The recent bloody headlines out of Chicago relayed the sad tale of the city's deadly weekend, where seven people were killed in shootings and more than 50 were victims of gunfire. Thanks in part to news coverage, America's third largest city has become synonymous with runaway gun violence, and especially deadly weekend shootouts.
Sadly, that type of shooting spree isn't restricted to Chicago. Just this month in New York City, which has experienced an historic reduction in crime in recent years, 25 people were shot over a single weekend; six of the victims died.
Nonetheless, the Chicago news triggered the usual response from conservative gun advocates, who love to mock the city's homicide rate. In recent years Chicago gun victims have served as a macabre punch line for NRA fans as they scoff at the alleged futility of the city's gun safety laws. (Chicago banned handguns decades ago, and has retained strong gun laws following the 2010 overturning of that ban by the Supreme Court.)
Conservative conspiracists such as Rush Limbaugh even claim Democratic politicians, including Chicago's mayor Rahm Emanuel, want the city's murder rate to remain high so they can use the killings to advocate for stronger gun laws.
But mostly, firearm defenders simply ridicule Chicago's murder count. "Slaughter in Gun Control Chicago," blogged Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich in the wake of last weekend's gun attacks, while a Breitbart writer on Monday insisted city officials had "little to show" for their efforts to curb violence.
But note what these commentators are careful not to mention while using the killings to make a political point: They didn't mention that homicides in "Gun Control Chicago" are down dramatically this year; a trend that undermines the attack that the Second City stands as the ultimate symbol of gun enforcement failure.
In early May, the Chicago Police Department released figures indicating the city marked a 43 percent decline in the number of murders over the first four months of this year, as compared to the same period last year. For the first quarter of this year, Chicago registered 93 murders, its lowest January-to-April tally since 1963.
Then this month came news that Chicago experienced a 31 percent decrease in shootings for the month of May, which meant that through May of this year the city's murder count had declined 34 percent from last year. Chicago homicides still outnumber those in larger cities, such as New York and Los Angeles; it suffers from weaker gun laws in both its home state and surrounding states than those two cities, allowing criminals easier access to guns purchased elsewhere.
It's true that Chicago's crime is certain to spike in the coming summer months, and with it will come more heartbreaking headlines about tragic gun murders; killings that will inevitably involve young victims. But statistically, violent crime almost always goes up in warm weather months. So the question is, will Chicago's murder rate go up more this year than during last year's summer months? Or will the city be able to maintain its pattern of reduced gun violence throughout 2013?
The agency responsible for the enforcement of federal gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), has not had a permanent director since 2006 largely due to obstruction from the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress. Today, a Senate hearing will consider President Obama's nomination of current acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones for permanent director.
Mark Fuhrman, a former detective for the Los Angeles Police Department whose racist statements came to light during the O.J. Simpson trial, appeared on Fox News' America Live to discuss the role of race in jury selection for George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial. Zimmerman is accused by prosecutors of profiling and fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in February 2012.
From the June 10 edition of America Live:
During the 1995 murder trial of O.J. Simpson, the defense produced a tape of Fuhrman, who collected evidence in the case, using the word n*****more than 40 times over a 10 year period. The person who made the tape said Fuhrman used the slur "in a very casual ordinary pattern of speech. It was nothing extraordinary. It was just conversation." During the O.J. Simpson trial, a number of other witnesses testified that Fuhrman was a racist. Fuhrman, who testified during the trial that he had not used a racial slur in the past 10 years, pled no contest to perjury charges and was sentenced to three years of probation.
During a 2006 appearance on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Fuhrman, who is a Fox News contributor, said that the type of "people" he "dealt with ... for 20 years" while working in law enforcement will "kill somebody and go have some chicken at KFC. You will catch them eating chicken and drinking a beer after they just murdered three people." Co-host Alan Colmes challenged Fuhrman for using racially charged language, an allegation Fuhrman denied. Fuhrman has also appeared on Fox to defend a group of white police officers who were videotaped beating an African American man.
History announced the premiere of a new series, God, Guns & Automobiles, that will feature Erich "Mancow" Muller, a far-right radio host who has engaged in a plethora of conspiracy theories -- including the claim that President Obama was born outside the United States -- and has suggested that an armed revolution will occur in America.
