For months the National Rifle Association and Fox News have been pushing the fringe conspiracy theory that a proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty puts Second Amendment rights at risk. Now Mitt Romney is bringing that claim to the presidential campaign, parroting it on the stump.
As ThinkProgress reported, during a town hall event in Ohio yesterday, Romney said:
ROMNEY: Turning to the United Nations to tell us how to raise our kids, or whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us, I mean, that is the wrong way to go, right? Do not cede sovereignty. I'm happy to talk there. I'm not willing to give American sovereignty in any way, shape or form to the United Nations or any other body. We are a free nation. We fought for freedom and independence. We are going to keep freedom and independence.
But contrary to the conspiracy spun by the NRA and Fox and now repeated by Romney, the ATT only seeks to regulate the international import and export of conventional and small arms, and is not aimed at domestic gun regulation governed by U.S. sovereignty. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State has stated that it will not enter into any treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution. There will be no dilution or diminishing of sovereign control over issues involving the private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms, which must remain matters of domestic law."
The idea that the United Nations can determine "whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us" germinated at the National Rifle Association in the mid-1990s when CEO Wayne LaPierre began to speciously warn of "global gun grabbers."
But despite an utter lack of explanation by its pushers about how the U.N. could use a treaty to trump the United States Constitution, the conspiracy has survived over the years and has reached its zenith as ATT negotiations are finalized.
In the first week after negotiations began on July 2, Fox News featured seven appearances by opponents of the treaty compared to zero appearances by proponents. Instead of offering a cogent critique of the ATT, each guest has instead delved into conspiracy theory. Indeed, there are stark similarities between Romney's Wednesday warning and the commentary of Fox News contributor Dick Morris who claimed on July 5 that the ATT "will take the gun control issue away from the Congress and give it to the United Nations as part of an international treaty."
Romney's ATT comments were not the first time that Fox News served as the conduit between factually vacant right wing theories and the Republican presidential campaign. On Monday, Fox News deceptively edited and then hysterically promoted comments made by President Obama about small business owners. The false narrative found its way into Romney's campaign by Tuesday afternoon.
The right-wing media spent Wednesday stoking fears about the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) following reports that Iran was selected to serve on the 15-nation "Bureau/General Committee" of states during the treaty negotiations. Curiously, the same news organizations that engaged in Iran fearmongering have also uncritically promoted the National Rifle Association's opposition to the treaty. In fact, the positions of Iran and the National Rifle Association on the Arms Trade Treaty are remarkably similar: Both entities oppose a treaty that regulates the international import and export of small arms.
According to the United Nations, "Bureau" states will "assist the President in the general conduct of the business of the Conference and, subject to the decisions of the Conference, shall ensure the coordination of its work." Considering that Iran's and other "Bureau" members' conduct will be "subject to the decisions of the Conference," it hardly appears that Iran would be able to single-handily hijack negotiations.
Whatever role Iran plays in the negotiations, the ATT will not lead to domestic regulation of firearms in the United States -- as the NRA vacuously warns -- because the United States will not agree to a finalized treaty that places "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution."
But the opportunity to include Iran in fearmongering surrounding the treaty was too much for the right-wing media to pass up.
The National Rifle Association, an organization with a well-documented history of baseless fearmongering, may have outdone itself with the release of a new fundraising video series that features hysterical depictions of current events. Whether it is the threat of Mexican drug cartel violence in the United States, the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, or even civil unrest that occurred in England in 2011, the NRA wants you to be scared and send cash fast. After all, warns Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, "everything we love about America, all the freedoms our forefathers fought for, all of it is under attack by Barack Obama."
Fox News has featured seven appearances by opponents of a proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty since a conference discussing it began on July 2, and none by the treaty's supporters. Treaty backers say it is essential for curtailing the illegal arms trade that keeps guns flowing to human rights abusers.
Even Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly isn't buying National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre's outrageous claims that a yet to be finalized United Nations treaty to regulate the import and export of small arms worldwide will strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights and cause American citizens "to be added to that pile of dead people left defenseless by the [United Nations'] policies."
The NRA has repeatedly offered such false and conspiratorial claims in response to the treaty, claims which in the past have been echoed on Fox. But during today's interview, Kelly repeatedly pushed back on LaPierre's talking points.
