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“The NRA Is Not A Victim”: It’s Time For A Media Reset Of The Gun Debate

Hysterical at the prospect that at least a few elected officials might stop treating its pronouncements as political gospel, the National Rifle Association announced Tuesday that it had attracted 250,000 new members in the month since the slaying of 20 children by a gun-toting killer in Newtown, Connecticut.

The NRA’s release of the new numbers was timed to “counter” President Obama’s Wednesday announcement of legislative proposals and executive orders developed by Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on mass violence.

Most of the media, having lavished coverage on the NRA’s vitriolic response to its meeting with Vice President Joe Biden, has in recent days been dutifully reporting a series of announcements and “leaks” by the group about its self-declared appeal—just as it will now heap attention on the NRA’s vitriolic response to the reforms advanced by the Biden-led task force.

But the other side of the story is at least as compelling as the latest declarations from what former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter has decried as “the NRA protection racket.”

Since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school shocked the nation in December, support for the gun-safety movement—and presumably for the initiatives that Biden and his task force are announcing—has grown at an exponentially greater rate than support for the NRA.

The Mayors Against Illegal Guns campaign, which has opened its membership rolls to citizens who want to work with local elected officials to promote gun safety, attracted 400,000 new members in late December and early January. And more than 900,000 Americans signed a “Demand a Plan” petition seeking specific details of what will be done to dial down gun violence.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has literally been overwhelmed by calls and emails offering support, and by the response to a rapidly-expanding “We Are Better Than This” campaign featuring members of thirty-two families that have lost loved ones in deadly mass shootings.

The new “Americans For Responsible Solutions PAC,” launched last week by former Congressman Gabby Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, has, according to Forbes magazine, “gone viral,” attracting more than 35,000 “likes” on its Facebook page and—as political action committees are measured by money raised—showing signs that it will exceed its goal of raising $20 million to counter the NRA in the 2014 election cycle.

The new organization is blunt about its determination to go up against the lobbying group for gun manufacturers. “As gun owners and victims of gun violence, Gabby and Mark know preventing gun violence and protecting responsible gun ownership go hand-in-hand,” ARS says in its statements. “This country can put its divisive politics aside and come together to support commonsense measures to make us feel more secure in our communities. You can support the Second Amendment AND policies to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. 74 percent of NRA members agree—and so do Gabby and Mark.”

Beating the NRA on the campaign trail isn’t as hard as it used to be. The group’s political high-water mark came almost two decades ago, in the 1994 mid-term elections when it was a significant player in the special-interest coalition that swept former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his allies to power. In 2012, however, a Sunlight Foundation study of spending by the “National Rifle Association of America Political Victory Fund” found that only 0.83% of the $10,536,106 it spent in the general election “had the desired result” of backing a winner or defeating a targeted contender.

Yet, the NRA continues to be treated by much of the media as something more than it ever was, and something far greater than it now is: a definitional political player. This is a “Wizard of Oz” circumstance, where the fantasy of power actually creates the power. If it really had the power, the man it poured its resources into defeating—Barack Obama—would not be the president of the United States. And the Democratic candidates the NRA spent most of its resources seeking to defeat would not have increased its majority in the U.S. Senate and won 1.4 million more votes than were cast for Republicans in races for the U.S. House.

Of course, the NRA has been and will continue to be a political presence in the United States. It is well integrated into the networks of the political right, having recently installed former American Conservative Union chief David Keene as its new president.

But the NRA is no longer the only significant player in gun-violence and gun-safety debates.

This reality poses a challenge for major media. We’re talking here about more than just fact-checking the notoriously truth-challenged pronouncements of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre—although Media Matters for America is right when it reminds us that: “The media has a responsibility to evaluate the truthfulness of the claims made the NRA and should not merely pass along statements made (by LaPierre) as fact.”

There is a more fundamental issue, especially for broadcast media outlets. If coverage of what is going to be a long and arduous gun debate is to be even minimally “fair and balanced,” it must feature more voices. And those voices must be accorded at least a reasonable measure of the attention that is accorded the NRA’s “pronouncements from on high.”

Too much coverage since the Newtown shootings in December has been deferential to the NRA—as if the group was somehow the victim. Major media outlets have literally scheduled programming around the increasingly temperamental demands of the group, while accepting “no questions” press conferences as serious new events. So it was that Americans were treated to breathless “wall-to-wall” reporting on a press conference statement from the NRA’s LaPierre that veered into such bizarre territory international media outlets reportedly felt compelled to warn viewers that what they were watching was not a spoof. Indeed, as a columnist for Britain’s conservative Spectator magazine wrote: “Reading the transcript I thought at first that it must be a parody written by gun-control activists determined to discredit the National Rifle Association. Turns out there’s no need to attempt that, not when the NRA is prepared to do the job itself.”

