|NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre at the |
NRA's 2012 annual meeting.
ST. LOUIS -- The hotel minibus had barely left the airport when the guy to my left dropped the Obama assassination joke.
There were eight of us on our way to the National Rifle Association's annual convention downtown, rolling past a domino-row of highway billboards advertising the event's "Acres of Guns and Gear." The banter suggested the minibus crew was microcosmic of the NRA's claimed four million members, more than 70,000 of whom made the election-year pilgrimage. There was a soft-spoken father from Long Island and his teenage daughter headed to the University of Akron on a Division-I marksmanship scholarship. There were retired New Hampshire hunters from NRA families going back generations. There was a Russian immigrant whose only hobby is fully automatic machine guns.
And there was a professional Second Amendment extremist named Stephen Burke. An Endowment Life Member of the NRA and an attorney from Springfield, Massachusetts, Burke specializes in getting guns into the hands of ex-cons whose licenses have been revoked or downgraded for criminal activity.
Burke is a loud and boastful retired lance corporal who displays a photo of himself with NRA Executive Vice President & CEO Wayne LaPierre on his professional website. The only thing he abhors more than gun control is silence. When a conversation about former New York Governor George Pataki's pro-gun record entered a lull, he asked the group what sounded like an American history riddle or piece of trivia: "What do Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama have in common?"
The collective intelligence of the minibus was stumped. After a few beats, he delivered the answer: "Nothing. Yet."
Most of the bus erupted in laughter, but the father from Long Island looked out the window, embarrassed.
Parents who want to shield their children from presidential assassination jokes should consider vacation destinations other than NRA conventions. The group's leadership has in recent years expertly cultivated a very profitable hatred and paranoia among its membership. This fact was on majestic display in St. Louis, where NRA officials painted the president as a dedicated "enemy of freedom" quietly implementing the early stages of a master gun confiscation plan. The convention marked the opening salvo in the group's campaign to defeat Obama and his gun control allies in November. The official battle cry for this effort, unveiled on Friday, is "All In."
The NRA's election-year slogan is meant to evoke a bit of the Wild West tough guy imagery that remains central to American gun culture. The phrase comes from poker, the card game of the frontier, and the desired picture is that of a noble, steely-eyed gun lobby pushing its mountain of chips across the table of America's destiny, betting everything on one last high-stakes hand. In NRA land, where impending Second Amendment Apocalypse is a state of mind and a business strategy, the next election is always the final hand. As he did in 2008, chief NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre describes 2012 as "the most important election of our lifetime."
As companies cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) following a campaign led by ColorOfChange, Fox News has defended the conservative legislation organization, accusing ColorOfChange of using "fascist tactics" and inviting ALEC supporters and officials on to defend their actions. ALEC, an organization that drafts model bills for conservative state lawmakers, has pushed for controversial "Stand Your Ground" and voter ID laws across the country.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has announced that they are eliminating their Public Safety and Elections task force, which has drawn fire for its central role in promoting legislation similar to the Florida "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law that experts say may prevent the successful prosecution of Trayvon Martin's killer.
In a statement issued on behalf of the group's Legislative Board of Directors, ALEC national chairman David Frizzell said that in a meeting last week the legislative board unanimously agreed to "eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy."
Last month Media Matters was the first to report that shortly after Florida passed their 2005 "Stand Your Ground" law at the behest of the National Rifle Association, a nearly identical bill was adopted by ALEC as model legislation. NRA lobbyist and former NRA president Marion Hammer, who was the driving force behind Florida's bill, was the one who presented it before the Criminal Justice Task Force (which became the Public Safety and Elections task force).
Since ALEC adopted Florida's bill as model legislation, similar statutes have passed in dozens of states, with Public Safety and Elections resident fellow Michael Hough acknowledging in a 2008 interview with NRA News that ALEC and NRA were working together to get those bills passed. The NRA and ALEC have also teamed up to push bills allowing concealed carry permit holders to bring guns on college campuses and banning governors and local officials from seizing firearms during emergencies.
Following Media Matters' report, ALEC's ties to "Stand Your Ground" laws have drawn increasing scrutiny from the media and progressive organizations. In late March "a broad coalition of progressive groups -- including the NAACP, the Urban League, Color of Change, Common Cause, People for the American Way and MoveOn.org" held a protest of ALEC's ties to those laws outside the group's Washington, DC headquarters. At least 10 companies have left the organization in the wake of Color of Change's campaign to encourage corporations to end their association with ALEC due to its work on "Stand Your Ground" and voter ID legislation.
In response, ALEC has apparently decided to end its work on those issues, eliminating a key NRA ally.
At an event during last weekend's National Rifle Association annual meeting, NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox said that the group doesn't "apologize" for its support for "Stand Your Ground" self-defense legislation in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, adding, "We will defend our efforts. We will defend those laws."
Cox's comments came during an appearance at Friday's workshop on "Grassroots Campaigning in a National Election Year" attended by Media Matters. The head of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action was asked by an NRA district organizer to defend the NRA's support of "Stand Your Ground" legislation given the controversy currently swirling around such laws.
