It's been one week since the former medical student-turned-gunman opened fire inside an Aurora, CO movie theater, shooting 70 people and killing 12. News of the massacre continues to generate enormous amounts of press coverage, most of which has been accurate and helpful.
However, what's been often lacking has been useful context about gun violence in America and the disturbing truth that the Aurora rampage represents the latest chapter in a long, active line of U.S. shooting sprees. And that far from happening in a vacuum created an isolated villain, the mass murder was connected to a sweeping cultural and criminal problem, one that gun proponents and conservatives don't want to address.
In 2009, in the wake of a rash of deadly shooting sprees, I noted how gun rampages no longer seemed to generate interest from the press and that the news media treated them as though they were isolated incidents and there was no public policy issue that tied them together. The press essentially had embraced the lazy NRA mantra: Guns don't kill people. People do.
Worse, the press often covered shooting sprees the way it covered killer tornadoes: One-day stories that were acts of nature, and that all people could really do is try to stay out of the way.
I will say that in the wake of the Aurora massacre there was clearly a rejuvenated debate about gun control and the press did raise the obvious connection between free and easy access to guns (including assault weapons) and the specter of more shooting sprees. Additionally, leading gun control advocates such as New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg were given high-profile platforms to urge changes in firearm laws.
All of that marks an improvement over recent rampage coverage. However, crucial gaps persist. For instance, each year roughly 30,000 Americans die from gun violence, or 300,000 over the last decade. That's a staggering statistic and one that helps put into context the entrenched epidemic of gun violence that America faces. By comparison, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, approximately 4,300 Americans have died in that conflict.
As Forbes' Rob Waters noted, from the period between 2000 to 2009, "If you exclude natural causes of death and consider only deaths caused by injury, [gun violence] is the second-leading cause of death over that time span; only car accidents (417,000) killed more people."
That 30,000 figure represents an eye-opening detail that helps tell the larger, disturbing story about gun violence in America. But it's one that has rarely been cited by the U.S. news media over the last seven days. A search of Nexis finds very few mentions of the statistic in news articles or television discussions about the Aurora massacre. And some of the only U.S. newspaper references to the 30,000 figure that have appeared in the last week have been from opinion pieces about gun control, including essays in the New York Times, Boston Globe and the Raleigh News & Observer.
But why is that statistic not regularly cited in news articles? Is it considered controversial to simply report, in the wake of a senseless gun rampage, how many people die from gun violence each year in the United States?
Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent is continuing to offer false or misleading commentary on last week's tragic mass shooting in Colorado in order to undermine a push for stronger gun violence prevention laws.
During an appearance yesterday on Glenn Beck's radio show, Nugent again denied that the alleged shooter had been armed with an assault weapon, while theorizing that the Aurora theater shooter could have done "more damage with a single shot or bolt action [rifle] because he had 20 minutes." In fact, police were reportedly on the scene between 60 and 90 seconds after the first 911 calls were made.
NUGENT: And remember, Glenn, this monster in Aurora took 20 minutes to do his evil. In 20 minutes you don't need an assault weapon, you don't need a machine gun, which he didn't have either of, but you could do more damage with a single shot or a bolt action because he had 20 minutes.
Single shot rifles and bolt action rifles must be reloaded after each shot is fired. Reload time has been a critical factor in other mass shootings. During the January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona that left six dead and gravely wounded then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the shooter was only stopped when he was tackled as he paused to reload.
The three semi-automatic weapons reportedly used by the shooter fired a bullet each time the trigger was pulled. One of the weapons used, a Smith & Wesson assault weapon equipped with a drum magazine possessed the capability to fire 50 to 60 shots a minute with no need to reload until after the 100 round drum was expended.
Nugent also doubled down on a previous statement that there were "no assault weapons used in the CO shooting only universally proven sporting & self defense firearms."