After LaPierre made the false claim that the proposed treaty "says to people in the United States turn over your personal protection and your firearms to the government," Kelly attempted to steer him back to reality by suggesting the treaty is about "global arms sales" not "domestic sales." On multiple occasions she urged him to justify his baseless claims.
The Daily Caller's Matthew Boyle is reporting that a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) memorandum in the possession of congressional investigators "described a specific operation in which guns were allowed to walk across the Mexican border" during Operation Fast and Furious. The memo was drafted and, according to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), "forwarded to DOJ headquarters" the day before the Justice Department told Congress that no such gunwalking had occurred. Boyle suggests that this indicates that DOJ knew gunwalking had occurred in Fast and Furious when they issued their statement to Congress, and thus that they "may have tried to cover up" the use of such activities. This assertion is false and is directly contradicted by the memo in question, which does not detail a gunwalking operation.
Instead the memo describes a case where ATF agents were forced to "leave the immediate area" of the stakeout of a suspected gun trafficker to avoid detection. While repositioning, the suspect left the area and eluded capture. From the memo:
Special Agent [Gary] Styers was asked to describe the operations and relayed that one of the operations was a suspected transaction that was to occur at a gas station and detailed agents were asked to cover the transaction. While positioning to observe the suspects, Special Agent Styers and other detailed agents were told by Special Agent [Hope] McAllister that the agents were too close and would burn the operation. Special Agent McAllister told all of the agents to leave the immediate area. While the agents were repositioning, the transaction between the suspects took place and the vehicle took possession of the firearms and eventually left the area without the agents following it.
What was described was an unsuccessful law enforcement operation, not ATF acquiescence to the illegal transfer of firearms. Boyle includes much of the text of that passage in his article, but nonetheless concludes that Styers was describing an operation "in which guns were allowed to walk across the Mexican border." Boyle also neglects to mention that Styers, the author of the memo, wrote that during his involvement in Fast and Furious "he did not see any firearms cross the border into Mexico."
This isn't the first time that Boyle has made false claims in his reporting that are easily contradicted by the very documents he cites. In September 2011, Boyle published an article claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was attempting to hire 230,000 new workers at a cost of $21 billion per year. The legal documents cited by Boyle actually indicated that this was a scenario the EPA wanted to -- and eventually did -- avoid.
Marking the start of July's month-long United Nations conference to negotiate a small arms treaty, National Rifle Association top lobbyist Chris Cox authored an op-ed for The Daily Caller making the hysterical -- and baseless -- claim that the treaty could "seriously restrict your freedom to own, purchase and carry a firearm." In fact the proposed treaty seeks to regulate the international trade of firearms - curtailing the illicit arms trade that keeps weapons flowing to human rights abusers -- and will not change ownership rules domestically.
Cox also made the reality-defying argument, citing conditions in the Sudan, that a treaty to restrict illegal small arms proliferation would harm citizens in countries ruled by human rights abusers. To the contrary, the United Nations has noted that "[m]ore human rights abuses are committed with small arms than with any other weapon."
But according to Cox's theory "the world's socialist, tyrannical and dictatorial regimes" will use the treaty to "implement international gun registration requirements, bans on commonly owned firearms, tracking and registration of ammunition purchases, and create a new U.N. gun control bureaucracy" thus fulfilling "President Barack Obama's vision for America."
This laughable conspiracy has no place in reality. Top officials from the United Nations, the United States, and other high profile supporters have repeatedly and clearly said that the treaty does not aim to restrict anyone's "freedom to own" a gun. Indeed, the U.N. General Assembly's resolution on the treaty makes clear that countries will "exclusively" maintain the right within their borders to "regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections on private ownerships."
The chair of the Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, Ambassador Roberto García Moritán of Argentina, has stated that the definitive goal of the small arms treaty "is to try to have common standards to be applied by all countries when they export or import weapons."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also said that treaty is "opportunity to promote the same high standards for the entire international community that the United States and other responsible arms exporters already have in place to ensure that weaponry is transferred for legitimate purposes."
