In yet another year plagued by horrific instances of gun violence, the media was quick to react to tragedies by labeling gun violence prevention efforts futile on the basis of the alleged ability of the National Rifle Association to ruin the political careers of anyone who dared to stand in the way of its anti-gun regulation agenda.
Earlier this year, Slate's Brian Palmer typified this narrative with an article titled "Why Is The NRA So Powerful?" that suggested that the pro-gun organization "considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country" can "reliably deliver votes." In the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Slate republished the article verbatim. Also following the Newtown massacre, NBC's David Gregory and Fox News' Chris Wallace both suggested that politicians who favored gun violence prevention measures would face serious reprisals.
In making these claims, the media simply advanced a years old narrative suggesting the NRA wields unlimited political power without citing any actual evidence for that position. In fact, 2012 was a year full of indicators that the extent of NRA influence has been wildly exaggerated. The media should keep this in mind as they prepare to cover the NRA's press conference this morning responding to the Newtown massacre.
During the past year, the National Rifle Association was abandoned by political and business allies and spent nearly $18 million in a failed attempt to keep supporters of gun violence prevention out of Congress and the White House.
Even as the NRA's brand was deemed toxic by the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative "model legislation" group, and faced withering criticism in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, the media myth has persisted that the NRA has the capability to punish politicians who oppose its extreme agenda.
National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre will be the "exclusive" guest on NBC's Meet the Press on December 23, nine days after the horrific shooting in Newtown, CT, and five days after the NRA mustered the courage to finally comment on the tragedy. Meet the Press moderator David Gregory is soliciting questions for LaPierre via Twitter, and we're happy to propose a few that touch on LaPierre's and the NRA's credibility on gun rights, drawing from LaPierre's long record of conspiratorial rhetoric in the name of aiding the firearms lobby.
LaPierre: Obama will "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution."
At the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, LaPierre delivered a speech sketching out what he saw coming should President Obama win reelection:
LAPIERRE: We see the president's strategy crystal clear: Get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms' freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution.
The only way to "erase" a constitutional amendment is with another constitutional amendment. Given that the passage of an amendment requires two-thirds supermajorities in both houses of Congress (one of which is controlled by Republicans) and ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures (more than half of which are controlled by Republicans), the chances of the Second Amendment being "erased" any time soon are infinitesimally small - even if Democrats supported such a thing. And in fact, Obama himself has repeatedly stated that he supports both the Second Amendment and passing reasonable restrictions on guns - as do most NRA members.
QUESTION: "There is no plausible scenario in which President Obama or the Democrats could possibly remove the Second Amendment from the Constitution, so how can you justify your claim that the president will do so in his second term?"
Members of the media have been quick to push the myth that the National Rifle Association can remove politicians from office who support new gun violence prevention measures in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The influence wielded by the NRA has been overblown by the media for years, a fact further evidenced by the organization's poor showing during the 2012 elections.
Fox News is reporting that gun owners are rushing to buy firearms in light of President Obama's reelection at the same time it promotes the very conspiracies about the president's gun policies triggering those sales.
A December 6 FoxNews.com article on the firearms "buying spree" reports that to gun owners, "Obama's re-election, and the apocalypse -- amount to the same thing" while also credulously quoting the unfounded claim of NRA president David Keene that, "Obama is coming right at us" and his second term will be "an all-out assault on the Second Amendment."
The simultaneous reporting of an uptick in gun sales and promotion of wild-eyed conspiracy theories about Obama's gun policies is commonplace at Fox News, despite the fact that President Obama expanded, rather than restricted, where a gun can be carried during his first term.
On the December 3 edition of Hannity on Fox News, WorldNetDaily columnist Erik Rush discussed the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher, alleging, "Whenever there is a high-profile gun crime the fearmongering begins, the histrionics begin, and all of this stuff really has its genesis in the political left, and particularly the big government political leftists, who want to disarm the public."
National Rifle Association executive vice president and columnist Wayne LaPierre has unveiled a new conspiracy theory, alleging that NBC sportscaster Bob Costas' discussion of the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher was part of a plan by "media conglomerates" to ban guns.
On Sunday Night Football, Costas' quoted approvingly from a FoxSports.com column that noted, "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and [his victim] Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."
Responding on the December 3 edition of NRA News, LaPierre said Costas was promoting "an anti-Second Amendment agenda by somebody in the media with access to these media conglomerates that are more than happy to amplify that all over the country and try to ram it down the throats of average American citizens."
LaPierre and NRA News host Cam Edwards went on to use Costas' comments to promote joining the NRA:
EDWARDS: [Americans] can join the NRA and join a part of the largest organization in America protecting and defending the right to keep and bear arms.
