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."
The National Rifle Association, an organization with a well-documented history of baseless fearmongering, may have outdone itself with the release of a new fundraising video series that features hysterical depictions of current events. Whether it is the threat of Mexican drug cartel violence in the United States, the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, or even civil unrest that occurred in England in 2011, the NRA wants you to be scared and send cash fast. After all, warns Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, "everything we love about America, all the freedoms our forefathers fought for, all of it is under attack by Barack Obama."
Even Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly isn't buying National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre's outrageous claims that a yet to be finalized United Nations treaty to regulate the import and export of small arms worldwide will strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights and cause American citizens "to be added to that pile of dead people left defenseless by the [United Nations'] policies."
The NRA has repeatedly offered such false and conspiratorial claims in response to the treaty, claims which in the past have been echoed on Fox. But during today's interview, Kelly repeatedly pushed back on LaPierre's talking points.
After LaPierre made the false claim that the proposed treaty "says to people in the United States turn over your personal protection and your firearms to the government," Kelly attempted to steer him back to reality by suggesting the treaty is about "global arms sales" not "domestic sales." On multiple occasions she urged him to justify his baseless claims.
From the June 20 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre appeared on Fox News' America Live yesterday to comment on the controversial "Kill At Will" law that has been connected to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. LaPierre's appearance came the day after The Wall Street Journal reported on a new study that linked the NRA-backed "Kill At Will" laws to higher homicide rates, though America Live host Shannon Bream failed to raise the results of the study with LaPierre.
Starting with Florida in 2005, at least 25 states have enacted some form of "Kill At Will." The study, conducted by Texas A&M University economics professor Mark Hoekstra, reached the damning conclusion that the expansion of such self-defense laws since 2005 led to an increase in the incidence of homicides:
[W]e find the laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant 7 to 9 percent, which translates into an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the states that adopted castle doctrine [Hoekstra's term for laws passed since 2005 that expand the right to self-defense]. Thus, by lowering the expected costs associated with using lethal force, castle doctrine laws induce more of it. This increase in homicides could be due either to the increased use of lethal force in self-defense situations, or to the escalation of violence in otherwise non-lethal conflicts. We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent. This is important because murder excludes non-negligent manslaughter classifications that one might think are used more frequently in self-defense cases. But regardless of how one interprets increases from various classifications, it is clear that the primary effect of strengthening self-defense law is to increase homicide. [emphasis added]
Hoekstra also found no link between the enactment of "Kill At Will" laws and a decrease in other types of crime:
Results indicate that the prospect of facing additional self-defense does not deter crime. Specifically, we find no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. Moreover, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out meaningful deterrence effects.
The study undermines LaPierre's organization's defense of "Kill At Will" laws, which were enacted across the nation after dogged lobbying efforts by the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council. LaPierre wasn't asked about the study during his Fox appearance, but was instead given free rein to make a number of misleading claims about the nature of "Kill At Will" laws.
LaPierre described Florida's "Kill At Will" law, and similar laws nationwide that remove the duty to retreat before employing deadly force outside of the home while often adding the presumption that the use of deadly force was lawful, as "completely unremarkable." Contrary to LaPierre's characterization, increased scrutiny of "Kill At Will" laws has uncovered numerous instances in which the laws have been tied to seemingly avoidable killings.
In an April 25 op-ed for the Daily Caller, National Rifle Association CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre took to the opinion pages to once again deploy faulty logic to claim that the reelection of President Barack Obama will precipitate an "all-out war on the Second Amendment."
LaPierre's primary piece of evidence concerning what he calls "the web of lies spun about the president's phony, claimed support of the Second Amendment," is that current Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has been "tapped as the star co-chair for Obama's re-election effort." LaPierre claims that this is "no honorary job" but rather "real power linking Obama's re-election with Emanual's fanaticism for destroying the Second Amendment." But if Emanuel wanted to work with Obama to push gun bans nationwide he most certainly missed his best chance, which would have occurred when he worked in the highest levels of the Obama Administration.
The record is clear that the Obama Administration did not enact any gun violence prevention legislation during the time that Emanuel served as the highly influential White House chief of staff. Between January 2009 and October 2010, President Obama signed only two gun-related bills into law, both of which expanded, rather than restricted, the right to carry firearms.
