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Student mourns at a community prayer vigil at Parkridge Church in Pompano Beach
Reuters/Jonathan Drake
The cable news outlet blamed everything—and everyone—except the weapon.
"AND WHAT ABOUT VIRTUAL REALITY?"

All the things Fox News blamed the Parkland shooting on other than the gun

Adam Epstein
By Adam Epstein

Entertainment reporter

Seventeen people were gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Florida yesterday (Feb. 14) in the 18th school shooting in the United States this year. The alleged shooter, a 19-year-old former student of the school who was expelled for violent behavior, posted disturbing images of guns and knives on social media, and reportedly had expressed white supremacist sentiments to classmates.

He was still able to legally purchase the AR-15 military-style rifle used in the massacre. But you won’t hear much about that if you watch Fox News.

Instead, the Fox News response to the horrific shooting was an exercise in avoiding that one fact—a coordinated effort to intentionally and specifically frame the tragedy as a security issue and not a gun issue. While railing against advocates for gun control for “politicizing” the tragedy, the network’s stable of talking heads were far quicker to blame the school’s administration, its security guard, the shooter’s parents, drugs, and the students themselves than they were the machine the shooter used to kill 17 people.

“You could stop a person with an AR-15 with a slingshot if you know how to use it.”

This morning on Fox & Friends, Andrew Napolitano, a former judge with no military or law enforcement experience, suggested that all it takes to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a…. slingshot?

Napolitano recommended training and arming teachers in the US like they do in Israel as part of the country’s compulsory military service. “All the teachers have been in the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, every adult, except for certain religious groups, spends time there,” he said. “In that time period they are trained and select teachers, quietly, not ostentatiously, are armed and quietly trained.”

It’s unclear whether this training includes slingshots, but when Fox host Ainsley Earhardt asked Napolitano about the fact that shooters in Las Vegas and Sandy Hook also used the AR-15, that’s where he went. “Yes. It’s a very powerful weapon. I know this weapon,” Napolitano replied. “It’s the civilian version of an M-16. It’s very, very powerful. But you could stop a person with an AR-16 with a slingshot if you know how to use it.”

Another segment, on Fox News last night, was effectively a six-minute sales pitch for the AR-15:

“It shoots very straight, you can carry more ammunition in it. It’s actually a very safe weapon.”

Fox News host Laura Ingraham had the “security expert” Aaron Cohen on her show, The Ingraham Angle, to discuss the AR-15 rifle used hours earlier in the Parkland shooting. In addition to Las Vegas and Sandy Hook, it was the same gun used in many other mass shootings, including in Sutherland Springs, Orlando, and San Bernardino.

“This is a security issue,” Cohen said. “It’s not a weapon issue.”

The AR-15 is popular for self-defense, Cohen said, citing the same qualities that would make it attractive to a potential mass murderer. ”It shoots very straight, you can carry more ammunition in it,” he said. “It’s easier to shoot than a pistol. It’s got more points of contact for stability.”

After all this praise of the gun, Cohen went on to point to those he felt were truly to blame: the parents of alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz and the school’s security system.

“Where’s the parents? Who raised this kid?” Cohen asked. (At the time of the shooting, Cruz was an orphan. His adoptive mother died in November, while his father died in 2004. He had been living at a friend’s house since November.)

Cohen then implied that the school’s armed security guard, who never encountered the shooter during the rampage, was somehow at fault for not having searched every student for such a weapon upon entering the school: ”Open the jacket. Check the bag,” Cohen said. “If this kid has his jacket opened, or the bag was opened, you’re not getting in with an AR.”

Ingraham ended the segment by noting that Cruz had “followed the Iraqi fighters online.” Without elaborating on what she thinks that means, she observed, “There’s something going on there.” (Today, the Associated Press reported that Cruz was actually a member of a Florida white supremacist group. That report has not been corroborated by law enforcement officials.)

An “antique weapon” can “do the same amount of damage” as the AR-15

Ingraham also trotted out Mark Fuhrman, a former Los Angeles police detective best known for perjuring himself during the O.J. Simpson murder case, to talk about the AR-15. Furhman said that the weapon is not inherently any more dangerous than weapons created more than 100 years ago.

“If a suspect chooses that weapon and you take that weapon away, they’ve been making weapons since about 1908 that are automatic fired weapons that can, you know, deliver just as much fire power and almost as fast as an AR-15,” he said. He did not specify which weapons from 1908 are as effective at killing a large number of people in quick succession as a modern AR-15 military-style rifle.

“And what about virtual reality?”

Tammy Bruce, a radio commentator who last year called an autistic child a “snowflake,” joined the fun on Fox & Friends to provide a tangent on prescription drug abuse in the US. Despite there currently being no indication that the alleged shooter had abused drugs or was under the influence of drugs during the shooting, Bruce blamed drugs for the shooting.

“They’re psychotropics,” Bruce said. “They affect the mind. We know, of course, that how adults respond to these drugs are different than how young people do.” She also blamed “violent imagery” in the years since September 11, 2001 for creating a culture of violence among young people.

“And what about virtual reality?” Fox host Brian Kilmeade chimed in.

“Throw chairs, throw desks, throw your backpacks.”

The US Department of Homeland Security’s protocol for dealing with an active shooter is first “run,” then “hide,” then, as an absolute last resort, “fight.” Once all other options are completely exhausted, US law enforcement recommends taking action against the shooter as aggressively as possible in an attempt to disrupt or incapacitate him.

So, in theory, at least, it’s not necessarily egregious to suggest that, as a last resort, people should throw objects at a rampaging shooter. But listening to Fox News host Tucker Carlson and former FBI national spokesperson John Iannarelli speculate about the options that the children in Parkland, Florida had, one gets a sense that the specifics of the situation don’t particularly matter—so long as you’re not blaming guns.

Before much about the specific circumstances have emerged, Carlson and Iannarelli walked through a number of safety scenarios, and Iannarelli suggested that perhaps people could have thrown desks or backpacks at the shooter to stall him and then run away. Of course, this may well have not have been an available option for the victims—and for all he knows, they did do that.

(It should also go without saying that “throwing backpacks,” or any other object, is not a feasible strategy in many shootings, including the Las Vegas massacre last year in which a man killed 58 people and injured 850 others by firing at long range on a crowded concert from the 32nd floor window of a nearby hotel.)

All Fox News seems sure about is that mistakes were made. And that none of those mistakes had anything to do with selling a weapon capable of such massive, rapid human destruction to a clearly disturbed young man.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Cruz reportedly had ties to a local white supremacist paramilitary group. The Tallahassee Democrat reported that law enforcement official sources could not find any link between Cruz and the group but were still investigating. 

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