Fox News is trying to shift the national conversation on public safety laws, pointing to recent mass shootings to question the effectiveness of expanding background checks on gun purchases. But Fox's criticism ignores several other mass shootings committed by people who bought weapons without undergoing background checks, as well as the significant gun violence that experts say background checks will prevent.
On Thursday, the Senate defeated a Republican filibuster threat against tougher gun laws on a vote of 68-31. The vote cleared the way for a full debate on gun safety measures, including expanded background checks, next week.
In response, Fox News ran a segment premised on the idea that background checks are largely unnecessary because they would not have prevented Adam Lanza and other recent mass shooters from acquiring the guns they used.
In fact, the loophole in federal law that allows prohibited persons to buy firearms without undergoing a background check has resulted in mass shootings. In October 2012, a shooting at a Wisconsin spa left three dead and four wounded. The Associated Press reported that the alleged shooter purchased a handgun from a private seller without a background check, and obtained the weapon two days after becoming the subject of a restraining order that required him to turn over all weapons to a county sheriff.
Other mass shootings in which shooters obtained their weapons from private individuals rather than licensed firearm dealers include the September 2011 shooting at a Nevada IHOP, which left 4 dead and 7 wounded, and the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, which left 13 dead and 21 wounded.
Moreover, this criticism misses the point; while background checks will not prevent all gun violence, they will prevent a significant amount.
Fox News figures are dismissing the voices of the families who suffered in a mass shooting in Newtown, CT by claiming they're being used and exploited by Democrats, discounting the efforts they have made to encourage Congress to pass stronger gun laws.
On April 11, the Senate overcame a Republican-led filibuster that tried to block the beginning of debate on stronger gun laws with a 68-31 vote. The impetus for the new gun proposals was driven by the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that left 26 victims dead, most of them young children. President Obama had been urging Congress to act to strengthen guns laws in response to the shooting for some time.
According to several Fox News figures, Obama has been using the families of the Newtown shooting victims as props for a political agenda.
On April 11, Fox News host Sean Hannity called the effort to strengthen gun laws "naked exploitation of dead children and grieving families," while his guest Ann Coulter said that Democrats are "play[ing] with these victims." The previous night, Hannity stated that the president "is once again using families of tragedy as props for his agenda." Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said on his April 11 radio show that Obama is "using the Newtown families to push for background checks." Fox News White House reporter Ed Henry similarly said on April 9 that "for the second straight day, the White House used the victims of the Newtown tragedy to make their case." On his April 9 radio show, Fox News host Mike Huckabee suggested that taking some of the relatives of the Newtown shooting victims to Washington, DC on Air Force One to make their case for stronger gun laws was "an exploitation of those parents."
Such an attitude does a disservice to the many Newtown families that want tougher gun laws in the wake of their tragedies. Several of the families appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes on April 7 to discuss what kind of gun violence prevention measures they would like to see signed into law, saying that universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines were important. After the vote that broke the GOP's threatened filibuster, more than 30 families of Newtown victims released a statement criticizing those who tried block an up-or-down vote on new gun legislation, saying that "[t]he senators who have vowed to filibuster this bill should be ashamed of their attempt to silence efforts to prevent the next American tragedy."
From the April 11 edition of Cumulus Media Networks' The Mark Levin Show:
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CNN host Erin Burnett didn't ask NRA board member Ted Nugent a single question about his recent violent remarks concerning gun policy, which included doubling down on his previous claim that he would be "dead or in jail" if Obama was reelected.
Burnett hosted Nugent on the April 11 broadcast of her show Erin Burnett OutFront to discuss pending gun safety legislation.
At no point did Burnett ask Nugent about comments he made during an April 8 interview on NRA News, when he complained that not enough was done to stop Obama's reelection and asked, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he's "not recommending shooting anybody." He also doubled down on his claim last year that he would be "either dead or in jail" in a year if the president was reelected.
