At an event during last weekend's National Rifle Association annual meeting, NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox said that the group doesn't "apologize" for its support for "Stand Your Ground" self-defense legislation in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, adding, "We will defend our efforts. We will defend those laws."
Cox's comments came during an appearance at Friday's workshop on "Grassroots Campaigning in a National Election Year" attended by Media Matters. The head of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action was asked by an NRA district organizer to defend the NRA's support of "Stand Your Ground" legislation given the controversy currently swirling around such laws.
COX: There's support across the board for the Second Amendment, there's support across the board, even post-media hysteria over the last few weeks, there's support across the board for legitimate self-defense. We don't apologize for supporting -- whether you call it a national right or a God-given right, legislation that recognizes our right to defend ourselves. The fact that other groups and other business entities and others are supportive of that concept of constitutional freedom, whether they're concerned about it from a Second Amendment standpoint or an economic freedom standpoint, that's not my position to be, you can call them and ask them, that's not my position to take, for debate, for them. We stand in strong defense of any effort to allow law-abiding, good people to defend themselves against criminal attack. We don't apologize for that. It's not a problem in this country. We will defend our efforts. We will defend those laws, and if others want to join that fight we will.
During a Saturday speech at the annual meeting, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre attacked the media for their coverage of Martin's killing, accusing them of "manufactur[ing] controversy for ratings." The NRA's role in helping to author Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law and promoting similar laws across the country has in recent days become a focus of media attention.
From the April 16 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
Loading the player ...
The National Rifle Association has been silent on the killing of Trayvon Martin and the laws it has helped pass that may prevent the successful prosecution of the man who shot him. Until now.
During his speech this morning at the group's annual meeting, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre finally addressed the controversy -- by attacking the media for covering the case, claiming they are "manufactur[ing] controversy for ratings."
LAPIERRE: But the media, they don't care. Everyday victims aren't celebrities. They don't draw ratings, don't draw sponsors. But sensational reporting from Florida does. In the aftermath of one of Florida's many daily tragedies, my phone has been ringing off the hook. Now, the National Rifle Association will not comment on any story without a full understanding and a thorough understanding of all the facts. But if I were to answer a call from Diane Sawyer or Chris Matthews or Brian Williams or Rachel Maddow, let me tell you right now what I'd ask them.
Where's your outrage? Where's your outrage about Willie Brewer III from Akron, Ohio? OrDerrick Linkhorn from Decatur, Georgia? Or Daryl Adams from New York City? Or what about Antonio Duff? Just this past Monday afternoon, about the same time I got here into town, he was killed and murdered. And he's not the only young man murdered in this city this past week. You reporters, you don't know their names. You don't care about those people. You manufacture controversy for ratings. You don't care about the truth, and the truth is the national news media in this country is a national disgrace, and you all know it. And so do Americans throughout the country, and it's getting worse every single day, and your dishonesty, duplicity, and moral irresponsibility is directly contributing to the collapse of American freedom in our country.
In an article entitled "No gun-control debate over Trayvon," Politico reports: "Despite an arrest this week in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, new gun-control measures aren't even being debated in Washington." The article goes on to comment that "a federal debate" over the Kill at Will statute that may prevent the successful prosecution of Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, "is strangely lacking since there is no federal equivalent of the state laws."
Politico portrays this as evidence of the power of the gun lobby and weakness of the gun violence prevention community. But there is a good reason why no federal legislation to override such state statutes hasn't been produced, and thus why there is no "federal debate" -- such a statute would almost certainly be unconstitutional.
Thanks to the efforts of the National Rifle Association, laws similar to Florida's statute have been passed in dozens of states. Why have they focused on states rather than pushing for federal legislation? Because such self-defense laws are fundamentally part of the state criminal code, acting on the circumstances in which homicides, assaults, and manslaughters can be prosecuted.
In United States v. Lopez, the Supreme Court overturned a federal statute banning possession of firearms at public schools, finding that failure to do so would "convert congressional Commerce Clause authority to a general police power of the sort held only by the State." In their brief to the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration acknowledged that "States historically have been sovereign" in issues of "general criminal law." An attempt to overturn state self-defense laws would almost certainly run afoul of the same problem.
Meanwhile, Politico ignores how Martin's killing has led to a debate over such laws at the state level, where such activities are properly focused. As BloombergBusinessweek reported last month, the NRA is facing "mounting challenges" in its effort to promote such laws across the country: "Legislation in New York and Iowa stalled in committees as lawmakers in Georgia, Texas and other states said they would try to repeal laws already on the books."
Those efforts will receive a boost from a broad coalition of civil rights groups calling for such repeals. On Wednesday New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a national campaign to overturn the state statutes, joining the NAACP, National Urban League, ColorOfChange and National Action Network to promote a "Second Chance on Shoot First." The group will encourage "politicians who originally supported these reckless laws to examine the facts, listen to law enforcement and prosecutors, and join other elected officials in reforming or repealing these laws."
