PBS' Frontline documentary on the history of the National Rifle Association pushed the common media myth that the gun organization always wins and told the debunked story of how the NRA was supposedly responsible for the defeat of Al Gore in 2000.
On January 6, Frontline aired the hour-long feature Gunned Down: The Power Of The NRA, which was directed by filmmaker Michael Kirk. The documentary covered the history of the NRA from when the group began to become politicized in the 1960s through legislative efforts in 2013 following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Gunned Down overstates the ability of the NRA to influence election outcomes. The gun group's influence on federal gun legislation is often credited to the theory that politicians who oppose the NRA will be defeated when running for reelection. A statistical analysis of recent House and Senate races has disproven this notion. Still, mainstream news outlets often advance the myth of NRA electoral dominance.
Gunned Down repeatedly inflates the supposed strength of the gun group based on commentary from former NRA officials -- no current official would talk to Frontline -- and by citing what is considered conventional wisdom in Washington D.C.
While explaining the NRA's successful lobbying to defeat federal legislation to close the gun show loophole following the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, Gunned Down turned to a former NRA spokesperson who said of the NRA's membership "if it had one political trait, they vote, it's that simple. You are a politician, you want to get elected, you want votes, NRA has votes."
The NRA has often attempted to take credit for Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. At the gun group's annual meeting in 2002, executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre told the crowd, "You are why Al Gore isn't in the White House."
Gunned Down gave baseless credence to these claims.
The Washington Times attacked a program started by the Bush administration, which offers free gun locks to veterans, by conspiratorially suggesting that the program could be used to create a gun registry.
In a January 6 article, Times White House correspondent Dave Boyer wrote that the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) offer of free gun locks is "raising concerns about a government-run gun registry" because a letter received by veterans asks them to return "their name, address and number of guns in the home" if they would like gun locks.
The article quoted an anonymous veteran who suggested that the letter could represent evidence of "a gun registry in disguise." The source also told the Times that he feared the letter would spark "rumors" that "Big Brother is going to take [veterans'] guns away."
The free gun lock program that the Times is fearmongering about started in 2008, during the administration of President George W. Bush, according to NPR. The program was modeled after Project ChildSafe, which is a project of the gun industry trade group National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). In 2009, the VA began to provide funding to NSSF, an ardent opponent of gun registries, to provide free gun locks to veterans.
According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, "At least two studies have found that the risk of suicide increases in homes where guns are kept loaded and/or unlocked."
The research group whose misleading poll question was heavily touted by the media to suggest "growing public support for gun rights" has acknowledged that the question was flawed.
Last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey that asked respondents whether it is more important to "control gun ownership" or to "protect the right of Americans to own guns." The poll showed increased support for the gun rights answer and a drop in support for regulating guns. The results were reported by numerous media outlets, especially by the conservative press.
But academics from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research criticized the poll question in statements to Media Matters, saying that the query forces respondents to choose between two options that are not mutually exclusive and pointing out that polls consistently show broad public backing for specific gun regulations, such as expanding the background check system to make it more difficult for felons and the mentally ill to obtain weapons.
"Pew's question presents one side emphasizing the protection of individual rights versus restricting gun ownership. The question's implicit and incorrect assumption is that regulations of gun sales infringe on gun owners' rights and control their ability to own guns," the Center's director Daniel Webster explained. "The reality is that the vast majority of gun laws restrict the ability of criminals and other dangerous people to get guns and place minimal burdens on potential gun purchasers such as undergoing a background check. Such policies enjoy overwhelming public support."
Carroll Doherty, Pew's director of political research, has now reportedly "acknowledged the flaw" in the question. Mother Jones reported:
Carroll Doherty, PEW's director of political research, acknowledged the flaw. "Is it a perfect question? Probably not," he told Mother Jones. "This is in no way intended to say there's not support for background checks and some measures aimed at specific policies either [in Congress] or in the states. Mr. Webster is right to put it in context."
Doherty told Mother Jones that Pew "has asked that same question in surveys since 1993, with the aim of tracking general public sentiment on gun policy over time."