Nugent is not a credible voice in the gun policy debate, as evidenced by his long history of inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation about gun violence. Nevertheless, Burnett has attempted to mainstream Nugent before. In February, Burnett's show featured an interview with Nugent where he suggested the government could confiscate firearms, a conspiracy theory that Burnett and CNN reporter Deb Feyerick later treated as a serious argument.
During the April 11 interview, Burnett experienced some of Nugent's inflammatory rhetoric firsthand when Nugent asked Burnett if she would "support my recommendation that we arrest Eric Holder" in order to "stop gun trafficking."
From the April 11 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent will reportedly appear tonight on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront to discuss firearm policy, despite his history of inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation about gun violence. In February, OutFront featured an interview with Nugent where he suggested the government could confiscate firearms, a conspiracy theory that host Erin Burnett and CNN reporter Deb Feyerick later treated as a serious argument.
Nugent's appearance comes just days after he doubled down on his infamous comments that he would be "dead or in jail" because of President Obama's gun policies. During that interview on NRA News, Nugent also complained that not enough was done to stop the reelection of Obama, asking, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he's "not recommending shooting anybody."
Nugent is not a credible figure in the debate over gun laws.
In a February 13 column for birther website WND, Nugent revived false reports to allege that the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre used handguns rather than an assault weapon during his attack. Nugent's claim was based on an erroneous news report often cited by individuals promoting the conspiracy theory that the mass shooting was a hoax. In that same column, Nugent also downplayed the damage done by assault weapons by falsely claiming the AR-15 has more in common with a "squirrel rifle" than a military assault rifle.
In addition to his long history of hateful rhetoric on the topic of race, Nugent has compared the alleged plight of gun owners to civil rights icon Rosa Parks and blamed gun violence on "leftist stooges." By contrast, Nugent has also compared Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder to serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer after they were chosen to lead the administration's gun violence prevention efforts. No stranger to violent rhetoric, Nugent claimed in January that the Obama administration "is attempting to re-implement the tyranny of King George" and that "if you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies."
From the April 11 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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With the U.S. Senate having voted to take up legislation to strengthen gun laws, which will likely include a bipartisan proposal to expand federal firearms background checks, Media Matters reviews myths the media has promoted about the background check system.
Conservatives have responded to the bipartisan Senate proposal to expand thebackground check system for firearms purchases with apocalyptic, conspiratorial, and absurd rhetoric.
On April 10, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) announced they had reached an agreement on an amendment that would require criminal and mental health background checks for those seeking to purchase firearms at gun shows and online. The proposal is likely to be added to legislation currently being debated in the Senate. Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support requiring a background check for more gun buyers.
Right wing radio host Mark Levin compared the deal to policies that bring about "genocide," arguing that "the greatest inhumanities ever committed have been by centralized governments against their people."
From the April 10 edition of Cumulus Media's The Mark Levin Show:
I just want to remind you, ladies and gentlemen, that the greatest inhumanity -- the greatest inhumantity has been committed by centralized governments against their people. The greatest inhumanity ever committed has been by centralized government against their people. Whether we call it national socialism or communism or facsism, I just call it all statism to make it easy, borrowing from Aristotle to Reagan.
You and I can't commit genocide. You and I can't destroy a nation from within.
There are many sick people in this world. They're killers. They kill people. They'll be killing people today. They'll be killing people tonight. I wish it wasn't so, but it is so. There are many evil people on the face of this earth. The way we try to deal with them is through law enforcement. The way we try to deal with them is culling them out from the rest of society and punishing them.
But the more that we put down the law-abiding people, the more we herd and shepherd the law-abiding people, the more information we gather on the law-abiding people, put them in central government databases and all the rest, the more we're destroying our society.
We are free people. We are a good people. These politicians seek to define you and me, by the evil people. And so they project these images onto you and me, and then they try and pass laws to control us, and deny us of liberty.