Monday marks the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, in which an armed student shot to death 32 students and faculty of the school and wounded 17 more before killing himself. It subsequently came to light that under federal law, the shooter "should have been prohibited from buying a gun after a Virginia court declared him to be a danger to himself in late 2005 and sent him for psychiatric treatment," but was nonetheless able to pass a federal background check and purchase firearms due to a loophole in the law.
In response to the shooting, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law "the first major federal gun control measure in more than 13 years" in order to close that loophole and provide additional funding for states to update mental health records in the gun background check database. Despite this law, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has pointed out that millions of such records are still missing from the system.
The Washington Times, on the other hand, has a different response to the tragedy. In an editorial this morning, they call for allowing concealed carry permit holders to bring guns onto college campuses:
Five years ago Monday, 32 students and teachers lost their lives in a shooting at Virginia Tech. Earlier this month, seven students were killed and three wounded at a small California Christian university. These tragedies exemplify the failure of "gun-free" school zones and are evidence for the need to overturn concealed carry bans on campuses so law-abiding citizens can defend themselves against maniacs. [...]
In Virginia, where emotions are still raw following the Blacksburg massacre, concealed carry is permitted, but college restrictions still exist. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in January that while hidden firearms are allowed on campus grounds, authorities can prohibit them inside school buildings and at public gatherings. Virginia Tech adopted the regulation in March.
The Second Amendment grants Americans the right to keep and bear arms. Where that right is respected, security prevails. Gun-free colleges risk becoming free-fire zones for troubled individuals. Common sense dictates that responsible gun bearers should be allowed on campus.
The Times' commentary mirrors that of the National Rifle Association, which has since the Virginia Tech shootings worked with their partners at the American Legislative Exchange Council to promote such laws across the country.
From the April 11 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
Loading the player ...
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are calling on the National Rifle Association to revoke its invitation to Islamophobic retired Lt. General William Boykin to keynote the organization's prayer breakfast at its annual meeting this week.
In a letter to NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre sent today, MRFF executive director Mikey Weinstein writes:
No prayer breakfast should be used as a forum for hate speech, and no organization that boasts of defending the U.S. Constitution should give extremists who degrade the faith of soldiers fighting for our country a national platform. Therefore, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF: http://www.MilitaryReligiousFreedom.org) unequivocally demands that the National Rifle Association (NRA) revoke its invitation to the rabidly Islamophobic retired Lt. General William Boykin.
MRFF represents over 27,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, cadets, midshipmen, and armed forces veteran clients. We also represent more than 10% of all Muslim Americans in the armed forces.
The General's unabashed hostility towards the Muslim community represents an open insult to that which countless generations of service members have shed precious blood to protect: democracy and religious freedom, as embodied and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. We're all Americans regardless of how, where, and to whom we pray, if at all. The NRA's invitation to Boykin is an egregious slander against the thousands of honorable Muslim Americans serving in the U.S. military, and a desecration of the memory of those patriotic soldiers of Muslim faith who have fallen or have suffered injury in their service to this country. MRFF calls on the NRA to immediately revoke its invitation to the vociferously racist and intolerant retired Lt. General William G. Boykin.
These statements are unacceptable and reflect Lt. Gen. Boykin's disregard and seeming hatred of Islam and Muslims. Because the NRA is an organization that stands for the Second Amendment rights of all Americans and many Americans are Arab American and/or Muslim, I urge you to withdraw the invitation and cancel Lt. Gen. Boykin's speech at your upcoming festivities. Doing so would reaffirm your commitment to protect the Second Amendment rights of the entirety of American citizens, including those Arab-American and Muslim citizens that chose to exercise their Second Amendment rights and also support the NRA.
Boykin received international attention in 2003 after the Los Angeles Times and NBC News reported on speeches he had given in full military dress at religious events suggesting that the United States was fighting a "spiritual battle" in the Middle East against "a guy called Satan" who "wants to destroy us as a Christian army." He subsequently drew criticism from then-President Bush, among others.
From the April 5 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
Loading the player ...
After law enforcement disarmed New Orleans residents as part of their effort to evacuate the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the National Rifle Association (NRA) teamed up with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for a nationwide campaign to promote legislation in dozens of states banning governors and local officials from seizing firearms during emergencies.
The two groups similarly have worked in tandem to spread across the nation Florida-style "Kill at Will" self-defense laws as well as legislation allowing concealed carry permit holders to bring guns on college campuses.
In September 2005, less than a month after Katrina made landfall, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre devoted his column to gun confiscation in the wake of the hurricane, describing it as "a tyranny that must be stopped -- never to happen again." He promised that the NRA would be "enacting laws to prohibit state and federal authorities from seizing firearms from innocent citizens under a state of emergency due to a natural disaster or terrorist attack."
