Can comedy defeat the NRA?

19 March 2015
Published in Blog

By Dean Obeidallah

March 19, 2015

The NRA has battled and beaten numerous adversaries that sought to enact laws they believed could save the lives of Americans from gun violence. But there’s a new weapon in this fight against the NRA that just may make a difference: Comedy.

So what is the new comedic approach that hopes to reduce the 32 Americans killed every day by gun violence in our country? Well, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has teamed up with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Funny or Die (FOD) to make a video that calls out, in a funny and informative way, the States that make it easy for criminals to buy, carry and traffic guns. (You can watch video HERE.)

The video, released on Thursday, features a male and female couple in a parody of a commercial for But instead of a website offering reviews on the best restaurants or cheap places to get drunk, these two “criminals” are doing a commercial for the new website, This satirical “travel website” is designed to help criminals pick the “best” vacation spots based on how lax the gun laws are in each state.

The modern day Bonnie and Clyde-esque couple share with us how thrilled they are to vacation in Arizona, the state with the weakest gun safety laws. “I can see the beautiful Grand Canyon and carry a loaded gun without even having a background check,” the guy excitedly tells us.   To which his female counterparts responds: “You would fail that background check.” “I’m sure of it!” laughingly exclaims the guy.

By the end of this one minute and forty-four second video, you have learned in an entertaining way about the states that are truly a criminals dream to visit because of anemic gun safety laws, such as Nevada, Florida and Louisiana.

We also find out about states that don’t “get us criminals” because their laws make it more challenging for dangerous people to legally purchase firearms. We are talking states like New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California. To which the male criminal declares: “I want to shoot California so bad!”

The question, of course, is can this video actually have a meaningful impact? Yes, I know some (mostly on the right) will roll their eyes to the notion that comedy can impact public policy. These people simply don’t grasp the potential power of political comedy.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign explained to me via email that, “sometimes, humor can get people to pay attention to a tough issue and look at it differently.” Adding, if this new comedy video “makes people tune in and engage, then it can definitely help.”

I couldn’t agree more with Gross. Comedy can reach people who would never listen to a speech or a serious presentation about a political issue. For example, the Brady campaign released a short video in October 2014 which explained in a typically serious manner about how alarmingly one percent of the gun dealers sell the guns used in nearly 60 percent of the gun related crimes in the United States.

Want to guess how many views this video has attracted in six months? A little over 500.

In contrast, the Brady campaign’s new comedic video that has only been up since Thursday has nearly 90,000 views -and the word is just getting out about it. And, just as importantly, this video will likely reach younger people, many of whom aren't rigidly set in their views on gun safety laws.

If you doubt that a short comedic video can move people, you don’t need to look any further for proof that when President Obama appeared on the FOD online show, “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis last spring in the weeks before the deadline to sign up for Obamacare. That video was seen by millions, resulted in a 40 percent jump in visits to the and yielded a bump in sign ups by younger people.

Look, this video alone won’t defeat the powerful NRA and change gun laws. But it is informing people about the facts surrounding gun violence and could contribute to not only changing public opinion, it may very well inspire more people to become an activists on the issue. And to be honest, anything that might reduce the 1300 Americans who are the victims of gun related crimes each day or the 32 Americans killed daily in our country by gun violence is worth a shot because the status quo is failing us all.




Dean Obeidallah is the Editor of The Dean's Report, host of SiriusXM radio's "The Dean Obeidallah Show" and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him on Twitter.




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NRA: Guns Don’t Kill People, Video Games Do

22 December 2012
Published in Blog

The charade of Friday’s NRA press conference was best summed up by one of the last lines uttered at it by NRA President David Keene: “…this is the beginning of a serious conversation-We won’t be taking questions today.”

Of course, neither Keene nor NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre would be taking questions. This “press conference” was not the beginning of any conversation–it was a lecture.

