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Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump called for an end to "gun-free zones," parroting a prominent right-wing media claim that more civilians carrying guns would prevent mass shootings. However, there is no evidence the claim is true and research instead shows more guns are linked to higher levels of violence. This instance is just the latest example of Trump parroting right-wing media myths in his talking points.
CNN, Fox News Allowed False "Gun-Free Zone" Claim To Go Unchallenged More Than 20 Times Each
The false conservative media talking point that Umpqua Community College (UCC) was a "gun-free zone" was frequently pushed on CNN and Fox News in the aftermath of an October 1 mass shooting where a gunman killed nine and wounded several others on the Roseburg, Oregon, campus.
Conservative media figures often claim that mass shootings tend to happen in so-called "gun-free zones" in order to advocate for less restrictive gun laws. In reality, most mass shootings occur where firearms are allowed, and a Mother Jones review of mass public shootings over a 30-year period concluded, "In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. And in other recent (but less lethal) rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, those civilians not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed."
Within the first two hours of breaking news reporting on the UCC shooting, claims that UCC was a "gun-free zone" began to appear on CNN and Fox News. The claim, however, was untrue under any reasonable definition of what a "gun-free zone" could be. According to a Newsweek interview of more than a dozen people connected with UCC, it was "common knowledge" that "many students carried guns" on UCC's campus.
Under Oregon law, individuals with concealed carry permits are allowed to carry guns on the grounds of public colleges and universities. Public colleges and universities can create a policy to not allow guns within campus buildings. UCC did not allow guns in buildings "except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations," which was apparently interpreted by students as allowing concealed carry with a lawfully issued permit.
As one student explained to Newsweek, "You are allowed to conceal and carry on that campus. It's not a gun-free zone":
"You are allowed to conceal and carry on that campus," said Umpqua student and part-time wildland firefighter Jeremy Smith, 24. "It's not a gun-free zone."
Smith said he would never return to campus without a handgun.
"I'm an avid gun owner," he said. "I carry, like just about anybody else does."
Although Oregon state law allows concealed weapons, Umpqua's student handbook says firearms are prohibited on college property "except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations."
The school includes firearms training in its criminal justice program for people accepted into a Police Reserve Academy. Students use the Roseburg Rod and Gun Club, a short drive from campus, to shoot or get help registering for a concealed-carry permit, an employee there said.
While there were two unarmed security guards at the sprawling campus, several current and former students said legally carrying concealed handguns was not unusual, particularly among the hundreds of military veterans who attend classes and frequent the Student Veterans Center.
News reports also established that there were indeed armed students on campus at the time of the shooting. A student who also happened to be a U.S. military veteran described on MSNBC why he and other veterans he was with decided not to intervene, explaining, "Not knowing where SWAT was on their response time, they wouldn't have known who we were, if we had our guns ready to shoot they could think we were bad guys."
Despite this plethora of evidence that UCC was not a "gun-free zone," CNN and Fox News continued to advance the falsehood in the week after the shooting.
According to a review of internal Media Matters video archives of coverage between October 1 and October 6, the "gun-free zone" falsehood as it relates to UCC was mentioned 23 times on Fox News, with just two instances where it was explained that UCC was not a "gun-free zone." The falsehood appeared 25 times on CNN, with four of those instances being debunked with accurate information.
By contrast, the falsehood was advanced just once on MSNBC without pushback, and in two instances the "gun-free zone" claim was pro-actively debunked without someone first pushing the myth:
Fox News ran 23 segments where it was claimed that UCC was a "gun-free zone." The claims came from Fox News reporters, hosts, guests and soundbites of GOP presidential candidates making the claim. The claim was debunked in only two cases.
In one of these instances, during the October 1 broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor, guest David Jaques, the publisher of the Roseburg Beacon News, explained "it's not a gun-free zone," citing a statement from UCC's past president.
False claims about UCC being a "gun-free zone" were not limited to conservative punditry on Fox News. During breaking news coverage of the shooting on October 1, Fox News correspondent and breaking news anchor Trace Gallagher falsely reported, "As we know, and have been reporting, Umpqua Community College is a gun-free zone."