LAPIERRE: Yeah, I mean we are about to be victim of a siege against the Second Amendment in this country going into Obama's second term. I mean it's going to be ugly. It's going to come hard, fast and soon. And were going to have to survive this period of unprecedented danger. And the best way to survive is to make the NRA stronger than ever. Never has membership in NRA been more important than right now.
The NRA often trades in baseless conspiracy theories to promote gun ownership and NRA membership.
In September 2011, LaPierre announced the existence of a "massive Obama conspiracy" to end private firearm ownership in the United States. The basis for LaPierre's claim that Obama would "[e]rase the Second Amendment" in his second term was that Obama did not act on guns during his first term. The NRA also claims that a United Nations treaty with the stated goal of preventing diversion of weapons to human rights abusers will be used as a pretext for gun confiscation in the United States.
Fox Business host Staurt Varney concluded a softball interview with National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre by telling the NRA top executive the segment had been an "excellent commercial for the NRA."
LaPierre used his appearance as an opportunity to denigrate efforts to pass a new assault weapons ban. He falsely suggested that there are no differences between assault weapons and other guns, calling the term assault rifle "an invented term by the people who hate the Second Amendment in this country to confuse the American public."
Instead of engaging in a discussion about the merits of an assault weapons ban, which LaPierre's organization stridently opposes, Varney played footage of an Arizona gun dealer suggesting that Obama "is going to implement more than just an assault weapons ban" and asked LaPierre open-ended questions such as, "I'm not sure I exactly understand what is an assault weapon as defined by the gun control people. Can you tell me?"
The latest blow to the media myth that the National Rifle Association has the ability to determine election results is a Politico article reporting the result of a bipartisan poll that showed voters trusted Obama more than Romney on the issue of guns in North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado.
The NRA spent nearly $12 million dollars on an "All In" campaign to remove Obama from office, but was unable to deliver. Voters in Virginia trusted President Obama more than Mitt Romney on guns by a 9 point margin, and in Colorado and North Carolina by four and one point margins. Despite massive ad buys, less than 27 percent of voters in the three states polled recalled seeing the NRA's campaign material.
Politico quoted Mayors Against Illegal Guns director Mark Glaze reacting to the poll, which his organization paid for, as evidence that "the NRA has built a mythology around their ability to swing elections that has little basis in fact."
The right-leaning Heritage Foundation has thrown cold water on the revival a conspiracy theory pushed on Fox News by contributor Dick Morris and the National Rifle Association that the United Nation's Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is actually a sinister Obama administration plot to eliminate the right of private individuals to own a firearm.
During a Heritage Blogger Briefing, senior research fellow Ted Bromund stated, "I don't think that the ATT is a gun confiscation measure for a variety of reasons. First, because I don't regard that as within the bounds of possibility in the United States and secondly, because that is not what the text says."
Bromund's assessment is correct. The stated goal of the treaty is to regulate the international trade of firearms in order to prevent the diversion of arms to human rights abusers, and the most recent version of the treaty's text expressly prohibits the regulation of firearm ownership within sovereign nations.
The preamble of the July 26 treaty draft clearly "reaffirm[s] the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system." Furthermore, the Department of State has stated that it will oppose any treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution."
Despite convincing evidence that the treaty seeks only to regulate international trade -- and that any treaty limiting rights granted by the United States Constitution would be considered invalid -- the conspiracy theory persists. Morris, who has pushed theory on Fox News, and NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, both dedicated space in their latest books to advance the claim.
The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative (NRA-ILA) issued an election postmortem claiming that the public has been misled by the media "about the effectiveness of NRA campaign spending." The release is the latest attempt by the NRA to sustain what has been a false media narrative about the NRA's ability to influence elections.
Despite the NRA's protestations, the outcome on Election Day could hardly have been worse for the gun organization. The NRA failed to achieve its main goal, the defeat of President Obama, and also backed the losing Senate candidate in six out of seven races where the NRA spent more than $100,000. Over two-thirds of House incumbents who lost their seats were endorsed by the NRA. The non-partisan Sunlight Foundation concluded that less than one percent of $10,536,106 spent by NRA Political Victory Fund went to races where the NRA-backed candidate won.*
These results do not comport with the widely-accepted media narrative that the NRA is an electoral powerhouse. Despite research by American Prospect contributing editor (and former Media Matters staffer) Paul Waldman proving that the impact of both NRA campaign contributions and endorsements is overblown, the fable of NRA influence has persevered. Slate's Brian Palmer encapsulated this narrative in July when he wrote that the NRA "can reliably deliver votes" and "is considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country."
