Fox News' Chris Wallace challenged National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's false claims about strengthening gun laws, even going so far as to describe one of his talking points as "ridiculous." Wallace's treatment of LaPierre is a departure from his Fox colleagues who have allowed LaPierre to push his agenda without challenge.
On Fox News Sunday, Wallace challenged LaPierre's attempt to mislead on criminal background checks for gun sales and debunked the NRA claim that the Obama administration wants to create a national registry of gun owners. Wallace also dismissed LaPierre's defense of an NRA advertisement that charged President Obama with hypocrisy for protecting his children with armed guards, responding to the NRA leader's comparison between threats faced by the president's children and school children nationwide by saying "that's ridiculous and you know it, sir."
The refusal of Wallace to acquiesce to all of LaPierre's claims during Fox News Sunday was markedly different from Fox's typical treatment of the gun issue, which has included giving the NRA a platform to spread falsehoods.
During the interview, Wallace dismissed LaPierre's attempt to obfuscate the fact that over a million people have been stopped from obtaining a firearm since 1999 after failing a criminal background check by stating, "It worked enough that 1.7 million people were denied."
LAPIERRE: I don't think you can say that those 1.7 million people have been stopped from getting a gun at all because the government didn't prosecute virtually any of them. They let them walk in, they were denied, they let them walk out. And who really thinks if they really wanted to commit a crime they didn't go on and get a gun.
WALLACE: I don't know. It seems to me if 1.7 million people were denied. I understand the hardened criminal. But the disturbed person. The Adam Lanza in Newtown. The James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado. Those aren't hardened criminals, and if they are stopped from getting a gun by a universal background check won't that make a difference?
LAPIERRE: You know the instant check was actually the NRA's proposal. We offered it as an amendment to the Brady Bill to put it on dealers. And I've been in this fight for 20 years, we supported it, we put it on the books. But I have finally become convinced after fighting to get the mental records computerized for 20 years and watching the mental health lobby, the HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] laws, and the AMA [American Medical Association] oppose it, I don't think it's going to happen. I mean the fact is the check now, these people are not --
WALLACE: It worked enough that 1.7 million people were denied. I mean I completely agree with you, I mean as Captain Kelly pointed out [Tucson shooter] Jared Loughner was able to pass the test. So there are holes in it, but that doesn't mean, you know, because it's not perfect doesn't mean that it doesn't work.
As Wallace pointed out, there is a logical fallacy in LaPierre's argument that because background checks will not stop all criminals there is no value in attempts to improve the background check system.
LaPierre's attack on the effectiveness of the background check system also exposes the hypocrisy of the NRA's opposition to requiring criminal background checks on every gun sale. LaPierre speculated that individuals denied a firearm by a background check were still able to "go on and get a gun." A loophole in federal law allows a significant proportion of firearms to be obtained through private sales where no background check is required, with one 2004 study indicating that criminals are even more likely to use private transactions to obtain firearms.
During the January 30 hearing on gun violence, National Rifle Association representative Wayne LaPierre said a proposal to expand background checks would be a "nightmare" for Americans, contradicting his 1999 testimony on behalf of the NRA in support of such an expansion -- a flip-flop highlighted by Sen. Pat Leahy during the hearing. In their coverage of the hearing, several major national newspapers failed to pick up on this important position switch, which highlighted the hardline stance of the NRA towards gun violence prevention proposals.
In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre reiterated his organization's position that armed guards are the solution to school violence. Yesterday the NRA's televised news show, Cam & Company, shed light on what the NRA envisions when it calls for armed guards in all schools when it previewed a special on Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's school defense "posse."
The three-minute preview shows Sheriff Arpaio and a member of his self-styled "posse" discussing the workings of a group of armed volunteers who now patrol public school zones in Maricopa County, Arizona. While the NRA has called for school guards to be "an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained, qualified citizens," no mention was made in the NRA feature of a March 2012 investigation's finding that a number of "posse" members had violent criminal records.
