WNPR

After Parkland Shooting, Conservative Media Criticize Calls For Stricter Gun Laws

Feb 19, 2018
Originally published on February 20, 2018 1:12 pm

In the week since a gunman murdered 17 in Parkland, Fla., Marjory Stoneman Douglas students have organized a national campaign against school violence with a forceful, simple message for the country: Never Again. They say, in order to prevent the next school shooting, America needs stricter gun laws, safer schools and for the National Rifle Association to get out of politics.

And their message is being heard — on TV and across social media. "Everyone's listening, everyone cares. Change is going to be seen everywhere," junior Cameron Kasky said.

But there is one place where the Parkland students and their campaign have fallen flat: conservative media.

Most conservative media reject the idea that shootings like the one in Parkland are a gun issue. The real concern isn't that semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 are widely available and can be purchased for less than you would spend on a good bicycle. Instead, they argue that the real crisis involves a breakdown in the fabric of American society, disintegrating families, and a lack of Christian values.

And it's a message Republican politicians in particular hear a lot in the media they follow most closely. It was echoed in President Trump's speech to the nation right after the Parkland shooting. "We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life," Trump argued.

On the TV, websites and talk radio favored by tens of millions of Americans, the student activists are either invisible or they face fierce criticism. During an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace, radio host Rush Limbaugh described the student survivors as articulate and angry, but he also said they're being used by the left and by Democrats in a bid to take away people's gun rights.

The real answer, Limbaugh said, is more guns in schools: "The solution, to me and I know this is going to cause all kinds of angst, the solution is we need concealed carry in these schools." He went on to argue that rallies and marches and attacks on the NRA won't make kids or teachers safer.

"Every thoughtful person knows something horrible is going on in American society," said Tucker Carlson, founder a popular conservative website called Daily Caller. He spoke on his show on Fox News. "Tragedies like this happen for a reason, and it probably doesn't have a lot to do with guns."

A lot of Americans agree that guns aren't the problem. "Unfortunately, there's evil in the world," said Mimi Garcia from North Carolina who was visiting the Parkland area this week, donating blood after the shooting. "You know, people are just going for that instead of, you know, [choosing] peace, love and God," she argued.

Her husband Manuel Garcia said he feels the same way. "I believe that a lot of things are happening because we took God out of the school system. We took prayer out of the school system. And this is why all this is happening."

If you believe that society is breaking down, then more guns might seem like a reasonable response, a last-ditch way to keep teachers and students safe. "I feel like they should put guns in the classrooms now with the teachers," said Sabrina Belony, a stay-at-home mom in Fort Lauderdale.

"I feel like teachers should be trained to be armed for something because teachers lost their lives trying to protect his class."

The kids who formed the Never Again movement have no patience for this idea that culture is to blame for Wednesday's massacre. They say Parkland is already a great town, a tight-knit community with strong values. They say the real problem is that weak gun laws allowed one deeply troubled teen to buy a semi-automatic rifle legally.

So far, the students seem to be holding their own against the conservative media's very different narrative about Parkland. At an anti-gun rally over the weekend, Emma Gonzalez, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior, criticized "every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you."

That line sparked a roar of applause from the crowd and was followed by chants of "Shame on you! Shame on you!" Video of Gonzalez's speech went viral on social media. The students have scheduled a town hall-style meeting Wednesday that will air on CNN. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, an outspoken ally of the NRA, is scheduled to be there.

"Thanks for invitation," Rubio tweeted. "Look forward to participating in this important forum. I want action too. Action that will make a difference."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Those students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School also have their eye on Congress. They're planning a big gun control rally in Washington next month. They've received a lot of praise from around the country, but as North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports, the students are also getting pushback from conservative media.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Yesterday afternoon, Cameron Kasky was doing live TV appearances one after another.

CAMERON KASKY: Yeah, I don't know if you saw us on the networks today. Everybody's listening. Everybody cares.

MANN: Kasky is a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a survivor of Wednesday's mass shooting. He's one of the organizers of the Never Again movement. He says it's time for new gun control laws, safer schools, an end to the NRA's powerful role in American politics.

KASKY: Change is going to be seen everywhere. If people can't sleep at night knowing that they've lost family members, they can at least know that nobody else is going to have to do that again.

MANN: These kids have blown up on TV and across social media, but there's one place where their message is falling flat.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

CHRIS WALLACE: Now let's bring in the king of conservative talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, live from...

MANN: In conservative media - the TV, websites and talk radio favored by tens of millions of Americans - the Parkland story sounds very different. Limbaugh appeared on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

WALLACE: What do you think of this idea of students mobilizing across the country, a march on Washington, a march in communities?

MANN: Limbaugh described the Parkland students as articulate and angry, but he also said they're being used by the left and by Democrats in a bid to take away people's gun rights. The real answer, Limbaugh said, is more guns in schools.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

RUSH LIMBAUGH: The solution, to me - and I know this is going to cause all kinds of angst - the solution is we need concealed carry in these schools.

MANN: Across conservative media, the narrative after Parkland is that shootings like this aren't really about guns. They're about a breakdown in the fabric of American society, about disintegrating families, a lack of Christian values. Tucker Carlson founded a popular conservative website called Daily Caller and hosts a show on Fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TUCKER CARLSON: Every thoughtful person knows something horrible is going on in American society. Tragedies like this happen for a reason, and it probably doesn't have a lot to do with guns.

MANN: This is a message that Republican politicians in particular hear a lot in the media they follow most closely. It was echoed in President Trump's speech to the nation right after the Parkland shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life, that creates deep and meaningful human connections, and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors.

MANN: A lot of Americans agree. They say guns aren't the problem. Mimi and Manuel Garcia from North Carolina were visiting the Parkland area this week, donating blood after the shooting.

MIMI GARCIA: Unfortunately, there's evil in the world. And, you know, people are just going, you know, for that instead of, you know, peace, love and God, you know?

MANUEL GARCIA: I believe that, you know, a lot of things are happening because we took God out of the school system. We took prayer out of the school system. And this is why all this is happening.

MANN: If you believe this, that society is breaking down, then more guns might seem like a reasonable response, a last-ditch way to keep teachers and students safe. Sabrina Belony is a stay-at-home mom in Fort Lauderdale.

SABRINA BELONY: I feel like they should put guns in the classrooms now with the teachers. I feel like teachers should be trained to be armed for something because teachers lost their lives trying to protect his class.

MANN: The kids who formed the Never Again movement have no patience for this idea that culture is to blame for Wednesday's massacre. They say Parkland is already a great town, a tight-knit community with strong values. They say the real problem is that weak gun laws allowed one deeply troubled teen to buy a semi-automatic rifle legally. Emma Gonzalez, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior, spoke at an anti-gun rally over the weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EMMA GONZALEZ: Every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.

(CHEERING)

MANN: So far, at least, their message is getting heard. Gonzalez's speech went viral on social media, and the students have scheduled a town hall-style meeting for Wednesday that will air on CNN. Senator Marco Rubio, an outspoken ally of the NRA, is scheduled to be there, listening. Brian Mann, NPR News, Parkland, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE END OF THE OCEAN'S "WORTH EVERYTHING EVER WISHED FOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.