Despite heavy spending from the National Rifle Association, Terry McAuliffe was elected Virginia governor on a platform that included strengthening gun laws, in direct contradiction to the media myth that the NRA can determine election outcomes at will.
Conventional media wisdom outsizes the NRA's scope of influence by suggesting that the gun rights group has the ability to punish any politician who opposes its absolutist Second Amendment agenda. Following the September recall of two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws, media hyped this narrative -- ignoring low voter turnout and other factors -- to suggest that the outcome should serve as a warning to politicians who would advocate for stronger gun laws.
According to the Associated Press, these elections represented "for some, a warning to lawmakers in swing states who might contemplate gun restrictions in the future." MSNBC host Chuck Todd said the lesson of the recall elections was that "every Democrat south of the Mason-Dixon Line" should stay away from the gun issue. At The Atlantic, Molly Ball wrote that the recall meant "The Death of Gun Control."
The recall elections in Colorado did not shift the balance of power in the Colorado state senate. McAuliffe's election, however, means that for the first time since 1973, Virginians elected a governor who shares the same political affiliation as the sitting president. Here are three ways in which gun policy played an important role in the governor's race.
Lott, pictured left of Jordan Davis' mother, Lucia McBath.
Discredited gun researcher John Lott attacked the presence of the mothers of deceased African-American teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis at a congressional hearing on Stand Your Ground, describing them as "props" used to make "the case that there was racial bias" in the controversial self-defense law.
On the October 30 edition of the National Rifle Association's news show Cam & Company, Lott said the two mothers "were there to go and try serve as props essentially for the case that there was racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws," before falsely claiming that the self-defense law had no relevance to either of their son's shooting deaths:
LOTT: Well I thought [the hearing] was somewhat surreal. Look, we had two very sympathetic witnesses that were there. Trayvon Martin's mom and another mother who had lost her son in a shooting, both of them were black, and they were there to go and try serve as props essentially for the case that there was racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws. As I say, it's very hard to say anything when you're having to deal with a mother who has lost her son, under any circumstances. I have five kids; I can't imagine what it would be like to deal with that situation.
The problem was, the reason why I was saying it was somewhat surreal is that neither of their cases really had anything to do with the debate over Stand Your Ground laws.
On October 29, Lott, along with Martin's mother Sybrina Fulton and Davis' mother Lucia McBath, testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on Stand Your Ground that was held to examine a number of issues surrounding the law, including whether the law made it more likely for homicides of minorities to be ruled "justifiable."
National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent compared himself to civil rights icon Rosa Parks in a column for conspiracy website WND where he celebrated the right to free speech. The NRA and its representatives frequently compare their movement to the civil rights struggle, claiming that restrictions on guns are similar to the conditions of segregation or racial discrimination.
In an October 30 column, Nugent called Parks his "hero" for exercising her First Amendment rights and referenced his celebrity as a guitar player to write, "I'm Rosa Parks with a Gibson":
Heavily armed with whatever media bully pulpit I can muster, I exercise my First Amendment rights like my hero Rosa Parks who refused to sit at the back of the bus when that numb-nut law existed. I'm Rosa Parks with a Gibson.
Parks, who died in 2005, was a civil rights activist best known for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus to a white passenger. She was honored by Congress in 1999 as the "first lady of civil rights" and the "mother of the freedom movement" and was a 1996 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Nugent previously claimed in a January interview with WND that "the law-abiding gun owners of America, will be the Rosa Parks and we will sit down on the front seat of the bus." Civil rights leaders called those comments a "very disingenuous comparison," "offensive" and a "far-fetched fantasy."
Following a tragic incident in Northern California where police fatally shot a teenager whose pellet gun was mistaken for an assault weapon, questions are being raised over the National Rifle Association's role in blocking a 2011 state legislative proposal to require BB and pellet guns to be brightly colored in order to avoid confusion.