As Arpaio explains in the NRA News segment, "posse" members have "gone through 100 hours of weapons training, plus follow-ups. They buy their own jeeps, airplanes, cars. I swear them in. The only difference is no money, they don't get paid."
The preview also features an interview with "posse" member Jerry Johnson who says, "We're the eyes and ears of the sheriff's department. We're all volunteers. Some are ex-law enforcement, but me I'm retired. And some of us had no experience at all, but we've been trained," and concludes the preview by stating, "We've got so well trained people that you put them in a situation and they're ready to roll."
On March 14, 2012 Phoenix area CBS affiliate KPHO reported on "a number of posse members with arrests for assault, drug possession, domestic violence, sex crimes against children, disorderly conduct, impersonating an officer - and the list goes on." In one incident described by KPHO a "posse" member "threw his girlfriend to the ground and choked her while trying to sexually assault her" and on another occasion a "posse" member held at gunpoint a man who had backed into his car and driven off.
Arpaio has previously drawn criticism for using his "posse" to investigate President Obama's long-form birth certificate, finding it fraudulent, and for promoting what the Justice Department termed "a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos."
The NRA preview also takes a hard line against gun violence prevention measures with Sheriff Arpaio stating that, "It is sad [politicians supportive of stronger gun laws] are using us for politics. They are going through the pony show, they talking to everybody, but we know the fix is in."
While polling has consistently shown that nearly all Americans support requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale, some conservatives in the media are writing in opposition to expanding background checks, a position also held by the National Rifle Association.
A January 23 Gallup poll indicates that 91 percent of Americans would vote for a law that required a criminal background check on every gun sale. Only eight percent of respondents would vote against such a law. As ThinkProgress notes, this polling indicates that opposition to strengthening background checks is less popular than human cloning, polygamy and the perennially unpopular Congress.
[ThinkProgress, accessed 1/30/13]
In recent columns, Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller, MSNBC host S.E. Cupp and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich all expressed opposition to expanding background checks, even as research demonstrates that a significant proportion of firearms are sold and purchased without a check.
In a New York Daily News column, Cupp quoted the faulty logic of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who said before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 30 that checks should not be strengthened "because criminals will never submit to them," before worrying about the "psychological" impact of background checks on gun purchasers.
Ultimately, Cupp compared criminal background checks -- the vast majority of which are completed in seconds -- to Arizona's infamous SB 1070 immigration law:
But even though we accept background checks as a necessary preemptive measure, there is a real psychological and cultural impact when law-abiding gun owners are routinely treated en masse like suspects.
If it sounds silly to worry about the hurt feelings of gun owners, let me point out that liberals are both familiar and comfortable with this argument. Arizona's so-called "papers please" law, which allowed law enforcement officials to determine an individual's immigration status during a lawful stop, barred the use of racial profiling as the sole basis for investigating immigration status. But that didn't stop liberal critics of SB 1070 from insisting it was offensive, prejudicial and unfairly treated minorities as if they were criminals.
Ahead of tomorrow's hearing on gun violence before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the National Rifle Association released the testimony of its representative, executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. When reporting on LaPierre's remarks, the media have a responsibility to provide context for his frequently inaccurate statements.
In his remarks, LaPierre dismissed the idea of requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale while unwittingly demonstrating how these checks keep guns out of the hands of criminals, falsely suggested that assault weapons are no more dangerous than firearms available to civilians 100 years ago, and exaggerated the effectiveness of armed guards in schools.
In his testimony, LaPierre attacked the proposal to require criminal background checks on nearly all gun sales "because criminals will never submit to them." According to LaPierre's rigid reasoning, because background checks will not stop every dangerous person from acquiring a gun, there is no point in strengthening the system.
But even under our current set of laws that allow a significant proportion of firearms transactions occur without a background check, evidence has shown that over 1.5 million individuals have been prevented from acquiring a firearm after failing a background check.