NUGENT: And let me state as if fact that I know for a fact that most of the damage done by this devil in Aurora was done with the number one pheasant shotgun in the world, a Remington 870. His AR-15 Smith & Wesson rifle is now the most popular sporting rifle in America. It is the number one competition, number one in self-defense; it's the number one sporting rifle for big game and small game. And if they keep calling it an assault weapon, I may have that aneurysm.
Nugent's attempt to mainstream assault weapons as common hunting implements is misleading. Paul A. Smith, outdoors editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has stated that while assault rifles "have gained favor among some hunters and sport shooters in recent decades, they constitute a small fraction of deer hunting rifles in use today."
Indeed, the assault weapon allegedly used in the theater shooting may have been illegal to purchase under the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. The hundred-round magazine would have been banned under that law.
Washington Times columnist, National Rifle Association board member, and prominent Mitt Romney supporter Ted Nugent is speaking out on last week's horrific mass shooting in Aurora, CO, declaring that there were "no assault weapons used in the CO shooting only universally proven sporting & self defense firearms."
Nugent also praised the "brave warriors who saved lives" during the massacre adding, "IF only they would hav had a good gun."
Last night, Nugent tweeted:
This afternoon, he added:
One of the guns the alleged shooter carried was an AR-15-style semi-automatic assault weapon, which reportedly may have been illegal to purchase under the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. The alleged shooter used a high-capacity 100-round drum magazine that would have been illegal under that statute.
The gun industry trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation frowns on the use of terminology like "assault weapon" and "assault rifle," preferring the term "modern sporting rifle." Even some gun bloggers find such language ineffective and "O[r]wellian."
In a July 24 Washington Times column, Charles Hurt lashed out at Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan for expressing sympathy for the victims of the Aurora tragedy, writing that the shooting was "carried out almost precisely from the scripts of your own movies."
In the column, which is labeled "An open letter to Christopher Nolan, Sean Penn and Warner Brothers," Hurt pinned blame for the mass shooting on violent films made by Nolan and others in Hollywood, telling them that "[o]ne day, you will meet the original Joker, the inventor of all evil who is diabolical and depraved so far beyond your furthest, sickest imaginations":
No, you did not pull the trigger in this case. You did not don the gas mask. But you were the inspiration, and you are the architects.
Your celebrations of diabolical mayhem and pornographic violence prey on the fantasies of sick, fragile minds. You insulated them from the painful reality of bloodshed. You have inspired mass murder. You are the Osama bin Laden of this travesty.
This, of course, is all legal and has made you a fabulous fortune. But, never forget, this is who you are. It is what you do. This is your legacy.
When you die, your gravestones should read: Here lie men who created such horrific, meaningless violence in such realistic scenes that a sicko carried it out for real and shot 70 people, killing 12, including a 6-year-old girl.
To be fair, you haven't only inspired murderous rampages. It is true that you have also entertained. But is the fleetingness of that entertainment nearly so profound as the terror you inspired here? Will it outlast the irreversible permanency of 12 deaths, including that of a 6-year-old girl?
Which brings us to Warner Brothers, those titans of decency. You bankrolled "The Dark Knight Rises" and so many other pointlessly violent movies that infect feeble minds and bring hatred upon America. You, it is reported, are feeling really sad about those poor saps who paid to see your wicked movies -- only to have the very scenes come alive and kill them in the dark, sticky rows between seats of a movie theater.
Out of your "respect" for these people, you declared you would not announce box-office receipts from this weekend's snuff film. Instead, you will count your $150 million in bloody money -- privately.
One day, you will meet the original Joker, the inventor of all evil who is diabolical and depraved so far beyond your furthest, sickest imaginations and there, in his lair, you will spend the rest of eternity wishing you had had a little decency back when you had the chance.
Hurt's column is currently being featured on the Drudge Report, where he is a contributor:
During an appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight last night, discredited gun "researcher" and FoxNews.com contributor John Lott pushed a number of falsehoods about gun violence in America while discussing the July 20 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 dead and scores wounded.
