Opponents of stronger gun laws have used their media platforms to continue to promote myths and falsehoods about firearm policy, often parroting gun lobby talking points, in the weeks leading up to today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence.
Ahead of tomorrow's hearing on gun violence before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the National Rifle Association released the testimony of its representative, executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. When reporting on LaPierre's remarks, the media have a responsibility to provide context for his frequently inaccurate statements.
In his remarks, LaPierre dismissed the idea of requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale while unwittingly demonstrating how these checks keep guns out of the hands of criminals, falsely suggested that assault weapons are no more dangerous than firearms available to civilians 100 years ago, and exaggerated the effectiveness of armed guards in schools.
In his testimony, LaPierre attacked the proposal to require criminal background checks on nearly all gun sales "because criminals will never submit to them." According to LaPierre's rigid reasoning, because background checks will not stop every dangerous person from acquiring a gun, there is no point in strengthening the system.
But even under our current set of laws that allow a significant proportion of firearms transactions occur without a background check, evidence has shown that over 1.5 million individuals have been prevented from acquiring a firearm after failing a background check.
LaPierre even acknowledged earlier in his testimony that over 76,000 firearms purchases in 2011 were denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It should be noted that LaPierre is either referring to FBI denials only or understating the figure, as over 150,000 purchases a year are typically denied through the background check system, with about half of denials being processed by the FBI.
According to the FBI, less than five percent of denials are reversed upon appeal. The primary reasons for denial were a felony conviction or indictment (47.4 percent) or status as a fugitive (19.1 percent).
Right-wing media are attacking New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of stronger gun laws, for traveling with armed security. These attacks are illogical given that Bloomberg supports the right of citizens to own guns.
The attacks are based on a video of senior Talk Radio Network investigative reporter Jason Mattera asking Bloomberg during a Washington, D.C. ambush interview, "in the spirit of gun control, will you disarm your entire security team?"
But contrary to the premise of the Mattera's question, Bloomberg does not oppose the rights of citizens to own firearms. In a joint letter with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino explaining the goals of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, he wrote:
We support the Second Amendment and the rights of citizens to own guns. We recognize that the vast majority of gun dealers and gun owners carefully follow the law. And we know that a policy that is appropriate for a small town in one region of the country is not necessarily appropriate for a big city in another region of the country.
Newsweek has published a bizarre rant on guns by playwright David Mamet as the cover story of its latest issue. Riddled with falsehoods, the piece alleges that efforts to strengthen gun laws -- many of which are supported by a majority of Americans -- are actually a Marxist plot.
Over the course of his hysterical rant, Mamet offers up several false or illogical claims. Notably, it is puzzling that Newsweek would turn to a writer for a major story on guns who is apparently wholly unfamiliar with the existence of the federal background check system or the definition of assault weapons during the current political debate -- especially after the publication acknowledged that they have no fact-checking department but instead "rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material."
From the January 26 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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Several conservative media figures have publicly come out in favor of comprehensive background checks for gun purchases, specifically closing the loophole allowing private and gun show sales without a background check.
Recent polls have shown widespread support for comprehensive background checks. Pew found that 85% of people supported background checks for private and gun show sales. 88% supported the measure in aWashington Post/ABC News poll, while 92% favored it in a Gallup poll.
While conservative media has opposed many of the Obama administration's proposed gun violence prevention measures since the Sandy Hook school shooting, some have been in favor of comprehensive background checks:
By comparison, the National Rifle Association has opposed comprehensive background checks and has lobbied against Congressional efforts to implement them, while NRA media figures have falsely claimed that background checks would cause "an end to private sales of firearms."
Gun researcher and FoxNews.com columnist John Lott is ignoring the evidence in an attempt to undermine claims from supporters of strengthening gun laws that a large percentage of guns are purchased without the buyer undergoing a background check.
In a National Review Online article, Lott wrote that President Obama's recent claim that "as many as 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check" is false, instead stating that "it closer to 10 percent." However, research shows that significant numbers of firearms are in fact sold without a background check - perhaps a figure greater than the 40 percent cited by Obama.
It is true that the 40 percent figure is based on a 1994 poll with a small survey sample, and that the authors of the study have said that they estimated that the actual figure for gun sales from private sellers ranges from 30 to 40 percent of all sales. But no data has been compiled that contradicts that figure, while several more recent data points support a figure in that range.