In May 2009 President Obama signed into law legislation allowing firearms to be carried in national parks. A later bill allowing guns onto Amtrak trains was enacted in December 2009. At the time, the NRA called the legislation "a major step forward." Gun violence prevention groups, however, were furious. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave President Obama an "F" rating in every category that it assesses. The failing report card was accompanied by a scathing publication entitled, "President Obama's First Year: Failed Leadership, Lost Lives," that called the president's record on gun violence prevention "an abject failure."
|NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre at the |
NRA's 2012 annual meeting.
ST. LOUIS -- The hotel minibus had barely left the airport when the guy to my left dropped the Obama assassination joke.
There were eight of us on our way to the National Rifle Association's annual convention downtown, rolling past a domino-row of highway billboards advertising the event's "Acres of Guns and Gear." The banter suggested the minibus crew was microcosmic of the NRA's claimed four million members, more than 70,000 of whom made the election-year pilgrimage. There was a soft-spoken father from Long Island and his teenage daughter headed to the University of Akron on a Division-I marksmanship scholarship. There were retired New Hampshire hunters from NRA families going back generations. There was a Russian immigrant whose only hobby is fully automatic machine guns.
And there was a professional Second Amendment extremist named Stephen Burke. An Endowment Life Member of the NRA and an attorney from Springfield, Massachusetts, Burke specializes in getting guns into the hands of ex-cons whose licenses have been revoked or downgraded for criminal activity.
Burke is a loud and boastful retired lance corporal who displays a photo of himself with NRA Executive Vice President & CEO Wayne LaPierre on his professional website. The only thing he abhors more than gun control is silence. When a conversation about former New York Governor George Pataki's pro-gun record entered a lull, he asked the group what sounded like an American history riddle or piece of trivia: "What do Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama have in common?"
The collective intelligence of the minibus was stumped. After a few beats, he delivered the answer: "Nothing. Yet."
Most of the bus erupted in laughter, but the father from Long Island looked out the window, embarrassed.
Parents who want to shield their children from presidential assassination jokes should consider vacation destinations other than NRA conventions. The group's leadership has in recent years expertly cultivated a very profitable hatred and paranoia among its membership. This fact was on majestic display in St. Louis, where NRA officials painted the president as a dedicated "enemy of freedom" quietly implementing the early stages of a master gun confiscation plan. The convention marked the opening salvo in the group's campaign to defeat Obama and his gun control allies in November. The official battle cry for this effort, unveiled on Friday, is "All In."
The NRA's election-year slogan is meant to evoke a bit of the Wild West tough guy imagery that remains central to American gun culture. The phrase comes from poker, the card game of the frontier, and the desired picture is that of a noble, steely-eyed gun lobby pushing its mountain of chips across the table of America's destiny, betting everything on one last high-stakes hand. In NRA land, where impending Second Amendment Apocalypse is a state of mind and a business strategy, the next election is always the final hand. As he did in 2008, chief NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre describes 2012 as "the most important election of our lifetime."
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.
On Monday, Media Matters noted the role of controversial Florida gun laws in the shooting of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Martin was shot and killed as he returned to his father's house by Zimmerman, who told a 9-11 dispatcher that Martin was "a real suspicious guy."
Zimmerman has thus far successfully claimed the shooting was defensive amidst rapidly growing national attention to the incident and news that the FBI and Department of Justice have begun an investigation of the shooting. Thanks to Florida's NRA-backed "Stand Your Ground" legislation that expands the circumstances when people can claim self-defense, media outlets are questioning if the legislation effectively immunizes Zimmerman from prosecution.
While the NRA appears to have avoided discussing Martin's death, in 2005 the NRA's top leaders were breezily dismissing concerns about "Stand Your Ground" legislation.
Former NRA president and chief Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer went on Democracy Now to defend the legislation. Hammer boasted that she would debate Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence executive director Arthur Mayhoe again in 10 years after his concerns about the "Stand Your Ground" legislation were proven false.
HAMMER: Mr. Hayhoe, let's do this again in ten years where you will be proven wrong again, just as you are now proven wrong, when you said the same kinds of things when right to carry passed in 1987. It is nothing but emotional hysterics.
NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox did a victory lap after the passage of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" legislation in the NRA's American Hunter magazine. Touting the legislation as a "critical turning point in what has become our proactive approach to gun-rights activism" Cox dismissed concerns raised in a The Washington Post article on the legislation. Cox:
As NRA and its grassroots affiliates move forward with this initiative, no doubt you'll be hearing more about it-and not just from those of us committed to firearm freedom. The usual suspects among the anti-gun media are already suggesting what's become an all-too-familiar slant from them, that the law could give rise to a "Wild West revival, a return to the days of 'shoot first and ask questions later,'" (The Washington Post, April 26). [American Hunter 07/01/2005, retrieved via Nexis 3/20/2012]
Speaking to the Christian Science Monitor, NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre argued that these laws "make it very clear that the good guy has the advantage, not the bad guy." In the article referenced by Cox, LaPierre boasted that Florida's legislation was the "first step of a multi-state strategy."
