Conservative Media Defend Gun Bill Filibuster With Straw Man Argument

Blog ››› ››› ELLIE SANDMEYER

Right-wing media used a straw man argument to defend the Republican-led filibuster of a gun violence prevention bill, claiming that the legislation wouldn't have stopped the massacre at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, and ignoring that there are approximately 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S. each year.

On April 17, the U.S. Senate rejected gun violence prevention legislation that included a compromise amendment to expand background checks crafted by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (WV) and Republican Senator Pat Toomey (PA).

An April 17 Wall Street Journal editorial dismissed the defeated bill as "a liberal wish-list that wouldn't have stopped the next mass murder." Likewise, Breitbart.com featured two blog posts that claimed that gun violence prevention legislation would not have stopped the school shooting in Newtown. In one of these posts, Breitbart.com went so far as to accuse President Obama of throwing a "tantrum" after the vote, saying that "he used the Newtown disaster--or, in the eyes of many critics, exploited it--to make an argument about the urgent need for new laws, even if such laws would not have prevented the Newtown atrocity itself."

Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer made similar comments on the April 17 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, saying that the proposal was "irrelevant" and "would not have" stopped the Newtown shooting: 

KRAUTHAMMER: The question is, would it have had any effect on Newtown? If you're going to make all of these emotional appeals -- you saying you're betraying the families, you've got to show how if this had been law it would have stopped Newtown. It would not have. It is irrelevant.

Fox contributor Laura Ingraham went even further on the April 18 edition of her radio show, dismissing the bill by claiming that "criminals will be criminals":

INGRAHAM: The real things we can do to stop violent crime, we can actually have an economy that spins off jobs, have policies that don't encourage more lawlessness in our inner cities. Encourage families to stay together, fathers to stay with their, you know, the mothers of their children. All of these things. I mean we have a cultural and moral collapse in our society. You see it in many ways and many iterations of it. But we're supposed to believe that if only these background checks were in place, all -- Newtown wouldn't have happened, Aurora wouldn't have happened, Gabby Giffords wouldn't have been shot, none of this would have happened.

As Newtown parent Mark Barden explained in his April 17 statement at a White House press event, the argument that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown shooting is irrelevant, because the legislation's purpose was to save lives in the future:

Expanded background checks wouldn't have saved our loved ones, but still we came to support the bipartisan proposal from two senators, both with "A" ratings from the NRA -- a common-sense proposal supported by 90 percent of Americans. It's a proposal that will save lives without interfering with the rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.

New York Times article that detailed the higher rates of gun violence in states with weaker gun violence prevention laws quoted Harvard research scientist Deborah Azrael, who asserted that "tightened laws like universal background checks could address the availability of guns to criminals and the spread of trafficked guns across state borders." Additionally, recent data have demonstrated that government rules can reduce the number of fatalities caused by potentially dangerous consumer products -- in this case automobiles -- despite manufacturers' "regulatory equivalent of war" against the government's push for airbags and other safety initiatives. As CNN reported in 2011 [emphasis added]:

Experts attribute the change to a variety of reasons, including changes to cars -- such as vehicle rollover protection -- and programs to change driver behavior -- such as campaigns addressing drunk driving, distracted driving and seat belt use. Laws aimed at young people also likely have had an impact, notably older minimum drinking ages and graduated drivers' licenses.

With more than 31,000 gun deaths in 2010 alone in the U.S., arguing that the proposed background checks wouldn't have stopped a particular incident distracts from the goal of preventing gun deaths.

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