The NRA must be covered, and it must be covered fairly. But honest coverage of the gun debate can and should place the NRA in perspective. And that means the NRA’s pronouncements should be balanced with coverage of the gun-safety groups that appear to be far more in touch with popular sentiment in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, January 15, 2013

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Guns, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Time Is Running Out”: The GOP Needs To Figure Out Its Position On Entitlement Programs

The White House’s weekend ultimatum that Congress either lift the debt ceiling cleanly or take responsibility for default puts Republicans in a bind over their goal of reforming entitlement programs.

In ruling out all executive options, such as minting a high-value platinum coin, the White House put the onus on congressional Republicans to agree to raise the nation’s borrowing limit — without spending cuts or strings attached — or permit the first ever credit default.

President Obama has steadfastly rebuffed their calls to cut social spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, and Democratic leaders support his position.

“There are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills or it can fail to act and put the nation into default,” said Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney.

“The President and the American people won’t tolerate Congressional Republicans holding the American economy hostage again simply so they can force disastrous cuts to Medicare and other programs the middle class depend on while protecting the wealthy.”

That leaves Republicans in a difficult position vis-à-vis their promise not to raise the debt ceiling without improving the long-run solvency of programs like Social Security and Medicare.

If they propose safety net cuts that Democrats oppose, they risk political blowback. If they back off, conservatives will accuse them of surrender on a top priority.

The situation has left Republicans flummoxed. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) lashed out at Democratic leaders after they sent a letter Friday calling on President Obama to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally if Republicans block congressional action.

“The Democrat leadership hiding under their desks and hoping the President will find a way around the law on the nation’s maxed-out credit card is not only the height of irresponsibility, but also a guarantee that our national debt crisis will only get worse,” McConnell said in a statement. He swiped Democrats for refusing to offer “any plan to break the spending habit that’s causing the problem.”

Republican leaders understand the risks of pushing near-term entitlement cuts without Democratic buy-in. During the fiscal cliff battle, they abstractly demanded scaling back entitlements but avoided putting specifics on paper. House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) failed fallback plan didn’t touch entitlements.

As he did then, McConnell is again calling on Obama to put forth a debt ceiling plan with spending cuts, in effect suggesting that the president be the one to call for scaling back the safety net.

The other option, backing down on entitlements, is also problematic after Republicans demoralized their anti-tax base by swallowing some $620 billion in tax increases to resolve the fiscal cliff. In accepting the deal, GOP leaders assured conservatives that the debt ceiling was where they would make their stand on retirement programs.

Achieving meaningful savings requires making unpopular cuts beyond what’s been considered recently. Policies under discussion in prior negotiations included reducing future Social Security benefits via Chained CPI and gradually raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67. Both amount to benefit cuts that the public opposes. And the savings they’ll produce would only address a fraction of the programs’ long-term solvency problems.

That’s the GOP’s dilemma in a nutshell: fulfilling their promise to their base requires pushing for something highly unpopular. And this time, not only are Democrats diligently refusing to provide them political cover, but forcing the issue would also require Republicans to court severe economic consequence as their price of political victory.

 

By: Sahil Kapur, Contributor, Business Insider, January 15, 2013

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Last Four Years, And The Next Four”: President Obama’s Problem, He Hasn’t Spent Enough Time “Socializing”?

Tonight, PBS’s Frontline will be broadcasting a documentary called “Inside Obama’s Presidency,” about the President’s first term. The story told in this preview is about a now-somewhat-famous dinner that a bunch of Republican muckety-mucks held on the night of Obama’s inauguration, during which they made the decision that the best way to proceed was implacable, unified opposition to anything and everything the new president wanted to do. As we all know, this plan was then carried out almost to the letter. Watch: http://video.pbs.org/video/2325654248

The story of this inauguration-night dinner was told in Robert Draper’s book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the House of Representatives, which came out eight months ago. Seeing the story retold, what’s striking is that beforehand, one would have considered the participants—Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Jim DeMint, John Kyl, Tom Coburn—to be extremely, sometimes infuriatingly, conservative. But with the exception of DeMint, one wouldn’t have thought that group to be utterly opposed to the very idea of legislating and having a government that, at a minimum, operates.

