A series of new polls indicate that the media was wrong to suggest that legislators who oppose strengthening guns laws would not pay a political price for their actions.
Following the Senate's failure to pass stronger gun laws earlier this month, political reporters suggested that Senate opponents of those laws had been wisely reacting to the political environment. According to those reporters, Democrats "got gun control polling wrong" because while surveys indicated that an overwhelming majority of Americans supported reforms like expanding the background check system to cover more gun sales, they may not feel as passionately about the issue as their opponents and thus for politicians: "Voting against gun control measures may well carry less negative political consequence than voting for them -- even though the poll numbers suggest the opposite is true."
Contrary to this theory, several polls conducted since the gun votes earlier this month indicate that more voters are likely to oppose senators who voted against stronger gun laws than they are to support them:
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin incorrectly wrote that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is proposing to "ban explosive powder" as a response to the Boston Marathon bombings when in fact Reid has proposed requiring a criminal background check for individuals who buy explosive powder.
The Senate proposal, originally sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), but being shepherded by Reid in his absence, would require a background check to "purchase black powder, black powder substitute, or smokeless powder, in any quantity." Furthermore the legislation would allow the Attorney General to stop explosives sales to suspected terrorists. Under current law inclusion on the terrorist watch list alone does not prohibit individuals from buying explosives or firearms.
While Rubin's apparent aim was to make Reid's response to the Boston bombings seem ridiculous -- explosive powder has many legitimate uses -- explosive powder is a common component in domestic bombings. Furthermore, because of lobbying by the National Rifle Association, it is currently legal to purchase up to 50 pounds of black or smokeless powder without undergoing a background check.
Decades before the Boston bombings -- where the perpetrators reportedly may have used black or smokeless powder -- explosive powder has been known to be regularly employed by domestic bombers. According to a 1980 report issued by the Office of Technology Assessment, a now defunct office of Congress, in incidents involving both successfully detonated and undetonated bombs, "black and smokeless powders and cap sensitive high explosives all occur with high frequency." A 2005 report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) found that "because black powder is relatively inexpensive (between $5 and $15 per pound), it is the most common explosive used in pipe bombs." The report also found that explosive powders were present in the most fatal of bombings between 2002 and 2004:
According to National Repository data, 8 people were killed and 49 people were injured by explosives from January 2002 through December 2004. Explosive powders, which may be obtained legally in quantities up to 50 pounds without a license or permit, were the largest cause of deaths and injuries. Over 50 percent of those killed and injured during this period were victims of explosive devices containing black powder. Twenty-five percent of those injured were victims of improvised explosives devices, many of which containing common chemicals.
Still the NRA has spent decades lobbying against the regulation of black and smokeless powder -- which can be components of gunpowder -- and is largely responsible for the current background check exemption for purchasers of up to 50 pounds of explosive powder.
Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto questioned the authenticity of a New York Times op-ed authored by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by claiming that the op-ed appeared online too quickly to have been written by someone "who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions."
Giffords' April 18 op-ed was written in response to the failure of expanded background checks legislation. On January 8, 2011, Giffords was shot in the head during a constituent meeting in an attack that killed six and left 13 wounded.
Taranto's comments occurred on the April 19 edition of the National Rifle Association's news show, Cam & Company, where he said it was "odd" that the Times op-ed, which Taranto described as "Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence," was published approximately five hours after the Senate voted on background checks. Taranto cast doubt on the idea that Giffords had authored the piece, commenting, "So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it."
From Cam & Company:
TARANTO: One fascinating thing about this is this piece was published no later than 9:03 PM on Wednesday evening, because that's when it first appears on the New York Times' Twitter feed. The last Senate vote on amendments to the gun bill was a bit after 6 [PM]. Giffords appeared at the White House at 5:35 [PM] when we saw that enraged rant by the president. The Manchin-Toomey [background check] provision was the first vote. That was at 4:04 PM. So if you read this piece it's presented as a cry from the heart, as Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence to the betrayal of these Senators. So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it. So I think that's a little bit odd.
Taranto offers no evidence for his offensive insinuation that Giffords would not have been capable of authoring the piece herself. He also ignores the possibility that Giffords could have authored the op-ed ahead of time in expectation of the widely-predicted outcome - hardly an unusual practice.
Even legendary journalists can fail to recognize the overwhelming popularity of expanding the background check system for firearms purchases. While it is now a well-known fact that the policy enjoys overwhelming support from the American public at large, some pundits remain unaware that it is also very popular in states that typically support conservative politicians.