On March 24, 2006, the NRA announced that several pieces of "NRA-Backed" legislation had been filed in advance of the start of the Louisiana legislature's session in order to "prevent the seizure and confiscation of legally-possessed firearms during a state of emergency." Five days later they trumpeted the introduction by then-Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) of federal legislation "amending federal emergency statute laws to stop local authorities from confiscating lawfully owned firearms during times of disaster."
In the months that followed the NRA repeatedly touted both the federal and Louisiana legislation and urged their members to take action to ensure the passage of both. On June 12, 2006, the group celebrated and took credit when the Louisiana legislationwas signed into law.
The National Rifle Association is planning to host retired Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, who has a long record of hateful comments about Muslims and Islam, as keynote speaker of the prayer breakfast at their annual meeting later this month.
In January Boykin withdrew from a similar event at the United States Military Academy at West Point in the face of criticism of his divisive rhetoric from cadets, faculty, Muslim organizations, and progressive veterans groups. As VoteVets put it, Boykin had repeatedly used "incendiary rhetoric regarding Islam and Muslims, even characterizing America's wars as Christianity versus Islam." The same month People for the American Way and the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on officials in Ocean City, MD to cancel their invitation for Boykin to speak at the Ocean City Mayor's Prayer Breakfast.
NRA's website urges annual meeting attendees not to "miss this opportunity for encouragement, fellowship and sharing with your NRA family," and is charging $35 for tickets to see Boykin, "World Champion Elk Caller" Chad Shearer, and country music artist Bryan White at the April 15 event. The prayer breakfast comes on the final day of the four-day convention, which will be held in St. Louis, Missouri and feature speeches from Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and a variety of Republican officeholders.
Boykin received international attention in 2003 after the Los Angeles Times and NBC News reported on speeches he had given in full military dress at religious events suggesting that the United States was fighting a "spiritual battle" in the Middle East against "a guy called Satan" who "wants to destroy us as a Christian army." Boykin also said of a Somali fighter who said that Allah would protect him from Americans, "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."
(Boykin later apologized and claimed that he had meant that the man's God was "money and power.")
From the March 30 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
Loading the player ...
Last week we noted that the National Rifle Association's (NRA) effort to push the Florida-style "Kill at Will" laws that protected Trayvon Martin's killer from prosecution had continued unabated in the wake of Martin's death.
The gun lobby has given no indication of backing down in the face of the revelation of their role in promoting these laws. In fact, BloombergBusinessweek reports that the group spent the one-month anniversary of Martin's death trying to pass "Kill at Will" legislation in Alaska:
On the one-month anniversary of Trayvon Martin's killing this week, the National Rifle Association was in Alaska lobbying for a law like the one at the center of the Florida shooting.
The gun rights group urged supporters to contact senators on the "stand your ground" bill, calling it "vital self- defense legislation." A lobbyist worked the halls in gun-friendly Juneau, telling at least one senator that the highly publicized slaying of the unarmed black teen in Sanford, Florida, is "irrelevant" to the debate in Alaska, according to Senator Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat.
Former NRA president and Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer has acknowledged that the NRA helped draft that state's so-called "Stand Your Ground" law, and the group was instrumental in its 2005 passage. Shortly after, Hammer appeared before the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and successfully urged them to adopt Florida's law as model legislation. Together, NRA and ALEC pushed for the adoption of similar laws in dozens of states.
The tragic circumstances of Martin's killing have forced these laws into the spotlight. As BloombergBusinessweek notes, this has led to several setbacks for the gun lobby:
As the 4-million-member NRA continued its push in Alaska, it faced mounting challenges in other states. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick pledged yesterday to veto a similar bill if it made it to his desk. Legislation in New York and Iowa stalled in committees as lawmakers in Georgia, Texas and other states said they would try to repeal laws already on the books. A Florida-like measure in Minnesota was vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton on March 5, before the Martin case was widely covered in the national media.
National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent is well known for his inflammatory rhetoric. In a recent interview with NRA News Nugent -- known by the moniker 'Motor City Madman" -- aimed his typical style of vile insults at none other the Motor City itself, Detroit, Michigan.
During a discussion about Nugent's fondness for his current home of Texas, Nugent offered up a diatribe blaming "liberal policies", "pimps" "whores" and "welfare brats" for the decline of Detroit, which he labeled a "canker sore."
NUGENT: My birth state is Michigan. I was raised where neighbors helped neighbors and people got up early and put their heart and soul into being the best that they can be. And I think we can all look to my beloved birth city of Detroit as example of what liberal policies will do to greatness. Detroit is a canker sore compared to this glowing city on the Detroit River that I was raised in and it's direct result of the Mayor Coleman Young and the Jennifer Granholms of the world and the tragedy of pimps and whores and welfare brats being blood suckers and destroying the greatest city in the world.
