Fox News reporter William La Jeunesse highlighted fears from gun owners about President Obama's call to reinstate the assault weapons ban and suggested that those fears could sway the presidential election. In so doing, Fox is ignoring the fact that an assault weapons ban is favored by most Americans and that research suggests that the gun lobby has relatively little influence on election outcomes.
During the November 1 edition of Happening Now, La Jeunesse claimed that President Obama "stunned gun owners with his plans for a second term" when he indicated support for restrictions on assault weapons during the October 16 presidential debate. He further indicated that "gun owners could cause a problem" for Obama in some swing states, warning that "gun owners do vote."
But by harping on the importance of gun owners in presidential elections, La Jeunesse helped advance a false National Rifle Association narrative that exaggerates the influence of the gun lobby. An analysis conducted by The American Prospect contributing editor Paul Waldman (a former Media Matters staffer) found that NRA intervention has almost no influence on election outcomes. Waldman's report further showed that claims that the NRA had a significant impact on the 2000 presidential election -- a claim often repeated by the NRA and the media -- is baseless.
In focusing on the opinions of the handful of gun owners he interviewed, La Jeunesse also ignored the fact that large majorities of Americans say that they would support a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.
Indeed, La Jeunesse did not note that GOP nominee Mitt Romney was once a part of that majority, favoring an assault weapons ban as recently as the last time that he ran for president. While Romney now opposes a ban, in a February 18, 2007 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Romney cited his support for an assault weapons ban as an instance of where he didn't "line up" with the NRA.
In fact, in 2004 while governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed into law legislation that made the state-level ban on assault weapons permanent. In a press release touting the permanent reauthorization of the ban, Romney was quoted as saying, "Deadly assault weapons have no place in Massachusetts. These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people."
La Jeunesse's segment also mischaracterized the purpose of assault weapons, downplaying their role in crime. Termed a "sporting rifle" by a gun store owner on Fox News, assault weapons are more accurately described as semi-automatic versions of military assault weapons.
While proponents of these guns claim that there are only cosmetic differences between assault weapons and traditional hunting rifles, the Violence Policy Center correctly notes that, "All assault weapons -- military and civilian alike -- incorporate specific features that were designed for laying down a high volume of fire over a wide killing zone. This is sometimes known as 'hosing down' an area. Civilian assault weapons feature the specific military design features that make spray-firing easy and distinguish assault weapons from traditional sporting firearms."
La Jeunesse also credulously aired the claim of opponents of assault weapons bans that "Obama misrepresents the guns' danger." But according to a recent report issued by Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, when assault weapons with large capacity magazines -- which can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition -- are used in crimes, the result is particularly deadly:
Assault weapons and LCMs [large capacity magazines] are common characteristics of guns discussed in policy debates because they are disproportionately used in mass shootings. Mass shootings involving assault weapons typically involve more victims per incident than mass shootings with other weapons.
This was tragically demonstrated on July 20 when a man armed with an assault weapon and large capacity magazine opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater in what has been described as America's worst mass shooting in terms of total number of people shot.