Fox News, Firearms Sales, And The Gun Lobby Feedback Loop

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

During their "straight news" hours this morning, Fox News provided a perfect example of the self-contained feedback loop between conservative media outlets and the gun lobby.

On America's Newsroom, correspondent Casey Stegall reported that "sales of guns are at an all-time high across this country" and provided the following explanation for why that might be:

STEGALL: According to the experts we've talked to, they say that there has been more social acceptance when it comes to guns in this country, and also there's a big increase in the number of female ownership, but then there's the whole political angle, fears that President Obama would tighten laws if he is re-elected. You may remember he made a comment back in 2008 that Americans clung to religion and guns. But the Obama administration is quick to point out that it has done nothing the last three years to interfere with an American's right to bear arms.

It's worth pointing out that the claim of "record sales" is based not on hard data about the number of guns that have been sold, but rather based on the number of background checks run through the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). According to the FBI, "An increase in the number of NICS transactions, for a given time period, should not be used to indicate an increase in the number of firearms sold." That is because NICS background checks are run in a variety of cases that do not include the sale of a new firearm, including weapons that are never sold because the buyer fails; individuals applying for permits to carry a concealed handgun, and some secondhand sales.

But to the extent that gun sales may be increasing, Stegall's reporting on why leaves much to be desired.

The National Rifle Association may be eager to promote claims that there's been a "big increase" in female firearms ownership, but the numbers say otherwise. According to the General Social Survey, the gold standard for data on American society, firearms ownership among women has remained constant or declined in recent years. Indeed, personal ownership has declined overall by nearly a third over the last few decades. This suggests that the new gun sales are largely the result of gun owners buying additional firearms.

Why might they do such a thing? Stegall points to one reason, "fears that President Obama would tighten laws if he is re-elected." But during his tenure as president, Obama has only loosened such laws.

So why do these fears exist? Undoubtedly, conspiratorial nonsense like this is a contributing factor:

That's NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claiming last September that the President has been engaged in a "massive Obama conspiracy" to "lull gun owners to sleep" so that they would not vote him out of office in 2012, after which Obama plans to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights." Despite widespread media criticism of this "crazy" claim, LaPierre has repeated it again and again, aided and abetted by conservative media outlets.

As Stegall's report suggests, this sort of unhinged rhetoric has an impact, putting gun owners into a baseless state of fear. Those gun owners do two things: Donate money to the NRA to prevent Obama's re-election, and buy more firearms before Obama can implement his mythical gun ban.

Meanwhile, gun manufacturers make huge donations to the NRA to keep the fear flowing, with the donations sometimes coming in the form of a contribution per gun sold. Then Fox News can run reports on supposed record gun sales due to fears over Obama's future gun-grabbing.

It's a handy little feedback loop that keeps the gun lobby's pockets well-lined.

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