Conservatives in media have adopted the false National Rifle Association claim that the term "assault weapon" was invented by proponents of assault weapons bans in order to arbitrarily single out certain firearms for further regulation. However, before the gun industry trade association attempted to rebrand assault weapons as "modern sporting rifles" in 2009 -- a change in terminology also adopted by the NRA -- the gun industry and firearm publications routinely used the term assault weapon to describe the very military-style semi-automatic rifles that would be covered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein's assault weapons ban.
As Sen. Feinstein prepares another hearing on gun violence for later this month, members of right-wing media are now dishonestly attempting to hide the history and special capabilities of assault weapons.
In a February 4 appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight, Ted Nugent, a NRA board member who uses his Washington Times column to argue against strengthening gun laws, covered up how assault weapons have been marketed when he claimed that President Obama's proposal to reduce gun violence "still calls personal defense weapons assault weapons, which is a nomenclature created by the anti-gun agenda."
As Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich, who writes about gun policy for the conservative Townhall website, put it, "the term 'assault weapon' is a made up political term." Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller has also attempted to rewrite history, recently claiming, "President Obama and his allies, such as Mrs. [Dianne] Feinstein, deliberately misuse the term 'assault weapon' to confuse the public. Assault weapons are machine guns, automatic rifles that continue to fire until the trigger is released."
On the January 19 edition of Fox News program Fox & Friends Saturday, Miller claimed that the term assault weapon was invented during the 1980s by gun violence prevention organizations for "fearmongering" purposes:
Pundits like Miller and Pavlich are merely adopting the NRA screed on this subject. Miller's claim about the origin of the term assault weapon mirrored a January 14 press release from the NRA's lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action, that claims gun violence prevention advocates coined the term during the 1980s.
During January, NRA News host Cam Edwards frequently spoke about the definition of an assault weapon on his Cam & Company show. According to Edwards, the term assault weapon is "a made up phrase" and assault weapons can be defined as "gun I'm trying to ban" or alternately "gun I want to ban."
From the February 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox News' Martha MacCallum exaggerated the relationship between mental health and gun violence by suggesting advocates for stronger gun laws focus on the few individuals with mental health conditions who commit mass killings instead of the widely available weapons that they used.
On the February 5 edition of America's Newsroom, MacCallum pushed the debunked myth that mental health is a common variable among violent criminals by listing recent mass shooters. MacCallum highlighted four perpetrators of mass shootings, and said, "You look at the people who've carried out these heinous crimes and killed so many innocent children. ... All of these have mental health issues." MacCallum went on to criticize President Obama for focusing on stronger gun laws rather than mental health in his policy response to the Newtown, CT, mass shooting.
By limiting her sample to just a few high-profile criminals, MacCallum ignored that those with mental health conditions represent a small percentage of perpetrators of violent crimes. In fact, studies have shown that people with mental health conditions are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.
CNN host Erin Burnett and reporter Deb Feyerick gave serious treatment to National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent's baseless claim that President Obama will attempt to confiscate firearms, even discussing what would happen if the government tried to "take all the guns away tomorrow." Significantly, none of the proposals to reduce gun violence supported by the Obama administration in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre involve firearm confiscation.
Even though Nugent, who in part blamed the Newtown massacre on an "embarrassing, politically correct culture," is not a credible figure in the gun policy debate, Feyerick repeated his wild-eyed conspiracy theories on Erin Burnett OutFront:
BURNETT: President Obama has said he doesn't have any intention of confiscating guns, that that is not his goal, he's not trying to attack the Second Amendment. Nugent, though, doesn't believe him, why?
FEYERICK: No, he doesn't believe him at all. Because the way he sees it, he says, look, the majority of guns, 310 million guns, are in the hands of law-abiding citizens. The minority are in the hands of criminals, they're the ones who are committing the crimes. And that's why he says, look, why is the government coming after us saying we are going to ban these guns when we are not the ones who are doing anything. And so he focuses on criminality, on people who have mental illness, on making sure people stay in prisons long enough. But he says it's not the gun. And that's really the point that the NRA is trying to convey as part of this debate that is going on in the country right now.