God, Guns & Automobiles will document Mancow and his brother Mark Muller's operation of Max Motors, a car dealership located in rural Missouri that "embodies the values and the spirit of the heartland of America." The series is slated to premiere on History, formerly called The History Channel, on Monday, July 8 at 10 p.m. EST. Mark Muller, the founder of Max Motors, has frequently incorporated firearms into his car business. Since at least 2008, Max Motors has given away firearms -- often AK-47 assault weapons -- with the purchase of certain vehicles. A typical newspaper clipping appearing on the Max Motors website states that "The Nation's Outlaw Car Dealer Is Doing It Again!" and offers a "free AK-47" with the purchase of any truck.
According to Mark Muller, his promotions have engendered controversy. In comments published at Human Events in 2011, Muller said that a past AK-47 giveaway had drawn scrutiny from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as a bank that provided Max Motors with financing. Muller also said that General Motors threatened to rescind his dealership agreement because of the promotion. In 2008, Mancow highlighted his brother's promotion with a post on his website that warned "you'll need a gun to protect yourself from the violent masses during the coming depression." In his posting, Mancow also repeated the falsehood that Germany's gun laws were responsible for the Holocaust.
On April 13, Max Motors hosted its "1st Annual Great Gun Buyback," offering $50 to $10,000 to purchase firearms from the public. According to an ad on the Max Motors website, "We'll take any and all guns with no limit to the number you can bring in!" A contemporaneous Facebook posting added, "There will also be a camera crew here that day. Come in for a chance to be on TV!!"
National Rifle Association News host Cam Edwards compared the experience of opponents of new gun laws in Colorado during the legislative process to the experiences of victims of racial segregation.
Edwards hosted Laura Carno, the founder of conservative nonprofit I am Created Equal that is seeking to remove Colorado Senate President John Morse from office for supporting legislation to require background checks on gun sales and limit high-capacity magazines. During this discussion, Edwards said, "We have seen a great deal of disrespect shown to gun owners throughout this process," and added, "It's not just that our rights aren't being respected, our voices aren't being respected."
He then read from the dissent in the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which railed against the majority ruling that established the racially discriminatory "separate but equal" doctrine. Quoting from Justice John Marshall Harlan's dissent, Edwards said, "In the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here," and, "In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful."
From the June 4 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company:
Adam Kokesh is cancelling his planned July 4 armed march on Washington, D.C., and instead calling for a march on all 50 state capitols with the goal of overthrowing the federal government.
Kokesh, a former host for Russian state-sponsored RT television who now hosts an internet radio show, told conspiracy theorist radio host Pete Santilli that it was time to "escalate our tactics" before cancelling the Washington march and urging supporters to march on their state capitol instead.
On May 28, Santilli, a promoter of conspiracy theories about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks who recently drew scrutiny from the Secret Service over vicious comments made about Hillary Clinton, aired an interview where Kokesh read from a press release and provided other details about the expansion of his plans.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Kokesh detailed how he and others planned to march across the Memorial Bridge -- which separates Washington from Virginia -- while openly carrying firearms in violation of District of Columbia law. Kokesh told Buzzfeed that the event would be non-violent and said, "We're not going to resist government by force in any way." The Facebook description of the event stated, "This will be a non-violent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent." District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier stated that those who bring weapons illegally into Washington would face arrest.
In the press release, Kokesh called for "A new American revolution" where "the American Revolutionary Army will march on each state capital to demand that the governors of these 50 states immediately initiate the process of an orderly dissolution of the federal government through secession and reclamation of federally held property." Kokesh also gave the federal government a one-year deadline to comply with his demands before possibly taking violent action, writing, "Should one whole year from this July 4th pass while the crimes of this government are allowed to continue, we may have passed the point at which non-violent revolution becomes impossible."
David Kopel, a gun activist who frequently writes for the National Rifle Association's publications, has been identified by Denver Fox affiliate KDVR/FOX31 as a source for a fake story about a gun executive who was supposedly detained after being misidentified as a terrorist.
Kopel, who is an adjunct professor at the University of Denver's law school, is currently representing a group of sheriffs who seek to overturn Colorado's newly enacted gun violence prevention laws. In January, Kopel testified against stronger gun laws before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
According to a May 22 article, Kopel put KDVR in touch with a woman who claimed that Daniele Perazzi, an executive for Italian shotgun company who actually died in 2012, had been taken in for questioning by police in Denver after a cab driver misidentified him as a terrorist. It later became apparent that the woman, identified as Korrine Aguirre, fabricated the account.
