The National Rifle Association said they were "all in" on the 2012 election. They lost. Now it's the media's responsibility to stop portraying them as an invincible electoral juggernaut.
The media has warned for years that strengthening gun violence prevention laws is impossible because of the political power of the gun lobby. This claim was always flawed; studies show that the NRA and its allies do not wield outsized power, and common sense gun policies are favored by large majorities of Americans and even, in some cases, NRA members.
But yesterday's election results provide incontrovertible evidence that the media's portrayal of the politics surrounding the gun issue has been inaccurate.
The NRA's mantra throughout the election season was that they were "all in" to defeat President Obama. In his cover story for the election issue of the NRA magazine America's First Freedom, executive vice president Wayne LaPierre urged readers to "send President Obama his walking papers," writing, "This is it. We're down to the wire. It's now or never, victory or defeat. The time for talking is over. On Election Day, Nov. 6 -- only a month from now -- Americans will vote either to defend or surrender freedom in the most consequential national decision in U.S. history."
The NRA backed up LaPierre's words with more than $11 million in often misleading television, radio, and digital ads, direct mail, and other election spending attacking Obama and supporting Mitt Romney, with much of the spending earmarked for swing states.
On Election Day, President Obama was re-elected, winning at least 303 electoral votes and a majority of the popular vote.
Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent is responding to President Obama's re-election by saying that Americans "voted for economic & spiritual suicide" because Obama will "destroy America." He also referred to Obama's supporters as "subhuman varmint[s]" and "Pimps whores & welfare brats & their soulless supporters."
MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe suggested that gun violence prevention is a killer issue that hurts Democrats, attributing the party's success in recapturing the House in 2006 to Nancy Pelosi taking the issue off the table. This fantastical claim ignores the variety of issues on which the 2006 election actually turned, including the handling of the war in Iraq; the fact that several strong gun restrictions were and remain extremely popular; and that the Democrats lost the majority in 2010 without taking action on guns.
Discussing what he saw as the failures of the Republican Party during this election, Wolffe said on the November 6 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:
WOLFFE: I don't think that the choice of character what really their problem this time around. It's not that their profile didn't fit. They need a nominee the next time around who can lead this party in a different direction. You know, we're talking about the House and the Senate and where they're going to end up, Nancy Pelosi, who gets a lot of criticism for being supposedly arch-liberal, she did one big thing to help Democrats take majority in the House, which is to say, we're not going to stick with gun control. You know, if you want to be a Southern Democrat and you want to not talk about guns at all, you do what you like. Republicans need to have a candidate who will say, on abortion you can be pro-life, you can be pro-choice, it doesn't matter.
While the Democratic Party did make an effort to recruit candidates who opposed strong gun violence prevention laws during the 2006 election cycle, it beggars belief to claim that that effort is what paved the way for their victory.
The Washington Post concluded at the time that the Democrats were able to take back the House due to "an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq and a rash of scandals tainting GOP incumbents in several states." Exit polls also showed the economy and terrorism as top issues for voters.
If avoiding the supposed stain of being in favor of gun violence prevention had been as important as Wolffe suggests in 2006, one would expect the National Rifle Association to have had some impact. But the purportedly pro-gun Democratic class of 2006 made big gains even though not a single member was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and all four NRA-endorsed Republican challengers lost to their Democratic opponents that year.
Right-wing media outlets are reporting that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of gun violence prevention, denied the National Guard entry into Brooklyn to aid victims in the wake of Hurricane Sandy because members of the National Guard carry firearms. In fact, during the press conference the critics are citing, Bloomberg said he opposed having the Guard patrol the streets because he believed the New York Police Department was sufficiently equipped to protect the public and that the Guard would be better used in locations with smaller police forces.
During an October 31 press conference, Bloomberg was asked to respond to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's request for additional National Guard resources to deter criminal activity. Bloomberg responded that "The National Guard has been helpful, but the NYPD is the only people we want on the street with guns," adding that "[w]e don't need it" and that the troops would be better used for that purpose in "locations upstate and into surrounding states where they don't have a police department the size of New York."
REPORTER: Mr. Mayor, Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz has a question, additional National Guard in Brooklyn, do you agree?