BURNETT: So what would you do if there were a gun ban, just ignore it?
FEYERICH: Well, in many cases, yes. Because how do you enforce a gun ban? What do you do? If you take all the guns away tomorrow, people are out there who are going to find and get their hands on guns --
BURNETT: And as you said there are hundreds of millions already out there.
FEYERICH: Absolutely. What do you do? Do you give them -- do you hand in your guns? And that's the slippery slope that [Nugent] sees. That in fact once you start in that direction you're going to be giving up these things, or law enforcement is going to be coming, and trying to register them. So there is a whole series of reasons why they simply do not trust any sort of gun restriction in that way.
While much of Obama's plan to reduce gun violence involves strengthening the background check system for gun transactions, improving mental health services and making schools safer, the proposals that directly regulate firearms don't involve confiscation.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday this week, National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre was pressed about the controversial ad the group created in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre that referenced the armed protection President Obama's daughters receive. Even as host Chris Wallace belittled as "ridiculous" the ad's premise that all children deserve the same kind of protection that the president's children have, LaPierre defend the ad and said, "Tell that to the people of Newtown."
"So they should have Secret Service"? Wallace asked.
In response, LaPierre propagated a favorite falsehood of the pro-gun media lobby [emphasis added]:
LAPIERRE: No, but what they should have is police officers or certified armed security in those schools to keep people safe. If something happens, the police time-- despite all their good intentions, is 15 to 20 minutes. It's too long. It's not going to help those kids.
In the wake of the Newtown shooting, LaPierre bemoaned the fact kids aren't safe at school, in part because it takes police 15 to 20 minutes to respond to a deadly shooting like the one in Connecticut.
But that's not true and it's time the news media start calling out anti-gun control extremists like LaPierre and Larry Pratt, , the executive director of Gun Owners of America, among others, who keep peddling the obvious falsehood in the press.
Fact: The Newtown police station is located approximately two miles from the Sandy Hook Elementary School. There's no way it would have taken law enforcement 20 minutes to respond to the first 911 calls reporting gunfire at the school. (Local cops could have run from the station and been at the school in less than 20 minutes.)
Fast-acting Newtown officers "made it in under three minutes, arriving in the parking lot while gunfire could still be heard," according to New York Times interviews with the first responders that day.
But if you listen to LaPierre as well as other anti-gun control advocates who are making the media rounds, you're led to believe gunman Adam Lanza roamed the hallways of Sandy Hook for nearly half an hour killing people at will before law enforcement finally arrived; that terrified teachers and students were "waiting 20 minutes for the cops to show up," as one pro-gun blogger claimed.
It's not true. The claim is pure gun lobby propaganda.
Journalists who have been included on what is being called an "enemies list" of the National Rifle Association are speaking out about the designation, either welcoming the attention as a badge of honor for their work or criticizing the NRA for trying to intimidate them.
The list of 506 organizations, public officials, celebrities, and others was first posted on the NRA web site in September. After being highlighted online last week it has been widely covered and described as an "enemies list" by critics.
The NRA web site lists 37 columnists, cartoonists, and editors along with other organizations and public officials it sees as opponents of its efforts under the headline "National Organizations With Anti-Gun Policies."
The list claims that the journalists in question "actively editorialize in favor of gun control laws."
Several of those news people on the list criticized the NRA for the move in comments to Media Matters.
"I am proud to be on the NRA 'enemies' list," said Frank Rich, a former New York Times columnist currently writing for New York magazine. "But it says a lot that I didn't even know I was on it until [Media Matters] told me today. It just goes to show that NRA in the 21st-century is becoming something of a paper tiger and shouldn't intimidate anyone, including members of Congress. An 'enemies list,' after all, is a lame retread from the Richard Nixon playbook of Watergate."
E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, welcomed being on the list, but offered concern such an effort might intimidate some non-journalists.
"Since I have long favored gun control and written rather passionately about the issue, I guess I would have been disappointed if I had not been on the NRA's list," he wrote in an email. "I don't think it is intimidating to opinion writers to be on such a list, but I wonder if it might intimidate people in other lines of work. I certainly hope not."
