The National Rifle Association has been silent on the killing of Trayvon Martin and the laws it has helped pass that may prevent the successful prosecution of the man who shot him. Until now.
During his speech this morning at the group's annual meeting, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre finally addressed the controversy -- by attacking the media for covering the case, claiming they are "manufactur[ing] controversy for ratings."
LAPIERRE: But the media, they don't care. Everyday victims aren't celebrities. They don't draw ratings, don't draw sponsors. But sensational reporting from Florida does. In the aftermath of one of Florida's many daily tragedies, my phone has been ringing off the hook. Now, the National Rifle Association will not comment on any story without a full understanding and a thorough understanding of all the facts. But if I were to answer a call from Diane Sawyer or Chris Matthews or Brian Williams or Rachel Maddow, let me tell you right now what I'd ask them.
Where's your outrage? Where's your outrage about Willie Brewer III from Akron, Ohio? OrDerrick Linkhorn from Decatur, Georgia? Or Daryl Adams from New York City? Or what about Antonio Duff? Just this past Monday afternoon, about the same time I got here into town, he was killed and murdered. And he's not the only young man murdered in this city this past week. You reporters, you don't know their names. You don't care about those people. You manufacture controversy for ratings. You don't care about the truth, and the truth is the national news media in this country is a national disgrace, and you all know it. And so do Americans throughout the country, and it's getting worse every single day, and your dishonesty, duplicity, and moral irresponsibility is directly contributing to the collapse of American freedom in our country.
In an article entitled "No gun-control debate over Trayvon," Politico reports: "Despite an arrest this week in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, new gun-control measures aren't even being debated in Washington." The article goes on to comment that "a federal debate" over the Kill at Will statute that may prevent the successful prosecution of Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, "is strangely lacking since there is no federal equivalent of the state laws."
Politico portrays this as evidence of the power of the gun lobby and weakness of the gun violence prevention community. But there is a good reason why no federal legislation to override such state statutes hasn't been produced, and thus why there is no "federal debate" -- such a statute would almost certainly be unconstitutional.
Thanks to the efforts of the National Rifle Association, laws similar to Florida's statute have been passed in dozens of states. Why have they focused on states rather than pushing for federal legislation? Because such self-defense laws are fundamentally part of the state criminal code, acting on the circumstances in which homicides, assaults, and manslaughters can be prosecuted.
In United States v. Lopez, the Supreme Court overturned a federal statute banning possession of firearms at public schools, finding that failure to do so would "convert congressional Commerce Clause authority to a general police power of the sort held only by the State." In their brief to the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration acknowledged that "States historically have been sovereign" in issues of "general criminal law." An attempt to overturn state self-defense laws would almost certainly run afoul of the same problem.
Meanwhile, Politico ignores how Martin's killing has led to a debate over such laws at the state level, where such activities are properly focused. As BloombergBusinessweek reported last month, the NRA is facing "mounting challenges" in its effort to promote such laws across the country: "Legislation in New York and Iowa stalled in committees as lawmakers in Georgia, Texas and other states said they would try to repeal laws already on the books."
Those efforts will receive a boost from a broad coalition of civil rights groups calling for such repeals. On Wednesday New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a national campaign to overturn the state statutes, joining the NAACP, National Urban League, ColorOfChange and National Action Network to promote a "Second Chance on Shoot First." The group will encourage "politicians who originally supported these reckless laws to examine the facts, listen to law enforcement and prosecutors, and join other elected officials in reforming or repealing these laws."
Monday marks the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, in which an armed student shot to death 32 students and faculty of the school and wounded 17 more before killing himself. It subsequently came to light that under federal law, the shooter "should have been prohibited from buying a gun after a Virginia court declared him to be a danger to himself in late 2005 and sent him for psychiatric treatment," but was nonetheless able to pass a federal background check and purchase firearms due to a loophole in the law.
In response to the shooting, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law "the first major federal gun control measure in more than 13 years" in order to close that loophole and provide additional funding for states to update mental health records in the gun background check database. Despite this law, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has pointed out that millions of such records are still missing from the system.