NBC's Tom Brokaw is apparently one of those pundits. On the April 21 edition of NBC's Meet The Press, responding to the statement that the structure of the Senate explains why expanding background checks did not pass (an amendment had the support of 55 senators but needed 60 votes), Brokaw said that the proposal likely had very little support in the home states of Democrats who voted against the measure:
BROKAW: But in those states in which the senators voted against the background check, it's not even close to 90 percent in terms of wanting it, it's probably down in single digits in Montana and Arkansas and Alaska and North Dakota, the states that block it as Democrats. So you have to take that into consideration.
In fact, state polls in three of those four states found that at least 79 percent of respondents supported requiring a background check on every gun purchase (a broader measure than the one actually under debate).
According to a series of state polls commissioned by Mayors Against Illegals Guns, which supports the policy:
The argument by conservative media that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other survivors of gun violence who supported a failed Senate compromise to expand background checks on firearms sales are "props" of the Obama administration is both hypocritically partisan and logically flawed.
Right-wing media are unable to acknowledge that President Obama's gun violence prevention agenda mirrors the priorities of gun violence survivors, who are not mere "props," to pass stronger gun laws. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post notes, "the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want":
All of this aside, the "props" line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn't be thanking the president. [emphasis in original]
Logical flaws aside, those who would call Newtown families and other gun violence survivors "props" fail to acknowledge that presidents routinely evoke the experiences of victims in advocating for policies that would prevent future tragedies.
In 1991, former President Ronald Reagan evoked his own experience of being shot by a would-be assassin, as well as the experiences of others wounded in the 1981 attack in order to advocate for background checks on gun sales. In a New York Times op-ed Reagan wrote about his press secretary, Jim Brady, who was grievously wounded in the attack by a man who acquired a gun despite a lengthy history of serious mental illness. Brady would go on to lend his name to the legislation -- the Brady bill -- that mandated a background check for gun sales conducted by licensed dealers:
Conservatives in media gloated and launched political attacks in reaction to a coalition of largely Senate Republicans blocking a package of stronger gun laws, including compromise legislation on expanded background checks for gun sales -- a legislative proposal supported by roughly 90 percent of Americans.
Before, during, and after President Obama delivered a speech from the Rose Garden on April 17 vowing to continue the dialogue on gun laws, conservatives in media offered triumphal comments and launched vicious attacks on advocates for gun violence prevention, including family members of Newtown victims and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
As Politico noted, conservative bloggers "claimed victory ... saying that their ideology and principles were the keys to their success." The right-wing reaction, however, went beyond basic policy arguments:
In an op-ed for The Washington Times, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro opined that family members of Newtown victims -- many of whom advocated for the passage of stronger gun laws -- did not deserve to be heard because of his apparent belief that background checks infringe on the Second Amendment. Shapiro previously accused Obama of attempting to implement socialism in a piece for The New American, the magazine publication of the far-right John Birch Society. From Shapiro's April 18 op-ed:
I don't believe the families of the victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., deserve a vote.
It may sound harsh and uncaring, but even the greatest tragedies are not a valid reason to disregard the Supreme Court and the Constitution of the United States. If they were, our free speech and our rights against unreasonable search and seizure and against self-incrimination would have all been abolished long ago amid every crime wave in American history.
Five years ago, the Supreme Court settled the issue of the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller, making it clear that guns in "common use" were constitutionally protected. Nevertheless, President Obama recently flew several family members of Sandy Hook victims to Washington on Air Force One to pressure congressional legislators to enact new gun laws.
The National Rifle Association is distorting a survey that experts say already uses questionable methodology to claim that the vast majority of police don't believe background checks will reduce violent crime.
The Washington Post's website is currently displaying an NRA ad which states, "80% of police say background checks will have no effect on violent crime."
But the poll in question, conducted by the law enforcement news portal PoliceOne, does not ask respondents whether they believe background checks will have an effect on violent crime. As Slate's William Saletan has noted, the only question in the survey that produced results similar to the ones the NRA cited was the question, "Do you think that a federal law prohibiting private, non-dealer transfers of firearms between individuals would reduce violent crime?" The bipartisan background check amendment currently under discussion in the Senate would not impact private, non-dealer transfers; it would only require background checks for commercial sales.
Moreover, the survey's methodology raises questions about its results. It is not a random sample, but rather a survey completed by the 3 percent of registered current and former law enforcement officers who are members of PoliceOne and chose to respond.