On October 2, Fox News correspondent William La Jeunesse falsely reported UCC was a "gun-free zone" during several news reports. During the October 2 broadcast of Happening Now, La Jeunesse falsely reported, "This was a gun-free zone." Later on Outnumbered, La Jeunesse editorialized further, saying, "This was a gun-free zone, so the gunman had no fear of being shot himself by other students."
CNN ran 25 segments that included claims that UCC was a "gun-free zone," with claims coming from CNN hosts, guests, and unchallenged soundbites of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump pushing the falsehood during a speech.
In four instances, other on-air individuals corrected the claim that UCC was a "gun-free zone."
During the early morning hours of October 2, CNN ran a report several times that erroneously reported UCC was "technically ... a gun-free zone" in a botched attempt to explain Oregon law and UCC policies.
The claim that UCC was a "gun-free zone" was made just once on MSNBC, by co-host Willie Geist during the October 2 broadcast of Morning Joe.
In two other instances, the notion that UCC was a "gun-free zone" was preemptively debunked, once by Mark Kelly, whose wife, then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting, and once by MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff who explained, "This was not a so-called gun-free zone" while relaying reports of concealed carry on campus and students who were carrying guns during the shooting.
Media Matters reviewed internal video archives for MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News beginning at 2 P.M. EST on October 1 and ending at 11:59 P.M. EST on October 6, searching for the term "gun-free zone." Segments that included this term were reviewed to determine whether the claim that UCC was a "gun-free zone" was either advanced, debunked, or both advanced and debunked. Segments that referenced Oregon gun law or UCC gun policy but ultimately concluded that UCC was a "gun-free zone" were coded as "Segments Pushing 'Gun-Free Zones' Myth."
Chart by Craig Harrington.
A Texas charity has abandoned a plan to help house child migrants after conservative media outlets used misleading images to suggest displaced children would be living there in luxury conditions. In fact, the same charity operates other no-frills facilities and had planned to convert a hotel in a similar style.
Conservative media have promoted multiple conspiracy theories connected to the humanitarian migration crisis, including the accusation that President Obama "planned" the recent surge of child migrants across the border for political reasons, that migrant children are infecting Americans with rare diseases, and that Obama is allowing violent gang members to cross the border.
Fox News misrepresented the TRUST Act, a California immigration bill that would limit law enforcement's ability to detain undocumented immigrants for deportation, claiming the legislation will allow criminals to go free. In fact, the bill is aimed at shielding undocumented victims and witnesses to crimes, as well as those who have committed only minor offenses, from deportation. It also seeks to stop criminalizing undocumented immigrants for the sole civil offense of being in the country illegally.
The bill, formally known as Assembly Bill 4, was passed by the California state legislature on September 10. Gov. Jerry Brown has until October 17 to sign it into law. The bill states:
This bill would prohibit a law enforcement official, as defined, from detaining an individual on the basis of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from custody, unless, at the time that the individual becomes eligible for release from custody, certain conditions are met, including, among other things, that the individual has been convicted of specified crimes.
The bill lists some of the crimes that would prompt law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants for the 48-hour immigration hold, including violent and serious felonies such as rape, assault, robbery, and selling drugs.
The bill also argues that Secure Communities (S-Comm) -- the controversial and widely criticized program under which law enforcement can detain undocumented immigrants for deportation -- "and immigration detainers harm community policing efforts because immigrant residents who are victims of or witnesses to crime, including domestic violence, are less likely to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement when any contact with law enforcement could result in deportation." The text continues:
The program can result in a person being held and transferred into immigration detention without regard to whether the arrest is the result of a mistake, or merely a routine practice of questioning individuals involved in a dispute without pressing charges. Victims or witnesses to crimes may otherwise have recourse to lawful status (such as U-visas or T-visas) that detention resulting from the Secure Communities program obstructs.
