At a press conference held at a Washington, DC, hotel last month, the National Rifle Association's leadership responded to the tragic mass shooting at a Newtown, CT, elementary school by decrying the impact of violent movies on our culture. Less than 20 miles away, their organization's museum was hosting a laudatory exhibit on the firearms used in popular violent films.
During his December 21 speech at Washington DC's Willard Hotel, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre sought to refocus the debate on the political response to the shooting away from new regulations on guns. He instead passed blame to what he called "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people," specifically highlighting "the blood-soaked slasher films like 'American Psycho' and 'Natural Born Killers' that are aired like propaganda loops."
Of course, academic research has discredited the notion that violent movies encourage violent behavior. But it nonetheless seems clear that the NRA's aversion to violent films is extremely inconsistent.
Since 2010, the NRA National Firearms Museum, which is based out of the group's Fairfax, VA, headquarters, has hosted "Hollywood Guns," an exhibit featuring firearms made famous by movies like Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Die Hard. According to NRA magazine American Rifleman, "If you love guns or you love movies or, still luckier, you love guns and movies, this is a trip you cannot miss."
In the video, museum senior curator Phil Schreier says, "[W]e encourage you to come by and visit this sequel and come see a true blockbuster here in Fairfax, where all the stars of the silver screen have descended into these galleries and are represented by some of the firearms that we've fallen in love with in our youth and our adulthood, wishing that we too could be like our matinee idols."
Fox News is providing cover for the National Rifle Association as the organization attempts to shift the debate away from implementing stronger gun laws.
In a speech and an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press following last month's school shooting in Newtown, CT, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said that his group would oppose any new gun laws and instead called for Congress to "act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation." His comments were widely panned.
Fox & Friends Sunday host Dave Briggs responded to the criticism by defending LaPierre, claiming that "the mainstream media [is] mocking" the NRA leader. Briggs then suggested that media criticism of the NRA's position was unwarranted because "when you are talking about the mainstream media, it's all in this tiny little bubble up here in the Northeast, [it] has very little representation of most of the people in this country that do make up groups like the NRA."
Beyond Briggs' suggestion that the media should be more representative of the special interest groups it covers, the position of NRA leadership is not largely representative of American views on firearm ownership, or even the views of the majority of gun owners. During a December 23 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, LaPierre stated that the NRA would oppose any new firearms regulations. Meanwhile, public support for bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as mandatory background checks on all gun sales, is strong.
A major flaw in the National Rifle Association's proposal to respond to the Newtown massacre with an increased focus on mental health but no new legislation on guns was exposed during NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's interview on NBC's Meet the Press.
During that interview, LaPierre said that a major flaw in the background check system is that states have failed to input mental health records, allowing people who have mental health issues that would prohibit them from buying a firearm to nonetheless pass a background check. But moments later, he expressed opposition to extending the background check system to all gun sales, maintaining a loophole that would allow the mentally ill to continue to obtain firearms.
From the December 23 interview with Meet the Press host David Gregory:
LAPIERRE: I'll tell you what would work. We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics. ... 23 states are still putting only a small number of records into the system and a lot of states are putting none. So when they go through the National Instant Check System and they go to try to screen out one of those lunatics, the records are not even in the system.
GREGORY: Again, a lot of people would agree with that, there are a lot of difficulties regard to getting that kind of mental health information because there's privacy laws, there are states not contributing to a national registry. Isn't part of the issue background checks? You have 40 percent of sales that go on without any background checks. Are you prepared to back broader background checks if you don't think the ammunition road is the way to go?
LAPIERRE: We have backed the National Instant Check system, we have backed putting anyone adjudicated mentally incompetent into the system. Now I know where you're going with this. They come up with this whole, "oh, it's a gun show loophole." There's not a gun show loophole. It's illegal for felons to do anything like that, to buy guns. What the anti-Second Amendment movement wants to do is put every gun sale in the country under the thumb of the federal government. Congress debated this at length. They said if you're a -- a hobbyist or collector, if someone in West Virginia, a hunter, wants to sell a gun to another hunter, they ought to be able to do it without being under the thumb of the federal government.
Reports from the federal government and gun violence prevention advocates have exposed the failures of states to input mental health data into the National Instant Check System, and made recommendations to fill those gaps. But as Gregory noted, even if all mental health records were put into the system, it would have no effect on the estimated 40 percent of firearms sales that are made through private sellers.
From the December 21 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the December 21 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' Rush Limbaugh Show:
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One week after a mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead, the National Rifle Association broke its silence with a question-free "press conference" that featured a number of inaccurate claims about school safety and the role of entertainment in violence.