LaPierre even acknowledged earlier in his testimony that over 76,000 firearms purchases in 2011 were denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It should be noted that LaPierre is either referring to FBI denials only or understating the figure, as over 150,000 purchases a year are typically denied through the background check system, with about half of denials being processed by the FBI.
According to the FBI, less than five percent of denials are reversed upon appeal. The primary reasons for denial were a felony conviction or indictment (47.4 percent) or status as a fugitive (19.1 percent).
National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent alluded to the start of the American Revolution in an interview with Guns.com during the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show, claiming that the Obama administration "is attempting to re-implement the tyranny of King George" and that "if you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies."
NUGENT: I'm part of a very great experiment in self-government where we the people determine our own pursuit of happiness and our own individual freedom and liberty not to be confused with the Barack Obama gang who believes in we the sheeple and actually is attempting to re-implement the tyranny of King George that we escaped from in 1776. And if you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies.
Nugent's mention of "Concord Bridge" is presumably a reference to the Battle of Concord, which was fought on the North Bridge. The battle, one of the early encounters of the Revolutionary War, forced the British to retreat.
The National Rifle Association has released a four-and-a-half minute video in response to the proposals to curb gun violence unveiled by the Obama administration. Chock-full of fast cuts and given a heart-pounding soundtrack, the ad attacks members of the media for criticizing the NRA and calls Obama a hypocrite for protecting his children with armed guards.
The ad opens with a montage of criticisms in media of the NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's December speech calling for armed guards in schools in a response to the massacre at a Newtown, CT, school earlier that month. A narrator then states, "The media speaks for elites. America speaks for itself."
The ad also highlights the number of armed guards at the school attended by President Obama's daughters to make the claim that the President is a hypocrite for stating that he is "skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools." This attack follows up on a similar one made by the NRA in a recently released ad. The release of the White House's gun violence prevention plan today calls for federal funds to be used on school safety programs, including hiring more school resource officers, in addition to a number of proposals for stronger gun laws.
After a graphic purports to show massive increases in NRA membership, the advertisement concludes with the claim that "America agrees with Wayne and the NRA." In fact, polling demonstrates that America does not agree with the group's opposition to the proposals Obama laid out in his address.
Polling has demonstrated nearly unanimous support for requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale, including nearly three-quarters of NRA members who favor such a proposal. The NRA opposes requiring background checks on the private sale of firearms, which constitute up to 40 percent of the gun market. Majorities of Americans also support banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, while the NRA has promised to oppose any new gun violence prevention measures.
During the inaugural episode of Cam & Company, a new National Rifle Association news program airing on Sportsman Channel, NRA board member Oliver North claimed that the NRA is "one of the greatest protectors of civil liberties that's ever existed on the planet Earth." North, who is a Fox News contributor, was also the central figure in the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration, reportedly helping to funnel profits from arms sales to Iran to the human rights abusing Contras in Nicaragua.
North's characterization of the NRA came during a discussion of the President Obama's forthcoming recommendations on gun violence prevention:
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: We heard the President say, right, in his first comments after the massacre in Newtown that this had to be different, we had to talk about our children, we had to talk about protecting our kids, it couldn't devolve into the same political debate. And yet that is exactly what has happened. This has gone from how to protect our kids to how do we push the gun control laws that we have been advocating for for a decade or more from these gun control groups.
OLIVER NORTH: Sure. And they have been advocates for it.
EDWARDS: They have been.
NORTH: And what you now see is a sea change in the political climate in Washington, D.C., at the White House where they now expect that they can do things they otherwise would have been unable to do. That which he cannot accomplish legislatively is now going to be done by executive action. That is contrary to my understanding of what the Constitution's all about. I think it's contrary and foreign to most of our thinking. When we raise that right hand and take that oath, we don't pledge fealty to a political party, to an individual, unlike many other countries around the world. What we've done is we have now decided that one man can decide what is or isn't legal under certain circumstances. I think civil libertarians -- and by the way the National Rifle Association is one of the greatest protectors of civil liberties that has ever existed on the planet Earth.
