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:
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones speculated that the attack on the Washington Navy Yard may have been a false flag operation committed by disguised government agents in pursuit of some obscure goal to restrict liberty. Despite Jones' far-fetched and often offensive statements, conservative outlets like Fox News and the Drudge Report have continued to promote his theories -- coverage that has even inspired legislative action in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
After a gunman attacked the Washington Navy Yard on September 16, Alex Jones immediately wondered if the attack was part of some conspiracy, tweeting, "Who will the Navy yard shooting be blamed on? Terrorist? Tea Partier? Leftist? Lone nut?" Later, on his radio show, Jones said, "when you have multiple shooters like this, it has patsy written all over it," and compared it to the bombing at the Boston Marathon, which Jones described as "undoubtedly a false flag." At the time of publication, Reuters reported, "Up to three gunmen, at least two dressed in military-style clothing, killed several people and wounded at least four others in a shooting spree at the U.S. Navy Yard on Monday."
Jones has long promoted false flag conspiracy theories. He once accused the government of using a weather control machine to devastate Moore, OK, with tornadoes. Jones also claimed that the United States government was behind everything from the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to the Boston Marathon bombing, and even the Newtown, CT, elementary school shooting. Most recently, he questioned whether the New World Order may be using the Syrian civil war as an opportunity to replace the world's population with human-machine hybrids.
While Jones' theories may seem outlandish, they often receive promotion among the right wing media including Fox News. Earlier this year, Matt Drudge declared 2013 would be the "year of Alex Jones." Jones' widely debunked conspiracy theory that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been stockpiling weapons and ammunition in order to either commit a coup against the United States or to drive up ammunition prices and keep it out of the hands of American citizens recently spurred the Republican-led House of Representatives to investigate and introduce legislation in order to prevent DHS from stockpiling ammunition.
Jones wasn't the only right-wing media figure to rush to politicize the tragedy. Others included Fox's Katie Pavlich and Martha MacCallum and CNN's S.E. Cupp.
Right-wing media are already beginning to politicize the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard earlier today to push for weaker gun laws. But their suggestion that the shooting could have been stopped if more people had been armed ignores that the victims include police officers and that an armed citizen has not stopped a mass shooting in 30 years.
As many as three gunmen reportedly opened fire at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command at the Washington Navy Yard this morning, killing four people and wounding eight more. Reports currently indicate that at least one shooter is dead but that the situation may not be completely resolved.
This morning, as reports of the number of gunmen and whether there were shooters still at large circulated, conservative media figures are suggesting that easier availability of guns would have prevented the rampage.
On Fox News, Martha MacCallum highlighted that "on a military base, you're not allowed to carry weapons" and that "someone working or familiar with the area probably would know that," suggesting that the Navy Yard had been targeted by the shooter or shooters due to the perceived lack of guns. MacCallum's guest, security expert Don Borelli, responded by discounting her statement, noting the high level of security at the base.
CNN host Van Jones chastised contributor Will Cain for "cherry-picking [legislative] districts" to paint stronger gun laws as wildly unpopular, pointing out that such laws have strong support nationwide.
During the September 13 edition of CNN's Crossfire, Jones hosted Cain and Colorado State Sen. John Morse (D-Colorado Springs), who was defeated in a recent recall election after being targeted over his support for expanded background checks and a 15-round limit for firearm magazines, to discuss the recall and gun reform. After explaining that gun reform measures such as background checks are "massively popular ... all across the country," Jones criticized Cain for "cherry-picking [legislative] districts" like Morse's to argue that the American people don't support gun reform.
Jones is supported by the data. The three gun violence prevention measures supported by Morse and signed into law in March by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper require a background check on all gun sales except those between family members, impose a $10 fee to process background checks, and limit firearm magazine capacity to 15 rounds. An August Quinnipiac University poll found that the majority of voters in Colorado approve of the specific pieces of the gun law package:
Colorado voters support 82 - 16 percent requiring background checks for all gun buyers. Support is strong among all groups.
Voters are divided 49 - 48 percent on a ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.
For some time now progressives have been discussing the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power, the faulty notion offered by some commentators that if a Congress opposed to President Obama's policies refuses to act, it's Obama's fault for failing to persuade them. Since the recall elections that removed two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws from office, a similar line of thought has emerged, the Green Lantern Theory of Electoral Politics, in which commentators castigate gun violence prevention advocates for the loss of those seats even as the commentators acknowledge the electoral realities that made victories unlikely.
On September 10, State Sens. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) were defeated in recall elections after being targeted over their support for expanded background checks on gun sales and a 15 round limitation on firearm magazine size. Some media commentators have described the election results as having major implications for the gun debate while downplaying factors on the ground that demonstrated that the election was less than a total victory for pro-gun advocates and unlikely to be a bell-weather for future elections.
In a piece for The Atlantic, Molly Ball does an excellent job of laying out those factors:
Democrats and gun-control advocates have come up with a number of rosy rationalizations to minimize the loss. Gun-rights campaigners failed to collect enough signatures to initiate two other recalls, they point out, so the victory was really mixed. The gun-control laws passed by the Colorado legislature remain in place, and Democrats retain control of both houses. Tuesday's recall was a low-turnout election with procedural irregularities that made it harder for people to vote. Both lawmakers represented tough districts, particularly Senator Angela Giron, whose district was Democratic but culturally conservative; she lost by 12 points, while state Senate President John Morse lost by fewer than 400 votes. All those things are true.
But Ball, after laying out all of these facts that made the recall elections unique, concludes that those realities "don't matter." According to Ball, gun violence prevention advocates should have found some way to win, regardless of the difficulty of achieving that result. She concludes that "risk-averse pols" who "value survival" will back away from the issue, and thus "it doesn't seem far-fetched to think that gun control might go back into the policy deep-freeze where Democrats had it stowed for most of the last 10 years."
Like the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Politics, this line of thinking encourages putting responsibility on exactly the wrong people; while the theory of Presidential Politics blames Obama for the irrational actions of congressional Republicans, the theory of Electoral Politics blames activists for potential irrational responses of national politicians to state legislative elections featuring unique circumstances.