Although mythology surrounding the NRA's power has persisted for years in the media, that façade appears to be crumbling in the wake of the 2012 elections. An article by The Hill titled "Report: NRA shoots blanks this election," highlighted the NRA's ineffective spending and noted that the Sunlight Foundation's report "challenge[s] the popular political wisdom that the NRA is among Washington's most influential lobbying forces and that candidates who buck their agenda do so at their own peril." The Washington Post offered similar analysis in an article titled "National Rifle Association shut out on Election Day" that cited the Sunlight Foundation's conclusions.
As an attempt to continue projecting itself as an organization that can determine the outcomes of elections, the NRA is now touting the success of three state ballot initiatives preventing states from banning hunting as evidence that money given to the NRA was well spent.
But the hunting ballot initiatives -- which were not even opposed by NRA nemesis the Humane Society -- are not what the 2012 elections were about for the NRA. In 2011, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre announced an "All In" campaign to remove President Obama from the White House that compared a potential Obama second term to a 2004 tsunami that killed over 250,000 people in South Asia.
In the wake of the 2012 elections, where the National Rifle Association spent $18 million dollars to little effect, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre promised to defeat Democrats who do not support his organization's agenda in the 2014 elections. According to LaPierre, a columnist for the organization's publications, Democrats who support gun violence prevention laws will "go out on that plank" with President Obama and "the American public and the NRA will saw it right off."
From the November 9 edition of The Daily News on NRA News:
LAPIERRE: So what [Obama] is going to try to do is walk a lot of Democrats out on that plank with him. Now that Obama has got no more elections in front of him, he is going to try to do the same thing that Bill Clinton did in '92 after he got elected, which is walk a lot of Democrats out on that plank of attacking the Second Amendment. And here's a prediction I make right now. If they go out on that plank with President Obama, he doesn't have any more elections; these Democrats will have more elections in front of them. I predict in 2014, when they are out on that plank, if they walk it with Obama, the American public and the NRA will saw it right off behind him and defend this freedom.
But the NRA had an abysmal track record for the 2012 elections. Besides failing to achieve its primary goal to defeat President Obama, the NRA backed the losing candidate in six out of seven Senate races where it spent more than $100,000. Over two-thirds of incumbent House members who lost re-election bids were endorsed by the NRA.
A good deal has been written about how Mitt Romney's answers on Libya at last night's presidential debate illustrated the degree to which his foreign policy is influenced by the closed conservative media feedback loop. But there was another moment from Romney last night on gun violence prevention that might indicate the degree to which the fringe right influences the Republican candidate's campaign rhetoric.
In the middle of his answer to a question about limiting "the availability of assault weapons," Romney launched into a discourse on Operation Fast and Furious, the failed gun trafficking sting. Romney called it the "greatest failure we've had with regards to gun violence" and intimated that no one knows why it was initiated: "For what purpose it was put in place, I can't imagine. ... I'd like to understand who it was that did this, what the idea was behind it, why it led to the violence, thousands of guns going to Mexican drug lords."
What made this so odd was that there isn't any uncertainty as to what the idea behind Fast and Furious was. The operation was intended to identify and dismantle the cross-border gun-trafficking rings that operate within the United States and Mexico, and both the Justice Department's inspector general and House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) have released reports affirming that fact.
During today's meeting of a Florida taskforce that is investigating the "Kill At Will" law implicated in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, National Rifle Association representative Marion Hammer said that the NRA was "proud to have been a part of the process" in enacting the law in 2005.
We believe the law is doing what the legislature intended. It is protecting the rights of people who defend themselves against attackers and intruders. The NRA supported this law. We are proud to have been a part of the process. We are proud to say we worked with legislators from both sides of the aisle to protect self-defense rights. And although there may be other bodies of law that do not go far enough to protect the innocent and the righteous, we don't see any basic need to change the premise of this law.
Hammer, who in closing stated that the NRA "see[s] the law as protecting freedom," served as president of the National Rifle Association between 1995 and 1998 and remains the organization's top lobbyist in Florida. She is hardly the first member of National Rifle Association leadership to express full-throated support for "Kill At Will." In April, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox told attendees of the NRA's annual meeting that despite "post-media hysteria" in the weeks following Trayvon Martin's death the gun rights organization "will defend those laws." At the same annual gathering, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre blamed controversy surrounding the law, called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents, on the national news media.
Hammer previously acknowledged in an interview with Media Matters that the NRA helped draft the law and "support[ed] it through the process." This account was confirmed by Florida Today reporter Paul Flemming who stated, "There is no doubt about it. Marion Hammer, the NRA lobbyist here, former president of the NRA wrote the legislation and she would tell you so."
