CNN is adopting flawed right-wing media logic that seeks to downplay the numbers of school shootings in the last 18 months.
Following an incident at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon where a 15-year-old student armed with an AR-15 assault weapon and a handgun killed a fellow student before taking his own life, gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety circulated a graphic that identified the locations of 74 school shootings since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School:
How Everytown reached the 74 school shooting figure is no mystery. On its website, the gun safety group clearly explains its methodology: "Incidents were classified as school shootings when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented in publicly reported news accounts. This includes assaults, homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings."
The right-wing media has sought to debunk this statistic in order to downplay the prevalence of school shootings. Criticism of Everytown's graphic began on June 10 with a lengthy series of tweets from conservative journalist Charles C. Johnson that purported to debunk many of the 74 shootings as "fake shooting[s]."
Shootings that Johnson believed had been mischaracterized as school shootings included incidents where, in his own words, "A gunman ran onto campus, was chased by police, shot student accidentally," "Honors student shoots self in front of class," and, "Northwest High School principal shot by her ex-husband on campus":
Another fake shooting listed by everytown. A gunman ran onto campus, was chased by police, shot student accidentally. http://t.co/Q5M4iS3hhF-- Charles C. Johnson (@ChuckCJohnson) June 10, 2014
Another fake school shooting listed by everytown. Honors student shoots self in front of class. http://t.co/8BHLTASxyT-- Charles C. Johnson (@ChuckCJohnson) June 10, 2014
Another fake school shooting listed by Everytown. Northwest High School principal shot by her ex-husband on campus. http://t.co/RwwVbPmbL5-- Charles C. Johnson (@ChuckCJohnson) June 10, 2014
According to Johnson, "It's not a school shooting when someone goes and shoots a specific person on campus. It's a shooting that happens to take place at school."
National Rifle Association board member John Cushman alleged that the number of shooting victims in New York City is up over the past month because New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio "wanted them up."
Cushman appeared on NRA News program Cam & Company on June 10 to discuss a recent New York Post article that reported the number of shooting victims in New York City is up 43 percent compared to the same time period last year.
Overall the Post reports that shootings are up in New York City 13 percent this year. A Reuters article further noted that in New York City, "the murder rate is on track to hit a 50-year low, a statistical paradox that experts said reflects quick medical response." While any increase in shootings is a serious issue that should be addressed, the uptick will not threaten New York City's status as "the safest big city in America." In 2013 PolitiFact found New York City to be the safest among the 25 most populous cities in the United States.
New York City has some of the most rigorous gun laws nationwide, which were championed by former mayor and prominent gun safety advocate Michael Bloomberg and continue to receive support from de Blasio. In 2013 the number of shootings and gun homicides in New York City reached "historic lows."
During Cam & Company host Cam Edwards and John Cushman both blamed the increase in shootings on what Edwards termed "New York City's gun laws that make it prohibitive in a lot of cases, and outright impossible in some cases, for law abiding folks to own a firearm for self-defense." (Actually Supreme Court decisions in 2008 and 2010 held law-abiding people have a right to keep a gun in the home for the purpose of self-defense.)
Cushman charged that the number of reported shooting victims went up because de Blasio "wanted them up." Referencing de Blasio and Bloomberg, he added, "They are all out for some reason to disarm everybody with this screwboy notion that if we take guns away from everybody, we will cut crime."
Following reports of an active shooter at a high school near Portland, Oregon, the hosts of Fox News' Outnumbered offered baseless predictions that mental health was to blame for the shooting, false characterizations of past school shootings, attacks on "anti-gun nuts," and calls for more guns in schools.
Many details about the shooting are still unknown or unconfirmed, although it has been confirmed that the incident has ended and the shooter and at least one victim are dead. Though Outnumbered co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle explained to viewers that the network was "awaiting breaking news details about the circumstances of exactly what happened," the lack of information didn't stop Guilfoyle and her co-hosts from speculating wildly.