On October 22, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot seven times by a sheriff's deputy in Santa Rosa, California. The deputy, identified by media as a "gun expert", apparently believed that the pellet gun Lopez carried was an AK-47 assault weapon. Indeed, an image from a law enforcement press conference taken by The Press Democrat demonstrates the similarity between the pellet gun and an assault weapon. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department also released a photo of the pellet gun Lopez was carrying:
Photo Credit: Sonoma County Sheriff's Department
The tragic shooting, now under investigation by the FBI, could have been avoided if the NRA did not block a 2011 legislative proposal in California that would have required pellet and BB guns to be brightly colored to avoid confusion with real firearms. The NRA used its lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action, to fearmonger about the proposal, while NRA News repeatedly hosted an NRA lobbyist to attack the bill.
From the October 23 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent has accepted the role of co-chairman and treasurer in former Texas State Rep. Sid Miller's campaign for agriculture commissioner, The Texas Tribune reports.
Nugent described his role in the campaign to the Tribune by stating, "I do media every day, and I'll raise as much hell as I can." Miller will face other Republicans in a primary before a general election is held.
Miller is best known as the sponsor of legislation to require women seeking an abortion to undergo a sonogram, including a transvaginal sonogram in some cases. Liberal newsmagazine The Texas Observer explained he has become "a kind of national shorthand for folksy intrusion into women's health decisions."
The legislation, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Perry and survived a legal challenge, requires a sonogram to be performed by a doctor at least 24 hours in advance of the abortion procedure with the intention of having the woman see and hear the results. According to The New York Times, "Though the woman can choose not to view the images and hear the heartbeat, the doctor must describe what the sonogram shows, including the existence of legs, arms and internal organs." PolitiFact noted that medical experts say a transvaginal sonogram would be the only option up to week seven of pregnancy and may be needed to create an observable image as late as week 10. The Sunlight Foundation found that Texas' pre-abortion sonogram legislation served as the most popular model for legislative efforts in other states to enact similar laws.
The National Rifle Association's media arm, NRA News, attacked an academic study on gunshot injuries to children by conspiratorially suggesting that the study was part of a "kids and anti-gun hype" movement to ban firearms. NRA News host Cam Edwards further dismissed teenage victims of gun violence by falsely stating that they are culpable for their injuries because of their supposed involvement in criminal activity.
The NRA is notorious for blocking scientific research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. During the 1990s, the gun rights organization successfully lobbied for legislation that prevented the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in practice, from researching gun violence. While the legislation -- which prohibited CDC funding "to advocate or promote gun control" -- did not technically ban research on firearms, it was widely acknowledged in practice to have a chilling effect on the CDC's research priorities. The Obama administration advocated for $10 million in funding for the CDC to study gun violence in January, noting that "research on gun violence is not advocacy."
An October 18 interview on NRA News demonstrated how the gun lobby handles scientific studies when they are actually forced to confront them. During that segment, Edwards hosted Dr. Timothy Wheeler, founder and director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO), to attack a study in the November edition of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
DRGO often attacks research conducted by AAP, accusing the organization of being "motivated by deep-seated prejudice against gun owners." The organization told NBC News that its "mission is to expose the poor medical scholarship -- and the anti-gun bias behind it -- held out as truth by organized medicine and medical journalism." DRGO is a project of the Second Amendment Foundation, a group that recently caused controversy by announcing plans -- since altered -- to hold a "Guns Save Lives Day" on the one-year anniversary of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.
During his appearance, Wheeler, along with Edwards, suggested that the Pediatrics study -- which chronicled nearly 30,000 gun fatalities and 155,000 serious gunshot wounds in children between 2001 and 2010 -- was part of an effort to "hype" child gun injury in order to ban firearms.
National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent claimed on a Florida radio station that the federal government shutdown could be resolved if the United States were "run like the Nugent household."
He also suggested that a single person could do a better job than 5,000 federal employees and revived his previous claim that members of the military are committing suicide at a record rate because President Obama is "the enemy of the country."
