Despite heavy spending from the National Rifle Association, Terry McAuliffe was elected Virginia governor on a platform that included strengthening gun laws, in direct contradiction to the media myth that the NRA can determine election outcomes at will.
Conventional media wisdom outsizes the NRA's scope of influence by suggesting that the gun rights group has the ability to punish any politician who opposes its absolutist Second Amendment agenda. Following the September recall of two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws, media hyped this narrative -- ignoring low voter turnout and other factors -- to suggest that the outcome should serve as a warning to politicians who would advocate for stronger gun laws.
According to the Associated Press, these elections represented "for some, a warning to lawmakers in swing states who might contemplate gun restrictions in the future." MSNBC host Chuck Todd said the lesson of the recall elections was that "every Democrat south of the Mason-Dixon Line" should stay away from the gun issue. At The Atlantic, Molly Ball wrote that the recall meant "The Death of Gun Control."
The recall elections in Colorado did not shift the balance of power in the Colorado state senate. McAuliffe's election, however, means that for the first time since 1973, Virginians elected a governor who shares the same political affiliation as the sitting president. Here are three ways in which gun policy played an important role in the governor's race.
Lott, pictured left of Jordan Davis' mother, Lucia McBath.
Discredited gun researcher John Lott attacked the presence of the mothers of deceased African-American teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis at a congressional hearing on Stand Your Ground, describing them as "props" used to make "the case that there was racial bias" in the controversial self-defense law.
On the October 30 edition of the National Rifle Association's news show Cam & Company, Lott said the two mothers "were there to go and try serve as props essentially for the case that there was racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws," before falsely claiming that the self-defense law had no relevance to either of their son's shooting deaths:
LOTT: Well I thought [the hearing] was somewhat surreal. Look, we had two very sympathetic witnesses that were there. Trayvon Martin's mom and another mother who had lost her son in a shooting, both of them were black, and they were there to go and try serve as props essentially for the case that there was racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws. As I say, it's very hard to say anything when you're having to deal with a mother who has lost her son, under any circumstances. I have five kids; I can't imagine what it would be like to deal with that situation.
The problem was, the reason why I was saying it was somewhat surreal is that neither of their cases really had anything to do with the debate over Stand Your Ground laws.
On October 29, Lott, along with Martin's mother Sybrina Fulton and Davis' mother Lucia McBath, testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on Stand Your Ground that was held to examine a number of issues surrounding the law, including whether the law made it more likely for homicides of minorities to be ruled "justifiable."
Following a tragic incident in Northern California where police fatally shot a teenager whose pellet gun was mistaken for an assault weapon, questions are being raised over the National Rifle Association's role in blocking a 2011 state legislative proposal to require BB and pellet guns to be brightly colored in order to avoid confusion.
On October 22, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot seven times by a sheriff's deputy in Santa Rosa, California. The deputy, identified by media as a "gun expert", apparently believed that the pellet gun Lopez carried was an AK-47 assault weapon. Indeed, an image from a law enforcement press conference taken by The Press Democrat demonstrates the similarity between the pellet gun and an assault weapon. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department also released a photo of the pellet gun Lopez was carrying:
Photo Credit: Sonoma County Sheriff's Department
The tragic shooting, now under investigation by the FBI, could have been avoided if the NRA did not block a 2011 legislative proposal in California that would have required pellet and BB guns to be brightly colored to avoid confusion with real firearms. The NRA used its lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action, to fearmonger about the proposal, while NRA News repeatedly hosted an NRA lobbyist to attack the bill.
The National Rifle Association's media arm, NRA News, attacked an academic study on gunshot injuries to children by conspiratorially suggesting that the study was part of a "kids and anti-gun hype" movement to ban firearms. NRA News host Cam Edwards further dismissed teenage victims of gun violence by falsely stating that they are culpable for their injuries because of their supposed involvement in criminal activity.