They were there to enlighten us. They were there to make sure that we all understood that: "It’s not guns that kill people, it’s video games." It’s movies. It’s the media. It’s “monsters.” It’s a society that worships celebrities and money. It's greedy corporate executives and shareholders. It’s foreign aid to other countries. (These were all actually referenced by Wayne LaPierre during his rambling speech.)

The one thing that Wayne LaPierre apparently doesn’t believe is responsible in any way for the shooting deaths are guns. Not the guns used in the Newtown shooting that took the lives of 20 young children and 6 adults. Not the guns used in July to kill 12 and wound 58 in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Not the guns used to kill six people at a Sikh Temple in August. And not the guns used to kill 94 more people in the US since the Newtown shooting. Yes, 94 more people have been murdered by gun violence since December 14. (And that number will likely be higher by the time you read this.)

Instead, LaPierre claimed that violence in movies and in video games like “Grand Theft Auto” contributed to gun violence. Yet he offered no explanation for why people who live in other countries where they watch the very same movies and play the very same video games as we do, have remarkably lower numbers of people killed by guns. For example, “Grand Theft Auto” broke UK sales records for fastest selling video game with over 600,000 units sold in its first day. However, in the UK, only 51 people were killed by guns in 2011. In contrast, in the US, 8,583 people were murdered by guns in 2011.

The real difference between the US and UK isn’t that they are watching different movies or playing different video games. It's guns. We have close to 300 million guns legally owned while the UK has only approximately 1.8 million guns.

What the NRA leadership should have said – and what I know from twitter some NRA members expected they would say – is that the NRA was going to embrace sensible “human safety” laws. (To me, we should stop using the term “gun control”–I’m not concerned with controlling people’s guns, I’m concerned with saving lives.)

At the very least the NRA should have called for a few common sense changes to our laws. The first and most obvious being to close the “gun show loophole.” Our current federal law only requires background checks to determine if the purported gun buyer has a criminal record or history of mental illness if the gun is sold by a licensed firearm dealer.

However, when guns are sold by non licensed dealers, which occurs at many gun shows, no background check is required. How often does this loophole apply? Shockingly, approximately 40% of guns sold fall into the "gun show loophole." How many guns are we talking about? Estimates are that literally hundreds  of thousands of guns are sold each year to people not subject to a criminal and mental background check.

Only 19% of Americans polled want to keep the law that way. The problem is that the NRA leadership is part of this 19% and has lobbied to keep the gun show loophole intact.

How can any organization that truly cares about saving the lives of Americans ever oppose a law to ensure that the mentally ill and criminals are prohibited from buying firearms?

So what did the NRA call for at its press event? More guns. LaPierre proposed that every school in America should have an armed guard. There are roughly 100,000 public schools meaning a boon in gun sales to arm these new guards.

But here’s a glaring problem with the NRA’s proposal. At the horrific Columbine High School shooting in 1999 that left 15 dead and 23 wounded, there was an armed guard. A 15-year veteran of the Sheriff’s office was on the location. While he exchanged gunshots with one of the two shooters, he was unable to stop the shooting. How could the NRA leadership not be aware of this fact? And does this mean that every school would need two armed guards?

Will the NRA next suggest we have armed guards at every movie theater, shopping mall, Sikh temple, workplace, church – or any of the other location where mass shootings have recently occurred?

Clearly, the NRA leadership is not prepared to have an honest conversation on the issues about the role that GUNS play in the deaths of Americans. The one bright spot is that the rank and file members of the NRA disagree with the NRA elite on a growing number of issues, including 69% who favor closing gun show loophole.

The NRA leadership is at a crossroads. It can either begin to embrace policies that will save American’s lives or find the NRA marginalized to the fringes of American society. Which path will they choose? While I know that NRA leaders LaPierre and Keene aren’t taking questions right now, they may want to consider this one.

America's Slaughterhouse: Who's Really To Blame?