The right-wing media's conspiracy theory that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was hatched as a nefarious plot by the Obama administration to impose draconian gun control upon the United States has been debunked by an independent investigation into the failed gun trafficking sting.
According to a report issued by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, there is "no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization." This is consistent with a June 2011 report by Republican congressional staff, which found that "The operation's goal was to establish a nexus between straw purchasers of assault-style weapons in the United States and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) operating on both sides of the United States-Mexico border." From the OIG report (emphasis added):
ATF's Phoenix Field Division, together with the U.S. Attorney's Office, bore primary responsibility for the conduct of Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. While we found no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization, we concluded that the conduct and supervision of the investigations was significantly flawed. For reasons described in Chapters Three and Four, the Phoenix and Tucson offices adopted and adhered to a strategy that deferred taking overt action against subjects, even when evidence of the illegality of the purchasing activity was overwhelming, and we concluded, did so without adequate consideration of how that strategy placed the public at risk and what measures could be taken to minimize that risk. Further, as the case progressed, there was no discussion about whether the goals of the investigation should yield to what should have been an imperative to end the firearms trafficking taking place.
The Inspector General also specifically found no link between Operation Fast and Furious and plans to regulate firearms. According to the report, there is "no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation." The report also found that then-Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson did not use Fast and Furious as a justification for an ATF-backed reporting requirement for the sale of multiple assault rifles that went into effect in August 2011. From the report (emphasis added):
Melson told the OIG that the impetus for the long gun reporting requirement came from him, though he could not recall the date that he asked his staff to pursue the matter. He also stated that when he discussed the long gun reporting requirement with staff at ATF Headquarters, "[n]o one ever suggested that [Operation Fast and Furious] was being done for purposes of supporting our position on the long guns," and that he did not make any decisions concerning the case in order to increase the likelihood that the long gun reporting requirement would be implemented. We found no evidence that contradicted Melson's statements to us concerning the long gun reporting requirement; and no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation.
This report directly contradicts baseless claims made about Fast and Furious by members of the right-wing media and National Rifle Association leadership.
The Associated Press and CNN recently debunked an op-ed featured at The Daily Caller that suggested a recent ammunition purchase by the Social Security Administration evidenced an Obama plot to kill American citizens en masse. The bizarre theory is hardly the first conspiratorial idea to be promoted on the opinion page of The Daily Caller.
National Rifle Association board member Grover Norquist undermined the NRA's conspiracy theory that President Obama would use his second term to destroy the Second Amendment during a radio appearance on Monday. The NRA has used that claim as the centerpiece of their election efforts.
Citing the ability of Congress and the Supreme Court to check the power of the Executive Branch, Norquist stated, "So if Obama was king would he go after your guns? Probably. He ain't king." Norquist's comments came during the inaugural edition of Media Matters' new radio program, The Agenda:
ARI RABIN-HAVT, HOST: Now according to the [NRA's] CEO Wayne LaPierre, this is has all been part of -- and this is a quote -- "a massive Obama conspiracy" to quote "lull gun owners to sleep" so he can eliminate the Second Amendment in his second term. You know, you're a very reasonable guy. Frankly that statement seems unreasonable, that it's all part of a secret plot. Do you agree with Wayne LaPierre on that? That Barack Obama is trying to lull America to sleep so he can ban guns in his second term? Something I don't think is even legislatively possible at this point?
GROVER NORQUIST: I think in his heart of hearts Obama is not a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and would limit gun rights to the extent that he can. Now the good news for people who care about the Second Amendment is that the House and the Senate have strong support for the Second Amendment. So one of the reasons Obama has been reasonable is that he doesn't have the votes to do something other than be reasonable. And the Supreme Court has also come down on the side of an individual right to be armed. So if Obama was king would he go after your guns? Probably. He ain't king.
Norquist's statement that Obama "ain't king" stands in sharp contrast to the musings of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, who has been warning NRA adherents about an Obama plot to end private gun ownership. The theory was first aired out at a political rally in September 2011, when LaPierre suggested that the president's inaction on the gun issue evidenced a "massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in our country." He went on to claim:
We see the president's strategy crystal clear: get re-elected, and with no other re-elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms freedom. Erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and exorcise it from the U.S. Constitution. That's their agenda.
The theory has been widely ridiculed since its conception. Jon Stewart characterized it as "so crazy, it's f--king crazy." MSNBC host Rachel Maddow summed up the outlandish nature of the theory nicely in October 2011, stating, "The NRA says the way you can tell Obama is coming for your guns, is that he's not coming for you guns. It's genius! That is the insane paranoid message from the NRA this year." Hardball's Chris Matthews reacted to LaPierre's speech by calling him "another strain of the crazy far right."