Gary Kleck, a Florida State University criminologist who is the source of a debunked claim that critics say dramatically exaggerated the frequency of defensive gun use, recently served on a committee tasked by the federal government with creating a potential research agenda focusing on ways to minimize gun violence.
The committee, formed by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to an executive order President Obama signed in January following the Newtown school shooting, recently issued its report, titled "Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence."
The committee of 14, led by Alan I. Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was tasked with developing "a potential research agenda focusing on the public health aspects of firearm-related violence-- its causes, approaches to interventions that could prevent it, and strategies to minimize its health burden." The report calls for a research program to be implemented by the CDC and other agencies and private foundations and "designed to produce impacts in 3-5 years" that focuses on the characteristics of firearm violence and risk and protective factors, among other issues.
Kleck is best known for his 1995 study with Marc Gertz that claims that up to 2.5 million incidents of defensive gun use occur every year. Media figures and the National Rifle Association frequently cite this study to bolster their claims that owning firearms makes people safer.
But critics point to the study's "serious methodological difficulties" -- it extrapolates a very rare event, the slightly more than one percent of respondents to a survey that said they had used a gun in self-defense over the past year, to the entire population of 200 million adults. This means that even slight deficiencies in the accuracy of the survey, whether due to false positives or a sample that is not perfectly indicative of the overall population, can lead to large differences in the result. Harvard Injury Control Research Center Director David Hemenway has labeled Kleck's result "an enormous overestimate" and pointed out that the results require one to believe, for instance, that "burglary victims use their guns in self-defense more than 100% of the time."
Contra Kleck, data from the National Crime Victimization survey produced by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests that there are roughly 100,000 instances of defensive gun use per year.
Right-wing media have pointed to the report's citation of Kleck's research to claim that it proves that "guns actually save lives." In fact, the report's treatment of the criminologist's work is more complex, typically contrasting his results with other studies that show dramatically different results. For example, the report states (emphasis added):
Estimates of gun use for self-defense vary widely, in part due to definitional differences for self-defensive gun use, different data sources, and questions about accuracy of data, particularly when self-reported. The NCVS has estimated 60,000 to 120,000 defensive uses of guns per year. Based on data from l992 and l994, the NCVS found 116,000 incidents (McDowall et al., 1998). Another body of research estimated annual gun use for self-defense to be much higher, up to 2.5 million incidents, suggesting that self-defense can be an important crime deterrent (Kleck and Gertz, 1995). Some studies on the association between self-defensive gun use and injury or loss to the victim have found less loss and injury when a firearm is used (Kleck, 2001b).
Similarly (emphasis added):
Defensive uses of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed (Cook and Ludwig, 1996; Kleck, 2001a). Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year (Kleck, 2001a), in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008 (BJS, 2010). On the other hand, some scholars point to radically lower estimate of only 108,000 annual defensive uses based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (Cook et al., 1997). The variation in these numbers remains a controversy in the field. The estimate of 3 million defensive uses per year is based on an extrapolation from a small number of responses taken from more than 19 national surveys. The former estimate of 108,000 is difficult to interpret because respondents were not asked specifically about defensive gun use.
A spokesperson for the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council would not comment on Kleck's controversial presence on the committee, but explained that the committee was selected by staff based on "folks that are nominated" with an eye toward providing "enough expertise to address all of the questions" at issue as well as "these different perspectives and points of view with the expertise." She stressed that the slate was approved by the president of the National Academy of Science and that all members must sign off on the report before its release.
Kleck and Leshner did not respond to requests for comment.
Some of the country's top news editors are criticizing a new Louisiana law that punishes journalists who publicly identify gun owners with concealed weapons permits.
At the American Society of News Editors annual conference being held this week in Washington, D.C., several major newspaper editors spoke out against the law during interviews with Media Matters, with some saying that it appears unconstitutional.
"It seems absurd on its face," said Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman said. "In fact, it seems to me on the surface it is a prior restraint issue."
"Prior restraint" is government action that prohibits speech, and with few exceptions has been found by the Supreme Court to violate the First Amendment.
The Louisiana law, signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal on June 19, sets penalties of fines of up to $10,000 or six months in jail for those who publish "any information regarding the identity of any person who applied for or received a concealed handgun permit." The law includes exceptions for cases in which the concealed handgun holder is charged with a felony offense involving the use of a handgun.
The law stems from the controversial decision by The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., to publish names and addresses of those who had conceal carry permits in their area last year. The information was obtained legally through open public records; in Louisiana, such records are closed to the public.
Journalists in the state have spoken out against the bill, arguing that it chills and criminalizes journalists for doing their jobs. That argument found support at the ASNE convention.
"The reporting of factual information in the public interest is something I support," said Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, who added that it must be handled carefully, but should not be outlawed.