Media figures have smeared the Obama administration and promoted myths and falsehoods about gun policy in the days leading up to this week's release of the White House Task Force's recommendations to reduce gun violence.
What is it about President Obama's inaugurations that bring out the craziest of the right-wing crazies?
Four years ago, Obama's historic swearing-in sparked months' worth of teeth-chattering paranoia, trumpeted by the conservative media, about how the new Democratic president posed a mortal threat to America and that drastic action might need to be taken.
In 2009, a far-right Newsmax columnist determined that a "military coup "to resolve the 'Obama problem'" was not "unrealistic." That's about the same time Glenn Beck used his then-new program on Fox News to game out bloody scenarios for the coming civil war against the Obama-led tyranny. Note that the armed rebellion rhetoric was uncorked just weeks after Obama's first cabinet had been confirmed.
Now, four years later as Obama's second swearing-in approaches, the same misguided insurrectionist pageantry is back on display. (The fringe John Birch Society is probing the likelihood of "armed resistance" against the government -- "an unlikely prospect, for now at least.") And this time, Adolf Hitler stars in a leading role.
In fact, there's a disturbing collision now underway featuring two signature, conservative paranoid fantasies. One holds that Obama is like Hitler; that he's a tyrant ready to undo democracy at home. The other is that Americans need access to an unregulated supply of assault weapons in order to fight their looming insurrectionist war with the government.
In the last week we've heard more and more conservatives try to tie the two wild tales together: Obama's allegedly pending gun grab will prove he's just like Hitler, which will demonstrate the need for citizens to declare war on the government.
Ignoring nearly 250 years of our democratic history, conservative voices across the media landscape have been nodding their heads in agreement suggesting it's only a matter of time before the United States resembles a tyrannical dictatorship that will be either fascistic or Stalinist in nature (or both, if the rhetorician feels no obligation to historical accuracy).
So much for the notion of American exceptionalism -- "the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history" -- that conservatives love to preach.
Conservatives in media have been quick to draw comparisons between the Obama administration's reported proposals to crack down on gun violence and the actions of Adolf Hitler to suggest that President Obama will engage in firearm confiscation. These historically inaccurate comparisons owe part of their genesis to the National Rifle Association, which has compared proposals to regulate firearms to orders during the Holocaust.
In his book, America Disarmed: Inside the U.N. & Obama's Scheme to Destroy the Second Amendment, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre likened the United Nations Small Arms and Light Weapons Destruction Day, held on July 9, 2001, to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels' order that books authored by Jews be publicly burned.
LaPierre then suggested that the burning of guns could "help set the stage for mass executions of gun owners" just as Goebbels' order precipitated the mass killing of Jews.
Paul M. Barrett, a senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, cherry-picked polls on gun violence to suggest that the National Rifle Association will be able to block proposed gun violence prevention measures. According to Barrett, who authored a book about the rise of Glock as a popular firearm manufacturer, gun violence prevention proposals are unpopular with the public and the "NRA wins because it's popular with a broad swath of Americans."
Barrett's article is typical of a narrative in the media overemphasizing the NRA's clout. In the wake of the December 14 massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, traditional media have suggested that the NRA will remove from office politicians who favor gun reforms; even though the NRA's massive spending during the 2012 elections was almost entirely ineffectual.
Contrary to Barrett's assertion about NRA popularity, a poll released yesterday found that a plurality of the public holds a negative view of the NRA. Furthermore, specific gun violence prevention proposals, such as making background checks on gun purchases mandatory, are supported by the vast majority of NRA members and the public at large.
As President Obama seeks to fill judicial vacancies, the media have failed to acknowledge the unprecedented obstructionism of his nominees by Republican senators, a complete reversal of their former insistence that then-President George W. Bush's judicial nominees receive up-or-down votes.
On January 3, Obama re-nominated 33 previously-stalled judicial nominees to the federal courts, in an attempt to fill the 75 vacancies in the federal judiciary - 20 more than when Obama took office. Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative appointed by Bush, described 27 of the vacancies as presenting "judicial emergencies" in his annual report on the judiciary.