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson claimed in a series of tweets that the mental health provisions in the agreement would allow a doctor to say someone was "crazy for believing in resurrected Jesus" which would lead to "liberal docs" barring the faithful from gun ownership.
Fox News host Eric Bolling argued that the deal was "knocking on the door to a national registry." In fact, creating a national registry is already illegal and the proposal reaffirms that illegal status andincreases the penalty for creating a registry.
As the Huffington Post reported, "In addition to a potential jail sentence of 15 years, officials who create a gun registry or misuse federal records on gun sales or ownership would face a monetary fine."
NRA News host Cam Edwards claimed that Buzzfeed promoted the views of Al Qaeda by reporting on a video of an Al Qaeda spokesperson encouraging terrorists to use gun shows to obtain weapons without a background check. This claim comes as a deal has reportedly been struck for legislation that would require a background check for all sales at gun shows.
Edwards also downplayed the well-documented patronage of gun shows by terrorists and other dangerous individuals.
On the April 10 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company, Edwards accused reporter Andrew Kaczynski of "approvingly citing Al Qaeda to bolster gun control arguments," and asked, "I wonder when Buzzfeed is going to start citing Al Qeada's pop culture criticism of the United States too?"
EDWARDS: So Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski is now approvingly citing Al Qaeda to bolster gun control arguments. Remember the chairman of Buzzfeed has said I'm not going to give money to any Democrat candidates who don't vote for gun control. Kaczynski has a piece at Buzzfeed right now, "Even Al Qaeda Thought America's Gun Background Check System Was Weak." Right. I wonder when Buzzfeed is going to start citing Al Qeada's pop culture criticism of the United States too. Kaczynski gives this example of [American Al Qaeda spokesperson] Adam Gadahn who said back in 2011, "America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?" Now Al Qaeda was wrong about our gun laws. But hey, they actually repeated this, you know, President Obama made the same incorrect statement about fully automatic firearms. What the heck. Everybody gets it wrong I guess. It's just weird that Buzzfeed is like, "Well see look Al Qaeda said our gun laws are weak so we should totally change our gun laws." 17 Al Qaeda Cats.
Right-wing media are encouraging Republican senators to filibuster gun violence prevention legislation, continuing a long history of trying to influence GOP politics through recommended obstructionism.
Kathleen Parker, a conservative opinion writer, argued against bans on high-capacity magazines by claiming that "several small magazines" were used in the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech massacres -- even though high-capacity magazines were used in both shootings -- and also falsely suggested that banning assault weapons would necessitate banning all semi-automatic firearms.
In an April 9 column in The Washington Post, Parker falsely suggested that the shooters in those incidents did not use high-capacity magazines:
Limiting the size of magazines also seems like a common-sense solution. Then again, maybe a killer simply would carry several small magazines and swap them out, as Eric Harris did at Columbine High School in 1999 and Seung-Hui Cho did at Virginia Tech in 2007. Harris was armed with a Hi-Point 995 carbine with 13 magazines of 10 rounds each. His partner, Dylan Klebold, carried a semi-automatic handgun and a short-barrel shotgun, which, gun experts will tell you, is the most effective close-range weapon of all. And Cho used two handguns that are not considered "assault weapons."
But like assault weapons, some handguns accept high-capacity magazines. In the 1999 Columbine massacre, where two gunmen killed 13 and injured 21, Dylan Klebold attacked his classmates with an Intratec TEC-9 assault pistol and was found to have brought 52-, 32- and 28-round magazines into the school. Of the 67 rounds fired by Klebold, 55 were fired by the TEC-9, which Klebold was observed carrying -- equipped with a high-capacity magazine -- in an infamous security camera still taken during the shooting. On April 17, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho used two handguns to kill 32 and injure 17 at Virginia Tech. During the shooting, Cho fired 174 rounds from 10- and 15-round magazines. A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) would ban any ammunition feeding device that is capable of accepting more than 10 rounds, the same limit contained in the previous assault weapons ban which expired in 2004.