The media has a responsibility to evaluate the truthfulness of the claims made the NRA and should not merely pass along statements made in the press conference as fact.
During the press conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre claimed that gun free school policies make students less safe, misled about the Obama administration's position on school safety funding, and suggested that increasing armed security at schools is a comprehensive policy to stop violent attacks. LaPierre also falsely suggested there exists a link between violent video games and actual acts of violence while ignoring the documented link between gun availability and violence.
John Lott, a vocal opponent of gun violence prevention legislation, says that the National Rifle Association's plan for armed security guards at schools would be costly and ineffective.
During a December 21 press conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre laid out the group's proposed response to the December 14 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, CT:
LAPIERRE: Now, the National Rifle Association knows there are millions of qualified and active retired police, active, Reserve, and retired military, security professionals, certified firefighters, security professionals, rescue personnel, an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained, qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every single school.
We could deploy them to protect our kids now. We can immediately make America's schools safer, relying on the brave men and women in America's police forces. The budgets -- and you all know this, everyone in the country knows this -- of our local police departments are strained, and the resources are severely limited, but their dedication and courage is second to none. And, they can be deployed right now.
I call on Congress today, to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation. And, to do it now to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January.
Responding to a question about the press conference from Mayors Against Illegal Guns staffer and Aurora shooting survivor Stephen Barton on Twitter, Lott criticized the idea as costly and ineffective, saying that "identifiable guards are of very limited use in these cases":
Lott frequently appears in the media - despite being thoroughly discredited as a serious academic researcher - to opine against stronger gun laws.
From the December 21 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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The National Rifle Association refused to answer questions at what it had claimed was a "press conference" today in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Instead, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre gave a speech calling for armed police officers at all schools and blaming violent video games for mass shootings, rather than the ability of those shooters to obtain a firearm.
Notably, an armed police officer was present at Columbine High School at the time of the mass shooting there. After attempting to fire on one of the shooters with his pistol, he was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon.
This puts special pressure on the hosts of NBC's Meet The Press and CBS' Face The Nation, who will host LaPierre and NRA president David Keene on Sunday, to ask the questions that the rest of the press corps was unable to.
Any such interview should address the conspiratorial language that LaPierre typically uses in speaking to his base, notably his claim that President Obama plans to use his second term to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights."
From the December 21 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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In an outlandish column for WorldNetDaily, Bradlee Dean suggests that the mass shooting last week in Newtown, Connecticut, was staged in order to aid the passage of the UN Arms Trade Treaty and gun control legislation, comparing the administration's purported actions to that of the Nazis setting the Reichstag Fire.
Though WorldNetDaily often publishes conspiratorial stories like Dean's column -- the site was the driving force behind the birther movement -- it's still regularly validated by more mainstream conservatives. Last month, the site announced that they had hired former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum as a columnist.
Dean, an "ordained preacher, heavy metal drummer, [and] talk-show host of Sons of Liberty Radio," suggests in his December 21 column that the "timing is impeccable" for both the theater shooting in Aurora and the shooting in Newtown because they happened while the UN was deliberating over the Arms Trade Treaty:
The Sandy Hook shooting occurred just days after Sen. Rand Paul sent out an alert that the U.N. was set to pass the final version of the Small Arms Treaty, supported by Obama the day after election.
Part of the treaty bans the trade, sale and ownership of all semi-automatic weapons ... like the one Adam Lanza used to kill 20 children and 6 adults.
The "Batman shooting" in Aurora, Colo., also happened to coincide with the same time as negotiations of the U.N. Small Arms Treaty.
The timing is impeccable.
Aside from its conspiratorial nature, Dean's column is also plainly inaccurate. Contrary to his suggestion that the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty would ban "the trade, sale, and ownership of all semi-automatic weapons" like the one used by Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, it does nothing of the sort. The Arms Trade Treaty is an effort to regulate the international arms trade and overtly affirms the "sovereign right" of countries to regulate the domestic ownership of firearms "pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system."
As we have previously explained, the Department of State has stated that it will oppose any treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution."
Dean also provides links to several "reports" alleging inconsistencies in eyewitness accounts of several recent mass shootings in our country. He concludes that "[e]yewitnesses in all of these massacres said there were more shooters than the media maintain, indicating the shootings were coordinated and planned."
Among the sources for these "reports" are Alex Jones' InfoWars website, a forum posting at a separate Alex Jones affiliated site, and a site called "Conscious Life News." Reliable sources, all. (For a sample of the type of conspiracy-mongering Jones' websites have been engaged in this week, a few days ago they published an article proposing that the presence of the phrase "Sandy Hook" on a map in the latest Batman movie is "bizarre evidence" that the shooting "may have been staged.")
