Right-wing media dishonestly reacted to Secretary of State John Kerry's signature to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by promoting the National Rifle Association's conspiracy theory that the treaty -- which aims to stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers -- would threaten gun rights and require the United States to create a civilian gun registry.
In fact, the treaty only regulates the international trade of arms and explicitly affirms the right of a nation to regulate domestic firearm ownership "pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system." As the American Bar Association noted in an analysis that found the treaty to be consistent with the Second Amendment, "the treaty would not require new domestic regulations of firearms."
Still, Fox News continued its checkered coverage of the ATT, promoting baseless conspiracy theories about the treaty.
On September 25, Fox host Heather Nauert reported on Fox & Friends that "gun supporters are opposing part of [the ATT] because it requires the United States government to adopt a new civilian gun tracking system, and that could sidestep the Second Amendment":
Reacting to the release of surveillance footage from the Washington Navy Yard mass shooting, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich claimed that, "[w]atching Aaron Alexis stalking his victims in these videos prove a proficient armed person could have stopped him, easily." Her commentary ignores that there were armed guards at Navy Yard and that Alexis reportedly fatally shot an armed guard before taking and then using the fallen guard's Beretta 9mm handgun.
She also wrote:
Alexis fatally shot 12 people and wounded others during the morning of September 16 before he was killed by police. On September 25, the FBI released a 31-second video, some of which showed Alexis moving through Building 197 at the Navy Yard.
Pavlich's claim that more guns would have improved the Navy Yard shooting situation is the latest attempt by conservative media to brand the Navy Yard a "gun-free zone," despite clear evidence that armed individuals were on the base when the shooting happened.
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.