Parents of some of the children killed in the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School have advocated for a ban on high-capacity magazines after being told by authorities that a number of children were able to escape the shooter when he paused to reload. At a press conference in support of a Connecticut proposal to ban high-capacity magazines in that state, Mark Barden, whose son was killed in the mass shooting, explained, "The more times you have to reload the more opportunities there are to escape and to stop the shooting. In the amount of time -- it was somewhere around four minutes -- he was able to fire 154 rounds. I think that speaks volumes about reducing the size [of magazines]."
Despite the fact that Americans, including gun owners and Republicans, are lending historic levels of support to President Obama's endorsed proposal to expand background checks for all gun purchases, the list of Republican senators vowing the filibuster any such bill expanded this week: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell became the 14th Republican to pledge not to allow a vote on any proposed gun legislation to take place on the floor of U.S. Senate.
In the end, it seems the attempted blockade to halt debate on the legislation has failed. But the Republicans' obstructionist strategy was no surprise, considering the party quickly coalesced around that dead-end tactic in early 2009. It's an unprecedented approach they've adopted to essentially proudly oppose anything endorsed by the White House, including, cabinet nominees and emergency relief packages.
That's now a given. What continues to shock is the extent to which the press in the weeks leading up to the pending gun vote played along with the Republican intransigence. What's distressing is how Beltway pundits largely gave Republicans a free pass and instead focused its blame on Democrats for failing to change Republicans behavior; for getting "cocky" and missing "their window" following the school massacre in Newtown, CT. And for "grasping at straws."
Routinely, we saw gun narratives that found fault primarily with the president: If only Obama had acted sooner, or proposed different legislation, or talked more often to Republicans, or not held public events in support of new gun laws. If Obama had just done everything differently, pundits suggested, he would've been able to win substantial Republican support and been able to easily secure passage of new gun control legislation.
That's because, despite four years of relentless obstruction, much of the press still hasn't budged from its preferred, naïve premise that, collectively, Republicans are routinely open to compromise, that they're honest brokers, and that it's Obama's job to just figure out how to get them to say yes. (Why won't he just lead?)
In the end, Democrats in the Senate this week may succeed in brokering a deal on gun legislation. As of now, Democrats will at least be able to bring the issue up for discussion in the Senate, which actually constitutes a major victory amidst the Republicans' blanket of no. But it's odd Democrats have so often been the focus of the press' attention, when Republicans are the ones standing in the way.
By the way, how radical of a shift is today's GOP behavior on guns? In 1999, 31 Senate Republicans voted in favor of mandating background checks at gun shows. And in 1994, 42 House Republicans voted for President Bill Clinton's crime bill, which included a ban on assault weapons.
But little of that matters now.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent made several inflammatory remarks about the Obama administration during an interview on NRA News, including doubling down on his previous claim that he will be "dead or in jail" if the president was reelected.
During an April 8 interview on NRA News, Nugent also accused the Obama administration of engaging in "jack-booted thuggery" and complained that not enough was done to stop the reelection of Obama, asking, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he's "not recommending shooting anybody."
Nugent told a gathered crowd at the NRA's annual meeting in April 2012 that, "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. Why are you laughing? Do you think that's funny? That's not funny at all. I'm serious as a heart attack." He concluded his remarks with a call for the audience to "ride into that battlefield and chop [Democrats] heads off in November."
Nugent, who is also a columnist for birther website WND, brought up those past comments after NRA News host Cam Edwards falsely claimed that proposed background check legislation would make it so "any time somebody went to your ranch and you loaned them a gun to do some hunting or to do some plinking that would be a five year felony." According to Nugent, those who laughed at him for saying that "if this America-hater, if this freedom-hater, if this enemy of America becomes the president again I'll either be dead or in jail" were ignoring the threat of "draconian felonies":
From the April 8 edition of Current TV's Talking Liberally with Stephanie Miller:
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