Asked how he would resolve the government shut down during his October 14 appearance on The Gater 98.7, Nugent said, "I celebrate that they're shut down because Fedzilla is a bloated monster."
Noting that his previous "threat" to run for president is "alive and well," Nugent added, "I would love to see America run like the Nugent household. You get up early, you maximize your productivity, you be the best that you can be, you live within your means, you save for a rainy day and you don't be some gluttonous, slovenly, criminal, wasteful paycheck fire-torching bastard like most of the people in politics today."
The right-wing media often claims that the government budget could be operated like a household budget, even though the comparison is inept because, among other reasons, the federal government is able to roll over debt and issue its own currency. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich noted, "Those who analogize the federal budget to a family's budget must know nothing about either."
NRA News aired a special on the AR-15 military-style semi-automatic assault weapon -- ubiquitous for its use in recent mass shootings -- that provided false information about the power of the weapon and downplayed its dangerous features.
The October 7 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel featured a trip to the National Rifle Association's gun range where host Cam Edwards and National Review Online writer Charles C.W. Cooke fired a custom AR-15 assault weapon, .308 bolt-action rifle, .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun, and .357 caliber revolver. At the beginning of the segment, Edwards noted the weapons were provided by gun manufacturer and NRA corporate donor Ruger.
After firing the weapons, Edwards and Cooke advanced the notion that the AR-15 was less powerful than a handgun because the semi-automatic handgun produced larger holes in a paper target than the AR-15 assault weapon:
EDWARDS: Having shot now an AR[-15 assault weapon], what would you tell people who say, "Charles, it's too high-powered, it's too this, it's too that?"
COOKE: Well, I think I'd say what, sort of what you were pointing out. If you look at the targets and you asked people which is the scary AR, they wouldn't say -- much smaller holes, it's quieter, it's much more comfortable to hold, there's less recoil, you wouldn't presume -- in fact that gun is the easiest probably to shoot of all of them, and it's certainly the least scary really, it's just black.
But using bullet hole size as a proxy for wounding power is highly misleading, because assault weapons fire the round at a much higher velocity than a handgun.
According to a 2011 report by doctors who had performed autopsies on soldiers killed by gunfire in Iraq, "The velocity of the missile as it strikes the target is the main determinant of the wounding capacity" and "[t]he greater energy of the missile at the moment of impact the greater is the tissue destruction." Indeed, the study found that rounds with a velocity exceeding 2,500 feet per second cause a shockwave to pass through the body upon impact that caused catastrophic injuries even in areas remote to the direct wound.
Using popular ammunition brand Hornady as a comparison point, the ammunition available for the .45 caliber handgun fires at a muzzle velocity of no more than 1,055 feet per second. The .223 ammunition most often used by the AR-15 assault weapon, however, can achieve a velocity of 4,000 feet per second. Some AR-15s are designed to accept 5.56 NATO ammunition; a similar round to the .223 that has a velocity of up to 3,130 feet per second.
Under Wild Skies host Tony Makris, whose National Rifle Association-sponsored hunting show was dropped by NBC Sports Network after he compared critics of his shooting an elephant on-air to Adolf Hitler, says he has no regrets and doesn't take issue with the network for dropping his program.
Makris, who hosted the show on NBC Sports for more than five years dating back to when the channel was known as Versus, says his critics wrongly went after him and forced the network to cancel the show.
"NBC had to do what they had to do and I certainly understand it, I'll move on, I've been doing this for 21 years, not the first time an elephant show has aired," Makris said Monday in a phone interview. "It doesn't affect me one way or another."
Makris certainly doesn't lack for other opportunities. As president of the Mercury Group, he leads the NRA's public relations effort and is responsible for what The Washington Post called "a long line of bare-knuckled NRA advertisements."
Asked if the show will return elsewhere, Makris said, "I'm sure it will, I don't know yet, but I am sure it will. There are a lot of hunting shows on television, there are hunters in the world. There are 25 million hunters in America. If you look at the comparisons between the pro-hunting and the anti-hunting side, the pro-hunting side has a lot more people, it's just that they're not as belligerent or threatening or vile ... The show will stop when I decide to stop it."
