press conference announcing the introduction of assault weapons ban legislation to make it seem as if the senator claimed that all weapons used in mass shootings were obtained from gun shows.
Palvich, who reversed the order and altered the content of Sen. Feinstein's statements, used this distortion to claim that "no gun purchased at a gun show has ever been used in a mass shooting," a false statement contradicted by the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. All four firearms used in that shooting -- which left 13 dead and 21 wounded -- passed through an area gun show. From Pavlich's article:
National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent alluded to the start of the American Revolution in an interview with Guns.com during the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show, claiming that the Obama administration "is attempting to re-implement the tyranny of King George" and that "if you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies."
NUGENT: I'm part of a very great experiment in self-government where we the people determine our own pursuit of happiness and our own individual freedom and liberty not to be confused with the Barack Obama gang who believes in we the sheeple and actually is attempting to re-implement the tyranny of King George that we escaped from in 1776. And if you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies.
Nugent's mention of "Concord Bridge" is presumably a reference to the Battle of Concord, which was fought on the North Bridge. The battle, one of the early encounters of the Revolutionary War, forced the British to retreat.
After President Obama announced an executive action clarifying that doctors are permitted -- but not required -- to discuss gun safety with patients, conservatives in the media trumpeted a number of falsehoods, including the baseless claim that Obama is requiring doctors to report all gun owners to law enforcement.
The National Rifle Association has released a four-and-a-half minute video in response to the proposals to curb gun violence unveiled by the Obama administration. Chock-full of fast cuts and given a heart-pounding soundtrack, the ad attacks members of the media for criticizing the NRA and calls Obama a hypocrite for protecting his children with armed guards.
The ad opens with a montage of criticisms in media of the NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's December speech calling for armed guards in schools in a response to the massacre at a Newtown, CT, school earlier that month. A narrator then states, "The media speaks for elites. America speaks for itself."
The ad also highlights the number of armed guards at the school attended by President Obama's daughters to make the claim that the President is a hypocrite for stating that he is "skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools." This attack follows up on a similar one made by the NRA in a recently released ad. The release of the White House's gun violence prevention plan today calls for federal funds to be used on school safety programs, including hiring more school resource officers, in addition to a number of proposals for stronger gun laws.
After a graphic purports to show massive increases in NRA membership, the advertisement concludes with the claim that "America agrees with Wayne and the NRA." In fact, polling demonstrates that America does not agree with the group's opposition to the proposals Obama laid out in his address.
Polling has demonstrated nearly unanimous support for requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale, including nearly three-quarters of NRA members who favor such a proposal. The NRA opposes requiring background checks on the private sale of firearms, which constitute up to 40 percent of the gun market. Majorities of Americans also support banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, while the NRA has promised to oppose any new gun violence prevention measures.
During the inaugural episode of Cam & Company, a new National Rifle Association news program airing on Sportsman Channel, NRA board member Oliver North claimed that the NRA is "one of the greatest protectors of civil liberties that's ever existed on the planet Earth." North, who is a Fox News contributor, was also the central figure in the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration, reportedly helping to funnel profits from arms sales to Iran to the human rights abusing Contras in Nicaragua.
North's characterization of the NRA came during a discussion of the President Obama's forthcoming recommendations on gun violence prevention:
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: We heard the President say, right, in his first comments after the massacre in Newtown that this had to be different, we had to talk about our children, we had to talk about protecting our kids, it couldn't devolve into the same political debate. And yet that is exactly what has happened. This has gone from how to protect our kids to how do we push the gun control laws that we have been advocating for for a decade or more from these gun control groups.
OLIVER NORTH: Sure. And they have been advocates for it.
EDWARDS: They have been.
NORTH: And what you now see is a sea change in the political climate in Washington, D.C., at the White House where they now expect that they can do things they otherwise would have been unable to do. That which he cannot accomplish legislatively is now going to be done by executive action. That is contrary to my understanding of what the Constitution's all about. I think it's contrary and foreign to most of our thinking. When we raise that right hand and take that oath, we don't pledge fealty to a political party, to an individual, unlike many other countries around the world. What we've done is we have now decided that one man can decide what is or isn't legal under certain circumstances. I think civil libertarians -- and by the way the National Rifle Association is one of the greatest protectors of civil liberties that has ever existed on the planet Earth.
Media figures have smeared the Obama administration and promoted myths and falsehoods about gun policy in the days leading up to this week's release of the White House Task Force's recommendations to reduce gun violence.
Conservatives in media have been quick to draw comparisons between the Obama administration's reported proposals to crack down on gun violence and the actions of Adolf Hitler to suggest that President Obama will engage in firearm confiscation. These historically inaccurate comparisons owe part of their genesis to the National Rifle Association, which has compared proposals to regulate firearms to orders during the Holocaust.
In his book, America Disarmed: Inside the U.N. & Obama's Scheme to Destroy the Second Amendment, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre likened the United Nations Small Arms and Light Weapons Destruction Day, held on July 9, 2001, to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels' order that books authored by Jews be publicly burned.
LaPierre then suggested that the burning of guns could "help set the stage for mass executions of gun owners" just as Goebbels' order precipitated the mass killing of Jews.
Paul M. Barrett, a senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, cherry-picked polls on gun violence to suggest that the National Rifle Association will be able to block proposed gun violence prevention measures. According to Barrett, who authored a book about the rise of Glock as a popular firearm manufacturer, gun violence prevention proposals are unpopular with the public and the "NRA wins because it's popular with a broad swath of Americans."
Barrett's article is typical of a narrative in the media overemphasizing the NRA's clout. In the wake of the December 14 massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, traditional media have suggested that the NRA will remove from office politicians who favor gun reforms; even though the NRA's massive spending during the 2012 elections was almost entirely ineffectual.
Contrary to Barrett's assertion about NRA popularity, a poll released yesterday found that a plurality of the public holds a negative view of the NRA. Furthermore, specific gun violence prevention proposals, such as making background checks on gun purchases mandatory, are supported by the vast majority of NRA members and the public at large.