At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak with David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). As an Air Force veteran myself, I was specifically interested in learning more about the NRA's support of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011.
What the NRA describes as a "pro-Second Amendment provision" is legislation that prohibits the Defense Department from "collecting or recording any information relating to the otherwise lawful acquisition, possession, ownership, carrying, or other use of a privately owned firearm." In short, the amendment, signed into law along with the underlying act in January 2011, bars commanders from even questioning their troops about privately-owned firearms kept off-base.
The NRA's involvement with this defense legislation rose more than a few eyebrows. Senior military leaders reportedly say the "law will make it virtually impossible to get private weapons out of the hands of some potentially suicidal soldiers." The Christian Science Monitor reported that General Peter Chiarelli, the 2nd ranking officer for the Army, "expressed concern...that this law amounts to a prohibition on commanders engaging in vital discussions with US soldiers about weapons and personal safety":
"I am not allowed to ask a soldier who lives off post whether that soldier has a privately owned weapon," he says.
While commanders are permitted to ask troops who appear to be a danger to themselves or others about private firearms - or to suggest perhaps locking them temporarily in a base depot - if the soldier denies that he or she is thinking about harming anyone, then the commander cannot pursue the discussion further.
Nearly half of all soldiers who commit suicide use a firearm, General Chiarelli points out. He added that "suicide in most cases is a spontaneous event" that is often fueled by drugs and alcohol. But "if you can separate the individual from the weapon," he added, "you can lower the incidences of suicide."
During our interview, David Keene, who said his own daughter is in the Army and currently deployed in Afghanistan, was unapologetically sold on the idea that troops "have to deal with their problems, not with the group of tools that they have... if you have depression and depression creates a suicidal situation if you don't have a gun, you'll use something else. And there are a million ways to commit suicide."
Keene's statements fly in the face of analysis by public health experts, who say that many suicide attempts are impulsive and that the high lethality of guns makes suicide attempts using them much more likely to succeed. His claims are also inconsistent with my own experiences as a veteran who deployed to a combat zone.
In his latest Washington Times column, "American rock 'n' roll, sporting and political activist icon" and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent criticizes MSNBC in response to Pat Buchanan's announcement that he is departing the network. According to Nugent, Buchanan "was fired by MSNBC for doing nothing more than voicing his rock-solid conservative thoughts" on the air.
Nugent also criticizes "leftists" for using "anti-American guerrilla warfare tactics" by attempting to "silence" conservatives, adding that their "real message" is "intolerance, zealotry, bigotry and hate."
As Buchanan noted in his column, his parting from MSNBC came in the face of sustained criticism from Media Matters, Color of Change, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Anti-Defamation League, among others, in response to Buchanan's lengthy record of bigoted comments.
Nugent, of course, has his own history of inflammatory rhetoric.
Late last month, the National Gun Victims Action Council (NGAC) announced a boycott of Starbucks starting Valentine's Day, stating that the company's policy of allowing "guns and assault weapons to be openly carried in its stores (in 43 states) and concealed and carried in its stores (in 49 states)" was unacceptable. In response, prominent gun bloggers and activists called for a Starbucks "appreciation day" - a decision that now seems to causing them some blowback.
Nearly two years ago, Starbucks turned down a request from gun violence prevention advocates to join Peet's Coffee, California Pizza Kitchen, IKEA, and other chains and exercise their right to refuse to allow individuals carrying firearms in in their stores. In the latest action seeking to convince the corporation to shift its position, NGAC urged a boycott, with its CEO Elliot Fineman stating that "Starbucks allowing guns to be carried in thousands of their stores significantly increases everyone's risk of being a victim of gun violence" and that the company's "steadfast support of the NRA's lethal pro-gun agenda damages its 'socially conscious company' brand."
Immediately after the NGAV issued its release, prominent gun blogger Sebastian wrote that in response he was "going to declare February 14th Starbucks Appreciation Day, by encouraging gun owners to head to Starbucks to buy some of their fine coffee and pastry products." According to the Los Angeles Times, there were reports of such "buycotts" in several states, including Washington, Hawaii, Tennessee, and Michigan.