Yet here we are, not only with that crew, but with dozens of Republicans elected in the two elections since who practically make them look like a bunch of accommodationists. And yet, sage Washington insiders actually believe that things would run a lot smoother if Barack Obama spent more time going to parties and hanging out with sage Washington insiders. Something tells me that even after four more years of GOP hostility and intransigence, that idiotic idea is never going to die.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 15, 2013,

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“White Districts And White Sensibilities”: The Real Problem Republicans Have, They Don’t Want To Change Their Policies

You may have heard that in the incoming Congress, white men will constitute a minority of the Democratic caucus for the first time. That’s an interesting fact, but it’s only part of the story. At National Journal, Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland have a long, Brownsteinian look at how “the parties glare across a deep racial chasm” not only in the members of Congress themselves, but in the people they represent. “Republicans now hold 187 of the 259 districts (72 percent) in which whites exceed their national share of the voting-age population. Democrats hold 129 of the 176 seats (73 percent) in which minorities exceed their national share of the voting-age population. From another angle, 80 percent of Republicans represent districts more heavily white than the national average; 64 percent of House Democrats represent seats more heavily nonwhite than the national average.”

The implications for the GOP of the fact that most of their members represent mostly white districts are profound, touching on the continuous interaction between individuals and policy. Politicians are shaped by their political environments and the things they have to do to win, and the fact that most GOP members represent overwhelmingly white districts means that as they rise through the ranks, the time they’re going to have to spend talking to and listening to non-white people is going to be limited. Brownstein and Bland talked to some of the few Republicans who represent more diverse districts:

But even some House Republicans from racially diverse districts worry that many of their colleagues representing more monolithically white areas aren’t doing enough to court minorities. “Honestly, I don’t believe they are,” says Rep. Joe Heck, who won reelection in a diverse district outside Las Vegas.

Heck says he’s established beachheads among minority voters by working first with ethnic chambers of commerce. “For me, meeting with the members of the chamber was a door to building relationships with members of those communities,” he says. Then he hired aides to coordinate outreach to Hispanic and Asian constituents; during his campaign, he organized coalitions in those communities. “When I’m home in the district, we would do entire outreach days, visiting multiple Hispanic businesses, even ones outside of my district.”

As it happens, Joe Heck is an extremely conservative Republican. But he does all that outreach because he has no choice. And over time, that will make him more understanding of, and sensitive to, the concerns of people who aren’t white. It means that he’ll have a better awareness of the things that piss Hispanics off, and learning how not to piss different kinds of people off—with both substance and symbolism—is a big part of politics. This is important for both sides, and with a variety of constituencies. For instance, one of the first things you learn working on a Democratic campaign is that every piece of printed material you produce, from brochures to door hangers, has to have on it the tiny union “bug” that shows it was printed at a union shop. If it doesn’t, you can be damn sure you’ll get some angry phone calls from union members and representatives, because they notice. Republicans have I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed for their own constituencies as well. But somebody coming up through Republican politics in an overwhelmingly white district won’t have to learn, for instance, what pisses off Hispanics. So when they talk about immigration their speech is peppered with terms like “illegal aliens” that Hispanics find, well, alienating.

The advantage Democrats have is that nobody has to teach them how to talk to white people, because you learn that no matter where you live. It’s the same reason colleges don’t offer courses in White History or White Literature—you’re already learning it. Yes, there are subgroups of whites whom you can fail to understand, but it’s a lot less likely that you’re going to alienate them and end up losing the White House because of it.

So the real problem Republicans have isn’t that they don’t want to recruit minorities, because they do. They don’t want to change their policies to do it, of course, but they’re pleased as punch when they find someone like Tim Scott or Ted Cruz, a real-live minority who also happens to be rabidly right-wing, whom they can hold up as an example. Their problem is that they don’t know how to attract minority voters, because where most of them come from, they don’t have to.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January, 15, 2013

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Ideologues, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Militarization Of School Safety”: Race, Gun Control And Unintended Consequences

Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on gun control handed its recommendations to President Obama yesterday, who will announce them tomorrow. This is the first time in recent memory that one of our increasingly common acts of mass violence has sparked such immediate action. It may not bring solace to all of the victims’ families, but it has the potential to start preventing these horrors from happening in the first place.

But as encouraging as it is to see action to curb gun violence, an epidemic in this country compared to our peers, it is still worth pausing to ask what kind of action is being taken and what its consequences will be. Some reforms, like the “guns in every school” approach from the NRA, rightly strike many liberals as absurd. This direction is not just dangerous—it also will likely disproportionately impact the lives of young black and brown children. But other gun control measures that we might feel more comfortable with could have similar unintended consequences if we don’t pay attention to how they are implemented.

