David Gregory is set to host National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre on this Sunday's Meet the Press. It's LaPierre's first Sunday show interview since March and a rare opportunity to put the NRA chief under the microscope.
In his past coverage of the gun violence debate, Gregory has demonstrated the ability to push back on LaPierre's spin and force him to account for his group's intransigence. But he's also shown a willingness to adopt false media tropes about the supposed electoral weakness of lawmakers who back stronger gun laws.
In recent days, following the recalls of two Colorado state senators who supported stronger gun laws and the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard shooting, some in the media have suggested that no progress on the issue is possible, a lazy claim that could shut down any effort to renew a dialogue on public safety legislation that has gone quiet in the halls of Congress despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws. Here are a few things Gregory should remember to avoid falling into that conventional wisdom trap.
Legislation to expand background checks to cover private sales, which failed to receive a supermajority in the Senate earlier this year, is favored by an overwhelming majority of the American people. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that bill should have passed. A majority of Americans also support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The evidence does not back up the claims from some pundits that the Colorado recall elections show that Democrats should avoid the issue of stronger gun laws if they want electoral success. The gun laws passed in Colorado earlier this year, which remain on the books, are popular statewide, with more than 80 percent of Coloradans supporting the expanded background check law and a plurality supporting the limit on high-capacity magazines. The recall elections featured shockingly low turnouts of 21 and 36 percent; turnout was likely reduced by efforts from recall supporters to prevent the use of mail-in ballots that the state usually uses. While opponents of stronger gun laws did succeed in their efforts to remove two state senators, they originally had targeted two more but failed to qualify for the ballot. And President Obama and the state's governor and senator all won recent elections despite fervent opposition from the NRA.
Fox News' Martha MacCallum scapegoated individuals with mental health conditions by suggesting that increased institutionalization is a solution to mass shootings, ignoring the dangers that poses to individuals with these conditions and the need for greater gun safety.
On the September 19 America's Newsroom, MacCallum suggested that Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooting suspect, should have been institutionalized for a mental health condition, asking if we have "become so PC that we do not understand" the need to institutionalize some "categories of people." She also criticized the medical system for only institutionalizing people who have previously been convicted of a crime:
Have we not become so PC that we do not understand that there are categories of people -- many people who do not deserve to be institutionalized, but some do. And if this man had been institutionalized, something that we, you know, seem to never do any more in this country -- in fact, Adam Lanza's mother, according to the reports after Newtown, wanted to institutionalize her son. She was worried that he would do something. But unless you have been convicted, you cannot be institutionalized. So what do we do about this?
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Alexis never reported that he was depressed or that he was considering harming himself or others prior to the shooting. He sought treatment solely for insomnia. Doctors said he was "alert and oriented" and never asked for an appointment with VA mental health specialists.
MacCallum's solution raises as many questions as it answers, most critically who gets institutionalized and when.
Institutions, or psychiatric hospitals, can play a role in treatment for people with severe mental health conditions, but they are not the most effective solution in every case.
NRA News host Cam Edwards issued a correction the day after after Breitbart.com's A.W.R. Hawkins claimed on his show that the mass shooting at Washington Navy Yard "happened because Bill Clinton mandated that" military bases "be gun-free zones." In truth, the policy cited by Hawkins to support this claim allows guns to be carried on military bases under a substantial number of circumstances and was actually enacted during the George H.W. Bush administration.
The myth that a Clinton-era policy was responsible for the shooting, which claimed the lives of 12 victims, was the centerpiece of right-wing media's failed attempt to establish that the Navy Yard shooting took place in a "gun-free zone."
Edwards issued a correction during his September 18 broadcast, citing a Media Matters blog that addressed Hawkins' claim, during a segment with Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller. After Edwards acknowledged that the policy was enacted under George H.W. Bush, Miller said, "Then I've written that wrong too," and she added, "Are you sure that's correct before I change it too? ... Because I don't believe anything Media Matters says."