In finding that the "40 percent" statistic is "Mostly True," Politifact pointed out that neither the National Rifle Association nor the National Shooting Sports Foundation, groups that oppose expanding background checks to private sales, provided data contradicting that figure.
As Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler reported, part of the problem in obtaining up-to-date figures on the private sales of firearms is that National Rifle Association lobbyists have been successful in convincing Congress to block funding for such research. In his analysis of the 40 percent figure, Kessler quoted one of the authors of the 1994 study, Jens Ludwig, who stated, "While there is no perfect estimate in social science, we'd have a better estimate for this proportion had the federal government not decided to get out of the business of supporting research on guns and gun violence several years ago."
But the data that has been made available since the 1994 report lends credence to that estimate. For example, a 2012 analysis of how handguns are sold in Michigan, the Michigan State Police reported that 48 percent of all handguntransfers in the state are conducted through private sales where no background check is required. Criminals in particular tend to seek weapons from sources where they are not subject to background checks - only 11 percent of inmates incarcerated for gun crimes said that they got the weapon from a licensed gun dealer, according to a 2004 survey.
Data from the gun industry itself also suggests sales without a background check are commonplace. According to 2010 data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, only 45 percent of assault weapon owners reported buying their firearm from a retail location, including independent and chain retail stores. Approximately half of respondents reported buying their firearm from venues where a background check is not necessarily required, including over the Internet, from gun shows, or through a face-to-face sale.
Fox News' Eric Bolling selectively cropped footage of Sen. Dianne Feinstein discussing her proposed ban on assault weapons in an attempt to claim she flip-flopped on gun control.
On The Five, the co-hosts took up the topic of Feinstein's new proposed legislation to ban semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. Bolling aired a one sentence from Feinstein's press conference introducing the assault weapons ban, in which she said, "Our weak gun laws allow these mass killings to be carried out again and again and again in our country." Bolling then claimed, "But the senator wasn't always so anti-gun." The next video showed Feinstein in 1995 testifying before the Senate, in which she explained she once carried a concealed weapon for self-defense after being targeted by terrorists.
Bolling declared that this was "a perfect example of political hypocrisy."
A look at Feinstein's full press conference disproves Bolling's claim. In the portion of her remarks Bolling chose not to air, Feinstein emphasized (at about 5:25 in the video): "[In the bill] we have tried to recognize legal hunting rights. We have tried to recognize legal defense rights. We have tried to recognize the right of a citizen to legally possess a weapon. No weapon is taken from anyone. The purpose is to dry up the supply of these weapons over time.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has issued a press release expressing concern over the "inappropriate invocations of Hitler, Nazis, and general Holocaust imagery" in debates about gun violence after the Sandy Hook shooting.
In a related blog post, the ADL wrote: "These comparisons, made by political pundits on national news programs as well by others outside politics, are not only misplaced and offensive, relying on factually incorrect premises and exaggerations, but also deflect attention away from an important national discussion."
Some of their examples of this type of imagery include:
The group spotlighted conservative media figures arguing that the Holocaust could have been averted if Jewish people in Germany had better access to firearms, and explained that "Gun control did not cause the Holocaust; Nazism and anti-Semitism did."
In addition to the instances highlighted by the ADL, Media Matters has documented additional instances of conservative media making references to Nazis and other totalitarians in the midst of discussions about gun violence.
Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich, who was recently hired as a Fox News contributor, twisted comments made by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at a press conference announcing the introduction of assault weapons ban legislation to make it seem as if the senator claimed that all weapons used in mass shootings were obtained from gun shows.
Palvich, who reversed the order and altered the content of Sen. Feinstein's statements, used this distortion to claim that "no gun purchased at a gun show has ever been used in a mass shooting," a false statement contradicted by the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. All four firearms used in that shooting -- which left 13 dead and 21 wounded -- passed through an area gun show. From Pavlich's article:
From the January 22 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent alluded to the start of the American Revolution in an interview with Guns.com during the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show, claiming 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."
NUGENT: I'm part of a very great experiment in self-government where we the people determine our own pursuit of happiness and our own individual freedom and liberty not to be confused with the Barack Obama gang who believes in we the sheeple and actually is attempting to re-implement the tyranny of King George that we escaped from in 1776. And if you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies.
