"Sandy Hook Father" Is Not a Sandy Hook Father

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 7 2013 11:46 AM

That Pro-Gun "Sandy Hook Father" Isn't Actually a Sandy Hook Father

The above video, titled "SANDY HOOK FATHER OWNS CONGRESS," has been viewed more than 2.4 million times since it was published to YouTube on Sunday. In it, Bill Stevens offers a fervid defense of gun rights, citing his constitutional right to bear arms and telling Connecticut lawmakers: "I will tell you here today, you will take my ability to protect my Victoria from my cold, dead hands."

As impassioned as his Charlton Heston-quoting testimony was, what's so noteworthy about his speech—and likely the reason he's become something of a hero to Second Amendment supporters this week—is the fact that he is, in the words of a whole host of conservative media, a "Sandy Hook father." On Sunday, roughly a week after Stevens spoke at the hearing and the same day the clip in question was posted, the Examiner reported matter-of-factly that Stevens' daughter, Victoria, "attended Sandy Hook Elementary school, scene of the mass shooting in December." The following day, Brietbart.com stated plainly that she had "survived the crime at Sandy Hook." On Tuesday, the Daily Caller did the same, explaining that she had "survived the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary shooting." We heard a similar story from Townhall.com, as well as from a spate of other conservative sites.

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The problem, as you've no doubt guessed by now, is that Stevens is not actually the father of a Sandy Hook student. Victoria is a fifth-grader at Reed Intermediate School, located about a mile or so from the elementary school that was the scene of the tragic mass shooting. In fairness to Stevens, the misinformation was not his doing. While his original remarks were a little ambigious—he said that his daughter "was in lockdown" during the shooting and that "her classmate’s little sister was murdered in Sandy Hook that day"—he's already gone out of his way to correct the error, emailing the Examiner to set the story straight:

Thank you for the nice article about my testimony in Hartford. Unlike the Liberal media who don't let facts get in the way, I just wanted to let you know that my daughter does not attend Sandy Hook Elementary, but was in "lock down" nonetheless on December 14, 2012 at Reed Intermediate School (5th & 6th grade) about a mile away with her classmates, one of whom lost his little sister that day.

But still the misinformation persists. Most of the articles mentioned above have not printed corrections; several went live after Stevens corrected the original reports. The reporters presumably made the leap to "Sandy Hook father" based on the version of the video that has gone viral. (At least one other exists with correct information, but it has amassed far fewer views.) But one doesn't have to look too closely at the original video to see a few warning flags. For starters, its title also gives the impression that Stevens was speaking on Capitol Hill, when in reality he was addressing a working group of Connecticut state lawmakers. And then there's the little matter that it was posted by ThinkOutsidetheTV, whose other uploads include conspiracy theory videos arguing that Sandy Hook was a staged coup featuring hired actors intended to frighten Americans into surrendering their gun rights.

Making the misinformation that much more noteworthy is the fact that Stevens' testimony came during the same hearing that brought us misleading reports that an actual Sandy Hook father was "heckled" by gun-rights advocates, an account that itself quickly went viral among gun-control supporters. In reality, the father was interrupted after asking a (probably) rhetorical question, but not heckled—though a misleading video on MSNBC gave the appearance of more severe harassment.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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