KDVR reported that Kopel "first told FOX31 Denver" about the incident and referred them to Aguirre, "who, it now appears, concocted an elaborate but false story." The news outlet was also in touch with NRA board member Steve Schreiner, who claimed to be at the Colorado Gun Collectors Association show, where Perazzi was supposedly heading to when he was accused of being a terrorist:
Two trusted sources who told FOX31 Denver that an Italian gun company executive was questioned by local law enforcement after a Denver cab driver thought he might be a terrorist now say they were misled.
David Kopel, a nationally-recognized Second Amendment attorney with the Independence Institute in Denver, first told FOX31 Denver about the alleged incident Saturday. He referred us to Korrine Aguirre, who, it now appears, concocted an elaborate but false story.
Steve Schreiner, a Colorado board member of the National Rifle Association, told us he was at the gun show. He said Aguirre told him about the alleged questioning of Perazzi by police.
FOX31 Denver News Director Ed Kosowski has acknowledged, "More steps should have been taken to corroborate Aguirre's story and verify information provided by Kopel and Schreiner."
The Daily Caller's "Guns and Gear" section used an image of Nazi soldiers on parade to accompany the republication of a National Rifle Association press release that attacked proponents of stronger gun laws.
Appended to the top of the press release was an image of Nazi soldiers performing the goose step in front of Hitler and his generals during an October 1939 parade in Warsaw, Poland:
The NRA press release identified three Democratic members of the New Jersey Legislature, Loretta Weinberg, Sandra Cunningham and Linda Greenstein, who were reportedly "complaining" that proposals to strengthen gun laws in New Jersey do not go far enough. The NRA further claims that one of the legislators was caught on tape saying, "We needed a bill that was going to confiscate, confiscate, confiscate." As the New Jersey Star-Ledger notes, it is actually not clear which legislator named by the NRA, if any, made the comment or what words were said before "confiscate":
As a committee hearing on new gun-control legislation began winding down Thursday, three state senators started chatting amongst themselves.
What they didn't realize was the microphone was still on.
A recording of the exchange -- which appears to be between Democrats Loretta Weinberg, Sandra Cunningham and Linda Greenstein -- ended up on YouTube, and gun supporters said today they were upset by the remarks.
The recording opens with what sounds like a senator or staff member saying, "We needed a bill that was going to confiscate, confiscate, confiscate" -- although it is not clear who is speaking or if this is what she is saying.
PolitickerNJ.com also reported on the recording, noting that the "confiscate" comments were made by "an unknown voice." Reached for comment, Weinberg stated, "All I know is it's not my voice and I don't know who said it or in what context."
As media scrutinize accidental shootings involving children, the National Rifle Association's news program Cam & Company has instead repeatedly highlighted incidents where students clashed with administrators over school policies that relate to guns.
Accidental shootings involving children have been a much discussed topic over the past few weeks, with some incidents receiving widespread coverage. In particular, a fatal accident in Burkesville, Kentucky, where a 5-year-old boy unintentionally shot his 2-year-old sister with a rifle designed to be used by young children, was covered by The New York Times, CNN, the Associated Press, CBSNews.com, and MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes.
Between the Kentucky accident that occurred on April 30 and May 14, Cam & Company spent only 5 minutes and 33 seconds covering gun accidents, mostly by attacking the media for reporting on the incidents. In comparison, the show spent 71 minutes and 13 seconds highlighting instances where host Cam Edwards felt that students had been unfairly treated by schools for their participation in gun culture. During the sole segment that covered a gun accident, Edwards criticized The New York Times for its reporting on the Burkesville accident.
School incidents that received ample coverage on Cam & Company, which airs on The Sportsman Channel, include:
Mainstream media outlets are blindly repeating the claim by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that she supported expanded background checks by voting for Republican legislation that would actually have weakened the background check system.
On April 17, Ayotte voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment, a legislative proposal to expand background checks to sales at gun shows and over the Internet, facing political backlash as a result. Ayotte, however, co-sponsored and voted in favor of a replacement bill offered by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that purported to improve the background check system by increasing the number of mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
In fact, the Grassley-Cruz proposal would weaken the gun background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system. Specifically, Section 103 would change current law by only creating a disqualifying background check record if an individual is designated as dangerously mentally ill by a court or other adjudicative body. Under present law, adjudications by all lawful authorities create a record that prohibits an individual from buying a firearm.
To the contrary, Manchin-Toomey would have increased the number of mental health records in NICS by offering states financial incentives and disincentives to include missing records in the system, in addition to expanding background checks
Members of conservative media are trumpeting a government report indicating that gun homicides have fallen as proof that the need for stronger gun laws is unwarranted, while ignoring multiple factors that could account for the decrease. At the same time, firearm violence continues to be a problem as firearm homicides have fallen less than serious violent crime in general and the rate of gun violence in the United States still far outpaces other high-income nations.