The Washington Times, on the other hand, has a different response to the tragedy. In an editorial this morning, they call for allowing concealed carry permit holders to bring guns onto college campuses:
Five years ago Monday, 32 students and teachers lost their lives in a shooting at Virginia Tech. Earlier this month, seven students were killed and three wounded at a small California Christian university. These tragedies exemplify the failure of "gun-free" school zones and are evidence for the need to overturn concealed carry bans on campuses so law-abiding citizens can defend themselves against maniacs. [...]
In Virginia, where emotions are still raw following the Blacksburg massacre, concealed carry is permitted, but college restrictions still exist. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in January that while hidden firearms are allowed on campus grounds, authorities can prohibit them inside school buildings and at public gatherings. Virginia Tech adopted the regulation in March.
The Second Amendment grants Americans the right to keep and bear arms. Where that right is respected, security prevails. Gun-free colleges risk becoming free-fire zones for troubled individuals. Common sense dictates that responsible gun bearers should be allowed on campus.
The Times' commentary mirrors that of the National Rifle Association, which has since the Virginia Tech shootings worked with their partners at the American Legislative Exchange Council to promote such laws across the country.
From the April 11 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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A federal appeals court's recent decision upholding the dismissal of an employment discrimination claim alleging appalling harassment of hundreds of women in a trucking company's training program demonstrates the ways in which conservative judges on the lower courts are remaking the law in the shadows, with little or no media scrutiny. While the media has aggressively covered the debate over whether the Supreme Court's conservative majority would be engaging in activism if it strikes down the Affordable Care Act, it has largely ignored an even greater degree of activism by many lower court judges. In this case, lower courts created a new rule that will greatly limit the government's ability to fight sexual harassment and other workplace discrimination. The decision demonstrates the need for the media to do a better job of covering the lower courts, where the vast majority of all cases are decided, with only a tiny percentage being taken up by the Supreme Court.
The decision, Peeples v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., also is a tribute to the judicial legacy of President George W. Bush. A district judge nominated by Bush dismissed the suit, a decision upheld on appeal by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in which two more Bush nominees formed the majority, over a strong dissent by a Clinton nominee. Bush nominated and had confirmed 320 lower court judges (and two Supreme Court justices). Bush's nominees were 78 percent male and 82 percent white, and have been "the most conservative on record," according to a study of their judicial records. Even after almost four years of the Obama Administration, judges nominated by Bush and his Republican predecessors still make up a majority (53 percent) of judges on the courts of appeal.
CRST Expedited is a trucking company based in Iowa. According to the court's opinion, to promote nearly continuous operations, CRST staffs its trucks with two drivers each, who take turns driving and sleeping in the truck's built-in bunk for weeks at a time. New trainees take an initial 28-day training trip with a "Lead Driver" who evaluates the trainee's performance in the form of a "pass/fail driving evaluation." After the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began an investigation of alleged harassment in the training program, a CRST human relations official told the EEOC that the Lead-Driver trainee relationship is "really no different than the role of supervisors in other industries and organizations."
Monika Starke, a former trainee, began the case against CRST by filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment:
I was hired by the [CRST] on June 22, 2005[,] in the position of Truck Driver. Since my employment began with the Respondent I have been subjected to sexual harassment on two occasions by my Lead Trainers. On July 7, 2005, Bob Smith, Lead Trainer[,] began to make sexual remarks to me whenever he gave me instructions. He told me that the gear stick is not the penis of my husband, I don't have to touch the gear stick so often. "You got big tits for your size, etc. . . [.]" I informed Bob Smith that I was not interested in a sexual relationship with him. On July 14, 2005, I contacted the dispatcher and was told that I could not get off the truck until the next day. On July 18, 2005[,] through August 3, 2005, David Goodman, Lead Trainer, forced me to have unwanted sex with him on several occasions while we were traveling in order to get a passing grade.
From the April 11 edition of CNN Newsroom:
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During a press conference today, George Zimmerman's attorneys Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig told the media that they will no longer be representing Zimmerman, who has admitted shooting Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Sonner said they have "lost contact" with Zimmerman. Uhrig went on to say that Zimmerman had "called Sean Hannity of Fox News directly, not through us. "
Uhrig added that "we believe that he spoke directly with Sean off the record and he's not even willing to tell us what our client told him."