Lott rejected host Morgan's assertion that "America has the worst incidents of gun murders of any of what they call the civilized world." Later on in his appearance, Lott baselessly claimed that banning the types of weaponry used by the Aurora shooter would necessitate banning all semi-automatic firearms.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Do you accept that America has the worst incidence of gun murders of any of what they call the civilized world?
JOHN LOTT: No, I don't think that's true. Look, guns --
MORGAN: They are not true?
LOTT: No, I mean, factually, it's not true. Look --
MORGAN: But it is, isn't it?
LOTT: No, it's not.
Lott went on argue that because two gun deaths occurred in London in 1900 compared to 39 gun deaths in England in 2011, that restrictions placed on firearms between 1900 and 2011 can be linked to an increase in gun homicides. But Lott's reliance on century-old statistics doesn't change the modern reality of gun violence here in the United States.
The United States leads the world in private gun ownership. We also lead the industrialized world in gun deaths, which occurred in the United States at a rate eight times higher than our economic counterparts between 1990 and 1995. A 2003 study by Harvard School of Public Health professor David Hemenway found that the firearm homicide rate in the United States is 19.5 times higher than the average rate found in other high-income nations. A study by the Firearm and Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that the availability of firearms is correlated with increased gun homicide rates in high-income industrialized countries. This is certainly born out in the United States where states that have the highest gun ownership and loosest gun laws also often have the highest rates of gun death.
From the July 24 edition of Dial Global's The Ed Schultz Show:
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From the July 23 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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In the wake of last week's tragic mass shooting in Aurora, CO, some in the media are distorting public opinion and election results to predict that the events will not have an impact on the debate over gun violence prevention. In fact, polls indicate public support for a broad range of stronger gun restrictions, including the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which may have prevented the legal purchase of one of the alleged shooter's guns.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza kicked off the debate with a piece published the morning after the shooting headlined "Why the Aurora shootings won't likely change the gun control debate":
If history is any guide, however, the Aurora shootings will do little to change public sentiment regarding gun control, which has been moving away from putting more laws on the books for some time.
In 1990, almost eight in ten Americans said that the "laws covering the sales of firearms" should be made "more strict" while just 10 percent said they should be made "less strict" or "kept as they are now". By 2010, those numbers had drastically shifted with 54 percent preferring less strict or no change in guns laws and 44 percent believing gun laws should be made more strict.
By Sunday the claim that Americans don't support tougher gun laws was a regular feature on the morning political talk shows. But if Congress is not moved by this tragedy to pass new gun violence prevention laws, it won't be because the American people oppose such measures.
In fact, other polls indicate that contrary to the result of the Gallup poll Cillizza cited, Americans support the passage of an array of new, stronger firearm sale laws.
Note that this appetite among the public for stronger gun laws includes the support of more than three in five for reinstating the nationwide ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. One of the weapons used by the alleged shooter was an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, which reportedly may have been banned under that law. Members of the House and Senate have called for bringing back the ban in response to the shooting. They enjoy the support of 62 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans, according to a June 2011 Time magazine poll.
For months the National Rifle Association and Fox News have been pushing the fringe conspiracy theory that a proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty puts Second Amendment rights at risk. Now Mitt Romney is bringing that claim to the presidential campaign, parroting it on the stump.
As ThinkProgress reported, during a town hall event in Ohio yesterday, Romney said:
ROMNEY: Turning to the United Nations to tell us how to raise our kids, or whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us, I mean, that is the wrong way to go, right? Do not cede sovereignty. I'm happy to talk there. I'm not willing to give American sovereignty in any way, shape or form to the United Nations or any other body. We are a free nation. We fought for freedom and independence. We are going to keep freedom and independence.
But contrary to the conspiracy spun by the NRA and Fox and now repeated by Romney, the ATT only seeks to regulate the international import and export of conventional and small arms, and is not aimed at domestic gun regulation governed by U.S. sovereignty. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State has stated that it will not enter into any treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution. There will be no dilution or diminishing of sovereign control over issues involving the private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms, which must remain matters of domestic law."