The NRA is notorious for blocking scientific research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. During the 1990s, the gun rights organization successfully lobbied for legislation that prevented the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in practice, from researching gun violence. While the legislation -- which prohibited CDC funding "to advocate or promote gun control" -- did not technically ban research on firearms, it was widely acknowledged in practice to have a chilling effect on the CDC's research priorities. The Obama administration advocated for $10 million in funding for the CDC to study gun violence in January, noting that "research on gun violence is not advocacy."
An October 18 interview on NRA News demonstrated how the gun lobby handles scientific studies when they are actually forced to confront them. During that segment, Edwards hosted Dr. Timothy Wheeler, founder and director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO), to attack a study in the November edition of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
DRGO often attacks research conducted by AAP, accusing the organization of being "motivated by deep-seated prejudice against gun owners." The organization told NBC News that its "mission is to expose the poor medical scholarship -- and the anti-gun bias behind it -- held out as truth by organized medicine and medical journalism." DRGO is a project of the Second Amendment Foundation, a group that recently caused controversy by announcing plans -- since altered -- to hold a "Guns Save Lives Day" on the one-year anniversary of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.
During his appearance, Wheeler, along with Edwards, suggested that the Pediatrics study -- which chronicled nearly 30,000 gun fatalities and 155,000 serious gunshot wounds in children between 2001 and 2010 -- was part of an effort to "hype" child gun injury in order to ban firearms.
NRA News aired a special on the AR-15 military-style semi-automatic assault weapon -- ubiquitous for its use in recent mass shootings -- that provided false information about the power of the weapon and downplayed its dangerous features.
The October 7 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel featured a trip to the National Rifle Association's gun range where host Cam Edwards and National Review Online writer Charles C.W. Cooke fired a custom AR-15 assault weapon, .308 bolt-action rifle, .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun, and .357 caliber revolver. At the beginning of the segment, Edwards noted the weapons were provided by gun manufacturer and NRA corporate donor Ruger.
After firing the weapons, Edwards and Cooke advanced the notion that the AR-15 was less powerful than a handgun because the semi-automatic handgun produced larger holes in a paper target than the AR-15 assault weapon:
EDWARDS: Having shot now an AR[-15 assault weapon], what would you tell people who say, "Charles, it's too high-powered, it's too this, it's too that?"
COOKE: Well, I think I'd say what, sort of what you were pointing out. If you look at the targets and you asked people which is the scary AR, they wouldn't say -- much smaller holes, it's quieter, it's much more comfortable to hold, there's less recoil, you wouldn't presume -- in fact that gun is the easiest probably to shoot of all of them, and it's certainly the least scary really, it's just black.
But using bullet hole size as a proxy for wounding power is highly misleading, because assault weapons fire the round at a much higher velocity than a handgun.
According to a 2011 report by doctors who had performed autopsies on soldiers killed by gunfire in Iraq, "The velocity of the missile as it strikes the target is the main determinant of the wounding capacity" and "[t]he greater energy of the missile at the moment of impact the greater is the tissue destruction." Indeed, the study found that rounds with a velocity exceeding 2,500 feet per second cause a shockwave to pass through the body upon impact that caused catastrophic injuries even in areas remote to the direct wound.
Using popular ammunition brand Hornady as a comparison point, the ammunition available for the .45 caliber handgun fires at a muzzle velocity of no more than 1,055 feet per second. The .223 ammunition most often used by the AR-15 assault weapon, however, can achieve a velocity of 4,000 feet per second. Some AR-15s are designed to accept 5.56 NATO ammunition; a similar round to the .223 that has a velocity of up to 3,130 feet per second.
NBC Sports Network has announced that it has canceled the hunting show Under Wild Skies after host Tony Makris compared critics to Hitler.
Controversy began after the show aired an episode in which an elephant was shot in the face twice by host Makris. Makris, who has longstanding ties to the NRA, celebrated the killing of the elephant with a bottle of champagne.