31 July 2012
Published in Blog

By Lawrence D. Elliott

July 31, 2012

Businessman, philanthropist and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made his opinion known on the subject of gun control after the senseless massacre in Aurora, CO. An outspoken advocate for gun control in a state with arguably the toughest gun laws in the nation, it was no surprise he'd soon make his voice heard. Through radio, television, and the newspapers, he's urging the two major Presidential candidates to take a leadership role in America's gun problem.

"Somebody's got to do something about this," Mayor Bloomberg told Bob Schieffer in an interview for CBS' Face the Nation, which aired on July 22nd. "And it requires, particularly in a presidential year, the candidates for President of the United States to stand up once and for all and say, 'Yes they felt terrible, yes it's a tragedy, yes we have great sympathies for the families, but it's time for this country to do something.'"

"And that's the job of the President of the United States," the mayor continued. "I don't know what they're gonna do, but I think its incumbent on them to tell us specifically, not just in broad terms."

Really? President Obama and Governor Romney? The Mayor is a smart guy. He's a lot smarter than I am, but does he really believe that will happen?

Mitt Romney is going speak out? You mean the man who signed a bill banning assault weapons in Massachusetts, then appeared before the National Rifle Association vowing to protect their 2nd Amendment rights at all costs as he's running for President.

And President Obama? He's a Democrat and Democrats run from the gun control issue like scalded cats. And it's been longer than the three and a half years Obama has been in office. Some say it can be traced back to the 1994 mid-term elections when the Democrats took a butt kicking, courtesy of NRA-backed candidates.

I'm not saying Mayor Bloomberg doesn't have a point. He does. But we need to get serious if we want to know who's to blame for our failure to control our appetite for the gun. Then, we can fix the problem.

The knee-jerk reaction is to put all of the blame on the NRA and I'm also guilty of that one. But is it entirely true? Sure, they've been putting fear into any politician who even thinks of bringing up the gun control issue. And thanks to them, we have 25 states with "Stand Your Ground" laws or statutes, which allow any citizen legally carrying a weapon to shoot and kill another simply out of fear, real or imagined.

No they're not innocent, but...

And should we blame the politicians? Yes, you can say they don't have the courage to speak candidly on the issue. But you can also say we collectively don't have the sense to listen to the truth. We want to be told what we want to hear and they're all too eager to oblige us. Because they know they'll be punished at the ballot box if they don't.

Did you catch that? I just hinted at who I believe is to blame? Need another one? Quick, find a mirror and voila! There you are!

Yes, we are to blame. Collectively, if not individually.

According to Gallup, in 1996, 57% of Americans surveyed were for laws which would have made it illegal to manufacture, sell, or possess semiautomatic guns, known as assault rifles. In the same survey, 43% were against such laws.

However, in 2011, the numbers are virtually reversed, with 53% against such laws and 43% for them. With the amount of gun violence we've experienced in our country over this time period, these numbers are unbelievable.

Everyone has beautiful words of comfort and prayers for the victims. I'm no different. My heart goes out to all of the victims, both living and those who were lost. But are we really angry about what happened? If so, what are we going to do about it? Will the victims be forgotten while the killer lives on in infamy?

Will the NRA again be to blame? We're supposed to be adults, so allowing someone to make our minds up for us with multimillion- dollar, fear-filled ads is ridiculous. If we used our own intelligence, their campaigns would be trumped by our common sense.

Will we blame the politicians? Who would stick his or her neck out for a policy "we the people" aren't really in favor of? Some would. Most won't. So that makes us all ultimately guilty for the carnage caused by our failure to craft a sane gun control policy or to enforce the laws already on the books.

I'm not one of those people who wants to eliminate the 2nd Amendment from the United States Constitution, thereby erasing responsible gun ownership. Such an attempt wouldn't get ratified, anyway. It also wouldn't completely eliminate gun violence. I'm not wishing for a utopia because it doesn't exist.

But what's wrong with doing what we can to reduce it? Is it wrong to restrict the massive firepower of assault weapons to trained law enforcement officers and our military personnel? And is it really unconstitutional to prevent anyone from purchasing 6,000 rounds over the Internet without question?

