The Washington Times is continuing its shoddy reporting about the federal form for gun background checks by misleadingly claiming gun dealers will lose their licenses if buyers inadvertently make mistakes on the form.
In a September 18 article, the Times' Kelly Riddell reported on a minor change to the form in 2012, in which a question on race and ethnicity was separated into two boxes. Riddell wrote that the change "has become a headache for firearms dealers, as many people either check off one box or the other. Failure to complete them both results in [a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] violation. When a firearm dealer gets audited by the ATF, one violation -- no matter how minor -- is enough reason to revoke a license."
In fact, the ATF can only revoke the license of gun dealers who commit "willful" violations of federal regulations, which in this case, would entail a seller knowingly processing the flawed form. A buyer's simple failure to "check off one box or the other" is insufficient for a license revocation, contrary to Riddell's description.
As pressure to act on a proposal to expand gun background checks in Pennsylvania builds in the state legislature, an error published by Harrisburg NBC affiliate WGAL is providing fodder to the bill's opponents.
Pennsylvania currently only requires buyers of handguns to undergo a criminal background check. Purchasers of long guns such as shotguns and rifles -- including military-style assault weapons -- can buy these weapons without a background check in "private sales." H.B. 1010 would extend the background check requirement to long guns.
Gun violence prevention group Ceasefire PA recently visited the legislature to lobby for the bill. In support of the bill, Ceasefire PA has argued that the proportion of murders with firearms other than handguns in Pennsylvania has more than doubled since 1998 and that long guns are disproportionality used to kill police officers.
In a September 16 article, WGAL sloppily attempted to share Ceasefire PA's argument for expanded background checks, but instead misstated the nature and year of the claim that Ceasefire PA has made:
Cease Fire says FBI figures show the number of murders committed with long guns has doubled since 1996.
In fact, Ceasefire had argued that the proportion of murders committed with guns other than handguns has increased. According to a September joint report from Ceasefire PA and Center for American Progress Action Fund, FBI data indicates that this figure has increased since 1998 from 8 percent to 21 percent:
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is criticizing the major news networks' lack of coverage of big money in politics, saying he is "disappointed, but not surprised ... that the networks barely covered the issue."
Sanders' press release comes after a recent Media Matters study found that the subject of campaign finance reform was hardly reported on by either the major networks' evening news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News) or their Sunday talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press). These news programs also largely overlooked the Senate's proposed (and ultimately filibustered) constitutional amendment that would have restored Congress' ability to regulate political spending after the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted bipartisan campaign finance law in 2010's Citizens United v. FEC and this year's McCutcheon v. FEC.
Although most of the networks seldom covered the issue, PBS NewsHour, on the other hand, set the standard and broadcast numerous in-depth segments on campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and the Supreme Court decisions that have invited billions of dollars to flow into the federal election system. In fact, PBS NewsHour offered more campaign finance coverage than the other networks combined.
In response to these findings, Sanders called on the media to dedicate more coverage to what he called "the single most important issue facing our country today" and suggested that the networks' insufficient coverage has contributed to the decline of Americans' confidence in the media:
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the study's finding that the major networks barely covered the issue of money in politics," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "There is a reason why confidence in the American media is declining," he added. "More and more people say the media is not paying attention to the issues of real importance to the American people. This study confirms that."
The study found that each network devoted less than single minute per month to talking about campaign finance reform. "To my mind," Sanders said, "the single most important issue facing our country today is that, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are allowing billionaires to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will represent the wealthy and powerful rather than the needs of ordinary Americans. This is an issue of enormous consequence."
Sanders cited a recent Gallup poll that found Americans' faith in television news and newspapers is at or tied with record lows. The findings continued a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers or TV news.
Two congressional Republicans are introducing legislation that advances the conservative media's false claim that the Obama administration recently started making gun buyers disclose their race and ethnicity
Reps. Ted Poe (TX) and Diane Black (TN) are proposing a bill that would change the federal form used for gun background checks by prohibiting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from asking about race or ethnicity on the form.
The conservative media falsehood started with a September 16 article by Washington Times reporter Kelly Riddell, who wrote that a 2012 revision to Form 4473 meant that "[t]he Obama administration quietly has been forcing new gun buyers to declare their race and ethnicity, a policy change that critics say provides little law enforcement value while creating the risk of privacy intrusions and racial profiling."
In 2012, the ATF split question 10 into two parts. Now, instead of asking gun buyers to indicate their race or ethnicity from a series of choices, applicants must indicate their ethnicity and race separately:
This change is consistent with similar changes made on Census forms.