Hawkins' claim in a Breitbart.com article about the supposed Clinton-era policy originated from a 2009 Washington Times editorial that falsely stated, "Among President Clinton's first acts upon taking office in 1993 was to disarm U.S. soldiers on military bases." Miller promoted that editorial on September 17 on Twitter.
After Edwards issued the correction, Miller attempted to downplay the importance of whether Clinton disarmed members of the military, suggesting that Hawkins' claim was inconsequential to the "public's knowledge of the issues." In reality, Miller was just one of many right-wing media figures who seized on Hawkins' false claims to politicize the mass shooting in its immediate aftermath.
Media pundits never seem to tire of writing gun violence prevention's obituary. They seem determined to create a conventional wisdom that no progress on the issue is possible, and shut down any effort to renew a dialogue on public safety legislation that has gone quiet in the halls of Congress despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws.
Last week it was the recall election defeats of two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws that caused some commentators to declare "The Death of Gun Control." They didn't let the facts stand in their way -- the gun laws in question were broadly popular statewide, the recall turnout was extremely low, and efforts by conservatives to recall other pro-gun safety legislators failed. In years past, media have that the power of the National Rifle Association would prevent stronger gun laws from getting consideration.
Now pundits are claiming that comments from the Obama administration following the Navy Yard shooting, deemed insufficiently robust in their calls for stronger laws, mean "RIP for gun control," in the words of The Washington Post's Dana Milbank.
Milbank writes in his September 17 column that "President Obama didn't even try to use the massacre at the Washington Navy Yard to revive the gun-control debate," apparently considering Obama's statement in response to the attack that his administration will "do everything that we can to try to prevent" future tragedies insufficiently specific. In fact, it's not appreciably less specific than his remarks in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, in which he did not lay out any policy goals but said only that "we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
One tea leaf Milbank reads to bolster his case that the gun violence prevention debate is over is a selective quotation of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:
At the White House on Tuesday, the Associated Press's Julie Pace noted Obama's subdued response to the shooting and asked if "maybe there's some sort of numbness among the public since these shootings have happened so frequently." Another questioner asked if there's "an exhaustion and an acceptance that this is the new normal."
Press secretary Jay Carney said the president "doesn't accept that it's the new normal."
Maybe not. But the loss of hope for gun control is becoming a durable abnormal.
In fact, a fuller account of Carney's remarks shows that he said the Obama administration would continue to use executive action to address gun violence (the White House announced two new executive actions on gun violence on August 29) and that the administration "continue[s] to call on Congress to listen to the voices of their constituents and legislate accordingly."
In an effort to sidetrack the debate in the wake of the Washington Navy Yard shooting away from strengthening gun laws, Fox News has repeatedly suggested that violent video games are the root cause of such atrocities.
It's a characterization that suggests that before they murdered innocents, the killers spent their time playing the sort of violent, first-person shooters that have been criticized by some for their depictions of gory murder with firearms.
Academic researchers have failed to find a link between playing video games and acting out real world violence. Other nations with similar rates of video game spending fall far short of the United States in gun-related murders. And even the goriest of first-person shooters sell tens of millions of copies without creating tens of millions of murderers.
Fox News falsely claimed the Obama administration had done little to address issues of mental health following recent mass shootings, hiding the fact that gun violence prevention legislation backed by President Obama included mental health provisions and that the president has signed multiple measures aimed at increasing Americans' access to mental health services.
On September 17, President Obama called on Congress to strengthen background checks for gun purchases following the mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard by a former Navy reservist who had clearance to access the base as a civilian contractor and who had passed a background check to purchase the gun he brought with him.
On September 18, Fox & Friends criticized the call for stronger gun laws following the tragedy, with co-host Brian Kilmeade saying "the focus really should be on mental illness" and accusing doctors of letting dangerous individuals out "wild in society." Co-host Steve Doocy then criticized President Obama over the tragedy, saying that "[a]fter the Newtown massacre, what did the President of the United States say? He said his administration, quote, 'would bring mental illness out of the shadows.' What have they done so far? They've had a conference in June. Nothing has happened."