Maybe the next time this happens, you'll have to make a decision of which family member you can save first as the bullets fly. Or you'll have to use your body as a human shield for your loved one. Or maybe you'll be forced to cradle your infant daughter or son as you leap from a balcony to safety during the next armed assault by a crazed maniac.

And we should all believe there will be a next time in America's Slaughterhouse.


Lawrence D. Elliott is an author whose work has appeared in many popular books and publications, including 4 books in the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul series. A native of San Diego, California, he's lived in Germany since May of 2011. Visit his website at

A National Conversation, Not The Sounds of Silence

28 July 2012
Published in Blog

By Scott Blakeman 

July 28, 2012

Imagine if immediately after the attacks on September 11, 2001, President Bush shrugged his shoulders and told the nation, "There's nothing we can do to stop this kind of horror. If a terrorist wants to hijack a plane and fly it into a building, he's going to do it regardless of what we do or laws we sign."

And yet a week after a domestic terrorist slaughtered innocent men, women and children with an arsenal of military-style assault weapons, our political leadership is once again telling us that there is nothing we can do to stop this kind of gun crime, and that reinstating an assault weapons ban would not help prevent these horrific acts from happening again.

It is not just Aurora. Every year since 2001, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, approximately 30,000 people have been killed by firearms in America. And the reaction to this carnage has been to loosen existing gun laws, and to radically misinterpret the Second Amendment.

The National Rifle Association essentially harbors terrorists, by resisting any attempt to apply sensible regulations on gun use. The NRA wants almost anyone to obtain virtually any kind of gun and unlimited amounts of ammunition. Hunters don't need assault weapons or high capacity ammunition clips to shoot deer. These weapons and the ability to shoot more than 30 rounds at one time are for murdering large numbers of people.

The NRA is a massively funded lobbying group that politicians of both parties bow down to with timidity and fear. When you hear politicians say "the political will isn't there" for stricter gun control, what they're really saying is that they are afraid to stand up to the NRA. That's why the assault weapons ban, and the ban on high capacity clips, was allowed by both parties to expire in 2004. Democrats, like Carolyn McCarthy, who lost her husband in a mass shooting on the Long Island Railroad, and Frank Lautenberg have introduced bills to limit ammunition, but these bills garner little support.

The words that frustrate and infuriate me the most are from those in both parties who say now is not the time to talk about gun violence. After 9/11, if someone had said now is not the time to talk about terrorism, they would rightfully have been considered insane.

The conversation must start from the top. Although President Obama is inexplicably considered by right wing media to be a threat to gun rights, his administration has been given a failing grade by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. 

The President's speech in Aurora was moving and compassionate, as was his speech last year after another terrorist attack killed men, women and children, and nearly took the life of Congresswoman Giffords. No federal gun legislation was enacted after that attack either.

The President said about Aurora, "If there is anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile." We are constantly reminded of the fragility of life, because approximately 33 people are killed in America by gun violence every day. What we need to take away from this tragedy is a renewed determination to, at the very least, begin an intense national dialogue on the causes of gun violence, and what steps can be taken to reduce it.

We must stand up to the fatalism, cynicism and ignorance of those who say, "There's nothing we can do. And no law will help." There is much that can be done. And we can demand that the political will be found to get it done. Instead of cowardly running away from the NRA and the issue of gun violence in the U.S., we must bring it up now, and bring it up loudly and forcefully. Those who vote against gun control legislation, or do nothing to promote it, even if they are liberal on other issues, should be challenged by pro gun control candidates.

And even though almost every Obama campaign advisor would tell him otherwise, the President must start the national conversation about gun violence right now. His speech to the National Urban League, where he called for reinstating the assault weapons ban, is a good start. 

The American people are listening. And this time, they must hear more than the sounds of silence.


