Connecticut's governor says the media is allowing the National Rifle Association (NRA) to co-opt the national debate on firearms and gun control.
Five months after 28 people — including the shooter and his mother — were killed in the Newtown, CT massacre, Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut spoke yesterday to a group of about 40 reporters and editors from across the nation about the politics of gun control. He was joined in a panel discussion at John Jay College in New York by Robyn Thomas, Executive Director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Robert Spitzer, professor at the State University of New York, Cortland.
Malloy said journalists, especially those on television, draw a false equivalency between the NRA and those in favor of stricter gun control laws. He argued that the NRA is more representative of the firearms industry than firearms owners.
“We keep treating the NRA as if it’s a real organization that is advocating on behalf of people, as opposed to a purchased entity that only advocates on behalf of companies,” Malloy, a Democrat, said.
In addition to complaints about the level of exposure granted to representatives of the NRA, Thomas and Spitzer said journalists often neglect to provide contextual information that could better inform readers about issues in the gun debate.
Thomas highlighted a failure to analyze the wording used in public opinion polls.
“It may be that if you ask the question, 'Do you support stricter gun laws?” the numbers might not look supportive,” said Thomas. “But if you say 'Do you support background checks' the numbers are much more in favor.”
While Second Amendment advocates often argue that even limited restrictions on gun ownership are in violation of the Constitution, Spitzer noted that gun laws have been a fixture of the American legal landscape since before the Constitution was ratified.
Even as the county's founding fathers were crafting the Second Amendment, American states had laws banning the sale of guns to Native Americans, black people and others, said Spitzer, the author of The Politics of Gun Control.
But he said the administration of former President George W. Bush oversaw a dramatic shift in the proliferation of gun restrictions.
“In terms of policy, it was the most gun friendly administration in history,” Spitzer said.
In the aftermath of Newtown, Republicans and Democrats around the country rushed to pass laws that changed the way local jurisdictions viewed firearms, but Thomas said that several states took steps that hint at a “sea change” away from the policies of the last decade.
Connecticut, New York and Colorado significantly strengthened gun restrictions, and New Jersey, Maryland, Nevada and California may pass similarly tough packages.
But new federal gun laws remain difficult to pass.
A measure that would have broadly expanded federal restrictions on certain firearms transactions failed to get the 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate.
Malloy said recent national polls that suggest a majority of Americans support laws mandating background checks are evidence that the NRA has undue influence.
“We couldn't get to 60 votes, because the NRA is holding a gun to the head of every Republican,” said Malloy.
Graham Kates is Deputy Managing Editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers. He can be found on Twitter, @GrahamKates.