Few can forget the absurd news conference held by the NRA in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre called for putting “armed police officers in every school in this nation.” But it’s not as out-of-box as many of us might assume. Some lawmakers have echoed this call; Senator Barbara Boxer introduced legislation that would let governors use federal funds to have the National Guard secure schools and increase the money spent annually on things like metal detectors and security cameras at schools. But many schools already have armed policemen patrolling the halls and using these law enforcement gadgets. As Julianne Hing of Colorlines reports:

As of 2011, 68 percent of U.S. schoolchildren said police officers patrolled their school campuses… In 1999, that number was 54 percent. Last year, 70 percent of schoolkids went to schools where surveillance cameras were used, and more than half of students reported that locker checks were used as a security tactic. More than one in 10 U.S. students goes to a school with metal detectors on campus.

The militarization of school safety and orderliness most heavily impacts children of color. It effectively feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Hing notes, “The rise of police officers and militarized security tactics in schools runs parallel with the rise of zero-tolerance school discipline policies in the 1980s and 1990s.” Those zero tolerance laws entail cracking down on behavior infractions with a heavy fist. As Jim Eichner of the Advancement Project told Hing, “What we know is that when you put police in school they arrest kids,” which means students going to jail for things like fist fights, talking back to teachers or even showing up late or wearing the wrong color socks.

The heavy fist doesn’t fall evenly. One study showed that black boys are three times more likely to be suspended than white boys and black girls were four times more likely than white girls. Studies have shown that if young children come into contact with the criminal justice system, that’s likely only the first time.

But the misguided idea that good teachers with guns will stop bad guys with guns is not the only possible gun control measure that could negatively impact people of color. The more restrictive gun control laws about to be passed in New York, for example, expand the number of assault weapons that will be banned in the state. Biden’s task force is likely to also push for an assault weapon ban. The evidence does seem pretty clear that fewer guns lead to less violence. But we can’t forget about the impact expanded criminalization could have as it’s implemented. The founder of Prison Culture, a blog focused on eradicating youth incarceration, took to Twitter shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting to warn against this problem. “I live in a city where black and brown kids some of whom I work with are currently locked up on ‘gun charges.’ These laws disproportionately impact and target the ‘usual suspects’ which happen to be the archetype ‘criminalblackman.’ As long our criminal legal system is racist and classist and heterosexist, it will be the marginalized who will be locked up,” the user said over a number of tweets. After all, as my Nation colleague Rick Perlstein explained last week, it was fear of gun-toting Black Panthers that led to some of the first strict gun control laws.

To understand the racist underbelly of our justice system, look no further than the extreme example of the War on Drugs. As Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow, despite similar drug use rates, “African Americans constitute 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison. In at least fifteen states, blacks are admitted to prison on drug charges at a rate from twenty to fifty-seven times greater than that of white men.” Meanwhile, the majority of dealers and sellers are white. (Everyone should read the whole book to get the full picture.) What may look like a colorblind law on the books can be interpreted and implemented in incredibly racist ways. So while it’s absolutely necessary that we pass laws that restrict the number and types of guns that are lawfully available, we also have to pay attention to whether those rules are fairly and evenly enforced.

We’ve seen the ways that gun control gets tied up in a ramped up police state before. The last time there was a significant push on gun control (also helmed by Joe Biden), back in 1994, an assault weapon ban was included in a comprehensive crime package. That package also included an expansion of the death penalty, the building of more prisons and the authorization of 100,000 more police officers. These are all policies that target people of color. African-Americans make up 12 percent of the population but 40 percent of death row inmates and one in three of those executed since 1977. African-Americans and Hispanics make up about a quarter of the population but nearly 60 percent of all prisoners.

As we continue to debate guns in this country, it’s also worth remembering who is the victim of this violence and who is the face of rising mass murders. As David Cole writes in The New York Times, “young black men die of gun homicide at a rate eight times that of young white men.” He gives the examples of Chicago, where African-Americans are 33 percent of the population yet 70 percent of the murder victims, and Philadelphia, where three quarters of the victims of gun violence were black. Meanwhile, the faces of those who go on shooting rampages are almost all white and male. Forty-four of the killers in the sixty-two mass shootings since 1982 were white males, according to Mother Jones. This entire issue, from causes to consequences, is steeped in race. To pretend otherwise is farce. To ignore how our actions play out in this context risks disproportionately harming those who are already affected by violence.

 

By: Bryce Covert, The Nation, January 15, 2013

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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