The idea that the United Nations can determine "whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us" germinated at the National Rifle Association in the mid-1990s when CEO Wayne LaPierre began to speciously warn of "global gun grabbers."
But despite an utter lack of explanation by its pushers about how the U.N. could use a treaty to trump the United States Constitution, the conspiracy has survived over the years and has reached its zenith as ATT negotiations are finalized.
In the first week after negotiations began on July 2, Fox News featured seven appearances by opponents of the treaty compared to zero appearances by proponents. Instead of offering a cogent critique of the ATT, each guest has instead delved into conspiracy theory. Indeed, there are stark similarities between Romney's Wednesday warning and the commentary of Fox News contributor Dick Morris who claimed on July 5 that the ATT "will take the gun control issue away from the Congress and give it to the United Nations as part of an international treaty."
Romney's ATT comments were not the first time that Fox News served as the conduit between factually vacant right wing theories and the Republican presidential campaign. On Monday, Fox News deceptively edited and then hysterically promoted comments made by President Obama about small business owners. The false narrative found its way into Romney's campaign by Tuesday afternoon.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may have eliminated the task force responsible for doing the National Rifle Association's bidding, but that hasn't stopped the coordination between the right-wing groups. In the latest example of their friendly cooperation, the NRA plans to hold a trap shoot in conjunction with ALEC's annual meeting later this month.
In a missive to state legislators published by the Center on Media and Democracy, which researches ALEC, NRA director of state and local affairs Charles H. Cunningham invites state legislators to attend the "annual shoot," promising that it "will prove to be just as fun as in years past." According to CMD: "For the past several years, on the Saturday of ALEC's annual meeting, the NRA has regularly hosted an outing for ALEC legislators and lobbyists to go shooting together -- with complimentary guns and ammo plus plenty of food and drink (this time it is a barbeque)."
In April, as corporate sponsors fled their organization in the face of pressure from liberal activists angry with the group's support of "Kill at Will" self-defense laws and voter ID bills, ALEC announced that they were disbanding their Elections and Public Safety Task Force, which worked on those issues. At the time, that task force's chair told Media Matters that such issues were no longer a priority for ALEC.
The NRA was reportedly extremely unhappy with ALEC's reaction to public pressure regarding the "Kill at Will" laws, which spread to dozens of states after ALEC adopted a model bill based on the Florida statute that was cited as an influence in the case of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. An NRA representative reportedly criticized the group for dismantling the task force during a meeting of conservative leaders, warning other participants that ALEC could flee from their issues as well.
But the continuation of the NRA's annual shoot at ALEC's annual meeting suggests that the two conservative groups have patched up their differences and are again working together to promote right-wing legislation.
In April the NRA vowed to defend "Kill at Will" laws across the country.
During an hour-long interview with George Zimmerman, who admitted to shooting and killing unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in February, Sean Hannity tried to cast Zimmerman as the victim in this case -- of a media that was too quick to condemn, of an unjust movement that has stoked racial animus, and of a group that wanted him "dead or alive."
Hannity said that Zimmerman has "had multiple death threats" and brought up Spike Lee "tweeting out what he thinks is your home address," and Al Sharpton and NBC News, who Hannity claimed "trie[d] to use this case to bring up the issue of racial profiling," to make his point. He also cited the New Black Panthers, the fringe group that placed a bounty on Zimmerman's head, to continue his months-long narrative that this case has had just as much impact on Zimmerman.
Hannity also sought to dispel reports that he may have offered to pay for Zimmerman's legal fees, saying that it "never happened." Hannity was referring to an "off the record" conversation he had with Zimmerman in April, during which he claimed that the two discussed only Zimmerman's case and Hannity's wish for an on-air interview. Hannity also stressed that Zimmerman was "offered nothing to do this interview."
THE UNITED NATIONS -- It was during one of several extended delays on day five of the Arms Trade Treaty talks that the chief of the British delegation, a jovial veteran diplomat named Jo Adamson, turned to me and wanted to know if I'd ever watched The Benny Hill Show.