But yesterday, Sebastian took to his blog with a slightly different message: stop appreciating Starbucks:
I notice there's still quite a lot of pictures of guns and coffee appearing on Starbucks' Facebook page. I would like to note that Starbucks never asked for their brand to be associated with gun rights; all they want to do is sell coffee. ... By all means, let's keep the gratitude pouring into corporate, and pouring into their coffers, but I think we ought to let Starbucks' brand go back to just being about great coffee. That means not engaging in, what in a person-to-person analogy would be walking up to the barista, and continuing to stick pro-gun stickers all over her, and handing her guns. She didn't ask for that. She just wants to serve you coffee.
The blogger added that gun advocates should stop turning Starbucks' facebook page "into a battleground."
Sebastian refers to the fact that large portions of the company's page now look like this:
Apparently even he realizes that most Americans prefer that businesses have a "no guns" policy, and that this type of action could backfire.
Today for the fourth time the Daily Caller has written about the Ryan Jerome, the New York City tourist and former Marine that was arrested last September for illegally carrying a concealed firearm. They currently have the story splashed across their front page:
The right-wing media is engaged in a campaign to falsely suggest New York City tourists are in danger of having "their lives destroyed" because New York has stiff penalties for illegal gun possession. In fact, New York prosecutors have repeatedly used their discretion to reach plea agreements for misdemeanor charges that keep people that made honest mistakes and are arrested for carrying concealed guns illegally out of jail.
Not surprisingly given The Daily Caller's status as a gun lobby propaganda dumping ground, they continued the depiction of New York's strong gun laws as callous, despite yet again a New York prosecutor showing a willingness to consider the mitigating circumstances of the alleged crime.
This morning's Politico Playbook reports that the National Rifle Association will again be featuring sometime rocker, Washington Times columnist, and NRA board member Ted Nugent in their voter registration campaign.
In his 2010 spot for the group, the Nuge alternatively wielded an AR-variant rifle and a guitar and proclaimed himself "cocked, locked, and ready to rock, doc" before urging viewers to go to an NRA website to register to vote.
In recent years, Nugent has drawn far more attention for his vicious and extreme rhetoric than he has for his music. This is apparently of concern to his publicist, who last year rejected an email interview with Media Matters after receiving our questions, several of which focused on those questionable comments.
The NRA, however, appears to have no problem associating with someone who called Barack Obama a "piece of shit" and Hillary Clinton a "two-bit whore," referred to the Muslim community as "rude and stupid," said "[i]f it was up to me, if you uttered the word 'gun control,' we'd put you in jail," and uses homophobic language. (Nor have those comments kept Nugent off of Fox News.)
Below, with assistance from our archive and that of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence's MeetTheNRA.org, Media Matters presents Nugent's top 10 most inflammatory, offensive, and extreme comments.
10. After The Tucson Shooting, "Conservatives Should Turn Up The Rhetoric." In the wake of last year's tragic mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that left six dead and 19 injured, including horrific injuries to then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), many condemned the sort of hateful, insurrectionist rhetoric that spurs on episodes of anti-government violence.
Nugent, on the other hand, used his Washington Times column to state that while "liberals and others who should know better are calling for political rhetoric to be toned down," he believes that "conservatives should turn up the rhetoric." He added that "[o]nly softheaded, feel-good fantasizers from the cult of denial could believe that toning down the political rhetoric will somehow keep lunatics from doing loony things." He went on to urge his readers to "[e]xpose, isolate and eliminate liberals and their fuzzy-headed policies" and to "do America a favor and crush liberalism."
An October Gallup poll on gun violence prevention that media outlets used to falsely claim that "support for gun control" had plummeted is still in use, with Patrick Kerkstra's op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer serving as the latest example.