Doocy and Kilmeade's fixation on mental health as the solution to gun violence is misplaced, as studies have shown that people with mental health conditions are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. In fact, 96 percent of violent crimes "are committed by people without any mental-health problems at all."
But Doocy was also wrong: Obama and Senate Democrats have supported gun violence prevention legislation which addressed mental health issues, and Obama has signed multiple measures to increase access to mental health services for those who need them.
While commentators have noted the National Rifle Association's tendency to go silent in the wake of mass shootings such as the one at the Washington Navy Yard, the gun organization's media arm, NRA News, has stayed on the air to conclude that no new gun law could have prevented the attack, promote false information about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, and allege a media conspiracy against guns.
Since the September 16 shooting that claimed the lives of 12 victims, the NRA has failed to issue a substantive official statement on the tragedy. The gun rights organization has posted a single tweet not related to the shooting and, according to MSNBC.com, a message on the group's homepage on September 16 said, "We grieve and pray for those who lost their lives and for those hurt at the Washington Navy Yard." The message has apparently been removed.
CNN reported that the NRA did not respond to a request for comment on September 16, noting, "The gun rights organization has typically not responded to similar shootings immediately." Indeed, after a December 14, 2012, mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, claimed 26 lives, the NRA was silent until a December 21 question-free press conference where Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
The NRA has claimed that it refuses to discuss gun policy in the wake of mass shootings "out of respect for those grieving families and until the facts are known." However, the following excerpts from the September 17 broadcast of NRA News' radio program Cam & Company demonstrate how the NRA uses its own media arm to push its talking points:
In the wake of the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, conservative media figures and their allies in the pro-gun movement have their strategy down pat.
First, accuse the president, members of Congress, or media figures who suggest that perhaps there is the need to look at our country's ineffective gun laws of politicizing the tragedy.
Sean Hannity last night began a segment on the Navy Yard shooting question Fox News analyst Juan Williams about why advocates of gun safety laws "race to politicize atragedy and advance an agenda."
Williams responded appropriately, turning Hannity's question on its head: "I don't think there is a race to politicize it except coming from the right," he said. "And the race to politicize it from the right is, 'Oh don't bring up guns. Don't mention guns. Guns have nothing to do with it.' "
Next, conservatives point to any cause of the tragedy that is not the actual instrument of death. After the tragic Sandy Hook school shooting, National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre, cast part of the blame on violent video games. This has now become the go to talking point for the right.
From the September 18 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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From the September 17 edition of CNN's Crossfire:
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Soon after news broke about the shooting spree at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. -- a gun rampage that claimed the lives of 12 victims -- conservative commentators rushed to blame gun regulations for the carnage. Specifically, they blamed the fact that the Navy Yard is a "gun-free zone," which they suggested meant none of the employees could defend themselves while a madman targeted victims.
The "gun-free zone" argument has become a favorite fallback position for gun advocates in the wake of deadly shooting sprees. Desperate to turn attention away from the epidemic of gun violence in America and shooters' ability to get access to firearms, conservatives insist that if everyone were armed, mass shootings wouldn't occur. (i.e. The "good guys" would stop the "bad guys.") And in terms of shootings on military bases, the universal right-wing truth now is that it's all Bill Clinton's fault because in 1993 he banned guns on military bases, making it impossible for soldiers to respond to eruptions of hostile gunfire. Bases are "unarmed" due to a "Clinton-era law," according to Rush Limbaugh, while killers "pick places where there are no guns."
In reality, the rules on military bases don't ban all guns, which is obvious since among the shooter's first victims were armed security personnel. And those rules were actually issued during the first Bush administration and survived the second, despite their alleged perfidy.
But since Monday, lamenting "gun-free zones" has become the preferred battle cry.
Several media figures have reacted to the mass shooting in Washington, D.C.'s Navy Yard by downplaying the role access to firearms had in the killings, instead blaming video games and their purported effect on mental health. But studies have either debunked or failed to find a plausible link between playing violent video games and real world gun violence.