Following days of outrage and a petition calling for NBC to cancel the show, Makris took to NRA News on September 26 to respond to critics by claiming they advocated for a form of "animal racism." Makris said the following about critics who argued that elephants not be targeted:
MAKRIS: The nice ones will come up and go, you shoot elephant? Why? And I said well, the short answer is because hungry people eat them and because I'm a hunter. You know, I'm not an elephant hunter. I'm a hunter. I hunt all things. And they go, well nobody should shoot an elephant. I said, why? And they go they're so big and kind and gentle and smart and I said, okay, let me ask you a question. Should I be able to shoot birds? Well, I guess that's okay. Ducks? Yeah. Pigeons? Oh, they're flying rats, okay. Rabbits? Well rabbits are cute. But yea. Squirrels? That's nothing but a rat with a tail -- with a fuzzy tail. And I said, well deer eat all my mother's roses in Long Island and I go-- so I can shoot all of those, but not an elephant? No. Do you realize that if you subscribe to that philosophy you are committing a very unique form of animal racism?
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: [laughter]
MAKRIS: And now they're shocked. And they said but they're so big and special and they're smarter. And I went, you know, Hitler would have said the same thing.
On September 28, NBC Sports Network announced in a statement to Deadspin that Under Wild Skies has been canceled due to Makris' comments:
Under Wild Skies will no longer air on NBC Sports Sports Network due to the program's close association with its host, whose recent comments comparing his critics to Hitler are outrageous and unacceptable. NBCSN will continue to air all of our other quality outdoor programming.
NBC Sports Network host Tony Makris defended his controversial killing of an elephant on an NRA-sponsored hunting show during the September 26 edition of NRA News by claiming that opponents of elephant hunting have a philosophy similar to Hitler's.
Makris has faced widespread criticism since he shot and killed an elephant on the September 22 episode of Under Wild Skies on NBC Sports, which also showed him celebrating the kill with Champagne. A petition calling for the cancellation of Under Wild Skies, which Makris hosts, currently has more than 47,000 signatures.
Makris has longstanding ties to the NRA. According to the Los Angeles Times, "he helped install Charlton Heston as president" of the NRA in 1998. Makris has also been previously identified as an employee of Ackerman McQueen, an ad agency employed by the NRA for decades that was responsible for a controversial ad that politicized security measures that protect the president's children.
On the NRA News show Cam & Company, Makris offered a number of rationales for shooting the elephant, including suggesting that people who oppose elephant hunting but accept other forms of hunting are practicing "animal racism." He added that he would respond to someone who said elephants should not be hunted because of their size, scarcity or intelligence by saying, "Hitler would have said the same thing."
Conservative media are citing an article in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (JPandS) to attack legitimate research on the causes of gun violence. While its title suggests that it is a serious research publication, the journal is published by a conspiracy-minded right-wing organization and has printed articles questioning the link between HIV and AIDS and theorizing that undocumented immigrants are spreading leprosy in the United States.
JPandS is published by conservative non-profit Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), an anti-healthcare reform advocacy group that opposes almost all government involvement in healthcare. The National Library of Medicine, which bills itself as "[t]he world's largest biomedical library," has twice declined to index JPandS in its database of medical reports.
Still, an article by AAPS Executive Director Dr. Jane M. Orient has been cited by conservative media to attack calls for more research into the causes and prevention of gun violence by the Obama administration and the medical and scientific communities. AAPS aided the gun lobby in its successful endeavor to block the Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence during the 1990s.
In a September 23 op-ed for The Daily Caller, National Shooting Sports Foundation Senior Vice President and General Counsel Larry Keane cited Orient's article to attack the scientifically supported claim that "fewer guns equals less violence":
One of the anti-gun lobby's leading arguments is that fewer guns equals less violence. This seems like a logical argument, and is often passed on as fact. But, as with most of the arguments the anti-gun left recycles over and over, the facts simply do not back it up.
In the fall issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons , Jane M. Orient, M.D. argues there is no evidence-based support for more gun control measures. Rather, the statistics gun-control proponents cite are cherry-picked from larger data sets that show no correlation between more gun laws and less violence.
Orient's article was also approvingly cited by Breitbart.com's AWR Hawkins and promoted by Guns.com. During a September 4 appearance on the National Rifle Association's media arm, NRA News, Orient attacked "organized medicine" for calling for gun violence research and stated that "the best evidence we have" on gun violence "was collected by John Lott." Lott, whose research on gun violence was cited in Orient's JPandS article, has been widely discredited.