BLOOMBERG: No, we appreciate the help. The National Guard has been helpful, but the NYPD is the only people we want on the street with guns. We don't need it. There has been one or two minor outbreakings, disgraceful as they may be, looting reported in the paper, but the vast bulk of people are doing the right thing. And in Brooklyn people are safe the same way they are in the rest of the city. We have the resources, the NYPD is 100 percent confident that we can protect the public, we've been doing this for an awful long time. You just have to take a look at the crime rate to understand how good a job this is. And the National Guard has plenty of responsibilities. There are plenty of locations upstate and into surrounding states where they don't have a police department the size of New York, and they can use help from the state, and that's where they should be.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly sharply critiqued a Montana self-defense law that has been cited by the local prosecutor as the reason that Brice Harper will not face charges after fatally shooting Dan Fredenberg in Harper's garage on September 22. Fredenberg, who was unarmed, entered the garage to confront Harper who was having an affair with his wife.
During Thursday's segment on American Live, Kelly stated "it looks like that guy who did the shooting, who was having the affair is going to get away with it" and said that Harper "is getting off. Why? Because of the 'stand your ground' law or the 'castle doctrine' in Montana." Kelly also expressed the belief that the law effectively makes the punishment for unlawfully entering someone's property "the death penalty."
Montana's "castle doctrine" law allows an individual to use deadly force while in their home if the individual has a reasonable apprehension of assault. The deadly force requirement was created in 2009 by HB 228, a bill that expanded the circumstances under which deadly force could be used in self-defense and also loosened rules on the carrying of concealed weapons in public.
While the bill was under consideration, National Rifle Association lobbyist Brian Judy called it "our most important bill of the session." The proposed legislation, however, was opposed by some members of law enforcement who cited public safety concerns.
Even as numerous states have expanded self-defense laws in recent years (often at the behest of the NRA), Montana's "castle doctrine" law stands out for the extremely low requirements that an individual must satisfy before using deadly force. Under Montana law, an individual may use deadly force on someone who unlawfully enters his or her property if that individual "reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent an assault."
The National Rifle Association's media arm, NRA News, recently downplayed the public safety threat posed by a loophole in federal law that allows domestic abusers and other prohibited persons to purchase firearms without undergoing a background check. But the alleged perpetrator in an October 21 shooting at a Brookfield, Wisconsin spa that left three dead and four wounded reportedly abused that same loophole to obtain his firearm.
Today the Associated Press reported that Radcliffe Haughton purchased a handgun without a background check from a private seller, and obtained the weapon two days after becoming subject to a restraining order that required him to turn any firearms he owned into police.
On August 29, Cam Edwards, the host of Cam & Company on NRA News, obfuscated the loophole during a segment in which he expressed opposition to a proposal by Mayors Against Illegal Guns to require background checks on nearly all gun sales.
CAM EDWARDS: As you know, the gun laws in this country are the same for private citizens at gun shows or at their home. The laws in the country are the same for federally licensed firearms retailers whether they are at their brick-and-mortar store or whether they are manning a table at a gun show. The laws don't change based on the location.
Edwards' focus on where guns are sold is a distraction from the real issue: the lax regulation of private gun sales creates a venue for prohibited persons, like Haughton, to obtain firearms.
During tonight's presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney echoed a false claim from the National Rifle Association's radio show Cam & Company that whitewashes the former Massachusetts governor's record on guns.
News outlets will surely report on what was a contentious exchange between candidates on an issue that has thus far been ignored in the presidential race. But will they get to the bottom of Romney's past support for gun violence prevention measures?
Romney echoed the NRA talking point that an assault weapons ban he signed into law while governor of Massachusetts was agreeable to that state's leading gun advocacy group after moderator Candy Crowley suggested that his position on assault weapons has changed in recent years.
CROWLEY: Governor, if I could, the question was about these assault weapons that once were banned and are no longer banned. I know that you signed an assault weapons ban when you were in Massachusetts. Obviously with this question, you no longer do support that. Why is that given the kind of violence we see sometimes with these mass killings? Why is it that you've changed your mind?
ROMNEY: Well, Candy, actually in my state the pro-gun folks and the anti-gun folks came together and put together a piece of legislation. And it's referred to as an assault weapon ban, but it had -- at the signing of the bill both the pro-gun and the anti-gun people came together because it provided opportunities for both that both wanted.
The NRA has endorsed Romney and recently used its NRA News radio outlet to rewrite history in an attempt to hide Romney's past support for tough gun control measures.
During the October 2 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News, host Cam Edwards told viewers that Romney's gun policy while governor was in line with the positions of Gun Owners Action League (GOAL), the Massachusetts state gun advocacy group. Edwards also claimed that Romney loosened restrictions on assault weapons while governor instead of enhancing them. Neither claim is accurate.