Media coverage of the re-nominations continues to fail to contrast GOP obstruction of Obama's nominees to Senate Democrats' treatment of Bush's nominees. CNN.com described the nominations as "likely to reignite the political battle over judges," particularly due to the re-nomination of NRA-opposed former Solicitor General of New York, Caitlin Halligan. But CNN.com failed to note that Bush similarly resubmitted his preferred judicial nominees in bulk following the Congressional elections of 2002. At that time, the Democratic-controlled Senate allowed an up-or-down vote and confirmed 20 judicial nominees -- including controversial picks -- in five days.
The Washington Times also ignored the unprecedented Republican treatment of Obama's nominees. Instead, the Times obscured the fact that Senate Republicans have made filibustering of all judicial picks routine, and described as commonplace the current situation wherein "60 [Senate votes] are needed to proceed to a floor vote." In fact, all-out Congressional obstructionism is a development unique to the Obama presidency, and the hypocrisy of Republicans attacking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's efforts to limit the use of a filibuster for judicial nominations is apparent in light of their exact reverse position after Bush's re-election.
Furthermore, both CNN.com and the Times highlight Halligan as an example of the judicial picks Republicans have denied an up-or-down vote, and uncritically repeat Sen. Mitch McConnell's accusations that Halligan -- the current General Counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney's office -- is the sort of "activist" vulnerable to the "extraordinary circumstances" test, which allows for filibusters of judicial nominees in extreme cases. But this coverage fails to note that Republicans are now engaged in unprecedented filibustering of all nominees, not just Halligan, even noncontroversial ones who have bipartisan support.
More importantly, the attacks on Halligan have been repeatedly debunked as cover for the NRA's opposition to the lawsuits Halligan was involved in prior to the passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, when she successfully pressured the gun industry to accept responsibility for business practices that funnel guns to criminals. Far from an "activist," Halligan was instead fulfilling her responsibilities as the legal representative of New York in her attempts to protect the state's citizens from illegal gun violence.
The right-wing media, however, is already dredging up this discredited NRA attack, even recycling Republican Sen. Charles Grassley's opposition to Halligan because she supported current constitutional law - such as affirmative action - with which he personally disagrees. CNSNews.com's repetition of Sen. Grassley's confused description of Halligan's support for recent Supreme Court precedent as "not a mainstream position," is an example of how the right-wing media have stretched in support of their blanket opposition to Obama's judicial nominees.
As reported by legal expert Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times, the Halligan example reveals the opposition is certainly not because of the nominees' qualifications:
[T]he N.R.A. has begun to involve itself in lower court nominations as well, where it can work its will in the shadows. It has effectively blocked President Obama's nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that has been vacant since September 2005, when John G. Roberts Jr. moved to a courthouse up the street. The president has submitted the name of the superbly qualified Ms. Halligan to the Senate three times.
When I wrote a year ago about the fate of Caitlin Halligan's appeals court nomination, I tried to puzzle out the basis for the opposition. Silly me, I thought it had something to do with Republicans not wanting a young (she had just turned 45), highly qualified judge sitting in the D.C. Circuit's famous launch position (hello, John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Warren Burger . . .)
Now I realize it's not about anything so sophisticated. It's about the N.R.A., which announced its opposition days before the cloture vote last December...In a previous job as New York State's solicitor general, Ms. Halligan, a former Supreme Court law clerk who is now general counsel to the Manhattan district attorney, had represented the state in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. So much for her.
From the January 4 edition of MSNBC's MSNBC Live:
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Former National Rifle Association president Marion Hammer compared a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to ban assault weapons to racial discrimination. According to Hammer, "banning people and things because of the way they look went out a long time ago. But here they are again. The color of a gun. The way it looks. It's just bad politics."
Hammer's comparison came during a discussion on NRA News about Sen. Feinstein's plans to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons during the new Congress. Hammer warned that the United States government could engage in firearm confiscation "in order to control the masses."