Other members of the conservative media took Riddell's claim about an Obama administration "policy change" at face value, asserting that being asked to disclose race and ethnicity on the background check form was somehow a new development.
If the press release from Poe and Black is any indication, the bill is directly premised on the conservative media falsehood. The September 18 release claims, in contradiction to publicly available evidence, "In 2012, the Obama Administration quietly began requiring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to record firearms purchasers' race and ethnicity."
National Review Online misrepresented a recent court decision that could allow an unneccessarily restrictive voter identification law to be implemented in Wisconsin only weeks before the November election.
On September 12, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction that a district court judge had previously granted to prevent Wisconsin's strict voter ID law from going into effect due to concerns that its disproportionate effect on communities of color violated the Voting Rights Act. After the three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit issued its order, Wisconsin officials announced that they would move forward with implementing the law despite the fact that election officials are not trained in the new photo ID requirements and absentee ballots have already been turned in. This last minute voting change has the potential to keep hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters who lack photo ID from participating in the November election.
Right-wing media quickly downplayed the significance the law might have on the election. On the September 17 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin managed to point out that the law could affect the outcome of the gubernatorial race in Wisconsin, which shows Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a near-tie with his Democratic opponent Mary Burke. But Tobin minimized the impact of the ID law by erroneously suggesting that "there is only a handful of voters who won't get IDs by election day."
NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky, a tireless advocate for voter ID laws that suppress the vote of women, minorities, and the poor, also applauded the Seventh Circuit's order, calling it a "stunning blow" for opponents of voter ID. Von Spakovsky overlooked key facts in the case to ultimately conclude there was "no justification for striking down" Wisconsin's law in the first place:
As I explained in an NRO article in May, the district court judge, Lynn Adelman, a Clinton appointee and former Democratic state senator, had issued an injunction claiming the Wisconsin ID law violated the Voting Rights Act as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. Adelman made the startling claim in his opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in 2008 upholding Indiana's voter-ID law as constitutional was "not binding precedent," so Adelman could essentially ignore it.
However, that was too much for the Seventh Circuit. It pointed out, in what most lawyers would consider a rebuke, that Adelman had held Wisconsin's law invalid "even though it is materially identical to Indiana's photo ID statute, which the Supreme Court held valid in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board."
It was also obviously significant to the Seventh Circuit that the Wisconsin state supreme court had upheld the state's voter-ID law in July ... In fact, the appeals court said the state court decision had changed the "balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief."
In other words, there was no justification for striking down a state voter-ID law that was identical to one that had been previously upheld by both the Supreme Court of the United States and that state's highest court.
Right-wing outlets are claiming that the Obama administration is using the standard form for federal gun background checks to engage in "racial profiling" and to find out "who has guns" because the form asks about race and ethnicity. But the form has asked for this information since at least 2001, and identifying information is destroyed within hours of a background check being processed.
People who buy firearms from licensed dealers are required to fill out the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives' Form 4473, which is processed by the FBI-administered National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The form asks buyers for information such as name, height, weight, date of birth, and race and ethnicity.
In a September 16 article, Washington Times reporter Kelly Riddell wrote that a 2012 revision of Form 4473 meant that "[t]he Obama administration quietly has been forcing new gun buyers to declare their race and ethnicity, a policy change that critics say provides little law enforcement value while creating the risk of privacy intrusions and racial profiling." According to Riddell, the change was made by the ATF "[w]ith little fanfare."
The change in the 2012 revision is that race and ethnicity were separated into questions 10.a. and 10.b.:
Fox News acknowledged that a voter ID law may prevent people from casting votes while discussing the upcoming gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin -- despite the network's sustained campaign to deny the negative repercussions these laws have on voting.
On September 12, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved an injunction blocking the state of Wisconsin from implementing voter ID laws that required voters to show photo identification in order to cast their votes. According to Reuters, these new rules are set to go into effect in time for the November general elections.
During the September 17 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox correspondent Mike Tobin reported on the upcoming gubernatorial election between Governor Scott Walker (R) and Democratic challenger Mary Burke. During a discussion of polling numbers placing the two candidates at a statistical tie, Tobin acknowledged that the implementation of the state's new voter ID laws could potentially impact the election. Claiming that "there is only a handful of voters who won't get IDs by election day," he went on to say that "even a handful can tip the scales" in this election:
Although Tobin was correct in claiming that voter ID laws could have a significant impact on the election, his assertion that "only a handful of voters" won't be able to obtain identification downplays the possibility that hundreds of thousands of voters may be disenfranchised by the law's implementation.