NRA News host Cam Edwards issued a correction the day after after Breitbart.com's A.W.R. Hawkins claimed on his show that the mass shooting at Washington Navy Yard "happened because Bill Clinton mandated that" military bases "be gun-free zones." In truth, the policy cited by Hawkins to support this claim allows guns to be carried on military bases under a substantial number of circumstances and was actually enacted during the George H.W. Bush administration.
The myth that a Clinton-era policy was responsible for the shooting, which claimed the lives of 12 victims, was the centerpiece of right-wing media's failed attempt to establish that the Navy Yard shooting took place in a "gun-free zone."
Edwards issued a correction during his September 18 broadcast, citing a Media Matters blog that addressed Hawkins' claim, during a segment with Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller. After Edwards acknowledged that the policy was enacted under George H.W. Bush, Miller said, "Then I've written that wrong too," and she added, "Are you sure that's correct before I change it too? ... Because I don't believe anything Media Matters says."
Hawkins' claim in a Breitbart.com article about the supposed Clinton-era policy originated from a 2009 Washington Times editorial that falsely stated, "Among President Clinton's first acts upon taking office in 1993 was to disarm U.S. soldiers on military bases." Miller promoted that editorial on September 17 on Twitter.
After Edwards issued the correction, Miller attempted to downplay the importance of whether Clinton disarmed members of the military, suggesting that Hawkins' claim was inconsequential to the "public's knowledge of the issues." In reality, Miller was just one of many right-wing media figures who seized on Hawkins' false claims to politicize the mass shooting in its immediate aftermath.
While commentators have noted the National Rifle Association's tendency to go silent in the wake of mass shootings such as the one at the Washington Navy Yard, the gun organization's media arm, NRA News, has stayed on the air to conclude that no new gun law could have prevented the attack, promote false information about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, and allege a media conspiracy against guns.
Since the September 16 shooting that claimed the lives of 12 victims, the NRA has failed to issue a substantive official statement on the tragedy. The gun rights organization has posted a single tweet not related to the shooting and, according to MSNBC.com, a message on the group's homepage on September 16 said, "We grieve and pray for those who lost their lives and for those hurt at the Washington Navy Yard." The message has apparently been removed.
CNN reported that the NRA did not respond to a request for comment on September 16, noting, "The gun rights organization has typically not responded to similar shootings immediately." Indeed, after a December 14, 2012, mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, claimed 26 lives, the NRA was silent until a December 21 question-free press conference where Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
The NRA has claimed that it refuses to discuss gun policy in the wake of mass shootings "out of respect for those grieving families and until the facts are known." However, the following excerpts from the September 17 broadcast of NRA News' radio program Cam & Company demonstrate how the NRA uses its own media arm to push its talking points:
NRA News promoted an ad targeting Colorado Senate President John Morse, who is facing a recall election over his support for stronger gun laws, that baselessly suggested Morse used taxpayer money for haircuts and golf outings. The allegations in the ad stem from a 2011 ethics complaint filed against Morse that was unanimously dismissed by a bipartisan ethics panel, a fact the ad does not disclose.
The ad features Laura Carno, the founder of pro-recall group I Am Created Equal, claiming that Morse "charged us for days when you got your hair cut and when you went golfing" while a graphic stated, "Tell John Morse Don't Golf And Get Haircuts On Our Dime." From the August 21 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News, the media arm of the National Rifle Association:
CARNO: Senator Morse, the ethics investigation against you wasn't trivial. When you reimburse yourself with our money, it should be for work you do on our behalf. But Senator Morse, you charged us for days when you got your hair cut and when you went golfing. We didn't elect you to be king, Senator Morse. Every dollar you spend comes out of our pockets. And Senator Morse we don't want to pay for your haircuts and golf games.