Kerstra acknowledges that to him, "guns represent a plague, not protection," and says he admires the efforts of the gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns and its chairman, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But Kerstra concludes that "new gun-control legislation is, for now at least, a nonstarter, saying that the arguments of gun lobby advocates "are winning." He cites as evidence the Gallup poll, writing of Bloomberg:
In the short term, though, his agenda has no shot. According to an October Gallup poll, only 26 percent of Americans favor a handgun ban. More stunning is the finding that only 43 percent favored outlawing "assault rifles." Good luck, Mayor Bloomberg.
A couple of decades ago, those polling numbers were altogether different. In 1991, 60 percent of respondents told Gallup that handguns ought to be banned, and 78 percent favored more stringent controls.
As we've noted, using the percent of American who favor a handgun ban as a proxy for whether they support gun violence prevention measures is inaccurate. The same poll found that 87 percent of respondents want the laws covering the sales of firearms either kept as they are now or made stricter, demonstrating broad national support for gun control. Moreover, Mayors Against Illegal Guns itself doesn't support a handgun ban, which is in any case is not an active issue after handgun bans were found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
It's also worth pointing out that other polls conducted last year showed strong support for banning assault weapons, as well as for an array of other measures to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals.
It is not public opinion but the efforts of the gun lobby, in particular the National Rifle Association, to intimidate lawmakers that has prevented the passage of sensible gun violence prevention legislation. But as new research from the American Prospect's Paul Waldman shows, "the NRA has virtually no impact on congressional elections" and "the power of the NRA's endorsement is largely a myth."
Right-wing media outlets are suggesting that a recent decision by Obama-appointed Judge Sue Myerscough dismissing a case that sought to overturn Illinois' ban on publicly carrying firearms is evidence of President Obama's "assault on the Second Amendment." But the Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of such bans, and Myerscough's ruling is consistent with those of several other judges, including one appointed by President George W. Bush.
National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference that "if you don't remember anything else I say today, write this down: this is the most dangerous election of our lifetimes." He warned that "all of our freedom, all of our rights" are at stake, asking, "Will we save America and our freedom? Will we save the Second Amendment from a second Obama White House?"
LAPIERRE: If you believe in freedom, and if you're as sick and tired of all the lies and schemes and Obama failures as I am, join us and stand up in this great fight. If you don't remember anything else I say today, write this down: this is the most dangerous election in our lifetimes. If Obama wins, we'll go to our graves mourning the freedoms we've lost. This election is all in, all of our freedom, all of our rights, and that means all of you. All in. No one sits this one out. So stand up right now and you tell me, will you defend freedom will all of your might? Come on, stand up. Let them hear you over at the White House. Will we fight to preserve our liberty and keep our nation strong and safe and free? Will we save America and our freedom? Will we save the Second Amendment from a second Obama White House?
LaPierre's warnings were based on his reiterated claim that the White House has not pushed for gun violence prevention measures because it is engaged in a "massive Obama conspiracy" to get re-elected, and then use President Obama's second term to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution."
LaPierre promised that Obama's purported strategy will not succeed, saying that the NRA is "all-in" for the 2012 elections and promising that "gun owners will be responsible" for Obama's defeat. New research from the American Prospect's Paul Waldman brings such claims from the NRA into question, demonstrating that "the NRA has virtually no impact on congressional elections."
When LaPierre first asserted the existence of a "massive Obama conspiracy" at Florida's version of CPAC, he was widely mocked by media figures including Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews for what Maddow called "the insane paranoid message from the NRA this year." Today, LaPierre offered a rejoinder to such criticisms, saying that "the media won't win this election, gun owners will."
The NRA leader also suggested that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder had acted "like some South American dictator" with regards to the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious,again offering up the baseless conspiracy that the operation had been deliberately designed by the White House to go wrong in order to justify stricter U.S. gun laws.
From the February 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
Loading the player ...