Nugent's mention of "Concord Bridge" is presumably a reference to the Battle of Concord, which was fought on the North Bridge. The battle, one of the early encounters of the Revolutionary War, forced the British to retreat.
Media outlets are reviving the myth that passage of the assault weapons ban was the crucial factor in Democratic defeats during the 1994 elections as President Obama moves to institute a new ban on assault weapons.
In some cases, those media are citing President Bill Clinton, who, according to Politico's uncritical report on his January 19 speech, "said that passing the 1994 federal assault weapons ban 'devastated' more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers in the 1994 midterms -- and cost then-Speaker of the House Tom Foley (D-Wash.) his job and his seat in Congress." Clinton also credited the National Rifle Association for the Democrats losing control of the House in his 2004 autobiography.
By contrast, The Chicago Tribune reported that while Clinton and others have cited gun violence prevention legislation as the key factor in the 1994 election, "[o]ther factors were at play in the Democrats' 1994 loss: Congress had raised taxes in 1993 and fought over health care reform."
Indeed, as US News reported in a January 17 article, political scientists who have analyzed the 1994 election say it is "mythology" that gun violence prevention laws were the primary reason the Democrats were defeated. According to the article, headlined "Gun Control Laws Weren't Primary Reason Dems Lost in 1994" (emphasis added):
While the '94 election proved Americans wanted Democrats out of congressional power (more than 50 Democratic seats were lost), it's less clear if the weapons ban, or any one issue, was the primary reason for their loss.
"This is a mythology that has developed," says Philip Klinkner, who edited a book about the '94 elections. "That narrative stretches things way too far."
The truth, political scientists say, is that it can be attributed to a combination of factors, and the "assault weapons" ban was just one of several controversial votes that led to the loss.
With Democrats in charge of the House, Senate and White House, the 103rd Congress tackled a long, progressive wish list. The White House pressured legislators to take on healthcare reform (unsuccessfully), pass the North American Free Trade Agreement and raise taxes through a deficit reduction act, which was fraught with political land mines for congressional Democrats. None of the policies helped earn legislators points back home among their more conservative constituents.
"The vote for gun control mattered, but the vote for the tax increase and healthcare were more important," says Gary Jacobson, who has done a statistical analysis of what votes affected the outcome of the 1994 election.
Sean Hannity devoted a special episode of his Fox News show to defending and promoting the National Rifle Association -- complete with a demonstration of guns at the NRA shooting range.
The Friday edition of Hannity featured an extensive interview with NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and a panel discussion about guns. Mixed in was a segment with world-champion shooter Jessie Duff firing weapons at the NRA range in Fairfax, Virginia, including an AR-15 assault rifle.
The AR-15 was used by the gunmen in both the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting and the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre.
Rep. John Lewis corrected Rush Limbaugh's misrepresentation of the civil rights movement, responding to Limbaugh's suggestion that Lewis would not "have been beat upside the head" during the march to Selma if he had had a gun.
Earlier on Friday, Limbaugh had asked on his radio show, "If a lot of African-Americans back in the '60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma?" He continued, "If John Lewis, who says he was beat upside the head, if John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?"
During the 1965 march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery in support of voting rights for African-Americans, state troopers beat the unarmed protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Lewis suffered a concussion.
Responding to Limbaugh today, Lewis said in a press release:
"Our goal in the Civil Rights Movement was not to injure or destroy but to build a sense of community, to reconcile people to the true oneness of all humanity," said Rep. John Lewis. "African Americans in the 60s could have chosen to arm themselves, but we made a conscious decision not to. We were convinced that peace could not be achieved through violence. Violence begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was through peaceful means. We took a stand against an unjust system, and we decided to use this faith as our shield and the power of compassion as our defense.
"And that is why this nation celebrates the genius and the elegance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s work and philosophy. Through the power of non-violent action, Dr. King accomplished something that no movement, no action of government, no war, no legislation, or strategy of politics had ever achieved in this nation's history. It was non-violence that not only brought an end to legalized segregation and racial discrimination, but Dr. King's peaceful work changed the hearts of millions of Americans who stood up for justice and rejected the injury of violence forever."