Tellingly the ad featured a quote from an April 12, 2011, Associated Press article, ignoring that the article was about the complaint being dismissed:
A spokesperson for the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, the NRA-backed group behind an effort to recall two Colorado Democratic state senators over their votes for stronger gun laws, baselessly claimed on NRA News that the campaign of recall-targeted Senate President John Morse was plotting to commit "massive amounts of voter fraud including ballots possibly even being mailed in from Chicago."
Reacting to an August 12 court decision which will necessitate that the recall election be conducted with polling centers instead of solely through mail-in ballots, BFDF spokesperson Jennifer Kerns said the change could stymie what she described as a plot by Chicago-based groups hired by Morse's campaign to commit voter fraud by sending in fraudulent ballots from out of state. From the August 13 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News:
KERNS: The state of Colorado, in keeping with its crazy election year tradition, the state of Colorado passed a very controversial same day voter registration bill that completely changed the election laws in the state of Colorado and turned this election into an all mail ballot election.
Well we've been bracing ourselves for massive amounts of voter fraud including ballots possibly even being mailed in from Chicago. As you know, John Morse and his campaign, as they say follow the money in politics, he has hired -- even his own political consulting firms are from Chicago. They represent the Chicago Federation of Labor, the AFL-CIO and AFSCME, some of the hardest players in politics. So we've been bracing ourselves for an all mail-in ballot situation where you could potentially have ballots coming in from people out of the state.
Kerns added, "I think it's much harder for the Democrats to cheat if they have to do it in person. They have to spend their time and treasure busing people in to try to commit fraud."
The registration fraud scenario described by Kerns -- where out of district or state individuals would use Colorado's same day voter registration law to obtain mail-in ballots -- has circulated in state conservative media, but is in fact based on a misreading of Colorado's new election laws.
The NRA's newly launched campaign to oppose a California legislative proposal to ban lead ammunition for hunting, Hunt for Truth, has already been pulled from the Internet along with an accompanying NRA press release announcing the initiative. Using archived webpages, Media Matters documents the NRA's repeated denial that lead ammunition poses a danger to wildlife, despite scientific evidence that lead ammunition threatens the survival of the critically endangered California condor.
Media reporting on the verdict that George Zimmerman is not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin suggested a misleading distinction between the defense attorneys' supposed use of "conventional" self-defense principles and Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law (also known as "Shoot First" or "Kill at Will"), ignoring the fact that the sole justifiable homicide law in Florida incorporates "Stand Your Ground."
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller compared proposals to tax firearms for the benefit of victims of gun violence to poll taxes, which were used to deny African-Americans the right to vote.
Miller, who writes a gun blog for the Times, is the latest conservative commentator to compare the processes involved in gun ownership to racial discrimination.
Poll taxes are prohibited by the Twenty-fourth Amendment and have been found to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by the Supreme Court.
Most commercial firearms and ammunition sales are already subject to an excise tax which funds conservation programs. Recently, a number of states have proposed levying additional taxes on firearm and ammunition sales in order to set aside money for victims of gun violence, fund mental health initiatives and pay for the implementation of firearm licensing programs.
From the June 27 edition of the National Rifle Association News' Cam & Company:
MILLER: Chicago passed a law this year that adds a 25 dollar tax to firearm sales in Chicago, and obviously that's meant to discourage people to buy guns. Puts them out of range or reach for some people, cost wise.
Well now it's about eight states that are following suit with ideas of taxing ammo and guns as high as 50 percent in Maryland on ammo and in Connecticut on ammo. Massachusetts has a tax on guns and ammo in its main bill that is going through the legislature at pretty rapid speed on gun control. So Congressman Graves in the House, Sam Graves, has a bill that would eliminate the ability of these states and jurisdictions to basically tax your Second Amendment, which is pretty much a poll tax.
So his bill would say that Congress has authority under its ability to regulate interstate commerce, because guns and ammo are manufactured and sent interstate, that Congress can intervene and say you can't add taxes onto them, these states and cities. So that has been introduced and will go through the Judiciary Committee and I think that is a really positive move for Congress to do because it is -- I can't believe it will be held up in court that you can tax guns and ammo, you can tax the Second Amendment. I mean I'm sure these things will be eventually taken to court and I would bet they get overturned.