Despite multiple reports showing that the type of voter fraud IDs protect against is virtually nonexistent, Fox News has repeatedly advocated for these laws, even though they have been shown to disenfranchise eligible voters.
Voter ID laws have real consequences on elections. As the Brennan Center for Justice reported in a 2013 study, "free IDs are not equally accessible to all voters," and voter ID laws "make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote."
The National Rifle Association is commenting on NFL player Ray Rice's violent attack on his then-fiancée, speciously claiming that gun safety advocates are "providing an example to young men that it's okay to beat women as long as you can throw a football." This wild attack comes as the NRA is actively opposing legislation in the U.S. Senate to take guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers.
The NRA weighed in on controversy surrounding Rice in a September 17 video commentary narrated by NRA News commentator Colion Noir.
Noir sought to contrast how the New Jersey judicial system has treated Rice -- who was allowed to enter a pre-trial intervention program despite video evidence showing him knocking his then-fiancée unconscious -- and the case of Pennsylvania resident Shaneen Allen.
In 2013, Allen was arrested after being found in possession of a handgun during a traffic stop in New Jersey. Allen's weapon was legally registered in Pennsylvania, where she lived, but she was apparently unaware that New Jersey does not recognize Pennsylvania concealed carry permits.
Due to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that could put Allen in prison for years, critics on the right and left have brought attention to the case as an example of overzealous prosecution. In a recent development, prosecutors are reviewing the charge against Allen to determine if she can avoid jail time and enter a pre-trial intervention program; a seemingly equitable outcome for this inadvertent violation of the law.
While criticizing the manner in which Allen's case has been handled, Noir made a bizarre leap of logic to claim that "all anti-gunners around the world" are "providing an example to young men that it's okay to beat women as long as you can throw a football of course," because of the Ray Rice case. Noir also claimed that "anti-gun utopia" is a world where "a mother of two kids, is faced with three years in jail for trying to protect herself, but isn't afforded the same second chance that some knuckle-dragging hothead who 'Tiger Uppercuts' his fiancée into a momentary coma is given."
The gun industry's trade group is claiming Democratic Massachusetts attorney general candidate Warren Tolman's September 9 primary defeat occurred because of his support for smart gun technology. But the candidate who won the primary also backs smart guns and attacked Tolman during the race for not supporting the technology enough.
In a September 16 column for the "Guns and Gear" section of conservative website The Daily Caller headlined "Leaders Of Smart Gun Mandate Movement Lose Primaries," National Shooting Sports Foundation senior vice president Larry Keane claimed that Tolman and Massachusetts Democratic congressional candidate John Tierney both lost recent primary races after supporting smart gun technology.
Keane wrote, "Besides their recent primary losses, what other striking similarity exists between these two outliers? Both candidates were staunch supporters of a mandate for so-called 'smart gun' technology. "
One problem: during the campaign Tolman was attacked by opponent Maura Healey after backing away from mandating smart gun technology. According to a July 27 Healey campaign press release, "Democratic candidate for Attorney General Maura Healey today expressed disappointment that her primary opponent is weakening his position on mandating smart gun technology."
From the September 12 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the September 11 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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National Review Online misinformed about an amendment that would reinstate the ability of Congress to regulate campaign finance and counter Citizens United -- the infamous Supreme Court decision that opened the door for the super-rich and corporations to drown out average Americans in the political debate with unlimited sums of money.
On September 8, the Senate voted to debate the proposed constitutional amendment, which would re-establish campaign finance laws that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court struck down in Citizens United in 2010. That decision overturned part of the McCain-Feingold Act -- much-needed bipartisan campaign finance reforms instituted to prevent corruption of the political process and level the playing field between small donors and the wealthy -- and effectively eliminated limits for independent corporate spending in federal elections. Specifically, Citizens United radically rewrote First Amendment precedent and expanded the legal concept of "corporate personhood," with the court ultimately deciding that the political spending by corporations was constitutionally equivalent to the free speech of actual human voters. The conservative justices chipped away at campaign finance limits even further this year in McCutcheon v. FEC, which abolished direct contribution limits that worked to control the corrupting influence of multimillion-dollar donations.
Although the proposed amendment is intended to restore the First Amendment to its pre-Citizens United interpretation, right-wing media are already denouncing the Senate's attempts to stem the explosion of unregulated high-dollar donations with wild exaggerations. In a September 9 editorial, NRO complained that Democrats were planning to "repeal the First Amendment" by proposing the Citizens United amendment -- which the editorial board called "an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself" -- and suggested the move would "censor newspapers and television reports." From the editors:
Senate Democrats are on the precipice of voting to repeal the First Amendment.