Academic polling experts who Media Matters contacted said this approach is questionable, because the self-selection of respondents can bias the sample. University of Michigan Professor Michael Traugott, for example, told Media Matters that "one issue that would be of particular concern is that the survey was completed by self-selected respondents," which the Public Opinion Quarterly editor said could have skewed the results.
Other experts highlighted that the survey examines only members of PoliceOne. "How representative of all police officers are PoliceOne's members to begin with?" said Columbia University professor Robert Shapiro, a co-author of award-winning books on public opinion research. "And how does the sample compare with all police officers demographically?" Temple University's Christopher Wlezian, another editor at Public Opinion Quarterly, likewise commented that the problem with the survey is "the fact that we don't know whether the sample of respondents is representative of the population of police officers."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent claimed the heroic response to the Boston Marathon bombings "represents" the NRA before attacking the "anti-Americanism" of the Obama administration for allegedly seeking to eliminate the Second Amendment.
Nugent's comments occurred during the April 16 broadcast of NRA News where he described the heroics of people who ran towards the scene of the bombings before claiming "that represents what the NRA is":
NUGENT: Those uniformed heroes of the military charged in with the uniformed heroes of law enforcement, the first responders, the EMTs, and quite relative to my opening statement today, citizens, just people, American citizens knowing that two bombs had gone off, limbs had been blown off of peoples' bodies, massive amounts of blood and terror and trauma. And where did civilians and heroes of professional organizations and law enforcement and military, where did they run? Straight into the danger. That's the America that I pray every day that represents what the NRA is.
Nugent then said that Americans "will charge into the most dangerous times when the top officials in the American government really want to eliminate the Second Amendment" and claimed that "anti-Americanism" exists in the Obama administration:
NUGENT: It's families, it's mom and pop America, working hard playing hard America who understand what makes America special and unique that the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights is the guiding light to the greatest quality of life in the history of the world and we will charge into the most dangerous times when the top officials in the American government really want to eliminate the Second Amendment, when [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein [D-CA] says I would take away all of their guns if I could. She said it on film, Cam.
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: Yeah.
NUGENT: Where the Attorney General [Eric Holder] says we need to brainwash people. I know that that kind of anti-Americanism exists, but why can't we communicate with those who we oppose on the gun control issue, on the tax issue, on the court system, on the welfare issue, ad nauseum? Why can't we somehow, and I believe we can if we continue to communicate and turn up our activism heat, why can't we create an America that is united constantly like we're united when terror strikes?
Nugent's use of the heroics of the Boston Marathon bombing as a platform to attack the Obama administration comes a week after he said on NRA News that not enough was done to stop the reelection of President Obama before asking, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he was "not recommending shooting anybody."
With the Senate poised to take up a bill to strengthen gun laws -- including a provision to expand the background check system to cover Internet sales -- The New York Times has published a report detailing the "unregulated bazaars" of Internet arms sales.
Right-wing media and the National Rifle Association have been fervent opponents of proposals to expand the background check system. The Times report indicates just what they have been supporting - an unregulated marketplace in which, at a single website, more than 20,000 ads are posted each week for guns that can be purchased by felons and those with mental illness without undergoing a background check.
The Times detailed how they contacted Omar Roman-Martinez, a Colorado felon banned from owning guns who nonetheless was posting want ads at the gun sales portal Armslist.com seeking to buy a handgun for $250 cash. The Times explained:
The mere fact that Mr. Roman-Martinez was seeking to buy and sell guns on Armslist underscores why extending background checks to the growing world of online sales has become a centerpiece of new gun legislation being taken up in the Senate this week. With no requirements for background checks on most private transactions, a Times examination found, Armslist and similar sites function as unregulated bazaars, where the essential anonymity of the Internet allows unlicensed sellers to advertise scores of weapons and people legally barred from gun ownership to buy them.
The bipartisan Senate compromise under consideration would require that background checks be conducted through federally licensed dealers on all Internetand gun show sales. Gun control advocates argue that such checks might have prevented shootings like that of Zina Haughton, 42, who was killed in October with two other women by her husband, Radcliffe, even though a restraining order barred him from having guns. Mr. Haughton simply contacted a private seller on Armslist and handed over $500 in a McDonald's parking lot for a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol and three magazines.
Seeking a glimpse into the largely hidden online gun market, The Times assembled a database and analyzed several months of ads from Armslist, which has become the dominant player in the arena, and examined numerous smaller sites.