In 2009, conservative media perpetually mischaracterized a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report on potential increases in right-wing terrorism to suggest DHS was targeting conservatives for political reasons. On Sunday, PJ Media correspondent Patrick Poole extended this long-running attack by criticizing a new DHS document that defines categories of "domestic terrorism and homegrown violent extremism." The document doesn't mention conservatives, but does include a definition of "militia extremists." According to the document DHS defines "militia extremists" as:
(U//FOUO) Groups or individuals who facilitate or engage in acts of violence directed at federal, state, or local government officials or infrastructure in response to their belief that the government deliberately is stripping Americans of their freedoms and is attempting to establish a totalitarian regime. These individuals consequently oppose many federal and state authorities' laws and regulations, (particularly those related to firearms ownership), and often belong to armed paramilitary groups. They often conduct paramilitary training designed to violently resist perceived government oppression or to violently overthrow the US Government. [emphasis added]
Poole's flawed analysis of the DHS document concludes that DHS classifies essentially everyone that dislikes or distrusts the government for conservative reasons as "militia extremists." In a post titled "Homeland Security: You're All 'Militia Extremists' Now," Poole quotes the DHS definition of "militia extremists" and then complains:
So what drives militia extremism according to DHS now is "belief that the government deliberately is stripping Americans of their freedoms." It is demonstrated by opposing "many federal and state authorities' laws and regulations, (particularly those related to firearms ownership)." Would writing about those topics (as I am now) fall under "facilitation"? On its face, it's hard to see how it could be excluded under DHS's broad definition.
So despite the fact that "militia extremists" are classified as "Groups or individuals who facilitate or engage in acts of violence," Poole suggests DHS would unfairly target conservatives not engaged in or facilitating violence. In reality DHS isn't saying militia extremism is "demonstrated by opposing" federal laws and regulations, but by opposing them through violence.
Poole's argument further falls apart given that DHS isn't even focusing on conservative ideologies. While listing "militia extremists" as one category of extremist activity, DHS also defines non-conservative categories such as, "anarchist," "animal rights," and "environmental rights." Under Poole's logic, DHS would also be saying that opposing environmental degradation makes you a terrorist.
Violent militia extremism isn't a hypothetical concern for our nation's law enforcement. A 2009 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded that militia and other right-wing extremists groups were experiencing a "second wave" of growth following the election of Barack Obama. Last summer militia members in Alaska were arrested on charges of conspiracy to murder judges and State Troopers. In November four members of a Georgia militia were arrested in connection with an alleged plot to kill federal employees.
UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler took to The Daily Beast yesterday with a confusing message: Gun violence prevention is a "serious issue that deserves our leaders' attention," but those who care about the issue should avoid at all costs actually discussing it in public. He claims that doing so puts both progressive electability and gun violence prevention itself in peril before a wrathful gun lobby and its massive political war chest.
This argument simply doesn't hold up: the gun lobby is planning a massive campaign whether progressives push for stronger gun laws or not, and progressives have won in the face of such efforts in the past.
The impetus for Winkler's befuddled argument is Sunday's Super Bowl ad in which New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston mayor Thomas Menino, the leaders of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), state that they "both support the Second Amendment and believe America must do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals."
In the past, Winkler has been criticized for "tr[ying] too hard ... to present himself as one of the few rational voices" in the debate while improperly implying that the gun violence prevention movement is "defined by extremists." But while Winkler calls gun violence "a serious issue that deserves our leaders' attention," he never actually engages with the solutions that Bloomberg and Menino have brought to the table. At least not in this piece; in a previous op-ed for the Beast, he wrote:
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has proposed a viable and worthwhile set of reforms that would provide more funds to states to help cover the costs of record-keeping; stiffening penalties for states that don't submit records to the federal government; and clarifying the current gun laws' definition of mental illness.
So Winkler agrees that gun violence is a "serious issue," and largely approves of how the group would deal with that problem. And yet, he opposes the group actually trying to enact the legislation he supports. When or how this "serious issue" could receive "our leaders' attention" without anyone pushing for it goes unmentioned.
Since 2008, the gun lobby and right-wing media have been pushing various theories suggesting Barack Obama was secretly plotting against the Second Amendment. The National Rifle Association set up www.gunbanobama.com as Glenn Beck warned Obama was working to "take away your gun." Three years after Obama's election the purported plans to enact sweeping gun bans and confiscation haven't materialized, but according to gun lobby chief Larry Keane, Rupert Murdoch's media empire is now engaging in "corporate gun control."