In an article on the S-Comm program, California's KPBS reported that in the city of Escondido, "collaboration between the city's police and federal immigration activists has caused tension in the city's Latino communities for years." The article continued:
Agents have been present at the police department's driver's license and sobriety checkpoints, and in the city's jails.
Activists say this kind collaboration diminishes public safety because immigrants are less likely to trust police or report crime if they fear that interacting with police could get them deported.
But in a segment on the TRUST Act for Fox News' Special Report, correspondent William La Jeunesse suggested the bill would allow violent criminals to go free and avoid deportation if they are in the country illegally. His report included Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle saying, "If you or I were victimized by someone stealing our identity, or selling drugs in our community, or burglarizing our homes or embezzling our money, that that's OK. That's a minor crime."
Fox News repeatedly trumpeted a report from a local Fox affiliate claiming that immigrants crossing at the U.S.-Mexico border are using a "loophole" to enter and stay in the United States illegally by saying key phrases, namely that they have a "credible fear" of the drug cartels. But as even its own reporting admitted, this so-called "loophole" is long-established asylum policy of allowing foreigners who fear persecution in their own country to state their case in immigration court. Moreover, the evidence doesn't support Fox's claims that these immigrants are using the tactic to ultimately skip out on their asylum hearings.
Fox News ran a prepackaged segment that took an immigration expert's comments out of context to stoke fears about the Senate immigration bill and the Obama administration's prosecutorial discretion policy.
In the segment, which appeared three times on Fox News on one day, correspondent William La Jeunesse discussed the cases of two undocumented immigrants who are accused of drunken driving accidents which resulted in the deaths of two police officers. La Jeunesse used these cases to baselessly claim that the Senate immigration bill would allow some immigrants who are criminals and felons to stay if they have family connections in the U.S. The segment included quotes from a pre-recorded interview with immigration expert Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):
Fox News is reviving the pernicious smear that undocumented immigrants are criminals in order to attack the comprehensive immigration reform proposal being debated in the Senate. In fact, the legislation toughens provisions against those immigrants who have been convicted of crimes and bars them from gaining legal status; moreover, studies show that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans.
Fox News used a dishonest graph to distort the Obama administration's record on border enforcement and claim that the border is less secure. Fox's chart painted a misleading picture of Southwest border apprehensions by using an arbitrary time period and an improper scale -- even as illegal border crossings under President Obama are at historic lows.
In several segments on Fox News, correspondent William La Jeunesse highlighted the graph to claim that the Southwest border "is actually less secure," pointing to what he called the "double-digit surge" in border apprehensions from 2011 to 2013 to make his point:
La Jeunesse reported that the numbers for October-April 2013 were released exclusively to Fox News from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In a report on Happening Now, La Jeunesse touted the graph and highlighted the fact that apprehensions of Central American nationals have risen 13 percent -- leading him to claim that by this standard more people are getting into the United States illegally.
La Jeunesse gave a similar report on Your World using the same graph.
However, the graph La Jeunesse used suffers from several misleading characteristics. First, it depicts an arbitrary time period: October through April, though we're only a few days into the month, for the years 2011 to 2013 -- which takes into account only half of Obama's first term. Moreover, the graph has a skewed scale -- making the 27,000 jump from 2011 to 2013 seem more dramatic than it actually is.
Fox News personalities are hyping fears that a supervised release of undocumented immigrants will lead to more crime. But the immigrants affected by this policy are still subject to deportation and face restrictions such as checking in with authorities and wearing ankle monitoring bracelets.
Fox News used debunked statistics to support its suggestion that guns may "deter more crimes than they cause." In fact, evidence shows that guns are involved in nearly 70 percent of homicides, but are rarely used successfully in self-defense.
In the weeks following the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Fox News has repeatedly pushed the misleading claim that owning guns makes people safer.
On the Wednesday edition of Fox News' Happening Now, correspondent William La Jeunesse gave a report on gun violence and mass shootings. La Jeunesse began by saying, "America has a record-high number of guns, but a lower crime rate. So is it demographics, police work, or because guns deter more crimes than they cause?" La Jeunesse went on to claim that "Americans use guns every day to stop crime, up to 2.5 million times a year. ... Others lower that figure to 1 million."