A senior policy advisor to the humanitarian organization Oxfam America has also pushed back against claims that the treaty has the nefarious purpose of interfering with domestic law:
"No government is discussing a treaty that would ever impact the right to bear arms, nor require regulation of domestic sales of arms," said Scott Stedjan, a senior policy adviser at the relief group Oxfam America. "This is totally about international transfer of arms so that they don't go to human rights abusers."
U.S. gun owners have nothing to fear from a treaty that essentially seeks to apply the standard for importing and exporting firearms already in place in the United States on a worldwide scale.
And there is no reason to believe that domestic manufacturers alone would be unable to ensure that the United States continues to have the most well-armed private citizenry in the world. According to the most recent figures available over 5.5 million firearms were manufactured in the United States in 2009 (The U.N. conservatively estimates that 7.5 to 8 million small arms are manufactured worldwide each year). Less than 200,000 of the firearms produced in the United States left the country as exports.
During today's edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and guest Betsy McCaughey choose to ignore the significant role that the National Rifle Association played in yesterday's contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder.
Doocy twice highlighted the fact that 17 Democrats joined Republicans to cite Holder for contempt of Congress concerning Holder's failure to satisfy an inquiry led by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee investigation into the failed ATF Fast and Furious Operation. When Fox News contributor and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi suggested that the vote was about "politics," guest Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, disagreed, citing the decision of some Democrats to cross the aisle.
What was left unsaid is that every Democrat who voted to cite Holder in contempt has recently received money from the rabidly anti-Holder NRA.
DOOCY: As we've been telling you, the House of Representatives yesterday on a bipartisan basis voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
DOOCY: Joe [Trippi], it was a bipartisan vote, 16 Democrats went along with Republicans and said, You know, you really should give up those documents there is a dead guy we are talking about. A border patrol agent.
JOE TRIPPI: We don't do this like you know bullet vote [where] everyone has to vote the same way on the Democratic side of the aisle.
TRIPPI: I'm not talking about the credible facts [in Fast and Furious], whether they are there or not. It looks like its politics.
BETSY MCCAUGHEY: I don't think it does because Democrats voted for the contempt. And you know what, all of those Democrats walked out, the Congressional Black Caucus --
TRIPPI: 16 Democrats --
MCCAUGHEY: -- they didn't have the nerve to vote against the contempt motion. They posed this as a walk out. But you know what, that was cowardice. Either you vote for it or you vote against it. Walking out that's just stage show but with no convictions.
The NRA has, of course, been trying to effectuate Holder's ouster since the beginning. On April 30, 2011, in the earliest stages of the House Oversight Committee's investigation into Fast and Furious, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre declared, "Holder's got to go!" In media appearances, LaPierre continues to promote his insane belief that Fast and Furious was an Obama administration plot to destroy the Second Amendment.
In a June 20 letter to lawmakers in support of citing Holder for contempt, the NRA's top lobbyist, Chris Cox, informed Members of Congress that the NRA would score the vote for its candidate rating system. Of the 17 Democrats who voted for contempt, 16 protected their A or A+ NRA rating. Rep. Kathleen Hochul (D-NY) possesses an NRA endorsement, but no rating.
UPDATE: During yesterday's broadcast of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Doocy predicted that Democrats who voted for contempt would be influenced by the NRA's decision to score the contempt vote. Even though his prediction appears to have come true, Doocy did not mention the NRA's influence during today's Fox & Friends and instead adopted the narrative that the bipartisan outcome suggested that partisanship was not a motivating factor.
DOOCY: Regarding how come there are going to be so many Democrats vote against Eric Holder is the fact that the NRA said, "Ok, you know what we're going to do? We're going to score that vote." And what happens in Washington is anytime there is something that involve gun control the NRA says, "We're going to score it." And if people want a good score with the NRA, and if you're in a district where the NRA is important, you vote with what the NRA wants, which is contempt of Congress for Mr. Holder.
Today the United States House of Representatives will vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. The push for a contempt citation followed a lengthy investigation by the House Oversight Committee into Holder's supposed role in the failed ATF Fast and Furious operation, in which, according to whistleblowers, the agency allowed guns to be trafficked across the border as part of an investigation intended to take down a Mexican drug cartel.
Throughout the investigation members of the right-wing media have engaged in numerous distortions about Fast and Furious while sycophantically parroting allegations made by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee. Below some of these narratives are examined and debunked.