Over the past three months, The Times identified more than 170,000 gun ads on Armslist. Some were for the same guns, making it difficult to calculate just how many guns were actually for sale. Even so, with more than 20,000 ads posted every week, the number is probably in the tens of thousands.
Notably, 94 percent of the ads were posted by ''private parties,'' who, unlike licensed dealers, are not required to conduct background checks.
A 2011 investigation by New York City found that these online sellers are more than willing to sell firearms to those who say they wouldn't be able to pass a background check. But opponents of the background check system are apparently unconcerned about potentially dangerous people getting ahold of firearms.
Although right-wing media have largely claimed that gun violence prevention proposals would have no effect on the incidence of mass shootings, the six-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre highlights how deficient gun laws facilitate the epidemic of gunfire that claims roughly 30,000 American lives each year.
Conservatives in media have suggested that proposals being considered by the Senate to reduce firearm-related violence do not address mass shootings or gun violence generally and even denied that the proposal addresses the mental health issue at all.
However, gun violence prevention legislation under consideration by the Senate would address circumstances that facilitated the Virginia Tech massacre, one of the deadliest school shootings in United States history, which involved the sale of firearms to an individual prohibited by law from owning guns because of a mental health problem.
The Virginia Tech shootings, where 49 individuals were shot in a dormitory and academic building resulting in 32 fatalities, called attention to the fact that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) does not contain complete records of individuals prohibited under federal law from buying a firearm.
Along with felons, fugitives from justice, domestic abusers and other categories of prohibited persons, it is unlawful for an individual with mental health problems who is a danger to themselves or others to purchase a firearm. Roughly 16 months before the Virginia Tech massacre, shooter Seung-Hui Cho had been adjudicated by a judge to be "an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness." This record should have been forwarded to the NICS system and created a disqualifying record for Cho, but instead he was able to obtain firearms after passing background checks on at least two separate occasions.
In 2007, Congress passed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act to provide funding for states to ensure that disqualifying records were forwarded to NICS. Between 2009 and 2011, however, Congress only appropriated 5.3 percent of the authorized funding to improve NICS. Provisions in both the current Senate gun violence prevention package and the Toomey-Manchin proposal would offer states additional incentives in the form of increased funding and disincentives through funding cuts to submit disqualifying records into NICS.
According to a report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, millions of records are missing from NICS. While the overall number of records submitted to NICS has increased, MAIG found that as of October 31, 2011, "Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to the federal database. Seventeen states have submitted fewer than ten mental health records, and four states have not submitted any records."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent will reportedly appear tonight on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront to discuss firearm policy, despite his history of inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation about gun violence. In February, OutFront featured an interview with Nugent where he suggested the government could confiscate firearms, a conspiracy theory that host Erin Burnett and CNN reporter Deb Feyerick later treated as a serious argument.
Nugent's appearance comes just days after he doubled down on his infamous comments that he would be "dead or in jail" because of President Obama's gun policies. During that interview on NRA News, Nugent also complained that not enough was done to stop the reelection of Obama, asking, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he's "not recommending shooting anybody."
Nugent is not a credible figure in the debate over gun laws.
In a February 13 column for birther website WND, Nugent revived false reports to allege that the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre used handguns rather than an assault weapon during his attack. Nugent's claim was based on an erroneous news report often cited by individuals promoting the conspiracy theory that the mass shooting was a hoax. In that same column, Nugent also downplayed the damage done by assault weapons by falsely claiming the AR-15 has more in common with a "squirrel rifle" than a military assault rifle.
In addition to his long history of hateful rhetoric on the topic of race, Nugent has compared the alleged plight of gun owners to civil rights icon Rosa Parks and blamed gun violence on "leftist stooges." By contrast, Nugent has also compared Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder to serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer after they were chosen to lead the administration's gun violence prevention efforts. No stranger to violent rhetoric, Nugent claimed in January that the Obama administration "is attempting to re-implement the tyranny of King George" and that "if you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies."
With the U.S. Senate having voted to take up legislation to strengthen gun laws, which will likely include a bipartisan proposal to expand federal firearms background checks, Media Matters reviews myths the media has promoted about the background check system.
NRA News host Cam Edwards claimed that Buzzfeed promoted the views of Al Qaeda by reporting on a video of an Al Qaeda spokesperson encouraging terrorists to use gun shows to obtain weapons without a background check. This claim comes as a deal has reportedly been struck for legislation that would require a background check for all sales at gun shows.
Edwards also downplayed the well-documented patronage of gun shows by terrorists and other dangerous individuals.