But as of now the show is off the air after a whirlwind week. On September 24, Deadspin posted a clip from the most recent episode of Under Wild Skies in which Makris twice shot an elephant in the face during a hunting trip in Botswana (while hunting elephants is currently legal in that country, a ban goes into effect in 2014).
Following days of outrage and a petition calling for NBC Sports to cancel the show, on September 26, an NBC Sports Network spokesperson said that they would not air that episode of the program again. But the same day, Makris took to NRA News to respond to critics by claiming they advocated for a form of "animal racism" by suggesting that it was acceptable to hunt some animals but not others, and concluded that "Hitler would have said the same thing."
On September 27, Media Matters posted video of Makris' comments. The next day, the network announced that Under Wild Skies had been canceled because Makris' "recent comments comparing his critics to Hitler are outrageous and unacceptable."
Makris defended his Hitler reference to Media Matters, claiming he was making a larger point about giving one group more rights than another.
"Take it in context, what was actually said, I said that 'look, if you think that one class of animal is more special and deserving than the other because it is smarter and more majestic and to your liking, Hitler would have said the same thing,'" he stated. "That turns it into all sorts of horrible accusations and all that I meant was that Hitler thought the Aryan nation and the Aryan race was special, smarter and more deserving ... wasn't that what this was all about? Then they come out and say that I compared my critics to Hitler, no I didn't. I'm trying to show you the falseness in that sort of thinking.
"I didn't compare them to Hitler, or anybody else to Hitler, I just said he would have said the same thing. So put another name in there, Stalin, Mao, totalitarianism and genocide started, in every single case and all of those heinous people, with one group is more special than the other so it is fair for you to kill the others."
National Rifle Association commentator Billy Johnson released a video that sought to shift focus away from guns and onto domestic violence following widespread discussion of gun policy in the wake of a mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. This new-found concern for domestic violence ignores both the lethal consequences of armed domestic abusers and the NRA's lengthy history of blocking measures to keep guns out of the hands of abusers.
Notably, Johnson did not offer a single policy solution for domestic violence, concluding his September 30 commentary by stating, "I don't have a silver bullet to solve domestic violence, but what I do know is that we can no longer avoid this issue."
In his commentary, Johnson referenced mass shootings to claim, "Everyone from President Obama to Mayor Bloomberg's Demand a Plan campaign will shamelessly exploit the stories of children who are killed in tragic -- but isolated -- incidents, yet these same people are noticeably silent about millions of children and innocent adults in our country who are victims of, or witness to, violence in the place they should feel safest, their homes."
Johnson also stated, "If we sincerely want to decrease violence against children in our country, it's time we stop talking about AR-15s" -- the assault weapon ubiquitous for its use in mass shootings, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre -- "and start talking about real threats that millions of our children face every year."
While Johnson concluded his video by stating that "we can no longer avoid this issue" of domestic violence, the NRA has not avoided the issue in the past. In fact, it has fought legislative efforts to remove guns from the homes of individuals subject to a restraining order because of domestic violence.
NBC Sports Network has announced that it has canceled the hunting show Under Wild Skies after host Tony Makris compared critics to Hitler.
Controversy began after the show aired an episode in which an elephant was shot in the face twice by host Makris. Makris, who has longstanding ties to the NRA, celebrated the killing of the elephant with a bottle of champagne.
Following days of outrage and a petition calling for NBC to cancel the show, Makris took to NRA News on September 26 to respond to critics by claiming they advocated for a form of "animal racism." Makris said the following about critics who argued that elephants not be targeted:
MAKRIS: The nice ones will come up and go, you shoot elephant? Why? And I said well, the short answer is because hungry people eat them and because I'm a hunter. You know, I'm not an elephant hunter. I'm a hunter. I hunt all things. And they go, well nobody should shoot an elephant. I said, why? And they go they're so big and kind and gentle and smart and I said, okay, let me ask you a question. Should I be able to shoot birds? Well, I guess that's okay. Ducks? Yeah. Pigeons? Oh, they're flying rats, okay. Rabbits? Well rabbits are cute. But yea. Squirrels? That's nothing but a rat with a tail -- with a fuzzy tail. And I said, well deer eat all my mother's roses in Long Island and I go-- so I can shoot all of those, but not an elephant? No. Do you realize that if you subscribe to that philosophy you are committing a very unique form of animal racism?