Media Matters has previously discussed the right-wing media's efforts to malign Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's suggestion that Egypt look to South Africa's constitution for guidance as they draft Egypt's new Constitution. Ginburg's inoffensive suggestion that Egypt look to constitutions drafted more recently than the U.S. Constitution was aggressively distorted to suggest Ginsburg represented a "perverted judicial philosophy." The description was categorically nonsense. Ginsburg's full comments show her admiration for how the U.S. Constitution has served America and persevered over time.
With a new strain of the long running attacks against liberal Supreme Court Justices created, it comes as no surprise to see the National Rifle Association signaling that they're integrating the Ginsburg smear into their 2012 campaign.
The NRA's lobby shop has been pushing the depiction of Obama's future Supreme Court nominees and Ginsburg herself as broadly hostile to the U.S. Constitution:
But it was a much bigger shock when the [New York] Times reported in the same story that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a sitting associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and grande dame of the Court's liberal voting bloc, shares the Times' dim view of the Constitution. Ginsburg said "I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012." Her personal recommendations would instead include "the South African Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights."
None of this should come as a surprise. One wonders, for example, if Justice Ginsburg even looks to the United States Constitution when interpreting it in 2012. [...]
While it is lamentable that the Times cannot see the greatness of our Constitution, it is far more troubling that Justice Ginsburg cannot. And most troubling of all is the possibility that if elected to a second term, President Obama could appoint even more justices who share Justice Ginsburg's views.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre also made potential Obama Supreme Court appointees a central focus in his speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, calling Justices Sonia Sotamayor and Elena Kagan "two of the most rabidly anti-gun justices in history." LaPierre also belittled Ginsburg, saying she looked like a "giddy school girl" when she hugged President Barack Obama at the State of the Union address, and suggested her comments on Egypt called into question her oath to "uphold and defend our Constitution."
Speaking to Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox pledged a piece of the gun lobby's reported $225 million dollar war chest to making the Supreme Court an issue in every Senate race in 2012. It remains to be seen whether their distortion of Ginsburg's constitution comments will be a part of that effort.
National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference that "if you don't remember anything else I say today, write this down: this is the most dangerous election of our lifetimes." He warned that "all of our freedom, all of our rights" are at stake, asking, "Will we save America and our freedom? Will we save the Second Amendment from a second Obama White House?"
LAPIERRE: If you believe in freedom, and if you're as sick and tired of all the lies and schemes and Obama failures as I am, join us and stand up in this great fight. If you don't remember anything else I say today, write this down: this is the most dangerous election in our lifetimes. If Obama wins, we'll go to our graves mourning the freedoms we've lost. This election is all in, all of our freedom, all of our rights, and that means all of you. All in. No one sits this one out. So stand up right now and you tell me, will you defend freedom will all of your might? Come on, stand up. Let them hear you over at the White House. Will we fight to preserve our liberty and keep our nation strong and safe and free? Will we save America and our freedom? Will we save the Second Amendment from a second Obama White House?
LaPierre's warnings were based on his reiterated claim that the White House has not pushed for gun violence prevention measures because it is engaged in a "massive Obama conspiracy" to get re-elected, and then use President Obama's second term to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution."
LaPierre promised that Obama's purported strategy will not succeed, saying that the NRA is "all-in" for the 2012 elections and promising that "gun owners will be responsible" for Obama's defeat. New research from the American Prospect's Paul Waldman brings such claims from the NRA into question, demonstrating that "the NRA has virtually no impact on congressional elections."
When LaPierre first asserted the existence of a "massive Obama conspiracy" at Florida's version of CPAC, he was widely mocked by media figures including Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews for what Maddow called "the insane paranoid message from the NRA this year." Today, LaPierre offered a rejoinder to such criticisms, saying that "the media won't win this election, gun owners will."
The NRA leader also suggested that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder had acted "like some South American dictator" with regards to the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious,again offering up the baseless conspiracy that the operation had been deliberately designed by the White House to go wrong in order to justify stricter U.S. gun laws.