From the February 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Fox News' Chris Wallace challenged National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's false claims about strengthening gun laws, even going so far as to describe one of his talking points as "ridiculous." Wallace's treatment of LaPierre is a departure from his Fox colleagues who have allowed LaPierre to push his agenda without challenge.
On Fox News Sunday, Wallace challenged LaPierre's attempt to mislead on criminal background checks for gun sales and debunked the NRA claim that the Obama administration wants to create a national registry of gun owners. Wallace also dismissed LaPierre's defense of an NRA advertisement that charged President Obama with hypocrisy for protecting his children with armed guards, responding to the NRA leader's comparison between threats faced by the president's children and school children nationwide by saying "that's ridiculous and you know it, sir."
The refusal of Wallace to acquiesce to all of LaPierre's claims during Fox News Sunday was markedly different from Fox's typical treatment of the gun issue, which has included giving the NRA a platform to spread falsehoods.
During the interview, Wallace dismissed LaPierre's attempt to obfuscate the fact that over a million people have been stopped from obtaining a firearm since 1999 after failing a criminal background check by stating, "It worked enough that 1.7 million people were denied."
LAPIERRE: I don't think you can say that those 1.7 million people have been stopped from getting a gun at all because the government didn't prosecute virtually any of them. They let them walk in, they were denied, they let them walk out. And who really thinks if they really wanted to commit a crime they didn't go on and get a gun.
WALLACE: I don't know. It seems to me if 1.7 million people were denied. I understand the hardened criminal. But the disturbed person. The Adam Lanza in Newtown. The James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado. Those aren't hardened criminals, and if they are stopped from getting a gun by a universal background check won't that make a difference?
LAPIERRE: You know the instant check was actually the NRA's proposal. We offered it as an amendment to the Brady Bill to put it on dealers. And I've been in this fight for 20 years, we supported it, we put it on the books. But I have finally become convinced after fighting to get the mental records computerized for 20 years and watching the mental health lobby, the HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] laws, and the AMA [American Medical Association] oppose it, I don't think it's going to happen. I mean the fact is the check now, these people are not --
WALLACE: It worked enough that 1.7 million people were denied. I mean I completely agree with you, I mean as Captain Kelly pointed out [Tucson shooter] Jared Loughner was able to pass the test. So there are holes in it, but that doesn't mean, you know, because it's not perfect doesn't mean that it doesn't work.
As Wallace pointed out, there is a logical fallacy in LaPierre's argument that because background checks will not stop all criminals there is no value in attempts to improve the background check system.
LaPierre's attack on the effectiveness of the background check system also exposes the hypocrisy of the NRA's opposition to requiring criminal background checks on every gun sale. LaPierre speculated that individuals denied a firearm by a background check were still able to "go on and get a gun." A loophole in federal law allows a significant proportion of firearms to be obtained through private sales where no background check is required, with one 2004 study indicating that criminals are even more likely to use private transactions to obtain firearms.
Previewing her upcoming special, CNN reporter Deb Feyerick praised NRA board member Ted Nugent for his "deep connection with the facts" on gun violence. But Nugent's radical views on gun ownership and outrageous and offensive comments about President Obama and prominent Democrats demonstrate that he is not a credible source for information on guns.
On Erin Burnett OutFront, Feyerick previewed a CNN special recorded at Nugent's home that featured a conversation about strengthening gun laws. During the segment Feyerick lauded Nugent for his "very firm grasp of the facts" about gun violence. Feyerick went on to describe Nugent as having "a very deep connection with the facts and the facts that he needs to make his argument":
But despite Feyerick's repeated praise, Nugent is an extremist on the subjects of both guns and government. Nugent has espoused numerous outrageous and offensive comments about gun violence and prominent Democratic politicians.
From the February 1 edition of Fox News' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza is pushing the myth of the National Rifle Association's electoral invulnerability as his latest rationale for why he believes stronger gun laws won't pass Congress.
Cillizza moved on to this myth after claiming that such laws were unlikely to pass because the American people didn't support them -- a claim now no longer plausible given new data from the same poll question he previously cited.