That extraordinary fact is a result of the increasingly authoritarian efforts of Democrats, notably Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, to suppress criticism of themselves and the government, and to suffocate any political discourse that they cannot control.
The Supreme Court in recent years has twice struck down Democratic efforts to legally suppress inconvenient speech, citing the free-speech protections of the First Amendment in both cases. Senator Reid's solution is to nullify the first item on the Bill of Rights.
The Democrats are not calling this a repeal of the First Amendment, though that is precisely what it is. Instead, they are describing the proposed constitutional amendment as a campaign-finance measure. But it would invest Congress with blanket authority to censor newspapers and television reports, ban books and films, and imprison people for expressing their opinions. So long as two criteria are met -- the spending of money and intending to influence an election -- the First Amendment would no longer apply.
The amendment that Democrats are putting forward is an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself. If those who would criticize the government must first secure the government's permission to do so, they are not free people.
From the September 10 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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National Review Online columnist Mona Charen criticized the Department of Justice's efforts to address potential civil rights violations by the Ferguson Police Department, calling previous investigations in other jurisdictions "heavy on the implied racism" despite statistical evidence of racially biased and unconstitutional policing tactics.
On September 4, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would investigate the Ferguson Police Department, an overwhelmingly white force with a history of serious misconduct, after one of its officers shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. These types of investigations are not unusual for police departments under suspicion for systemic abuse of authority and civil rights violations, but right-wing media have still accused Holder of playing "the race card" and have called the DOJ's involvement "inherently political" and "absolute garbage."
In a September 9 column, Charen followed the attacks on Holder and questioned the objectivity of the DOJ's investigation. She suggested that it "will be premised on the racist-white-cop-shoots-black-man narrative" because Holder acknowledged he understood the mistrust between the police and the Ferguson community both as the attorney general of the United States and as a black man who has been unfairly racially profiled in the past.
Charen went on to characterize Holder's involvement in Brown's case as another example of the DOJ's "extremely aggressive pattern vis-à-vis local police," and used as her example a recent investigation of the Newark Police Department that showed officers unjustifiably stopped and arrested a disproportionate number of residents of color. As far as Charen is concerned, the number of stops in Newark "might be too low," however, and the statistics "do not come close to proving police wrongdoing":
The Department of Justice recently concluded an investigation into the Newark, N.J., police department, which it found to have repeatedly violated the civil rights of Newark's black residents. The evidence? Justice found that while blacks account for 54 percent of Newark's population, they represent 85 percent of pedestrian stops and 79 percent of arrests.
Police misconduct must always be taken seriously and vigilantly corrected, but these numbers do not come close to proving police wrongdoing, far less denial of Newarkers' civil rights. To know whether 85 percent of pedestrian stops is a reasonable number or not, you need to know how many pedestrians of various races are committing crimes. If 90 percent of pedestrian criminals are black, then 85 percent might be too low. In any case, the relevant measure is the percentage of criminals, not, as the Justice Department explained, whether "officers ... disproportionately stopped black people relative to their representation in Newark's population."
Announcing the DOJ's report, Holder went heavy on the implied racism. "We're taking decisive action to address potential discrimination and end unconstitutional conduct by those who are sworn to serve their fellow citizens," he declaimed. It's possible that Newark police are engaged in wrongdoing, but the DOJ's use of statistics certainly didn't prove it. If the attorney general believes that black and Hispanic officers are stopping and arresting black people out of racial animus, he failed to say so, and if not, he's in effect arguing that all of the misconduct is attributable to the roughly one-third of the force that is white.
Amidst the National Rifle Association's ongoing outreach effort recruiting women, the gun group's radio show ran a segment that dismissed "so many" campus sexual assault cases as "two people being drunk at a party hooking up and then somebody, usually the girl, regretting it the next morning."
Since the re-launch of the NRA Women's Network in 2013, the NRA has greatly increased its outreach to women, a demographic that is far less likely to own guns than men and more likely to support firearm regulations the NRA opposes. Women are also disproportionately targeted by men with gun violence, often in the domestic violence context.
The September 5 edition of the NRA's radio show, Cam & Company, featured a discussion of campus sexual assault that misled on campus sexual assault statistics and suggested women bore some responsibility for being assaulted if they were drinking.
NRA News host Cam Edwards hosted the Washington Examiner's Ashe Schow to discuss a National Public Radio story about men accused of sexual assault on campus who say they did not receive adequate due process during disciplinary proceedings.