The National Rifle Association's news show Cam & Company hosted an attorney to attack as "frivolous" and "irresponsible" a lawsuit filed against NRA corporate donor Bushmaster for making the gun used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
On December 13, several Newtown families sued Bushmaster under a "negligent entrustment" theory for the gun manufacturer's role in putting an assault weapon into the hands of a gunman who killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. The lawsuit also named Bushmaster's parent company, Remington Arms Company, as well as the seller and the distributor of the gun.
Steve Halbrook, an attorney who writes about the Second Amendment and other gun issues, joined Cam & Company on December 16 to repeatedly suggest that the lawsuit was "frivolous," call for the complaint to be dismissed, and argue that Bushmaster may be entitled to compensation for attorney's fees. Halbrook is also the author of a book that advances the ahistorical claim that gun restrictions were responsible for Hitler's rise to power and served as counsel for the NRA in the landmark Supreme Court case McDonald v. Chicago.)
During his appearance, Halbrook said that the plaintiffs -- who are family members of teachers and children who were killed at Newtown, as well as one survivor of the attack -- and their lawyers were "extremely irresponsible" to file the lawsuit.
Fox News used the Sydney, Australia hostage situation to question whether Australia's strict gun laws should be loosened, but offered no commentary on Pennsylvania's relatively looser gun laws in their reports the same day when a man went on a shooting rampage, killing six. Americans are murdered with guns at a rate more than ten times greater than Australians.
On December 15, Fox News heavily reported on a hostage situation in a Sydney, Australia chocolate shop. A man, who according to authorities had "a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability," used a shotgun to hold café patrons hostage for 16 hours. After gunfire was heard police stormed the shop. The hostage-taker and two hostages were killed. One hostage was reportedly killed while trying to disarm the hostage-taker, while it is unclear if the other one was shot by the hostage taker or caught in the crossfire.
As Fox reported on developments out of Sydney, the conservative network also provided updates from Pennsylvania where Bradley William Stone allegedly went on a shooting rampage, killing his ex-wife and five of his former in-laws. One former in-law was wounded. Police are currently searching for Stone. (UPDATE: Stone has been found dead, reportedly of self-inflicted wounds.)
Tellingly, Fox News used the Sydney incident to raise questions about Australia's gun law system, while raising no such questions about looser gun laws in the United States during December 15 and December 16 mentions of the Pennsylvania spree killing on Fox programs Fox & Friends, Fox & Friends First, The Five, On the Record, America's News Headquarters, Special Report with Bret Baier, Shepard Smith Reporting, The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, or America's Newsroom.
Conservative media had worked to cast Murthy as a radical for his uncontroversial stance that gun violence is a public health issue and criticized his supposed lack of qualifications.
The conservative media attacks against Murthy began in early March. Coverage of his nomination focused on his past acknowledgement that gun violence affects public health, which conservative media spun as evidence Murthy is obsessed with gun regulations. (Murthy has actually said his focus as Surgeon General will not be on gun violence, but rather obesity.)
Fox contributor Katie Pavlich claimed that Murthy is "rabidly anti-gun" and "must be stopped," and Fox & Friends co-host Peter Johnson, Jr. argued that, if confirmed as Surgeon General, Murthy would make the examining room about "about party registration or about gun registration" rather than medicine. Fox hosts also worked to downplay Murthy's considerable accomplishments and suggested that he was unqualified to be "our nation's doctor" because "he hasn't done much in his career yet," all while arguing he would turn the Surgeon General role "into a hyper-partisan position." These arguments became the basis for an extended smear campaign on Fox News and conservative blogs.
In fact, Murthy's stance on firearms is common within the medical community. The American Medical Association (AMA) agrees that gun violence "has reached epidemic proportions" and has argued that the medical profession carries an obligation to combat gun violence. The Institute of Medicine has also advocated for a "public health approach" to fight gun violence. Furthermore, Murthy's credentials were endorsed by a broad array of health care groups including the American Public Health Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, and Trust for America's Health.
Conservative activist Gavin Seim, the organizer of a December 13 protest against Washington state's new background check law, is an anti-government extremist who participated in the standoff at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch and defended the rancher's racist comments. He has also suggested a violent revolution may be necessary if he is not satisfied with the outcome of his protest.