Although no biographical details of the shooter were known at the time, Fox News psychiatrist Keith Ablow said on the June 10 edition of Outnumbered, "I predict again that we'll find that yet another person who used a gun was compromised by one or more psychological or psychiatric illnesses that could have been detected." Ablow also attacked "anti-gun nuts" who he said would blame the shooting on firearms.
From the June 9 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:
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Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is alleging that a shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada that left two police officers and another victim dead was "absolutely staged" by the federal government.
On June 8, a married couple identified in news reports as Jerad and Amanda Miller ambushed and killed two police officers at a restaurant and killed a third person before taking their own lives in a "suicide pact" at a nearby Walmart. Witnesses say they heard the shooters state "this is the start of a revolution," after the officers were shot. The slain officers were allegedly draped in Gadsden flags by the shooters, a symbol commonly associated with the Tea Party. Law enforcement officials believe the couple held extreme anti-government views and Jerad Miller reportedly claimed to have participated in the standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and lawless Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
On the June 9 edition of The Alex Jones Show, Jones claimed "the country is being purposefully imploded right now," before calling the shootings "absolutely staged." Jones continued stating, "There is so much proof of this being staged yesterday, when I first read about it, and this morning, that my mind exploded with hundreds of data points, and quite frankly it's conclusive." He then claimed that the shooting bore out some of the "hundreds of predictions" that he had made "since the Bundy ranch situation," including a scenario where a shooting is blamed on the Tea Party. Towards the end of the segment, Jones named Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and referenced actions by the Obama administration in purporting to identify the actual parties responsible for the Las Vegas police ambush. He concluded, "I kept telling, they're getting ready to false flag, and it happens right in Harry Reid's district, right in his state, right in his city, with his police department":
From the June 4 edition of MSNBC's The Reid Report:
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Eleven days after a 22-year-old California man killed six in a shooting and stabbing spree near the University of California, Santa Barbara, the National Rifle Association responded, placing "the blame" for the tragedy on gun safety efforts.
On May 23 Elliot Rodger, apparently motivated by hatred of women, went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California, stabbing three victims to death before shooting 11 people; three fatally. Several other people were injured by Rodger's car.
The NRA typically goes silent in the wake of mass shooting incidents, and the Isla Vista killings were no different. As The New York Times noted after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, "Over the years the N.R.A. has perfected its strategy for responding to mass shootings: Lie low at first, then slow-roll any legislative push for a response." (Slate's Dave Weigel has noted that when the NRA finally does weigh in, its response is nearly identical to past incidents.)
During a June 3 appearance on the NRA's radio program Cam & Company, NRA top lobbyist Chris Cox addressed the Isla Vista killings, stating, "The blame needs to be placed on the politicians in California who time and time again their answer to these issues are more and more gun control laws."
Cox also claimed that not enough attention had been paid by the media to the victims who were stabbed to death, adopting a similar argument used in a May 30 NRA commentary video that attacked media for using the word "shooting" when describing murders committed with guns.
From the June 3 edition of Cam & Company:
From the June 3 edition of MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell:
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UPDATE: In a June 10 article, Mother Jones reported that a Department of Justice official said of Operation Choke Point, "There's been a lot of misunderstanding, there's been accusations were going after gun owners...None of our cases involve gun merchants":
Nonetheless, Issa's report alleges that the Justice Department is using the FDIC guidance as a hit list. "The FDIC's policy statements on firearm and ammunition sales carry additional weight in light of FDIC's active involvement in Operation Choke Point," the report reads. But a Justice Department official tells Mother Jones that this conclusion is incorrect. "We're not using the FDIC's list at all," the official says. "There's been a lot of misunderstanding, there's been accusations were going after gun owners...None of our cases involve gun merchants or porn."
Conservative media are advancing baseless claims about a Department of Justice program that targets fraud in order to manufacture a conspiracy theory that the Obama administration is trying to put gun retailers out of business.