But La Jeunesse's report is misleading. His figure of 2.5 million gun owners stopping crime annually has been debunked. This number comes from the discredited research of criminologist Gary Kleck. The director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, David Hemenway, concluded that Kleck's study was conducted with "serious methodological deficiencies" that led the self-defense figure to be "an enormous overestimate." In order for Kleck's figures to be correct, Hemenway wrote, victims of burglaries would had to have used guns in self-defense over 100 percent of the time.
In an effort to discredit President Obama's plan to increase taxes on the wealthy, conservative media outlets have pushed a number of myths to suggest that a large number of Americans will be negatively affected. In reality, only a small percentage of taxpayers would be affected by Obama's proposals.
In an attempt to protect wealthy Americans from increased taxation, Fox erroneously reported the estate tax will affect a large number of small farms and businesses. In reality, President Obama's plan to increase the estate tax would only marginally increase the number of small farms and businesses subject to taxation, and those affected would experience low effective tax rates.
On Fox & Friends, reporter William La Jeunesse ran a segment highlighting California rancher Kevin Kester and his take on potential increases in the estate tax. Throughout the segment, La Jeunesse continually, and erroneously, referred to the estate tax as the "death tax," accompanied by the following chyron:
From the November 16 edition of Fox & Friends:
Of course, the entire purpose of the segment is to create the appearance that the estate tax, which is intended to be a tax on the very wealthy, falls on a large number of small farms and businesses. However, this is simply not the case.
The report highlights that President Obama plans to alter current estate tax policy, lowering the maximum exemption from $5 million to $3.5 million and imposing a 45 percent rate on estate values exceeding that amount. This proposal is simply a reversion to 2009 estate tax exemptions and rates.
According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities using Tax Policy Center data, "only 40 small business and farm estates nationwide will owe any estate tax in 2012." CBPP previously estimated the change in the number of small farm and business estates affected by a reversion to 2009 policy:
Despite rhetoric from estate-tax opponents portraying small businesses and farms as being severely burdened by the estate tax, only 60 small farm and business estates in the entire country would owe any estate tax next year under the 2009 rules, TPC estimates. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/24/2012, emphasis original]
In short, only 20 new small farm and business estates would be affected by President Obama's proposal. The same report notes the effective tax rate is far lower than the headline 45 percent rate due to "special provisions targeted to farm and business estates." Taking such provisions into account yields an estimated effective tax rate of 11.6 percent, which is lower than the current capital gains rate.
Attempting to characterize taxes on the wealthy as affecting a large number of Americans is not new for Fox, which has taken particular care to push those misleading claims in light of current federal budget negotiations.
Fox News reporter William La Jeunesse highlighted fears from gun owners about President Obama's call to reinstate the assault weapons ban and suggested that those fears could sway the presidential election. In so doing, Fox is ignoring the fact that an assault weapons ban is favored by most Americans and that research suggests that the gun lobby has relatively little influence on election outcomes.
During the November 1 edition of Happening Now, La Jeunesse claimed that President Obama "stunned gun owners with his plans for a second term" when he indicated support for restrictions on assault weapons during the October 16 presidential debate. He further indicated that "gun owners could cause a problem" for Obama in some swing states, warning that "gun owners do vote."
But by harping on the importance of gun owners in presidential elections, La Jeunesse helped advance a false National Rifle Association narrative that exaggerates the influence of the gun lobby. An analysis conducted by The American Prospect contributing editor Paul Waldman (a former Media Matters staffer) found that NRA intervention has almost no influence on election outcomes. Waldman's report further showed that claims that the NRA had a significant impact on the 2000 presidential election -- a claim often repeated by the NRA and the media -- is baseless.
In focusing on the opinions of the handful of gun owners he interviewed, La Jeunesse also ignored the fact that large majorities of Americans say that they would support a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.