The National Rifle Association is one of the primary promoters of the conspiracy theory that Operation Fast and Furious was designed to create violence in Mexico, which in turn would be pointed to by the Obama administration as the justification for more restrictive gun laws, a bizarre claim that has gained a solid foothold in the right-wing media's Fast and Furious narrative. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has frequently told his listeners that the failed ATF operation was a premeditated "attack on the Second Amendment," citing this theory.
But none of the people promoting this theory have ever provided any hard evidence to prove its existence. Townhall News Editor Katie Pavlich breathlessly hashed out the conspiracy theory in her book, Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover-up, on the shaky premise that the fact that some members of the Obama administration have supported gun violence prevention measures was evidence enough of an anti-Second Amendment plot. But even Fox News host Bill O'Reilly dismissed such claims as a "conspiracy thing." And for good reason; the "evidence" offered by Pavlich and other promoters is circumstantial and the theory's logic entirely speculative. In fact, Obama has expanded, rather than restricted, the right to carry a gun during his first term.
When Obama asserted executive privilege over a set of internal Department of Justice (DOJ) documents on June 20, Fox News was quick to push the narrative -- straight from the GOP spin room -- that the president's use of privilege implied something sinister was afoot at the White House. As Happening Now guest host Gregg Jarrett put it, "If the president was not involved then executive privilege does not apply. If the president was involved, then three things, either Holder was not telling the truth in front of Congress, and or the White House was not telling the truth when it denied the White House and the president were involved, and the president himself may have not been telling the truth when he made statements."
There are two problems with this argument. First, Obama only asserted executive privilege over documents generated after February 4, 2011. Fast and Furious was terminated in January 2011. According to the letter that DOJ sent to Obama asking the president to assert his privilege, the documents in question "were created after the investigative tactic at issue in that operation had terminated and in the course of the Department's deliberative process concerning how to respond to congressional and related media inquiries into that operation."
Secondly, presidents have traditionally asserted executive privilege over matters in which they are not personally involved. When President George W. Bush first used executive privilege in December 2001, he acted to shield internal DOJ documents. In a separate instance in 2008, his Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, advised the president that he could shield Environmental Protection Agency documents because "[t]he doctrine of executive privilege also encompasses Executive Branch deliberative communications that do not implicate presidential decisionmaking."
Since President Obama's assertion of executive privilege over a set of internal Department of Justice (DOJ) documents, Fox News "straight news" anchors have repeatedly suggested that the president is attempting to "have it both ways" by invoking the privilege while also maintaining his longstanding position that he was not involved in the authorization or management of the failed ATF Fast and Furious operation. At times they have continued to do so even after their colleagues have informed them that these positions are not inconsistent.
Both Gregg Jarrett and Jamie Colby, the guest hosts of Happening Now and America's Newsroom, respectively, have pushed this baseless idea - echoing GOP talking points - during this week's broadcasts. Although Colby and Jarrett have been corrected by their colleagues on-air for their mistaken claims, Jarrett's revival of the specious claim during yesterday's show demonstrates that the idea that Obama's routine use of executive privilege evidences something sinister is alive and well at Fox News.
From the June 25 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
JARRETT: The president is on record as having said all along knew nothing about it, didn't deal with it, wasn't involved. And all of a sudden the president invokes executive privilege which suggests that there was some White House involvement. You can't have it both ways, can you?
From the June 26 edition of America's Newsroom:
COLBY: Can the president have it both ways, say that the White House had nothing to do with the Fast and Furious program, and at the same time exert executive privilege over documents that dealt with, as [White House press secretary] Jay Carney had said, the operation?
Jarrett aired out his idea about Obama even after he had been corrected by Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry for making similar claims during the June 20 edition of Happening Now. During that show, Henry told Jarrett in plain terms that Obama's use of executive privilege "does not prove any sort of cover-up and it does not prove that the president was involved in Fast and Furious."
Colby was corrected in a more immediate fashion by conservative The Five co-host Andrea Tantaros who stated, "I will say this though, in fairness, the president does have a right to exert executive privilege in a deliberate process. In the [U.S. v.] Nixon ruling it said that it doesn't have to include the president or his advisors. It could include a decision that eventually will affect the president. Recommendations, deliberations, that kind of thing."