COX: There's support across the board for the Second Amendment, there's support across the board, even post-media hysteria over the last few weeks, there's support across the board for legitimate self-defense. We don't apologize for supporting -- whether you call it a national right or a God-given right, legislation that recognizes our right to defend ourselves. The fact that other groups and other business entities and others are supportive of that concept of constitutional freedom, whether they're concerned about it from a Second Amendment standpoint or an economic freedom standpoint, that's not my position to be, you can call them and ask them, that's not my position to take, for debate, for them. We stand in strong defense of any effort to allow law-abiding, good people to defend themselves against criminal attack. We don't apologize for that. It's not a problem in this country. We will defend our efforts. We will defend those laws, and if others want to join that fight we will.
During a Saturday speech at the annual meeting, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre attacked the media for their coverage of Martin's killing, accusing them of "manufactur[ing] controversy for ratings." The NRA's role in helping to author Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law and promoting similar laws across the country has in recent days become a focus of media attention.
From the April 16 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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From the April 15 edition of ABC's This Week:
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From the April 14 edition of Sirius XM's Media Matters Radio:
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The National Rifle Association has been silent on the killing of Trayvon Martin and the laws it has helped pass that may prevent the successful prosecution of the man who shot him. Until now.
During his speech this morning at the group's annual meeting, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre finally addressed the controversy -- by attacking the media for covering the case, claiming they are "manufactur[ing] controversy for ratings."
LAPIERRE: But the media, they don't care. Everyday victims aren't celebrities. They don't draw ratings, don't draw sponsors. But sensational reporting from Florida does. In the aftermath of one of Florida's many daily tragedies, my phone has been ringing off the hook. Now, the National Rifle Association will not comment on any story without a full understanding and a thorough understanding of all the facts. But if I were to answer a call from Diane Sawyer or Chris Matthews or Brian Williams or Rachel Maddow, let me tell you right now what I'd ask them.
Where's your outrage? Where's your outrage about Willie Brewer III from Akron, Ohio? OrDerrick Linkhorn from Decatur, Georgia? Or Daryl Adams from New York City? Or what about Antonio Duff? Just this past Monday afternoon, about the same time I got here into town, he was killed and murdered. And he's not the only young man murdered in this city this past week. You reporters, you don't know their names. You don't care about those people. You manufacture controversy for ratings. You don't care about the truth, and the truth is the national news media in this country is a national disgrace, and you all know it. And so do Americans throughout the country, and it's getting worse every single day, and your dishonesty, duplicity, and moral irresponsibility is directly contributing to the collapse of American freedom in our country.
In an article entitled "No gun-control debate over Trayvon," Politico reports: "Despite an arrest this week in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, new gun-control measures aren't even being debated in Washington." The article goes on to comment that "a federal debate" over the Kill at Will statute that may prevent the successful prosecution of Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, "is strangely lacking since there is no federal equivalent of the state laws."
Politico portrays this as evidence of the power of the gun lobby and weakness of the gun violence prevention community. But there is a good reason why no federal legislation to override such state statutes hasn't been produced, and thus why there is no "federal debate" -- such a statute would almost certainly be unconstitutional.
Thanks to the efforts of the National Rifle Association, laws similar to Florida's statute have been passed in dozens of states. Why have they focused on states rather than pushing for federal legislation? Because such self-defense laws are fundamentally part of the state criminal code, acting on the circumstances in which homicides, assaults, and manslaughters can be prosecuted.
In United States v. Lopez, the Supreme Court overturned a federal statute banning possession of firearms at public schools, finding that failure to do so would "convert congressional Commerce Clause authority to a general police power of the sort held only by the State." In their brief to the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration acknowledged that "States historically have been sovereign" in issues of "general criminal law." An attempt to overturn state self-defense laws would almost certainly run afoul of the same problem.
Meanwhile, Politico ignores how Martin's killing has led to a debate over such laws at the state level, where such activities are properly focused. As BloombergBusinessweek reported last month, the NRA is facing "mounting challenges" in its effort to promote such laws across the country: "Legislation in New York and Iowa stalled in committees as lawmakers in Georgia, Texas and other states said they would try to repeal laws already on the books."
Those efforts will receive a boost from a broad coalition of civil rights groups calling for such repeals. On Wednesday New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a national campaign to overturn the state statutes, joining the NAACP, National Urban League, ColorOfChange and National Action Network to promote a "Second Chance on Shoot First." The group will encourage "politicians who originally supported these reckless laws to examine the facts, listen to law enforcement and prosecutors, and join other elected officials in reforming or repealing these laws."
Monday marks the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, in which an armed student shot to death 32 students and faculty of the school and wounded 17 more before killing himself. It subsequently came to light that under federal law, the shooter "should have been prohibited from buying a gun after a Virginia court declared him to be a danger to himself in late 2005 and sent him for psychiatric treatment," but was nonetheless able to pass a federal background check and purchase firearms due to a loophole in the law.