On the April 9 edition of his Fox News and radio shows, Hannity said that he had an "off the record" conversation with Zimmerman.
UPDATE: On the April 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show Hannity said: "People are trying to make this all about George Zimmerman. And I spoke to George Zimmerman, and I'm not going to reveal the contents of that conversation, but I have confirmed yes, he was a mentor to minority children. Now if you were racist, I don't think you'd be a mentor to minority children."
UPDATE II: Tonight on his Fox News show, Hannity addressed the comments made about him by Zimmerman's former legal team:
HANNITY: I want to set the record straight about a couple of things. Now for a few weeks we have been pursuing an interview with Mr. Zimmerman to give him a chance to tell his side of the story. Now yesterday I was contacted by an individual that we in fact believe was George Zimmerman. He reached out to me, we spoke on the phone about his case, and I agreed not to report on the contents of that conversation. That's it. I know nothing about his relationship with his now former attorneys.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are calling on the National Rifle Association to revoke its invitation to Islamophobic retired Lt. General William Boykin to keynote the organization's prayer breakfast at its annual meeting this week.
In a letter to NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre sent today, MRFF executive director Mikey Weinstein writes:
No prayer breakfast should be used as a forum for hate speech, and no organization that boasts of defending the U.S. Constitution should give extremists who degrade the faith of soldiers fighting for our country a national platform. Therefore, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF: http://www.MilitaryReligiousFreedom.org) unequivocally demands that the National Rifle Association (NRA) revoke its invitation to the rabidly Islamophobic retired Lt. General William Boykin.
MRFF represents over 27,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, cadets, midshipmen, and armed forces veteran clients. We also represent more than 10% of all Muslim Americans in the armed forces.
The General's unabashed hostility towards the Muslim community represents an open insult to that which countless generations of service members have shed precious blood to protect: democracy and religious freedom, as embodied and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. We're all Americans regardless of how, where, and to whom we pray, if at all. The NRA's invitation to Boykin is an egregious slander against the thousands of honorable Muslim Americans serving in the U.S. military, and a desecration of the memory of those patriotic soldiers of Muslim faith who have fallen or have suffered injury in their service to this country. MRFF calls on the NRA to immediately revoke its invitation to the vociferously racist and intolerant retired Lt. General William G. Boykin.
These statements are unacceptable and reflect Lt. Gen. Boykin's disregard and seeming hatred of Islam and Muslims. Because the NRA is an organization that stands for the Second Amendment rights of all Americans and many Americans are Arab American and/or Muslim, I urge you to withdraw the invitation and cancel Lt. Gen. Boykin's speech at your upcoming festivities. Doing so would reaffirm your commitment to protect the Second Amendment rights of the entirety of American citizens, including those Arab-American and Muslim citizens that chose to exercise their Second Amendment rights and also support the NRA.
Boykin received international attention in 2003 after the Los Angeles Times and NBC News reported on speeches he had given in full military dress at religious events suggesting that the United States was fighting a "spiritual battle" in the Middle East against "a guy called Satan" who "wants to destroy us as a Christian army." He subsequently drew criticism from then-President Bush, among others.
Right-wing media figures are exalting Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Smith for his demand that the Department of Justice explain comments President Obama made about the Supreme Court's review of the health care reform law. However, legal scholars argue that the judge's request was "highly inappropriate" and "uncommonly silly."
From the April 6 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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From the April 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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A series of actions by Republican-appointed judges illustrates an emerging trend of right-wing politics infecting the federal judiciary -- a trend that has broad implications for the public's reaction to the courts and on the media's role in explaining the politics of the courts.
In a series of as-yet isolated incidents, these judges and justices have attacked President Obama with viscous racial slurs, participated in political gatherings organized by the Koch brothers, recycled right-wing media talking points from the Supreme Court bench, and stepped far beyond any appropriate judicial role to lecture government lawyers about ongoing political controversies.