"You know the musical theme when Benny gets chased around by the police and they speed up the film?" she asked. "I want to make a video of that song playing over Tuesday's scene of musical chairs."
The idea was a happy diplomatic warrior's response to the comedic low-point of the negotiations' disastrous first week, in which 193 national delegations, eager to begin a long-planned attempt at regulating the global conventional arms trade, were forced to choreograph a globe-spanning seating shift to accommodate two Palestinian observers, debate over whose status had made a train wreck of the agenda and preempted the speeches of several foreign ministers in town for the opening session. Adamson wasn't the only UN diplomat with experience taking such chaos in stride. Anyone who has been around Turtle Bay and Geneva long enough knows the ATT won't be the last UN effort to strengthen global security to be threatened by soul sucking stretches of procedural purgatory.
The fact that the ATT conference's first week lent itself so easily to Benny Hill spoofs is a good place to begin considering the massive gulf separating the actual treaty being negotiated by consensus at the UN this month, and the Iran-directed Second Amendment-eating Golem of conservative imagination. The hysterical screeching of so much right-wing opposition to the ATT is the product of many things, but direct experience with the inner workings of the UN system does not appear to be among them.
"Everyone who has spent any time here knows we're lucky if we can get a time frame for debate worked out," said Robert Zuber of Global Action to Prevent War, who has 20 years experience with the UN and supports the passage of a treaty. "This idea that a UN treaty concerning international arms flows could somehow override the Constitution or the Supreme Court, this idea that it will lead to UN police marching down the streets taking people's guns away -- everyone here knows it's beyond ludicrous."
That the ATT is no opening salvo in a global gun-grab -- a charge made in various forms recently by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, The Washington Times, Dick Morris, and a number of others appearing on Fox News -- does not mean the talks are without stakes. National delegations and NGOs are gathered in New York through July 27 to address a lack of common international standards guiding the import, export, and transfer of conventional arms and munitions. As Amnesty International activists have dramatized by handing out bananas in Times and Trafalgar Squares, more rules govern the inter-state trade of fruits and vegetables than tanks and machine guns. Just over 50 nations regulate international arms dealers inside their territory according to the Arms Control Association; only half of those have any sort of penalties for breaking national laws. ATT proponents maintain that a treaty is the first step in shrinking the booming international black and grey market arms trade that fuels civil conflicts, arms warlords and criminal syndicates, and facilitates the breaking of arms embargos. According to an Oxfam report, countries operating under arms embargoes have succeeded in importing more than $2.2 billion worth of arms and ammunition since 2000.
The Obama administration is a relatively conservative actor on the ATT spectrum, and its reversal of the previous government's rejection of the ATT was predicated on the final treaty language being approved by consensus. U.S. presence at the conference is supported by major human rights and development NGOs, leading U.S. defense contractors, active and retired senior military staff, and a number of civic and religious groups such as the National Council of Churches.
Among the array of U.S. civil society and industry groups involved in the ATT process, the National Rifle Association has distinguished itself by issuing a decade-long stream of misinformation that has clouded Americans' understanding of the issues. It is a pattern of willful obfuscation that has defined the gun group's posture as an international actor since before plans for the talks were announced under the Bush Administration. Indeed, the rebirth of the NRA as a profitable organization following its brush with bankruptcy in the mid-90s tracks closely with the history of UN activity around the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.
From the July 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Lou Dobbs last night conducted a fawning interview with Mike Vanderboegh and David Codrea, two bloggers who recently filed a complaint against Attorney General Eric Holder with the District of Columbia's Office of Bar Counsel. At no point did Dobbs note that Vanderboegh is an ex-militia conspiracist who has urged his readers to commit vandalism against Democrats and allegedly inspired a terrorist plot to kill federal employees.
On his Fox Business show, Dobbs said to Vanderboegh, "You guys are considered in some quarters rather dangerous. You're fans of the Constitution, you seek truth, what has been the reaction to your activism?"
Vanderboegh's record of extremism includes:
From the July 12 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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