In response to the shooting, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law "the first major federal gun control measure in more than 13 years" in order to close that loophole and provide additional funding for states to update mental health records in the gun background check database. Despite this law, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has pointed out that millions of such records are still missing from the system.
The Washington Times, on the other hand, has a different response to the tragedy. In an editorial this morning, they call for allowing concealed carry permit holders to bring guns onto college campuses:
Five years ago Monday, 32 students and teachers lost their lives in a shooting at Virginia Tech. Earlier this month, seven students were killed and three wounded at a small California Christian university. These tragedies exemplify the failure of "gun-free" school zones and are evidence for the need to overturn concealed carry bans on campuses so law-abiding citizens can defend themselves against maniacs. [...]
In Virginia, where emotions are still raw following the Blacksburg massacre, concealed carry is permitted, but college restrictions still exist. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in January that while hidden firearms are allowed on campus grounds, authorities can prohibit them inside school buildings and at public gatherings. Virginia Tech adopted the regulation in March.
The Second Amendment grants Americans the right to keep and bear arms. Where that right is respected, security prevails. Gun-free colleges risk becoming free-fire zones for troubled individuals. Common sense dictates that responsible gun bearers should be allowed on campus.
The Times' commentary mirrors that of the National Rifle Association, which has since the Virginia Tech shootings worked with their partners at the American Legislative Exchange Council to promote such laws across the country.
From the April 11 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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From the April 11 edition of CNN Newsroom:
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The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are calling on the National Rifle Association to revoke its invitation to Islamophobic retired Lt. General William Boykin to keynote the organization's prayer breakfast at its annual meeting this week.
In a letter to NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre sent today, MRFF executive director Mikey Weinstein writes:
No prayer breakfast should be used as a forum for hate speech, and no organization that boasts of defending the U.S. Constitution should give extremists who degrade the faith of soldiers fighting for our country a national platform. Therefore, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF: http://www.MilitaryReligiousFreedom.org) unequivocally demands that the National Rifle Association (NRA) revoke its invitation to the rabidly Islamophobic retired Lt. General William Boykin.
MRFF represents over 27,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, cadets, midshipmen, and armed forces veteran clients. We also represent more than 10% of all Muslim Americans in the armed forces.
The General's unabashed hostility towards the Muslim community represents an open insult to that which countless generations of service members have shed precious blood to protect: democracy and religious freedom, as embodied and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. We're all Americans regardless of how, where, and to whom we pray, if at all. The NRA's invitation to Boykin is an egregious slander against the thousands of honorable Muslim Americans serving in the U.S. military, and a desecration of the memory of those patriotic soldiers of Muslim faith who have fallen or have suffered injury in their service to this country. MRFF calls on the NRA to immediately revoke its invitation to the vociferously racist and intolerant retired Lt. General William G. Boykin.
These statements are unacceptable and reflect Lt. Gen. Boykin's disregard and seeming hatred of Islam and Muslims. Because the NRA is an organization that stands for the Second Amendment rights of all Americans and many Americans are Arab American and/or Muslim, I urge you to withdraw the invitation and cancel Lt. Gen. Boykin's speech at your upcoming festivities. Doing so would reaffirm your commitment to protect the Second Amendment rights of the entirety of American citizens, including those Arab-American and Muslim citizens that chose to exercise their Second Amendment rights and also support the NRA.
Boykin received international attention in 2003 after the Los Angeles Times and NBC News reported on speeches he had given in full military dress at religious events suggesting that the United States was fighting a "spiritual battle" in the Middle East against "a guy called Satan" who "wants to destroy us as a Christian army." He subsequently drew criticism from then-President Bush, among others.
From the April 5 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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In his latest column, Pat Buchanan weighs in on the killing of Trayvon Martin. The former MSNBC contributor (wisely) moves on from discussing the racial aspects of the case, instead using his space to promote the gun lobby's talking points.
Buchanan's take is that the calls from gun violence prevention activists who cite the impact of Florida's gun laws on the case should be ignored, stating that "when it comes to Second Amendment rights, Middle America has spoken -- at the ballot box and the gun store."
Citing record numbers of background checks of prospective gun buyers, Buchanan claims that Americans are "arming themselves," adding "More and more citizens, says the National Rifle Association, fear that if or when they confront a threat to their family, lives or property, the police will not be there."
Buchanan contrasts this theory with the statements of gun violence prevention advocates:
Gun-control organizations claim that gun ownership is actually declining, that fewer and fewer people are buying more and more of these guns.
But the numbers seem to contradict the gun-controllers.
A 2005 Gallup survey found that three in 10 Americans own a gun, that 40 percent had a gun in the house, that nearly half of all men own a gun, as do one in seven women. Two-thirds of all gun owners gave as a reason they own a gun: protection against crime.
Buchanan's analysis makes little sense. Citing only the 2005 Gallup survey is meaningless; in order to disprove a stated trend, you need to analyze more than one data point.
And indeed, according to the General Social Survey (an annual national survey that constitutes "the most frequently analyzed source of information in the social sciences" other than the U.S. Census), the number of people who say they or a member of their household owns a gun is at a record low.