The second presidential debate, moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley, featured a question and extended discussion on the potential reinstatement of an assault weapons ban. Previously, debate moderators in 2008 and Jim Lehrer of PBS' NewsHour, the moderator of the first presidential debate, had ignored the issue of gun violence prevention.
Introducing the town hall participant who asked the candidates what they would do to limit the availability of assault weapons, Crowley noted that the topic of gun violence is one "that we hear a lot, both over the Internet and from this crowd."
CROWLEY: Because what I -- what I want to do, Mr. President, stand there a second, because I want to introduce you to Nina Gonzalez, who brought up a question that we hear a lot, both over the Internet and from this crowd.
GONZALEZ: President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?
During today's meeting of a Florida taskforce that is investigating the "Kill At Will" law implicated in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, National Rifle Association representative Marion Hammer said that the NRA was "proud to have been a part of the process" in enacting the law in 2005.
We believe the law is doing what the legislature intended. It is protecting the rights of people who defend themselves against attackers and intruders. The NRA supported this law. We are proud to have been a part of the process. We are proud to say we worked with legislators from both sides of the aisle to protect self-defense rights. And although there may be other bodies of law that do not go far enough to protect the innocent and the righteous, we don't see any basic need to change the premise of this law.
Hammer, who in closing stated that the NRA "see[s] the law as protecting freedom," served as president of the National Rifle Association between 1995 and 1998 and remains the organization's top lobbyist in Florida. She is hardly the first member of National Rifle Association leadership to express full-throated support for "Kill At Will." In April, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox told attendees of the NRA's annual meeting that despite "post-media hysteria" in the weeks following Trayvon Martin's death the gun rights organization "will defend those laws." At the same annual gathering, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre blamed controversy surrounding the law, called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents, on the national news media.
Hammer previously acknowledged in an interview with Media Matters that the NRA helped draft the law and "support[ed] it through the process." This account was confirmed by Florida Today reporter Paul Flemming who stated, "There is no doubt about it. Marion Hammer, the NRA lobbyist here, former president of the NRA wrote the legislation and she would tell you so."
If one scene defines last week's premiere of Ted Nugent's Gun Country, set in the survivalist-thick scrublands surrounding Waco, Texas, it is the show's unnervingly giddy and pony-tailed host standing behind a .50-caliber Browning armor-piercing machine gun and blowing a bunch of holes in the four-inch reinforced steel door used by a team of local "preppers" to protect their bunker armory against an attack of the undead. Neither the machine gun nor the vault hatch fills any conceivable civilian-defense need, but the show, like the gun culture it celebrates, is all about overkill. An excited Nugent declares his intent to upgrade the defenses around his own bunker gun closet, and after a commercial break appears on screen pumping off rounds from the preppers' Zombie Apocalypse chainsaw-shotgun.
It's the sort of weapon you'd expect to see wielded with glee in a Dawn of the Dead remake, not on the flagship network of a media behemoth claiming a science-educational mission. But such is the state of programming these days on the Discovery Channel, long overdue for an honest update of its tagline, "Science, History, Space, Tech, Sharks, News!"
It is admittedly quaint to say in 2012 that a billion-dollar cable corporation has failed to live up to its stated values, and we're at least several decades past debating whether television can become the productive social force some imagined during the medium's infancy. Indeed, Discovery's devolution was notable a full decade ago, when the science journalist Chris Mooney penned an op-ed for the Washington Post bemoaning its programming turn away from science documentaries and toward the paranormal, the sensational, and the idiotic. Discovery Communications, noted Mooney, touted its goal of helping young viewers "critically analyze" information even as its properties such as Animal Planet increasingly aired fare like The Pet Psychic. A spokeswoman for the company claimed at the time that such shows represented a "whimsical take" on the company's science mission.
The Pet Psychic is A Brief History of Time compared to many of the shows now airing on the channel. In recent years Discovery has joined other companies in its former documentary niche in largely abandoning in-depth science programming in favor of its antipode, what might best be called anti-science: shows that glorify stupidity and celebrate a giggling, Beavis and Butthead-style pleasure in blowing stuff up and killing things.