Nugent went on to say that there are still "wonderful people" living in Detroit.
Last year, Nugent wrote that "[b]eing poor is largely a choice, a daily, if not hourly decision," and concluded, "we need to punish poor decisions instead of rewarding them. We cannot continue to offer a safety blanket to those Americans who make poor choices. The fewer social welfare programs, the better."
From the March 29 edition of MSNBC's The Daily Rundown:
Loading the player ...
The National Rifle Association's longtime Florida lobbyist acknowledged Monday that the organization helped draft Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which critics have dubbed "Kill at Will" in the wake of its connection to the Trayvon Martin case in that state.
Deceptively identified by its supporters as the "Castle Doctrine" (the term for the common law principle to defend one's home from intruders), the 2005 law states that civilians in any place they have a legal right to be, public or private, need not retreat in the face of what they perceive as threats but may instead use deadly force and be immune from prosecution, regardless of where the events occur.
"The NRA participated in drafting the Castle Doctrine and supporting it through the process," Marion Hammer told Media Matters. Hammer was president of the NRA from 1995 to 1998, remains a member of its board, and is a longtime Florida lobbyist for the group.
On February 26, Martin was returning from a local 7-Eleven to the apartment of his father's fiancée when he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic man carrying a concealed handgun who acted as a neighborhood watch volunteer in the gated community. According to recordings, Zimmerman called 911 to report Martin as a "real suspicious guy" and "a black male" with "his hand in his waistband," then left the car to pursue the youth against the dispatcher's recommendation.
A struggle followed, ending with Zimmerman shooting and killing Martin. Police have said that because Zimmerman stated that he had acted in self-defense, he could not be arrested under the "Stand Your Ground" law, while experts have stated that the statute may prevent Zimmerman's prosecution. This has resulted in a public outcry and a Department of Justice investigation.
"Most legislation is written by lobbyists, legislators and bill-drafters," Hammer said. "In most cases, legislation comes about as a result of some action that causes legislators to believe that there is a need for remedial legislation. NRA did help draft the Castle Doctrine Law and [former Florida state]Senator [Durell] Peaden was the one that came to us and said we have a bad situation here and we need to do something about it."
In 2005, Florida Today reporter Paul Flemming reported on the "Stand Your Ground" legislation before it was passed, writing that the NRA "wrote the bill."
Asked again last week about the NRA's role, Flemming -- now at the Tallahassee Democrat and still covering the statehouse - reiterated that statement.
"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," Flemming told Media Matters.
Asked how he discovered that the NRA had co-written the legislation, Flemming stated: "She told me, I talked to her. I speak to Marion and certainly spoke to Sen. Peaden regularly. The observation is that they have their legislative priorities every year and that was one." He added, "All of the gun laws that come through the Florida legislature, she writes."
Hammer recalled that the law came about after an incident following Hurricane Ivan in 2004 in which 77-year-old James Workman shot an intruder who broke into his RV after the deadly storm. Months before the statute was passed, prosecutors declined to press charges against Workman, saying he had legally acted in self-defense.
"Yes, we helped," Hammer said. "Sen. Peaden and I had a conversation, he was outraged at what had happened and ... they had not decided whether to charge this man. He says, 'what are we going to do about it?' I said 'we can work on some legislation to deal with this issue.' It is not an uncommon problem."
She added, "he came to us, we helped draft it, he took it, he put it in the bill drafting, it came out of bill drafting, it came through the process, it passed."
Asked if the final version differed much from the original bill she helped draft, Hammer said: "I don't remember. I know that we supported the legislation. If the bill did not do what the people of the state of Florida needed to do, it would not have passed."
Hammer did note that she does not believe the law applies to the Zimmerman case.
Contacted by Media Matters, Sen. Peaden confirmed that the NRA "participated," in crafting the law, but said he wrote the law.
Asked to specify how Hammer was involved, Peaden said, "I don't remember, that was seven years ago. They're lobbyists, they lobby laws and things like that."
Rep. Dennis Baxley, who co-sponsored the law in the Florida House of Representative, declined to comment on the legislation, his office said Monday.
Flemming also described Hammer and the NRA as playing a major part in writing other pro-gun laws in Florida.
"She is a very powerful lobbyist in the state house in Tallahassee and they pick a number of priorities in the legislature to go after," Flemming explained. "One was a couple of years ago, guns at work, they had the concealed carry previous to that and that year, in 2005, they wanted to take on the Castle Doctrine."
Flemming later added, "There was a bill last year, more recent memory, sponsored by the guy who now holds Durell's seat in the state senate, Greg Evers, to prohibit doctors from asking patients if they owned guns or not. That again was an NRA-sponsored, Marion Hammer-written piece of legislation."