On the April 10 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company, Edwards accused reporter Andrew Kaczynski of "approvingly citing Al Qaeda to bolster gun control arguments," and asked, "I wonder when Buzzfeed is going to start citing Al Qeada's pop culture criticism of the United States too?"
EDWARDS: So Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski is now approvingly citing Al Qaeda to bolster gun control arguments. Remember the chairman of Buzzfeed has said I'm not going to give money to any Democrat candidates who don't vote for gun control. Kaczynski has a piece at Buzzfeed right now, "Even Al Qaeda Thought America's Gun Background Check System Was Weak." Right. I wonder when Buzzfeed is going to start citing Al Qeada's pop culture criticism of the United States too. Kaczynski gives this example of [American Al Qaeda spokesperson] Adam Gadahn who said back in 2011, "America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?" Now Al Qaeda was wrong about our gun laws. But hey, they actually repeated this, you know, President Obama made the same incorrect statement about fully automatic firearms. What the heck. Everybody gets it wrong I guess. It's just weird that Buzzfeed is like, "Well see look Al Qaeda said our gun laws are weak so we should totally change our gun laws." 17 Al Qaeda Cats.
Kathleen Parker, a conservative opinion writer, argued against bans on high-capacity magazines by claiming that "several small magazines" were used in the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech massacres -- even though high-capacity magazines were used in both shootings -- and also falsely suggested that banning assault weapons would necessitate banning all semi-automatic firearms.
In an April 9 column in The Washington Post, Parker falsely suggested that the shooters in those incidents did not use high-capacity magazines:
Limiting the size of magazines also seems like a common-sense solution. Then again, maybe a killer simply would carry several small magazines and swap them out, as Eric Harris did at Columbine High School in 1999 and Seung-Hui Cho did at Virginia Tech in 2007. Harris was armed with a Hi-Point 995 carbine with 13 magazines of 10 rounds each. His partner, Dylan Klebold, carried a semi-automatic handgun and a short-barrel shotgun, which, gun experts will tell you, is the most effective close-range weapon of all. And Cho used two handguns that are not considered "assault weapons."
But like assault weapons, some handguns accept high-capacity magazines. In the 1999 Columbine massacre, where two gunmen killed 13 and injured 21, Dylan Klebold attacked his classmates with an Intratec TEC-9 assault pistol and was found to have brought 52-, 32- and 28-round magazines into the school. Of the 67 rounds fired by Klebold, 55 were fired by the TEC-9, which Klebold was observed carrying -- equipped with a high-capacity magazine -- in an infamous security camera still taken during the shooting. On April 17, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho used two handguns to kill 32 and injure 17 at Virginia Tech. During the shooting, Cho fired 174 rounds from 10- and 15-round magazines. A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) would ban any ammunition feeding device that is capable of accepting more than 10 rounds, the same limit contained in the previous assault weapons ban which expired in 2004.
Parents of some of the children killed in the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School have advocated for a ban on high-capacity magazines after being told by authorities that a number of children were able to escape the shooter when he paused to reload. At a press conference in support of a Connecticut proposal to ban high-capacity magazines in that state, Mark Barden, whose son was killed in the mass shooting, explained, "The more times you have to reload the more opportunities there are to escape and to stop the shooting. In the amount of time -- it was somewhere around four minutes -- he was able to fire 154 rounds. I think that speaks volumes about reducing the size [of magazines]."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent made several inflammatory remarks about the Obama administration during an interview on NRA News, including doubling down on his previous claim that he will be "dead or in jail" if the president was reelected.
During an April 8 interview on NRA News, Nugent also accused the Obama administration of engaging in "jack-booted thuggery" and complained that not enough was done to stop the reelection of Obama, asking, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he's "not recommending shooting anybody."
Nugent told a gathered crowd at the NRA's annual meeting in April 2012 that, "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. Why are you laughing? Do you think that's funny? That's not funny at all. I'm serious as a heart attack." He concluded his remarks with a call for the audience to "ride into that battlefield and chop [Democrats] heads off in November."
Nugent, who is also a columnist for birther website WND, brought up those past comments after NRA News host Cam Edwards falsely claimed that proposed background check legislation would make it so "any time somebody went to your ranch and you loaned them a gun to do some hunting or to do some plinking that would be a five year felony." According to Nugent, those who laughed at him for saying that "if this America-hater, if this freedom-hater, if this enemy of America becomes the president again I'll either be dead or in jail" were ignoring the threat of "draconian felonies":