In a May report, the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) indicated that the number of gun homicides fell 39 percent from 18,253 in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011. The Pew Research Center adjusted the figures to represent per capita rates in its report on the BJS data, finding that the incidence of firearm homicide has fallen 49 percent during that time period.
Right-wing media have quickly seized upon this data to dismiss the need for stronger gun laws. According to the National Review Online's Charles C. W. Cooke, the BJS and Pew reports make "embarrassing reading for those who spend their time trying to make it appear as if America is in the middle of a gun-crime wave." John Nolte of Brietbart.com wrote, "This report not only proves the media wrong, it proves the NRA right." Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote that the reports represent "rotten data for anti-gun advocates trying to revive the Newtown, Conn., anti-gun legislative package." Townhall's Katie Pavlich, who is also a contributor at Fox News, added, "Once again more guns do in fact equal less crime."
But there is no logic to their arguments that data from the reports constitutes evidence against proposals to strengthen gun laws. Gun availability has been repeatedly linked to higher incidence of firearm homicides, and firearms remain the driving factor of homicides, with 70 percent of murders involving guns. According to an October 2012 report from BJS, the rate of serious violent crime declined 75 percent between 1993 and 2011, meaning that gun homicides are declining at a slower pace than overall crime.
Other factors may help explain the fall of gun crime since the early 1990s including reductions in lead levels, the end of the crack epidemic, advances in medicine that allow more gunshot victims to survive their wounds, and a declining rate of gun ownership.
HOUSTON -- To swing the door on a National Rifle Association annual meeting is to enter a world where Freedom comes from a gun. The gun's purpose is not important. It doesn't have to be American made. It can be any number of shapes, so long as it has a grip, a trigger, and a barrel. But only from a gun barrel can Freedom flow. In the words of multiple NRA members who confronted protestors this past weekend, "The Second Amendment is the one thing protecting the First."
Last May in St. Louis, NRA leaders pounded away at this idea in a torrent of Apocalyptic warnings about the consequences of failure in the November elections. A year later, gathering two weeks after helping defeat the biggest effort to strengthen gun laws in a generation, the same men delivered the NRA's Second Amendment gospel with a newfound swagger. Unchanged was the primacy of guns and gun rights in the NRA's understanding of the world and everything in it. In his opening speech, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre described the gun enthusiasts before him as "Freedom's biggest army, greatest hope, and brightest future." The group's chief lobbyist-strategist, the boyish Tennessean Chris Cox, celebrated the convention as "the biggest celebration ever of American values," whose 86,000-plus attendees embodied "the essence of participation in American democracy."
NRA summits involve leadership votes and platform debates, but NRA-style democracy isn't about those things alone. It's also about the guns that make it possible. Which is why NRA conventions feature an exhibition hall packed with hundreds of booths displaying Freedom's latest fashions -- what the group calls "the most spectacular displays of firearms, shooting and hunting accessories in the world."
The big story on the floor this year was the post-election sales bounce following Sandy Hook and a revitalized gun violence debate. Companies that had reduced production to normal post-election levels in November were blindsided by second buying frenzy and have yet to recover their balance. Among the biggest beneficiaries is the assault rifle industry the NRA did much to nurture in the 1980s. "Sales are through the roof," said a rep from Stag Arms. "We have an eight to 12-month wait." A manager from Core Rifle Systems described the recent frenzy as "almost a little ridiculous. But it's good for business. We have a two-year back order producing 3,500 rifles a month." DSA Inc., which makes a range of ARs and grenade launchers, says it's getting 2,000 emails a day. "Business is good, it's real, real good for all of us," said a rep from the online assault weapon retailer CheaperThanDirt.com. Behind him hung an oversized check for $500,000 made out to the NRA.
Veteran guns and ammo dealers see the current frenzy as resulting from several developments that together have created a perfect storm of paranoia among the gun community. Obama's reelection, legislative movement on Capitol Hill, the UN Arms Trade Treaty, reports of large purchases of ammunition by federal agencies -- all have been hyped in the gun press and in rightwing media as heralding everything from ammo droughts to full-on police state tyranny.
"Together with all the gun stuff in the news, you still have the bad economy, which means survival purchases of the three B's -- beans, bullets, and booze," said Jeff Mullins, a bullet designer and owner of Allegiance Ammunition. "Then people see these reports about the government buying high volume [ammo]. That makes people think, 'Well, they're buying it to keep it from us.' I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but..."
When Mullins trailed off, an attendee listening nearby finished the thought. "Everybody is thinking that way," he said. "Nobody trusts the government."
This distrust is spreading to their fellow citizens. NRA members have been as jolted by public mass shootings as anyone else. Some of them just come to different conclusions about solutions. Among the workshops offered in Houston were several related to defensive handgun skills, i.e., how to be a good guy with a gun who stops bad guys with guns. The defensive shooting expert Rob Pincus introduced a full auditorium to the methods outlined in his book, Counter Ambush. In his talk, Pincus avoided phrases like "mass shootings" and "rampages," instead referring to emergencies in "the public environment situation."
Growing demand for bullets capable of dropping a Jared Loughner with one shot has increased interest in frag rounds like those designed by Jeff Mullins. "People are coming out of a fantasy world and realizing they have to take responsibility for their safety, even when they're at the mall or wherever," he said. "People now realize that bad people sometimes need to be taken out quick."
To illustrate why his trademarked bullets are the right tools for stopping an ambush, Mullins reached under the counter and pulled out photos of a dead 485-pound Russian boar. His daughter had recently killed it with a single round of his newest design. "It fragments so well that it creates instant trauma, shutting down the central nervous system," he explained. Like so many of his peers, he couldn't guess when his supply would catch up with demand.
During the 2013 National Rifle Association annual meeting, held May 3 - 5 in Houston, Texas, the gun rights organization reaffirmed its hardline stance against any restrictions on firearms and hosted an over-the-top Glenn Beck presentation that depicted one of the NRA's political opponents as a Nazi.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre set the tone of the convention with a May 4 speech that warned of a "long war against our constitutional rights" and concluded with a message for media and political "elites" in America: "Let them be damned."
The meeting also involved the adoption of a resolution put forward by fringe gun activist Jeff Knox that stated the NRA will oppose all future gun restrictions. Also featured at the annual convention was a speech from newly-elected NRA president Jim Porter, a hardline gun rights activist, that included the claim that President Obama seeks to take "revenge" against gun owners.
In a freewheeling presentation billed as the "NRA's most important gathering of the year," conservative radio personality Glenn Beck offensively portrayed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a Nazi giving the Sieg Hail salute before concluding his hour-and-a-half long "Stand and Fight" speech by comparing the struggles of gun owners to those of the African-American civil rights movement.
Here are nine moments from the NRA's annual meeting that typify the fringe nature of the organization:
"We Shall Overcome:" Beck Adopts The Mantle Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Referencing the Underground Railroad and lunch counter protests, Beck said that he hoped the NRA would join him in a passive resistance movement. At the apex of his speech, Beck stated, "We are the law-abiding God-fearing members of the NRA. We are Americans. And we will be clear. We will stand; we'll march if we have to. We'll stand because we must. But we will not be moved. Our right to keep and bear arms will not be infringed. We will follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we will follow the footsteps of Frederick Douglas, Winston Churchill, Thomas Paine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, [David] Ben-Gurion, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Ghandi, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, hear me now. Hear me now. We shall overcome."
This weekend former Senator Evan Bayh echoed the beliefs of many in the media that the National Rifle Association has only recently moved to the fringe, telling Politico "their position is now in the end zone, not at the 40-yard line."
These extremes were on display at the NRA annual meeting this weekend where Glenn Beck, during a keynote address just days after the announcement that New York's Cablevision would soon begin to carry his Blaze network to millions of households, displayed on the screen a poster-like image of Michael Bloomberg giving the Sieg Heil salute. To equate the Jewish mayor of New York City to Nazis used to be beyond the pale in American politics.
One could say this outrageous hate speech was Beck acting like Beck, demonstrating his herculean effort to prove Godwin's Law, but Nazi comparisons have been part and parcel of the NRA's rhetoric for decades.
In 1995, former President George H.W. Bush resigned his lifetime membership in the organization after Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre signed a fundraising letter that claimed the Assault Weapons Ban passed earlier that year "gives jackbooted Government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property and even injure and kill us."
Bush told the organization, "your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country."
The rhetoric might have been new to Bush, but the organization had freely referred to law enforcement officials as "jackbooted thugs" for years. It was only in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing that previously ignored communications, such as direct mail pieces, were scrutinized by the media, outing this disgraceful language.
From the May 4 National Rifle Association "Stand and Fight" rally:
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