There is ample room for a debate about judicial philosophy and ideology. But as the federal courts have moved to the right ideologically -- one study found Bush's nominees to be "the most conservative on record" -- and partisan invective directed at President Obama continues to grow, a few judges have crossed over the line into politics. This distinction is important because the courts' legitimacy depends on the reality -- or at least the public's perception -- that they are apolitical and bound by law. Because citizens react negatively to politicized courts, when politicization becomes the reality it is the media's duty to report that reality. Cheerleading for politicized courts by right-wing media makes the need for highlighting the trend, and calling it what it is, even more urgent.
Judge Jerry Smith: Praised by Limbaugh, Blasted by Legal Experts
Judge Jerry Smith was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by Ronald Reagan. On April 2, Obama made a short statement regarding his belief that it would be "unprecedented" for the Court to strike down landmark regulation such as the Affordable care Act. The next day, Smith injected himself into the political controversy by scolding a Department of Justice lawyer appearing before him (as part of a panel consisting of two other Republican-appointed judges) in an unrelated challenge to the health care law. Referring to the law as "Obamacare," and directly referencing the President's comments, Smith lectured the lawyer that the comments had "troubled a number of people who have read it as somehow a challenge to the federal courts, or to their authority, or to the appropriateness of the concept of judicial review." Smith then ordered the lawyer to submit a "three-page, single spaced letter" on whether the Department of Justice believes that courts have the power to review the constitutionality of legislation.
From the April 5 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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Coca-Cola, one of its corporate sponsors, has cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after advocacy group Color of Change had called for a boycott of Coca-Cola due to its ties with ALEC. And Fox hasn't wasted much time coming to ALEC's defense.
As the Huffington Post reported:
The soft-drink company has severed its tieswith the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a conservative lobbying group that drafts legislation and sends it out to lawmakers. ALEC's fingerprints have been found on bills and laws in a number of states, and the group's opponents have grown resistant to what they call ALEC's efforts to shape the legislative agenda in a way that harms minority and low-income voters.
On Wednesday, the advocacy group Color of Change called for a boycott of Coca-Cola, one of the companies that sits on ALEC's elite Private Enterprise Board, citing ALEC's efforts to get voter ID laws passed.
In response, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly interviewed ALEC communications director Kaityln Buss to discuss Coca-Cola's departure. Did Kelly ask about funding ALEC receives from the controversial Koch brothers? Did Kelly ask why ALEC was pushing for voter ID laws in the absence of evidence of voter fraud? Did Kelly ask about ALEC pushing the "Stand Your Ground" laws that have become infamous in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case?
No. She just provided a platform for ALEC to paint itself as innocuous.
In his latest column, Pat Buchanan weighs in on the killing of Trayvon Martin. The former MSNBC contributor (wisely) moves on from discussing the racial aspects of the case, instead using his space to promote the gun lobby's talking points.
Buchanan's take is that the calls from gun violence prevention activists who cite the impact of Florida's gun laws on the case should be ignored, stating that "when it comes to Second Amendment rights, Middle America has spoken -- at the ballot box and the gun store."
Citing record numbers of background checks of prospective gun buyers, Buchanan claims that Americans are "arming themselves," adding "More and more citizens, says the National Rifle Association, fear that if or when they confront a threat to their family, lives or property, the police will not be there."
Buchanan contrasts this theory with the statements of gun violence prevention advocates:
Gun-control organizations claim that gun ownership is actually declining, that fewer and fewer people are buying more and more of these guns.
But the numbers seem to contradict the gun-controllers.
A 2005 Gallup survey found that three in 10 Americans own a gun, that 40 percent had a gun in the house, that nearly half of all men own a gun, as do one in seven women. Two-thirds of all gun owners gave as a reason they own a gun: protection against crime.
Buchanan's analysis makes little sense. Citing only the 2005 Gallup survey is meaningless; in order to disprove a stated trend, you need to analyze more than one data point.
And indeed, according to the General Social Survey (an annual national survey that constitutes "the most frequently analyzed source of information in the social sciences" other than the U.S. Census), the number of people who say they or a member of their household owns a gun is at a record low.