Much of the connection between shooter Aaron Alexis and video games appears to come from Mike Ritrovato, who says he knew Alexis. Ritrovato told The Los Angeles Times that "if [Alexis] had anything bad about him, it was that he was a 35-year-old man playing video games." Ritrovato also told ABC News that Alexis was often late to work "because he was staying up all night playing video games."
From the September 17 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Jennifer Rubin is using the fresh horror of the Washington Navy Yard massacre to take cheap shots at President Obama and make petty, insignificant, and ultimately false political arguments. Writing on her Washington Post blog, Rubin swipes at the president for calling the shooting "cowardly," instead of evil:
But what we know now is that a dozen brave souls in service of their country lost their lives, highlighting close to home how indebted we are to the military. President Obama properly acknowledged as such, before proceeding with a hyper-partisan speech blaming Republicans for the lack of economic progress. But Obama also said that the murders were a "cowardly" act. Not so. They were evil. The killing spree was, to be blunt, brazen and audacious. But in the end, just plain evil.
(In contrast with Obama, she points to Virginia governor Bob McDonnell's statement that "hit just the right note," because obviously we're all keeping score here.)
Rubin's reason for attacking the president's non-use of the term "evil" is as follows:
Yes, evil. Liberals tend to shy away from such terms, maybe afraid they'll sound like those dreaded values voters. Or maybe it's their therapeutic mindset that attributes most bad behavior to "sickness," personal or societal. They mocked President George W. Bush when he labeled terrorists as "evil-doers." The chattering class was horrified when President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the "evil empire."
Even in his Syria speech on Sept. 10, Obama didn't use the word "evil." He said Bashar al-Assad's regime was "repressive" and that use of gas against civilians violated international law and our "common humanity." He said the images were "sickening." But evil? It's not in his vernacular.
This is lazy and wrong. If Rubin had bothered to Google a few of Obama's speeches, she would have noticed this one calling the Tucson mass shooting "evil." Or this one calling the Sandy Hook mass shooting "evil." Or this statement calling the Sandy Hook shooting "evil." Or this weekly radio address calling the Boston Marathon bombing "evil." Or this speech calling slavery "evil." Or this speech calling the Holocaust "evil." Or this statement calling genocide in the Balkans "evil."
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller deceptively attacked President Obama for briefly discussing the Washington Navy Yard shooting, downplaying the frequency of such mass shootings to allege that "[s]caring the American public is one of President Obama's favorite political tactics to get gun control."
Before a scheduled September 16 speech on the economy, Obama addressed the shooting earlier that day at the Washington Navy Yard, where at least one gunman opened fire at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command and claimed at least 13 lives. During those remarks, Obama said:
I've been briefed by my team on the situation. We still don't know all the facts, but we do know that several people have been shot, and some have been killed. So we are confronting yet another mass shooting -- and today, it happened on a military installation in our nation's capital.
After offering "gratitude to the Navy and local law enforcement, federal authorities, and the doctors who've responded with skill and bravery," and sending "our thoughts and prayers to all at the Navy Yard who've been touched by this tragedy," Obama concluded, "we're going to be investigating thoroughly what happened, as we do so many of these shootings, sadly, that have happened, and do everything that we can to try to prevent them." At no point in the speech did Obama address gun laws.
Miller suggested that by referring to "yet another mass shooting" and "so many of these shootings," Obama was exaggerating the incidence of mass shootings. She contrasted Obama's words with her false claim that "[t]he last mass shooting was over nine months ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown." She added that, "While we mourn every one of those children and educators lost that day -- and today in Washington, D.C. -- these events are not a cause for increased alarm."
According to reporting from Mother Jones there have actually been four mass shootings between Newtown and the Navy Yard shooting that each claimed at least 5 lives. Recent research by criminology professor Pete Blair has found that the number of shootings where mass murder is the primary motive is on the rise: