Routine sexist attacks from the National Rifle Association's media outlets are undermining the organization's political effort to reach out to women as a growing demographic.
On August 25, NRA magazine America's 1st Freedom attacked prominent gun safety advocate and Mom's Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founder Shannon Watts. As Gawker's Adam Weinstein explained, the article featured images of Watts "as a cutout mom with kitchen and housekeeping accoutrements, because moms oughta know their place!" The accompanying article accused Watts of lying about being a stay-at-home mom, because she had for a time run a PR firm out of her house while raising her children.
This offensive depiction of a woman from NRA media seems in stark contrast to the political arm of the NRA, which the very same day debuted several new ads narrated by women -- in a series titled "Good Guys" -- promoting the message that guns are a sign of empowerment for women and that women are an important part of the NRA community. One features a woman lauding the importance of "Mom and Dad"; one stars a woman emphasizing the "courage" it takes to be one of the "Good Guys." Another ad released earlier this month also featured a female narrator driving a pickup truck and attacking Everytown for Gun Safety founder Michael Bloomberg, telling him to "keep your hands off our guns."
Right-wing female commentators have long argued that "guns are the great equalizer between sexes in crimes against women," falsely claiming that guns make women safer. CNN's S.E. Cupp, The Blaze's Dana Loesch, and Fox News' Katie Pavlich have regularly appeared on cable news and published books to promote the NRA as a pro-women organization.
But as Media Matters noted in a feature on the NRA's annual meeting, 2014 seemed to mark a shift for the organization towards focusing increasingly on women and moms. In part that shift is monetary, as advertisers see women as a largely untapped market. It also seems, however, that the shift is in part in response to gun safety organizations, including Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, who increasingly emphasize how dangerous guns can be for women in abusive situations.
This recent recognition of women by the NRA is undermined, however, by the attack on Watts and the numerous misogynistic and sexist comments from NRA commentators and spokespeople.
Cam Edwards, host of the National Rifle Association's news show, claimed that after Hurricane Katrina residents of the New Orleans neighborhood Algiers "were looking out for each other by walking the streets armed with firearms." But according to a federal hate crimes indictment and numerous media reports, after Katrina white gun-toting vigilantes in Algiers targeted African-Americans with racially motivated violence.
Edwards made the comments about Algiers during "The Armed Citizen Files," a daily segment on his news show Cam & Company that uses anecdotal accounts of self-defense with a gun to create the false impression that guns are used more often to prevent rather than commit crimes. The Katrina comparison came during a discussion of a recent self-defense shooting in Algiers. Edwards praised locals' "attitude of being able to protect yourself and the ones you love," and claimed that individuals used firearms after Katrina to make sure "there was no looting, no robbing, no burglaries."
According to an expose published in The Nation, after Katrina some residents of the largely undamaged Algiers Point -- an affluent "white enclave" in the "predominately black" Algiers neighborhood in New Orleans -- shot African-Americans who passed through the neighborhood while fleeing the historic storm's destruction:
The National Rifle Association is trying to smooth over the extreme ideas presented in a recent video suggesting children should have to receive mandatory gun training "to advance to the next grade" by mischaracterizing the video and airing a deceptively cropped version of it on NRA News.
In a July 21 NRA News video titled "Everyone Gets A Gun," NRA News commentator Billy Johnson imagined a compulsory education system that would require children to become proficient with firearms, just like "reading and writing," even "if they didn't want to learn" as a requirement to advance in school:
JOHNSON: Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we'd give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn't matter if a child's parents weren't good at it. We'd find them a mentor. It wouldn't matter if they didn't want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade.
Johnson's suggestion children would have to become proficient with a gun to move on in school was widely ridiculed. Now the NRA is responding to critics with the misleading suggestion that Johnson was merely talking about the importance of teaching children gun safety.
Johnson appeared on the July 24 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company on The Sportsman Channel to defend his video. Host Cam Edwards started the conversation by saying, "One of the things that specifically the anti-gunners are flipping out about is [Johnson's] suggestion that if we had a national gun policy, that again, embraced our right to keep and bear arms, one of the things we might be talking about is educating kids about how to be safe and responsible with a firearm, regardless of whether or not their parents were gun owners. That thought ... has really got people on the anti-gun side of the equation freaked out. They're saying that you're demanding compulsory education of firearms training for kids, they are wondering why on earth any child would need to know how to be safe and responsible with a firearm and I find it fascinating because they're ignoring the fact that there are already hundreds of thousands of kids across this country who are safely and responsibly learning about firearms."
National Rifle Association board member John Cushman alleged that the number of shooting victims in New York City is up over the past month because New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio "wanted them up."
Cushman appeared on NRA News program Cam & Company on June 10 to discuss a recent New York Post article that reported the number of shooting victims in New York City is up 43 percent compared to the same time period last year.
Overall the Post reports that shootings are up in New York City 13 percent this year. A Reuters article further noted that in New York City, "the murder rate is on track to hit a 50-year low, a statistical paradox that experts said reflects quick medical response." While any increase in shootings is a serious issue that should be addressed, the uptick will not threaten New York City's status as "the safest big city in America." In 2013 PolitiFact found New York City to be the safest among the 25 most populous cities in the United States.
New York City has some of the most rigorous gun laws nationwide, which were championed by former mayor and prominent gun safety advocate Michael Bloomberg and continue to receive support from de Blasio. In 2013 the number of shootings and gun homicides in New York City reached "historic lows."
During Cam & Company host Cam Edwards and John Cushman both blamed the increase in shootings on what Edwards termed "New York City's gun laws that make it prohibitive in a lot of cases, and outright impossible in some cases, for law abiding folks to own a firearm for self-defense." (Actually Supreme Court decisions in 2008 and 2010 held law-abiding people have a right to keep a gun in the home for the purpose of self-defense.)
Cushman charged that the number of reported shooting victims went up because de Blasio "wanted them up." Referencing de Blasio and Bloomberg, he added, "They are all out for some reason to disarm everybody with this screwboy notion that if we take guns away from everybody, we will cut crime."
Right-wing media have seized on the robbery of a restaurant that does not allow patrons to bring guns to claim that places with such policies invite attacks, but research has found no evidence that places that do not allow guns attract crime.
According to local news reports, three gunmen broke through the back door of The Pit restaurant in Durham, North Carolina, and demanded money. A manager gave the robbers a "small cash box," while employees at the front of the store shepherded 20 customers to safety. Two employees sustained minor injuries.
Conservative media have directed ridicule and scorn at the store's owner because The Pit has a sign in its front window letting guests know that firearms are not welcome. (No evidence has been presented that the sign played any role in the robbery.)
National Rifle Association News host Cam Edwards joked that it was "the weirdest thing" that The Pit had been robbed, considering the no guns sign, and added, "This sign on the door didn't stop those armed robbers from coming inside." Guest Dave Kopel of the NRA-funded Independence Institute said that if the robbers "paid any attention" to the sign at all, "it likely enticed them to pick that place to rob."
Conservative website Rare wrote, "Don't bring a gun to The Pit -- unless, of course, you plan on robbing the restaurant," while Western Journalism asked, "Did this restaurant just ask to be robbed?" The Washington Times reported that the robbers "ignored" the sign disallowing firearms -- although no evidence has been presented that the robbers were even aware of the sign.
In North Carolina, businesses that do not want guns carried on their premises must post a conspicuous sign disallowing the practice; otherwise individuals with permits to carry concealed weapons are free to enter the business with a firearm, even in bars or restaurants that serve alcohol.
NRA News host Cam Edwards tied the kidnapping of scores of Nigerian schoolgirls by terrorist organization Boko Haram to the National Rifle Association's recent annual meeting. According to Edwards, the girls' would-be rescuers are not "Pajama Boy" or fans of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, but instead are men "who look like they just came from the NRA annual meeting."
The NRA frequently interjects itself into seemingly-unrelated situations involving heroism or sacrifice to enhance the NRA's brand. Just days after the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, NRA board member Ted Nugent claimed that the heroism of first responders to the attack "represents what the NRA is." A January 2012 NRA fundraising email marked the anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and also featured an image of President John F. Kennedy with the assassinated president's quote, "The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it." The NRA also used the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks to solicit donations.
From the May 8 edition of NRA News show Cam & Company:
The National Rifle Association has used its media arm to dissuade gun owners from embracing "smart gun" technology through falsehoods and the promotion of conspiracy theories about the federal government.
Advances in technology that uses RFID chips, fingerprint identification, or other measures to ensure that a gun can only be fired by authorized users have been in the news following a Maryland gun store's failed attempt to bring a smart gun to market.
Engage Armament, a gun store in Rockville, MD, planned to begin sales of the Armatix iP1 handgun -- the first U.S. market-ready smart gun -- but later changed course and apologized for being involved with smart gun technology after receiving death threats from pro-gun activists. An earlier plan by a California gun store to offer the iP1 suffered a similar fate.
In a separate development, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg has promised to repeal New Jersey's smart gun law -- which makes adoption of the technology mandatory once smart guns come to market -- if the NRA promises to not interfere with the retail sale of smart guns nor target manufacturers who develop smart gun technologies.
While Armatix produced the first smart gun ready for sale to the public, a 2013 Department of Justice report identified 13 entities -- including gun manufacturers, universities, and other research entities -- working to develop smart gun technology. In its 2015 budget request, DOJ asked for $2 million "to support the Administration's challenge to the private sector to develop innovative and cost-effective gun safety technology." Ron Conway, a prominent Silicon Valley angel investor, has also announced a $1 million competition for the development of "technology that reliably authorizes approved use -- and blocks the unauthorized use -- of firearms."
That the NRA is attacking smart gun technology -- and by doing so putting negative pressure on companies that would develop the technology with the hope of selling guns -- is ironic given the organization's philosophy on firearm sales. In an unhinged February 2013 op-ed that urged NRA members to "stand and fight" against gun safety measures proposed in the wake of the Newtown massacre, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre urged gun owners to "buy more guns than ever." And during a paranoid 2014 address at the NRA annual meeting LaPierre said, "there is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want."
Continuing the National Rifle Association's smear of surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy as anti-gun, the NRA's media arm is now claiming that "doctors are a lot more dangerous than gun owners in this country" because of deaths caused by medical errors.
Even though Murthy holds views on firearms that are conventional within the medical community and supported by many Americans and has said that obesity, not gun safety, would be his top priority as surgeon general, the NRA has launched a smear campaign to portray him as a threat to the Second Amendment. Conservatives in media have taken the NRA's lead to attack Murthy as anti-gun and unqualified for the job.
NRA News host Cam Edwards furthered the NRA's attack, claiming that the "Institutes [sic] of Medicine" had issued a study finding that there are as many as 440,000 deaths per year due to preventable medical errors and commenting, "[m]aybe there's an issue for the Surgeon General to take up instead of your gun ownership and my gun ownership, because it sure that appears doctors are a lot more dangerous than gun owners are in this country."
In fact, the study Edwards cited was actually authored by a medical error-focused non-profit organization that asserts "we are patients looking after each other in a health care system that could easily kill us." According to the Institute of Medicine's "widely accepted" finding, 98,000 people a year die due to hospital errors.
After ducking the controversy over National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel," NRA leaders at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference tried to shield the organization from the fallout over those comments.
While some NRA supporters criticized Nugent, three NRA board members sought to downplay his actions and his connection to their organization, suggesting he isn't viewed mainly as an NRA representative or brushing the controversy off as unimportant.
Nugent issued the slur during a January interview, but the comments received new interest last month when Nugent campaigned with Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. Following days of negative coverage for both Abbott and Nugent, including condemnations from GOP leaders, Nugent offered a half-hearted apology, though "not necessarily to the president," for his "subhuman mongrel" comment. He then attacked Obama as a lying, law-breaking racist who engages in Nazi tactics.
Former NRA president and current board member David Keene said the "subhuman mongrel" comments do not reflect on the gun-rights organization because "Ted is seen as Ted more than as an NRA board member."
Grover Norquist, another NRA board member, said the comments were "not a good idea," but added they are not bad enough to hurt the NRA's image because Nugent is viewed differently than other NRA leaders.
"He's a rock star and people know he's talking as him and he is talking outrageously," Norquist said following a CPAC "meet and greet" he hosted for fans. "If an establishment Republican said that, you'd go, 'whoa Nellie.' Rock stars and hip hop artists are cut some slack in American society."
Despite their attempts to suggest Nugent's comments don't reflect directly on the NRA, as a musician and conservative commentator, Nugent is to many the public face of the organization. He has had a longstanding relationship with the group, serving on its board of directors since 1995. In the group's 2013 board elections Nugent was second only to Fox News contributor Oliver North for most votes in favor of reelection.
After the 2012 meeting, Nugent drew the attention of the Secret Service for saying he would be "dead or in jail" if Obama was reelected as president. An NRA memo indicated that he was paid $50,000 by the group for a "spoken presentation" in 2011. Nugent has also recorded the song "I Am The NRA," which includes the lyrics: "If you hate tyrants and dictators and are ready to give freedom a whirl/Celebrate the NRA and the shot heard round the world."
Oliver North denied knowing about the "subhuman mongrel" comments during an interview at CPAC. He accused Media Matters of trying to instigate criticism from him. Questioned at CPAC's radio row, North said, "I'm not necessarily sure how to take your word for what he said since I didn't hear it I am not going to comment about it."
Facebook has announced new policies that aim to prevent illegal gun sales through the social media website, following a petition campaign by gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
In a March 5 posting, Facebook says it will post language where firearms transactions are set up that "clearly reminds people of the importance of understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations." Facebook will also limit postings about gun sales to users over the age of 18. Moms Demand Action reportedly entered into "formal discussions" with Facebook in February.
During the petition campaign, the National Rifle Association's media arm attempted to discredit Moms Demand Action by falsely claiming that the group's campaign sought to ban any gun-related speech on Facebook.
On the March 4 edition of NRA News show Cam & Company host Cam Edwards said it was "true" that Moms Demand Action was moving to "ban" pro-Second Amendment speech on Facebook. Edwards claimed that Moms Demand Action wanted to ban "a conversation" and suggested that the group sought to "ban fan pages or pages related to guns and the Second Amendment." Edwards concluded by claiming that Moms Demand Action are "not just anti-Second Amendment, oh no. Apparently they have issues with the First Amendment too."
On his radio show, also called Cam & Company, Edwards claimed on March 4 that there's a "real push" on "the left right now" for "a war on the idea of freedom of speech." He added, "For the left -- supposedly espouses tolerance and acceptance of others -- man there's a lot of oppression and intolerance I'm seeing these days."
Edwards' claims greatly mischaracterized the goals of the Moms Demand Action campaign. Furthermore the First Amendment constrains the government's restriction of speech, not a private company like Facebook. The social media network is free to create policies that seek to limit behavior it finds unacceptable, as it has already done through other community standards. (Right-wing media frequently misinterpret the First Amendment to accuse businesses of victimizing conservatives.)
The National Rifle Association's radio show and other conservative media are baselessly attacking an ABC News special that highlighted how gun accidents can occur when children access unsecured firearms.
The ABC News 20/20 special, hosted by Diane Sawyer and titled Young Guns, reported that 1.7 million children live in a home with an unsecured and loaded firearm, 98 children under the age of 18 died in accidental shootings in 2010, and 80 percent of accidental shooting victims are boys.
The January 31 Young Guns special centered on a psychologist-designed experiment that placed children in an empty classroom that contained an unsecured firearm. According to 20/20 "nearly all" of the 44 children in the experiment had been taught not to touch a gun and half of those children were shown the NRA's "Eddie Eagle" gun safety program to reinforce the lesson. But when an unloaded firearm was left in the classroom, many of the children still touched and played with it. Some even pointed the weapons at themselves or other children and pulled the trigger. The NRA declined repeated requests by ABC to participate in an interview for the special.
A man who is facing charges he raped a minor was recently honored during a daily NRA News feature that highlights instances of self-defense with a gun. The segments promote the false claim that guns are more likely to be used in self-defense than to commit a crime.
The January 17 edition of NRA News show Cam & Company on The Sportsman Channel celebrated the actions of Marlo Ellis during "The Armed Citizen Files," a daily segment sponsored by firearms retailer CheaperThanDirt.com. Ellis broke up the armed robbery of an Orrville, Alabama Dollar General by fatally shooting the alleged robber with his concealed handgun.
During the segment Cam Edwards described Ellis' actions in detail and asked, "I wonder how many other media outlets will be reporting on this story?" Curiously Edwards never said Ellis' name, although he mentioned the name of the alleged robber and several witnesses. A web search for Ellis' name reveals he was arrested in 2013 for allegedly raping a victim "between the age of 12 and 16." Dallas County's district attorney reportedly confirmed that Ellis is facing charges related to the 2013 investigation. A local news outlet covering the Dollar General shooting updated its account to include this fact, which was also appeared in an account on Guns.com.
Right-wing media are citing the claims of a high-level Mexican drug cartel figure, who faces life in prison for narcotrafficking, to advance its latest conspiracy theory about a failed federal law enforcement operation to stop the flow of guns into Mexico.
According to Vicente Zambada-Niebla, a high-level Sinaloa Cartel figure known as "El Vicentillo" who will soon face trial in Chicago, the purpose of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was to arm the Sinaloa Cartel so that it would have the firepower to destroy rival drug cartels. Zambada-Niebla's testimony is not credible for a number of reasons, the most glaring being that he was arrested in March 2009, more than six months before the ATF even conceived of Fast and Furious.
Despite this red flag, Zambada-Niebla's claims have been repeatedly promoted on the National Rifle Association's radio and television shows, by Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich, and throughout the fringe conservative blogosphere.
Daily segments on NRA News that push the false claim that guns are more likely to be used in self-defense than to commit a crime recently celebrated the actions of a shooter who police want charged with a felony and the case of a man whose murder conviction for shooting his tenant under disputed circumstances was recently overturned.
"The Armed Citizen File" and "Hero of the Day" are daily features on NRA News' televised show on The Sportsman Channel and radio show on SiriusXM, respectively. In both segments, host Cam Edwards shares media accounts of defensive gun use, which often conclude with the demise of alleged criminals. Online gun retailer ChaperThanDirt.com sponsors "The Armed Citizen File" segment.
NRA News host Cam Edwards attacked laws to prevent children from accessing guns by positing that there should be no criminal penalty even when an admittedly careless adult allows a child access to a gun that the child then uses to kill themselves.
On the January 6 edition of NRA News program Cam & Company, Edwards attacked Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founder Shannon Watts for advocating for state laws that create a criminal penalty for adults that negligently allow children access to firearms. In an interview with USA Today, Watts cited the fact that only 15 states have child access prevention laws and contended, "This idea that a shooting that involves a toddler is accidental is asinine. If I was drinking and driving and hit my son, I would immediately go to jail. But if I left my firearm on the top of the refrigerator and he found it and shot himself, everyone says, what a horrible accident."
Edwards responded to Watts' USA Today interview by suggesting that if "you are careless with a firearm and one of your own children accidentally kills themself" that the "horror" of the incident alone would be sufficient punishment for the adult. But in arguing against laws that criminalize negligently allowing children to access guns, Edwards ignores that research has shown that these laws are associated with a reduction in gun deaths among children resulting from accidents and suicide.