Last week online reports indicated that FOX Sports Media Group had told the Ultimate Fighting Championship's parent company that gun-related sponsorships would no longer be permitted for their events. Fox and the Ultimate Fighting Championship recently signed a 7-year broadcast agreement. On Wednesday the gun lobby trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation announced they had confirmed the sponsorship ban.
FOX's decision to ban advertisements for lawful products owned by more than 80 million Americans is nothing more than corporate gun control. We expect better from FOX. So should you.
The Gun Store and ammotogo.com are among the UFC sponsors who would be affected by this ban. If no sponsorships in a single sport doesn't sound like a big deal to you, then you probably aren't working to contrive controversies in a gun lobby press shop.
Eric Bolling's gun antics at Fox Sports' corporate cousins apparently won't stop the gun lobby, which apparently wants fighters sporting monikers like "Natural Born Killer" and "American Psycho" to be allowed to be sponsored by gun retailers. What part of the Second Amendment doesn't Fox understand?
The Daily Caller's headline: "Holder's No. 2 in 2009: Gunwalking, Fast and Furious a 'terrific idea.'"
The Daily Caller's lede:
The head of the Department of Justice's Criminal Division and Attorney General Eric Holder's highest-ranking deputy, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, called Operation Fast and Furious and gun walking a "terrific idea" in emails to now-former Acting Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Director Ken Melson back in late 2009, according a report released by Republican staff of the House Oversight Committee.
What Melson and Breuer actually said, as reported by the Daily Caller:
On Dec. 3, 2009, Melson wrote to Breuer, "Lanny: We have decided to take a little different approach with regard to seizures of multiple weapons in Mexico. Assuming the guns are traced, instead of working each trace almost independently of the other traces from the seizure, I want to coordinate and monitor the work on all of them collectively as if the seizure was one case. . . We should meet again just to catch up on where we are in our gun-trafficking issues and we could talk about the above idea as well. Let me know what you think."
Breuer responded on Dec. 4, 2009, writing, "We think this is a terrific idea and a great way to approach the investigations of these seizures. Our Gang Unit will be assigning an attorney to help you coordinate this effort."
According to the Republican Oversight Committee staffers' report, Breuer -- Holder's number two -- assigned a prosecutor to help ATF handle Fast and Furious. That attorney, according to the report, was Joe Cooley.
As the Daily Caller's own reporting shows, the emails in question don't mention the idea of allowing guns to be trafficked to Mexico; they deal with how data from seizures of multiple weapons that were recovered in Mexico would be treated by ATF in their investigations.
This isn't the first time the Caller's reporting hasn't matched up with the slant they apply to their stories on Holder and Fast and Furious.
By the way, "Holder's No. 2" isn't Lanny Breuer, it's Deputy Attorney General James Cole. Other than that, the Caller did a bang-up job.
Is there any national tragedy the National Rifle Association won't exploit to make a buck?
Last year the NRA marked the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks by sending its members two separate fundraising emails referencing the terrorist strikes. Over the weekend the NRA continued the trend, marking the anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster by encouraging their members to buy NRA-brand products from the NRAstore.com. Quoting President John F. Kennedy's words over a photo spread of the assassinated president and the shuttle, the NRA told their members, "The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it."
Then the email proceeds try to unload some the NRA's "Pursue Freedom" products in the hope that Americans are willing to pay for them as well. Now you too can "Pursue Freedom of Buckle Choices" with a selection of official "NRA Western Tooled Belts."
Much like the NRA store's 9-11 fundraising effort the recent email shows real-life images of fiery explosions seen by millions of Americans above advertisements for NRA branded mugs, clothing and other various trinkets.
The Daily Caller's Guns and Gear section recently featured two op-eds authored by retired Major General Jerry Curry. In previous statements Curry has raised questions about President Obama secretly being a Muslim, demanded that Obama release his long-form birth certificate or resign, and derided Muslims as inherently violent.