Media outlets are heavily touting a poll from Pew Research Center supposedly showing "growing public support for gun rights," but Pew's polling question is flawed because it presents a false choice between regulating gun ownership and protecting gun rights. In response to the Pew poll, a prominent gun violence researcher said, "I could not think of a worse way to ask questions about public opinions about gun policies."
On December 10, Pew released the results of a periodic survey that asks respondents whether it is more important to "control gun ownership" or to "protect the right of Americans to own guns." Since January 2013, support for the gun rights answer is up seven points to 52 percent, while support for regulating guns has fallen five points to 46 percent.
According to experts, the question is flawed because respondents have to pick between support for gun regulation or gun rights, as if those premises were mutually exclusive.
Academics from a top gun violence research program are criticizing the wording of Pew's polling question. In a statement, Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said, "I could not think of a worse way to ask questions about public opinions about gun policies."
The editorial board of the Reno Gazette-Journal concluded that a Nevada proposal to expand background checks on gun sales is unlikely to reduce gun violence, but their argument ignored how these measures stop dangerous individuals from obtaining guns.
On December 6, the Gazette-Journal published an editorial arguing that while the "sentiment" behind a likely 2016 initiative to expand criminal checks to most gun transfers in Nevada is "a good one," it would not prevent mass shootings like those in Aurora, CO, Newtown, CT, and Tucson, AZ and therefore "is unlikely to be effective" at reducing gun violence.
While the editorial focused heavily on the supposed non-effect of gun background checks in decreasing mass shootings, it glossed over the effectiveness of background checks in reducing the ability of violent criminals to obtain guns.
The primary purpose of a criminal background check on a gun sale is to stop people prohibited under federal or state law from obtaining firearms used in everyday gun violence. Since the early 1990s, the FBI-administered National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and state background checks systems have stopped more than two million gun sales to prohibited persons. Of more than one million federal denials processed by NICS since 1998, the majority of denials were for individuals convicted of felonies or serious misdemeanors. Status as a fugitive from justice or a having domestic violence conviction were the second and third most common reasons for a denial.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent reacted to the decision of a Missouri grand jury to not indict police officer Darren Wilson by attacking "black klansmen" and claiming "millions" of African-Americans "slaughter" each other "every day."
The grand jury was considering whether Wilson should be charged with a crime over his fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown on August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri.
In a November 24 post on Facebook, Nugent, who is a columnist for several conservative websites, offered "lessons from Ferguson," writing, "Don't let your kids growup to be thugs who think they can steal, assault & attack cops as a way of life & badge of black (dis)honor. Don't preach your racist bullshit 'no justice no peace' as blabbered by Obama's racist Czar Al Not So Sharpton & their black klansmen."
He also wrote, "dont claim that 'black lives matter' when you ignore the millions you abort & slaughter each & every day by other blacks," and concluded, "So quit killin each other you fuckin idiots. Drive safely":
Right-wing media are claiming that former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attikisson was "targeted" by the Obama administration because a Department of Justice press aide complained to CBS about an article Attkisson wrote about Operation Fast and Furious. In fact, the story DOJ was criticizing inaccurately accused Attorney General Eric Holder of lying to Congress.
On November 20, conservative website PJ Media first reported on October 2011 emails obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by conservative group Judicial Watch. The emails contain a conversation between then-DOJ office of public affairs director Tracy Schmaler and White House communications aide Eric Schultz criticizing a CBSNews.com piece written by Attkisson.
Schmaler wrote that she was going to contact Attkisson's editor and CBS's Bob Schieffer and called Attkisson "out of control." In a later email, Schmaler wrote that the contention of Attkisson's article was "bullshit."
PJ Media characterized the exchange as a "bombshell" that "provides smoking gun proof that the Obama White House and the Eric Holder Justice Department colluded to get CBS News to block reporter Sharyl Attkisson."