During the January 30 hearing on gun violence, National Rifle Association representative Wayne LaPierre said a proposal to expand background checks would be a "nightmare" for Americans, contradicting his 1999 testimony on behalf of the NRA in support of such an expansion -- a flip-flop highlighted by Sen. Pat Leahy during the hearing. In their coverage of the hearing, several major national newspapers failed to pick up on this important position switch, which highlighted the hardline stance of the NRA towards gun violence prevention proposals.
In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre reiterated his organization's position that armed guards are the solution to school violence. Yesterday the NRA's televised news show, Cam & Company, shed light on what the NRA envisions when it calls for armed guards in all schools when it previewed a special on Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's school defense "posse."
The three-minute preview shows Sheriff Arpaio and a member of his self-styled "posse" discussing the workings of a group of armed volunteers who now patrol public school zones in Maricopa County, Arizona. While the NRA has called for school guards to be "an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained, qualified citizens," no mention was made in the NRA feature of a March 2012 investigation's finding that a number of "posse" members had violent criminal records.
As Arpaio explains in the NRA News segment, "posse" members have "gone through 100 hours of weapons training, plus follow-ups. They buy their own jeeps, airplanes, cars. I swear them in. The only difference is no money, they don't get paid."
The preview also features an interview with "posse" member Jerry Johnson who says, "We're the eyes and ears of the sheriff's department. We're all volunteers. Some are ex-law enforcement, but me I'm retired. And some of us had no experience at all, but we've been trained," and concludes the preview by stating, "We've got so well trained people that you put them in a situation and they're ready to roll."
On March 14, 2012 Phoenix area CBS affiliate KPHO reported on "a number of posse members with arrests for assault, drug possession, domestic violence, sex crimes against children, disorderly conduct, impersonating an officer - and the list goes on." In one incident described by KPHO a "posse" member "threw his girlfriend to the ground and choked her while trying to sexually assault her" and on another occasion a "posse" member held at gunpoint a man who had backed into his car and driven off.
Arpaio has previously drawn criticism for using his "posse" to investigate President Obama's long-form birth certificate, finding it fraudulent, and for promoting what the Justice Department termed "a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos."
The NRA preview also takes a hard line against gun violence prevention measures with Sheriff Arpaio stating that, "It is sad [politicians supportive of stronger gun laws] are using us for politics. They are going through the pony show, they talking to everybody, but we know the fix is in."
While polling has consistently shown that nearly all Americans support requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale, some conservatives in the media are writing in opposition to expanding background checks, a position also held by the National Rifle Association.
A January 23 Gallup poll indicates that 91 percent of Americans would vote for a law that required a criminal background check on every gun sale. Only eight percent of respondents would vote against such a law. As ThinkProgress notes, this polling indicates that opposition to strengthening background checks is less popular than human cloning, polygamy and the perennially unpopular Congress.
[ThinkProgress, accessed 1/30/13]
In recent columns, Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller, MSNBC host S.E. Cupp and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich all expressed opposition to expanding background checks, even as research demonstrates that a significant proportion of firearms are sold and purchased without a check.
In a New York Daily News column, Cupp quoted the faulty logic of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who said before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 30 that checks should not be strengthened "because criminals will never submit to them," before worrying about the "psychological" impact of background checks on gun purchasers.
Ultimately, Cupp compared criminal background checks -- the vast majority of which are completed in seconds -- to Arizona's infamous SB 1070 immigration law:
But even though we accept background checks as a necessary preemptive measure, there is a real psychological and cultural impact when law-abiding gun owners are routinely treated en masse like suspects.
If it sounds silly to worry about the hurt feelings of gun owners, let me point out that liberals are both familiar and comfortable with this argument. Arizona's so-called "papers please" law, which allowed law enforcement officials to determine an individual's immigration status during a lawful stop, barred the use of racial profiling as the sole basis for investigating immigration status. But that didn't stop liberal critics of SB 1070 from insisting it was offensive, prejudicial and unfairly treated minorities as if they were criminals.
From the January 30 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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