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: [laughter]
MAKRIS: And now they're shocked. And they said but they're so big and special and they're smarter. And I went, you know, Hitler would have said the same thing.
On September 28, NBC Sports Network announced in a statement to Deadspin that Under Wild Skies has been canceled due to Makris' comments:
Under Wild Skies will no longer air on NBC Sports Sports Network due to the program's close association with its host, whose recent comments comparing his critics to Hitler are outrageous and unacceptable. NBCSN will continue to air all of our other quality outdoor programming.
NBC Sports Network host Tony Makris defended his controversial killing of an elephant on an NRA-sponsored hunting show during the September 26 edition of NRA News by claiming that opponents of elephant hunting have a philosophy similar to Hitler's.
Makris has faced widespread criticism since he shot and killed an elephant on the September 22 episode of Under Wild Skies on NBC Sports, which also showed him celebrating the kill with Champagne. A petition calling for the cancellation of Under Wild Skies, which Makris hosts, currently has more than 47,000 signatures.
Makris has longstanding ties to the NRA. According to the Los Angeles Times, "he helped install Charlton Heston as president" of the NRA in 1998. Makris has also been previously identified as an employee of Ackerman McQueen, an ad agency employed by the NRA for decades that was responsible for a controversial ad that politicized security measures that protect the president's children.
On the NRA News show Cam & Company, Makris offered a number of rationales for shooting the elephant, including suggesting that people who oppose elephant hunting but accept other forms of hunting are practicing "animal racism." He added that he would respond to someone who said elephants should not be hunted because of their size, scarcity or intelligence by saying, "Hitler would have said the same thing."
Right-wing media dishonestly reacted to Secretary of State John Kerry's signature to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by promoting the National Rifle Association's conspiracy theory that the treaty -- which aims to stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers -- would threaten gun rights and require the United States to create a civilian gun registry.
In fact, the treaty only regulates the international trade of arms and explicitly affirms the right of a nation to regulate domestic firearm ownership "pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system." As the American Bar Association noted in an analysis that found the treaty to be consistent with the Second Amendment, "the treaty would not require new domestic regulations of firearms."
Still, Fox News continued its checkered coverage of the ATT, promoting baseless conspiracy theories about the treaty.
On September 25, Fox host Heather Nauert reported on Fox & Friends that "gun supporters are opposing part of [the ATT] because it requires the United States government to adopt a new civilian gun tracking system, and that could sidestep the Second Amendment":
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed to support increasing the number mental health records in the gun background check system, even though his organization was instrumental in blocking legislation that would have made that change earlier this year.
LaPierre appeared on the September 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press to deliver his first public comments since the September 16 mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. During the segment, LaPierre claimed that "the NRA supported the gun check because we thought the mental records would be in the system." In April his organization was singled out by President Obama for influencing the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey proposal to improve the background check system that was filibustered by a largely-Republican coalition of Senators. The NRA falsely claimed that the legislation would have created a national gun registry, even as the bill itself explicitly prohibited such an action. Instead, Machin-Toomey would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales -- including sales at gun shows and over the Internet -- and would have increased the number of disqualifying records in the background check system.
LaPierre bemoaned the fact that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the FBI-administered tool for processing background checks on gun sales from licensed dealers, is missing mental health records that would disqualify individuals from buying a gun. However, Manchin-Toomey would have given states funding incentives and disincentives for submitting records. NRA-backed alternative legislation would have also provided funding incentives to increase the number of records, but would have weakened the background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system.