The DOJ program in question is called Operation Choke Point and was conceived as a project of the DOJ Consumer Protection Branch in November 2012. Based on the suspicion that some banks -- acting with knowledge or willful blindness -- conducted business with fraudulent merchants or those merchants' third-party payment processors, an assistant United States attorney drafted a proposal to investigate banks for possible civil or criminal violations. As an early memo stated, Choke Point was designed as "a strategy to attack Internet, telemarketing, mail, and other mass market fraud against consumers, by choking fraudsters' access to the banking system." The memo called for an initial investigation of 10 banks and the creation of a "database to map relationships among fraudulent merchants (beneficial owners and trade names), third-party payment processors, and banks."
In April 2014, The Washington Post reported DOJ had "issued 50 subpoenas to banks and payment processors." In a May 7 blog post, DOJ described a settlement it obtained from Four Oaks Bank in North Carolina. The bank agreed to $1.2 million in fines to settle allegations it profited from its business relationship with a clearly fraudulent third-party payment processor. While touting the settlement, DOJ also noted, "We're committed to ensuring that our efforts to combat fraud do not discourage or inhibit the lawful conduct of these honest merchants." On May 29, The Wall Street Journal reported the existence of at least 15 DOJ investigations under Choke Point.
Conservative media, however, are hyping the evidence-free claims of various gun retailers that they have been targeted by Choke Point because of the Obama administration's supposed antipathy for guns. (Hysteria over Choke Point falls within a pattern of conservative media's embrace of conspiracy theories about the Obama administration attacking gun rights.) But recently released DOJ documents show that Choke Point is entirely focused on fraud, not firearms retailers.
The National Rifle Association is walking back its statement criticizing gun activists who carry loaded assault weapons in public as a form of protest, with the NRA's top lobbyist apologizing and calling the statement "a mistake."
In recent months Open Carry Texas and several other gun activist groups have made headlines for openly carrying loaded assault weapons in public and into restaurants in the Dallas area. This tactic of attempting to "normalize" open carry of rifles has spectacularly backfired, as gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has persuaded several restaurant chains where open carry rallies were staged to ask customers not to bring firearms into their businesses.
On June 2, Mother Jones reported on a statement on the NRA's website that criticized the open carry protests as "downright weird" and suggested that the practice was "downright scary" to onlookers and "counterproductive for the gun owning community." The Mother Jones report was widely circulated in media as it was an aberration from the NRA's typical absolutist position on firearm issues. Open Carry Texas called the NRA's statement "disgusting and disrespectful" and some gun activists cut up their NRA membership cards.
The NRA's top lobbyist, Chris Cox, appeared on the NRA's radio show Cam & Company on June 3 to repudiate the NRA's article criticizing the open carry movement. Cox said that the statement was "a mistake" and that "it shouldn't have happened," adding "our job is not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners." Cox also blamed the statement on a "staffer" who Cox said "expressed his personal opinion." Referencing media interest in the statement, Cox termed it a "distraction."
Cox went on to describe the NRA's official policy: "The National Rifle Association unapologetically and unflinchingly supports the right of self-defense and what that means is that our members and our supporters have a right to carry a firearm in any place they have a legal right to be. If that means open carry, we support open carry. If it means concealed carry, it means concealed carry. So unequivocally we support open carry, we've been the leader of open carry efforts across this country, the leader in opposing efforts to curtail the ability to carry firearms, and that's something we're proud of and we do every day for our members."
Cox added that the NRA "apologize[s] again for any confusion that that post caused."
Although the National Rifle Association is refusing to comment on the recent mass murder in Isla Vista, California, the group has released a video complaining the media "race[s] to label anything with a gun as a shooting."
On May 23 a young man apparently motivated by hatred of women went on a killing spree where he stabbed three victims to death before shooting 11 people; three fatally. In the ten days since the killing spree, the NRA has declined to issue a comment, a common tactic of the gun group.