Discovery is not filling a munitions void here so much as chasing the lowest common ratings denominator; The Outdoor Network and The History Channel first pioneered programming for the demo Nugent calls "gun nuts." But Discovery has gone furthest down the rabbit-hunting hole. Among the channel's slew of reality shows are three and counting devoted to portraying the patriotic fun to be had with high-caliber automatic weapons: American Guns, Sons of Guns, and the special (or is it pilot?) that aired last week, Ted Nugent's Gun Country, which officially pushes the phenomenon beyond the reach of parody. It is as if ESPN began airing a show called Frog Baseball Tonight.
A wave of mass shootings have occurred over the past few years, often garnering extensive media coverage. Despite those tragic attacks and the roughly 30,000 deaths by firearms that occur every year, moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS' NewsHour failed to ask the presidential candidates about gun violence during the first presidential debate, the only forum specifically dedicated to domestic policy.
14 mass shootings have been committed over the past four years, according to an analysis by Mother Jones. These include recent tragedies that rocked the American public this year, such as the attack at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and an assault at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Last year, a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, nearly claimed the life of then-U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords.
Nonetheless, in the first presidential debate for the 2012 election, Lehrer asked no questions on the topic of gun violence. This continues the troubling pattern established during the 2008 presidential debates, which similarly featured no discussion of the topic even in the wake of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech the previous year. Past presidential debates have featured this subject regularly: A Media Matters review found that in 1992, the second debate spent over six minutes on it; in 1996, the first debate gave it almost four minutes; in 2000, the second and third debates devoted more than 13 minutes combined; and in 2004, the third debate spent nearly three minutes on it.
On Wednesday, the Discovery Channel aired "an inside look at American gun culture" starring controversial National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent. Discovery Channel documented Nugent shooting a scimitar-horned oryx, an animal extinct in the wild, and also showed him spending time with a group of heavily armed doomsday "preppers."
Now the question remains: Will the Discovery Channel continue to allow Nugent to use the channel as a "resource" to help him win the "culture war"?
In a September 26 press release, Discovery Channel billed Ted Nugent's Gun Country as a "one-hour special." But during an appearance on Armed America Radio, Nugent stated that the Discovery Channel "want[s] to do it as a regular feature." He told listeners to "expect that there will be at least a dozen shows a year."
MARK WALTERS, HOST: Ted, is this going to be a regular series?
NUGENT: Well just the title, Ted Nugent's Gun Country, I mean even if Discovery doesn't air anymore shows it's still alive and well. They want to do it as a regular feature. We expect that there will be at least a dozen shows a year.
NUGENT: Every month. And we are really excited about it. I think it came off great. We trained with a bunch of zombie killers, we did a lot of ammunition testing.
A graphic accompanying an October 1 promotional appearance on NRA News described Ted Nugent's Gun Country as a "series."
Last night, the Discovery Channel aired "an inside look at American gun culture" featuring Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent. Media Matters previously noted that Nugent often uses inflammatory language against the Obama administration, women, religious and ethnic minorities and members of the LGBT community.
On the day that Ted Nugent's Gun Country aired, Nugent accused the "lying enemies of America" Obama administration of treason and "criminal complicity to murder." In promotional radio appearances for his special, Nugent accused "anti-American" Barack Obama of only feigning respect for veterans and declared his intention to use the Discovery Channel as a resource to help him win the "culture war."
Ted Nugent appeared this past Sunday on Armed America Radio to promote his special on gun culture that will air on the Discovery Channel tonight. During his appearance, The Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member went on a sustained rant against President Obama.
Nugent made a number of wild-eyed accusations against Obama and his policies, referring to the president as "a Mao Zedong wannabe." In his view, Obama's administration is "anti-American, anti-quality of life, anti-freedom, anti-liberty, and anti-being the best that you can be" while the president himself is "against the very spirit" of "the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution."
Nugent also accuses the president of implementing communist policies, while pretending to honor fallen U.S. soldiers at sites like the Vietnam Wall, an act which Nugent calls "one of the most vile, repugnant, obscene gestures in the history of American politics."
This morning Ted Nugent accused the Obama administration of treason and referred to them as "enemies of America." Tonight, the controversial Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member will be the subject of a Discovery Channel special promoting "an inside look at gun culture" through his eyes.
Nugent issued the comments on his twitter feed minutes after using that outlet to promote the Discovery special:
Nugent has a long record of violent and inflammatory rhetoric about President Obama as well as women and ethnic and religious minorities. Discovery has nonetheless decided to promote Nugent, praising him as a "rock and roll legend" and "strong and vocal advocate for guns, hunting and all things America." For his part, Nugent has declared the special an opportunity to promote his side in the "culture war."