Another unfolding American gun massacre has produced an avalanche news coverage, but it's coverage that continues to omit crucial context about gun violence and the rash of often public shooting sprees that plague the country. It's a troubling journalism trend, and one that seems to be getting worse. As America recoils from new shootings, the news media are casting the gun horrors in less context, not more.
It's true that the press is moving away from presenting shooting sprees as isolated incidents. The coverage of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., has been rich with references to the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre from this summer. Then again, how can reporters not connect the dots from those two rampages to a sweeping cultural and criminal problem, and one that continues to worsen and extends to all corners of the country.
But simply acknowledging the deadly trend doesn't mean the news media are providing much-needed context. For instance, each year roughly 30,000 Americans die from gun violence. By comparison, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, approximately 4,300 Americans have died in that conflict.
As Forbes' Rob Waters noted, from the period between 2000 to 2009, "If you exclude natural causes of death and consider only deaths caused by injury, [gun violence] is the second-leading cause of death over that time span; only car accidents (417,000) killed more people." And according to Bloomberg News, the number of Americans killed by guns will soon exceed the yearly number of auto fatalities, as auto-related deaths are falling and gun fatalities are rising.
To understand the larger story of gun violence in America, people have to understand the context. People have to be aware of the 30,000 figure. They ought to know, for instance, that that in the week since Newtown, an estimated 500 Americans have died from gunfire, and more than 1,200 have been wounded. They ought to know that just since the Sand Hook School massacre, approximately 50 more American children and teens have died from gunfire.
If we don't understand the saturation status we're not going to understand the steady stream of public shooting sprees.
But news consumers aren't getting that information from the media - at least not in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.
In yet another year plagued by horrific instances of gun violence, the media was quick to react to tragedies by labeling gun violence prevention efforts futile on the basis of the alleged ability of the National Rifle Association to ruin the political careers of anyone who dared to stand in the way of its anti-gun regulation agenda.
Earlier this year, Slate's Brian Palmer typified this narrative with an article titled "Why Is The NRA So Powerful?" that suggested that the pro-gun organization "considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country" can "reliably deliver votes." In the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Slate republished the article verbatim. Also following the Newtown massacre, NBC's David Gregory and Fox News' Chris Wallace both suggested that politicians who favored gun violence prevention measures would face serious reprisals.
In making these claims, the media simply advanced a years old narrative suggesting the NRA wields unlimited political power without citing any actual evidence for that position. In fact, 2012 was a year full of indicators that the extent of NRA influence has been wildly exaggerated. The media should keep this in mind as they prepare to cover the NRA's press conference this morning responding to the Newtown massacre.
During the past year, the National Rifle Association was abandoned by political and business allies and spent nearly $18 million in a failed attempt to keep supporters of gun violence prevention out of Congress and the White House.
Even as the NRA's brand was deemed toxic by the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative "model legislation" group, and faced withering criticism in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, the media myth has persisted that the NRA has the capability to punish politicians who oppose its extreme agenda.
From the December 21 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Conservative media are calling on teachers to be armed in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, even as law enforcement experts, educators, and others argue that bringing guns into schools would make classrooms more dangerous. This advice comes on the heels of legislation being considered by Republicans in at least six states that would allow or require teachers and staff to carry guns.
On December 14, a lone gunman killed 26 people, among them 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, before shooting and killing himself.
During a segment on the tragedy, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade dismissed arguments for gun control, saying that he favors "hardening the target and maybe arming the teachers" as a way to avert such massacres in the future. He also advocated for the hiring of retired law enforcement and military to police school halls.
Co-host Steve Doocy pointed to a school in Harrold, Texas, whose teachers carry concealed weapons to suggest that such a program would work well at other schools.
When co-host Gretchen Carlson dissented, saying she worries about what the consequences would be for children to grow up in a culture in which people are armed, Kilmeade stated: "They're in that culture." He added: "The reality is there's school shootings and I want my kid to get out alive."
CNN contributor Bill Bennett also supports arming teachers. In a CNN.com opinion piece, he wrote: "Suppose the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary who was killed lunging at the gunman was instead holding a firearm and was well trained to use it. Would the result have been different? Or suppose you had been in that school when the killer entered, would you have preferred to be armed?" He concluded: "Evidence and common sense suggest yes."
However, former law enforcement officers argue against arming teachers, citing the lack of necessary training and experience.