Conservative blogs ran with PJ Media's article, which was eventually picked up by the Drudge Report. Attkisson reacted to PJ Media's article on Glenn Beck's radio show, saying, "If you dare to go after them, they will target you, try to assassinate your character, they'll call your bosses, they'll email. We know all of this is going on, but we now have emails that they've been withholding under executive privilege that refer to this."
The story also quickly made its way to Fox News, where America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer reported the development as "more bombshell emails revealing how the White House targeted former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson."
That the Obama administration would complain about Attkisson's reporting is unremarkable -- the central contention of the article they were complaining about was in fact inaccurate, as later confirmed by a 2012 independent investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.
Conservative media are freaking out after Jay Leno canceled an upcoming gig at the gun industry's 2015 trade show, the National Shooting Sports Foundation's (NSSF) SHOT Show, calling the comedian a "coward" who has "no spine." The NSSF had responded to the deadly 2012 school shooting in the association's hometown of Newtown, CT, by opposing all proposed gun safety measures.
Conservative media outlets are misleadingly promoting the report that a Washington state museum will return some firearms on display to their owners following the passage of a new background check initiative, while ignoring statements from law enforcement that there is no legal reason to remove the guns.
On November 4, a majority of Washington voters passed Initiative 594, a proposal to require a background check on nearly all gun sales in the state, with some exceptions for temporary transfers and transfers between family members.
In response to the new law, which takes effect December 4, the Lynden Pioneer Museum released a statement claiming, "we have to return some unique WW2 era firearms to their owners on Dec 3rd" because "as of Dec 4th, we would be in violation of the law if we had loaned firearms that had not undergone the background check procedure."
The museum is misreading I-594. The law is not retroactive, so the museum is not required to take any action when I-594 becomes law. Furthermore, the founder of the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum told the Associated Press that it was unlikely a museum returning a loaned firearm to its owner would require a background check either:
Seattle police officer James Ritter, who founded the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum, said he doubted that returning a gun to its rightful owner would be considered a "transfer" under the law. Regardless, he said it was exceptionally unlikely that investigators would target museum exhibits for prosecution.
Fox News Radio host Alan Colmes confronted Gun Owners of America (GOA) executive director Larry Pratt with several of Pratt's inflammatory comments. Media outlets frequently give Pratt a platform to push for weaker gun laws without pressing him on his extremist views.
Pratt, whose GOA group is considered to the right of the National Rifle Association, is one of the founding members of the 1990s militia movement and has had past associations with white supremacists. He often appears on fringe right-wing radio shows to offer incendiary commentary, recently stating that Obama supports stronger gun laws to keep Americans from using firearms "to keep people like him from becoming tyrants."
But Alan Colmes provided a textbook case of how interviewers should handle Pratt during a November 18 interview on his radio show, forcing the gun activist to address and expound on past comments suggesting politicians should fear being shot by GOA supporters and that President Obama may foment a race war.
Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt said in an interview that President Obama "clearly doesn't like the fact that the American people can own guns because we might just want to use them to keep people like him from becoming tyrants."
Pratt, who heads a gun rights group considered to the right of even the National Rifle Association, made the comment during a November 17 appearance on Newsmax TV's America's Forum. He also bragged that his group was responsible for the 2013 defeat of a U.S. Senate bill to expand background checks on gun sales.
The latest inflammatory remark from Pratt comes hours after the release of a video project by The American Independent Institute (TAII) and gun safety group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) on the state of the gun lobby that discusses how media turn to Pratt for commentary on the gun issue, often while ignoring his lengthy history of extremism and past association with white supremacists.
Pratt's claim on America's Forum came during a discussion of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The purpose of the treaty is to prevent the transfer of arms to human rights abusers and it would have no impact on domestic gun laws. Nonetheless, GOA, the NRA, and conservative media often advance the conspiracy theory that the ATT will be used by international entities to register or even confiscate privately held guns in the United States.
While the Senate has thus far refused to ratify the ATT -- as it has been dogged by right-wing conspiracy theories -- Pratt suggested that Obama would use "international community agreement" to unilaterally enact the provisions of the ATT. According to Pratt, Obama's motivation for this extra-constitutional action would be "because he clearly doesn't like the fact that the American people can own guns because we might just want to use them to keep people like him from becoming tyrants."