Without mentioning the Isla Vista killings by name, on May 30 the NRA published a video commentary called "Propaganda," in which "NRA News Commentator Dom Raso exposes the inaccuracy of the media - especially regarding their reports of mass shootings."
During a critique of the media, Raso warned viewers of a "trick" where media figures "race to label anything with a gun as a shooting, because they know how much more attention they are going to get with that word." According to Raso, the media use the word "shooting" so that viewers are being "subconsciously told to think about the tool they used" instead of the perpetrator.
Ken Blackwell -- who cited "the attack on ... natural marriage" as a reason for the May 23 mass murder in Isla Vista, California -- has longstanding ties to the National Rifle Association.
Blackwell, who is also a senior fellow at anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, was flagged by People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch linking gay marriage to the killing spree that left six dead. From FRC's radio show:
BLACKWELL: When you see there's a crumbling of the moral foundation of the country, you see the attack on the -- on natural marriage and the family that has been a part of the, not only the moral foundation and the upbringing of our children but the teaching of sexual roles and the development of human sexuality in our culture. When these fundamental institutions are attacked and destroyed and weakened and abandoned, you get what we are now seeing and that is a flood of these disturbed people in our society that are causing great, great pain. And as opposed to dealing with the foundational problems, we look for ways of blaming the Second Amendment, or blaming knives or blaming cars when they are used. At the end of the day, you have just underscored the problem. This is a convenient way of avoiding talking about what's at the root cause.
Gun researcher John Lott is dishonestly accusing Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America of spreading "false information" over the gun violence prevention group's claim that the vast majority of female firearm homicides among high-income nations occur in the United States.
But the claim is true; a 2002 study (download) published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Women's Association found that among 25 high-income nations, the United States accounted for 84 percent of female firearm homicides but just 32 percent of the female population.
In a May 29 column for National Review Online, Lott offered false attacks to support his conclusion that "[t]he notion that gun violence disproportionately harms women does not hold up." According to Lott, "anti-gun group Moms Demand Action couldn't let the tragedy in Santa Barbara pass without interjecting more false information into the gun-control debate" by sharing the statistic "84% of female firearm homicides in 25 countries are in US."
Lott challenged the credibility of the statistic cited by Moms Demand Action, writing, "It is hard to see how Moms Demand Action could even make this comparison across all countries. Data from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) allows you to break down murders either by the sex of the victim or by whether firearms are used, but it doesn't allow users to identify both these categories simultaneously."
However, the study didn't use UNODC data, but instead used data gathered by the World Health Organization.
From the May 28 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza is protecting politicians who oppose popular gun laws by predicting that the nation's latest mass murder will change nothing and pre-emptively blaming that on an indifferent public.
On May 23, a 22-year-old man apparently motivated by a deep-seated hatred of women stabbed three people to death before using a gun to kill three and wound eight others in Isla Vista, California. Five other victims were injured by the shooter's car.
The following day Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was shot to death during the killing spree, gave an impassioned press conference in which he castigated "irresponsible politicians and the NRA" and asked, "When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, 'Stop this madness?' We don't have to live like this. Too many have died. We should say to ourselves, 'Not. One. More.'" Martinez later elaborated on his press conference, telling politicians, "I don't care about your sympathy ... Get to work and do something."
While expressing sympathy for Martinez, Cillizza categorically rejected the idea that anything will change because of "Richard Martinez's grief" in a May 27 blog post. Cillizza concluded by writing, "Yes, Richard Martinez's grief is powerful. But it is also fleeting in the American consciousness. If the slaughter of 20 children at their elementary school didn't change things, it's hard to believe that Richard Martinez's anger -- or virtually anything else -- will." (Cillizza published columns with similar conclusions following the Newtown massacre and the Aurora, Colorado movie theater mass shooting.)
Cillizza's description of the events since 20 children and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 both ignores the progress that has been made since and misrepresents public opinion on the gun issue.