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The Northern Myth

Dec 26, 2012

Is Sean Hannity a liar? Discuss.

If you want to own a longarm or handgun in Australia now you firstly need a legitimate reason (sport-shooting or employment-related reasons top that list), have to go through rigorous police checks and join a gun club. There is no presumption or right to gun ownership - it is a privilege.

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Sean Hannity is an American shock-jock that makes his Australian counterparts – think Ray Hadley & Alan Jones – look like Jon Faine.

Hannity is, to paraphrase Bernard Keane’s razor-sharp description of Hadley & Jones on Christmas Eve,  a miserable, ignorant man with only his hate to keep him going.

Hannity’s smug public persona – this is his PR shot of choice – makes him look like he is both shortsighted and constipated at the same time.

But like all “good” shock-jocks Hannity has no problem dribbling verbal shit …

Hannity is a classic radio bully. When he’s caught in a factual or philosophical bind he just makes shit up.

Just like last Sunday. I was driving back to the California – Arizona border on State Highway 62 to the small town of Parker doing my usual graze across the AM radio band – zipping through the born-agains, the white-trash country, the sickly sweet Christmas songs on high rotation on every second station – when I came across Hannity’s shrill tones on some Fox affiliate out of Iowa.

Hannity was berating someone called Ryan or Brian – the reception from Iowa was pretty dodgy and I couldn’t catch his name properly – for present purposes we’ll call him Brian.

Brian was giving pretty much as good as he was getting from Hannity and the ditzy bint that was co-hosting the show. Brian’s pitch was that there were lessons to be learnt from the Australian approach to gun control.

Hannity’s response was typical of the breed – quotes taken out of context and without reference, in personam attacks on whomever chooses to disagree with you, present spurious assertions as fact … ad infinitum.

Hannity told Brian – and apologies because I didn’t get Hannity’s spray down word for word – that after the $500 million Australian gun buy-back the “rate of [Australian] gun violence went up by 20%” and that “[Australian]gun-related assaults had risen 25%.

Brian was told in no uncertain terms that he should get his facts right before he next had the temerity to raise such matters with Hannity and his listeners.

The problem here is that I reckon that it was Hannity – not Brian – that got his facts wrong.

I’ve visited Hannity’s website in order to listen back to this show in order to get his exact words but have been unable to locate the program. Notwithstanding this, I am confident that what I have outlined above is reasonably accurate account of this brief encounter.

Is this important? Does it matter if what Hannity says on his show is true or not?

Hannity’s show is broadcast, according to his website, to:

… over 500 affiliates nationwide and counting. Sean is heard by roughly 13.5 million loyal listeners a week making him the second most listened to talk show host in America.

For those and other reasons I think it does matter.

Hannity – like any journalist, broadcaster or shock-jock – should be held to account for what he says.

That these comments were brief and about a country which very few of his listeners will ever visit is irrelevant.

In the frenzied current gun-control debate there is a clear public interest in ensuring that important information – for example how well or not gun control has worked in countries that share many similarities with America – is presented as accurately as possible.

For mine Hannity was dead wrong and has misled his listeners.

Prior to about 1996 control of Australian gun ownership could only be described as loose.

Handguns and automatic long-arms were strictly controlled but you could own just about as many, and as wide a variety of, longarms as you liked.

Over the years I’d several 12 and .410 gauge shotguns and a variety of rifles from .22 up to .303. I didn’t bother to get a licence for my guns until I moved to the Northern Territory in the mid-80s and even then licensing and registration of my guns was a five-minute job. By the time the Australian gun buy-back was instituted in the late nineteen-nineties I was no longer a very active hunter so I was happy to surrender them.

The gun buy-back and related gun-control legislation were initiated and prosecuted by then Prime Minister John Howard, a conservative (read GOP equivalent) politician. The buy-back enjoyed bipartisan support and sixteen years later remains in place.

If you want to own a longarm or handgun in Australia now you firstly need a legitimate reason (sport-shooting or employment-related reasons top that list), have to go through rigorous police checks and join a gun club. There is no presumption or right to gun ownership – it is a privilege.

How successful has this changed gun control regime been? Very, says Jane Caro, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald last week:

The effect of this sane response to the murder and mayhem that disturbed individuals can cause when they get access to high powered weapons has been profound. The chances of an Australian dying of a gunshot wound – any kind of gunshot wound, not just those in a massacre – have been halved.

Many more Australians are alive because of Howard’s actions than otherwise would have been. Perhaps some are teachers. Perhaps some of them are children. Gun crime has not disappeared, of course. Just as random breath-testing has not completely eradicated drink-driving or car accidents, but has nonetheless lowered the road toll, Australia’s tighter gun laws have also lowered the death toll and equally dramatically.

And as Fareed Zakaraia wrote in what is my current local paper The Arizona Republic two days ago:

There is clear evidence that tightening laws, even in highly individualistic countries with long traditions of gun ownership, can reduce gun violence.

In Australia, after a 1996 ban on all automatic and semiautomatic weapons — a real ban, not like the one we enacted in 1994 with 600-plus exceptions — gun-related homicides dropped 59 percent over the next decade. The rate of suicide by firearm plummeted 65 percent. (Almost 20,000 Americans die each year using guns to commit suicide — a method that is much more successful than other forms of suicide.)

In 2006 Factcheck.org examined a number of claims made in a widely distributed email – entitled ‘Gun History Lesson’ – about the effectiveness of Australian gun-control legislation.

Factcheck was scathing about the veracity of the claims made in the email:

Have murders increased since the gun law change, as claimed? Actually, Australian crime statistics show a marked decrease in homicides since the gun law change. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, a government agency, the number of homicides in Australia did increase slightly in 1997 and peaked in 1999, but has since declined to the lowest number on record in 2007, the most recent year for which official figures are available.

Furthermore, murders using firearms have declined even more sharply than murders in general since the 1996 gun law. In the seven years prior to 1997, firearms were used in 24 percent of all Australian homicides. But most recently, firearms were used in only 11 percent of Australian homicides, according to figures for the 12 months ending July 1, 2007. That’s a decline of more than half since enactment of the gun law to which this message refers.

Of course caution needs to be applied when making comparisons between countries – even those with so many external similarities as Australian and America.

But nothing can support the claims by Hannity that he used to slap-down Brian and his listeners.

He was – and is – wrong.

This is not the first time that Sean Hannity has been caught out.

You can see some examples here, here and most recently in a Huffington Post report  by Tom Dalzell on Hannity’s lies about emergency personnel responding to Hurrican Sandy that devastated large parts of the north-east in late October, where Hannity:

… apparently tried to turn first responder against first responder in the middle of a national crisis. It looks like he purposefully manipulated millions of Americans with doctored audio and false information. Who knows how much time was wasted when Governor Christie and others on the ground had to stop what they were doing to sort out his lies? This isn’t news, and it isn’t even commentary. This must be purposeful manipulation meant to divide a nation just as it is coming together to rebuild.

I’m open to being persuaded otherwise about my conclusions about Hannity – but if he is going to monster a hapless listener with misleading at best – outright lies at worst – about the particular circumstances of gun control policy and politics in my country it is he who should make sure that he has his facts right.

I welcome your comments.

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