Martin Baron, editor of The Washington Post, also said he would not necessarily publish such information, but opposes legal restrictions.
"I don't think media organizations should have to pay a price," he said. "It is up to the news organization to decide if it should be published. I think that is for every individual news organization to make that decision on their own."
Margaret Sullivan, public editor of The New York Times and former editor of The Buffalo News, said "I am not in favor of punishing newspapers who serve the public by getting information out there."
Major newspapers and cable and broadcast media have ignored Louisiana's passage of a law that makes it a crime for journalists to publicly identify concealed handgun permit holders or applicants.
On June 19, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) signed a bill that sets penalties of up to six months in jail and $10,000 for those who publish "any information regarding the identity of any person who applied for or received a concealed handgun permit." The law includes exceptions for cases in which the concealed handgun holder is charged with a felony offense involving the use of a handgun.
Supporters cited as their rationale for proposing the law a New York paper's controversial December publication of a Google map that featured the names and addresses of local handgun permit holders, saying that the legislation was necessary to prevent local media outlets from publishing similar information. Most states, including Louisiana, have laws that make such information confidential, but Alabama is the only other state that currently makes publication of that information illegal subject to a penalty.
The law's passage comes during a furious debate over whether the federal government infringed upon freedom of the press by naming a reporter as a co-conspirator in a leak case; the journalist was never charged with a crime.
Louisiana's law, explicitly passed in order to chill and criminalize journalism, has not received national attention. According to a review of the Nexis and Factiva databases*, major newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today have not mentioned the law. Neither have ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News. The Associated Press produced several articles as the bill moved through the legislative process and became law, reporting on June 19:
Despite criticism it would violate the First Amendment, Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday signed into law a bill that makes it a crime for journalists or anyone else to publicly identify concealed handgun permit holders or applicants.
Carl Redman, the executive editor of the Baton Rouge Advocate and chairman of the Louisiana Press Association's Freedom of Information Committee, offered a stirring defense of freedom of the press in opposing the Louisiana law at a May 7 state Senate committee hearing. He called it "very ironic that the very people who screamed the loudest about attempts to limit their Second Amendment rights are here eager to limit my First Amendment rights."
Other advocates for freedom of the press joined him in opposing the bill.
Frank Borelli, a frequent guest on NRA News, noted the excuse used by Nazis who operated concentration camps that they were "just following orders" to applaud sheriffs who would "selectively enforce" Maryland's new gun violence prevention laws.
On May 16, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law a ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines and a handgun licensing scheme.
Borelli, who is the editor of the law enforcement news site Officer.com and is a regular guest on NRA News, made the Nazi comparison as a counterpoint to an editorial by Maryland House of Delegates member Jon S. Cardin that criticized a Maryland sheriff who said he would not enforce the new laws.
From the June 20 edition of Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel:
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: The Baltimore Sun is very upset, particularly Jon Cardin is incensed that there are sheriffs in the state of Maryland who say that they will not be enforcing the new gun control laws against otherwise legal law-abiding gun owners. He says this is a horrible idea, in a country dependent on the rule of law, he says, to protect civil rights and public safety this is dangerous and distressing. I'm curious, what's your take, Frank?
FRANK BORELLI: I'd like to ask Mr. Cardin one question. Does he feel that when Nazis working the death camps used the excuse of, I was just following orders, was that an acceptable excuse and did it exempt them for moral turpitude for their actions? And I'd like to hear him justify that.
These sheriffs have stepped up, again this is my opinion, these sheriffs have stepped up and said you know what, we don't [sic] feel these laws are unconstitutional therefore we're not going to enforce them. They're saying, hey, this isn't a lawful order. These laws aren't enforceable. We choose not to enforce them. I commend them for their courage to do so.
The National Rifle Association's news show inaccurately portrayed a California program that seeks to recover guns from felons and other prohibited individuals as a means of placing law-abiding gun owners in danger of firearm confiscation.
The June 20 special targeted a California law enforcement program that works with the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), a database of individuals who are no longer legally allowed to possess guns. The database works by combining gun registration records with the records of individuals who are barred from owning a firearm because of a felony conviction, restraining order or adjudication of serious mental illness.
According to Pacific Standard magazine, the database includes 20,000 people who possess at least 38,000 handguns and 1,600 assault weapons.
Setting up the segment, NRA News' investigative reporter Ginny Simone said that the special would tell the story of a person who was "wrongly targeted," despite the fact that the person featured is prohibited by federal law from owning a gun. NRA News host Cam Edwards also claimed that "there are so many issues right now for the law-abiding in California because you got lawmakers going after their rights, meanwhile the criminals are getting put back out onto the streets, and it sounds like you've got a government that is in many ways just out of control."
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