Scott Blakeman is a liberal political comedian and commentator, who appears regularly on Live. He will perform his one man show "Liberal Jew" at the Lenox Town Hall in Lenox, Massachusetts on August 18, and the Grange Hall on Martha's Vineyard September 1.   Twitter: @scottblakeman

Secret Service made the right call on Ted Nugent

22 April 2012
Published in Blog

(CNN) -- Rocker Ted Nugent found himself being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service after making this statement last weekend at the NRA Convention: "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year."

While I dismissed Nugent's comments as just another idiotic statement by the person known as "The Motor City Madman," others thought Nugent may have violated the federal law that makes it a crime to threaten the president of the United States. CNN contributor LZ Granderson even wrote an article entitled "Ted Nugent should be in jail," calling for the arrest of Nugent. However, Granderson recognized that under the law as it stands, Nugent would not, in fact, be imprisoned for the comment at issue.

Threats against the president of the United States should not be tolerated, regardless of the president's political affiliation. And I'm aware that we live in a particularly alarming time as threats against President Obama have jumped 400% from those made against President George W. Bush.

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Why would NRA denounce media coverage of Trayvon Martin case?

15 April 2012
Published in Blog

Over the weekend, the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre attacked the media for "sensational reporting from Florida” about the Trayvon Martin case. Mr. LaPierre even called the news media a “national disgrace.”

For those unaware of the NRA’s work, it is the nation’s leading advocate of gun rights in the United States. The NRA efforts are instrumental in protecting the nation's $6 billion a year gun and ammunition industry.

The NRA is also the organization that lobbied States to enact the “Stand Your Ground” law, the very one that George Zimmerman – the man who shot Trayvon Martin – is invoking as his legal defense for the shooting. I assume the reasoning for the NRA supporting these laws is: Why should you own a gun if you aren't going to have a chance to use it?

Did Mr. LaPierre offer any sympathy to Trayvon Martin's family? No.

Instead, he choose to denounce the media for their coverage of the case, alleging that the media’s: “...dishonesty, duplicity, and moral irresponsibility is directly contributing to the collapse of American freedom in our country.”

What makes Mr. La Pierre’s comments especially callous is that they were made at the annual NRA convention which was being held this weekend in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis has the unenviable distinction of being the city with second highest rate in the country for youth being killed by guns. Indeed, the gun shot murder rate for 10 to 19 years old in St. Louis is more than three times the average for larger cities according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The NRA leadership should not have been denouncing the media coverage of the killing of an innocent teen, rather they should be focusing their efforts to work with federal, state and local governments to reduce the number of gun related deaths in our nation. In 2010, there were 12,996 murders and of those 8,775 were caused by guns. That means almost 70% of those murdered in 2010 were as a result of gun violence.

It is not happenstance that the States with the highest number of guns also have the highest number of people murdered by guns.  To put it simply: You are literally  five times more likely to be shot to death in Arizona than in Hawaii.

Guns are a part of the fabric of America. There are over 200 million guns in the US. They will never be eliminated-nor should they be. The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Indeed, the US Supreme Court in the last few years has recognized that American citizens have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes and this right cannot be violated by federal, state or local laws.

Despite knowing this reality, some gun advocates prefer to spew misinformation and inspire fear among gun owners that the government is coming to take their guns away. This is nothing more than a rallying cry used by some to scare people into opposing reasonable laws that could save lives, such as background checks for all people purchasing guns even if sold at a gun show or by private citizens. 

The tired cliché espoused by the NRA that “Guns don't kill people, people kill people” should be retired. It is an over simplification of a problem that doesn't have easy answers.

Reducing gun violence will take a concerted strategy, such as the one New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in February with his initiative to reduce gun violence. This multi-faceted program combines funding for communities to create anti-violence strategies and provides State support for both advertising campaigns and community-based programs to counter gun violence. This is certainly a step in the right direction.

There's no doubt that both those who love guns and those who destest them, want to lower the number of people killed by guns each year. However, comments by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre simply do not help us reach our common goal.