The war over gun control is heating up.
Attacks from both sides have been almost continuous since a deranged gunman killed 26 people -- mostly children -- at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The furor intensified last week after President Barack Obama unveiled a package of legislative proposals and executive orders targeting gun violence.
A day after Obama’s announcement, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence got into the fray by attacking a Georgia Democratic congressman on his ties to the National Rifle Association and his opposition to Obama’s gun legislation. The coalition uses U.S. Rep John Barrow’s own 2012 campaign commercial in an attack on him and the NRA.
The Washington-based coalition of 48 religious organizations, lobbyist groups and other associations refers to itself as seeking "to secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement and effective policy advocacy. "
Barrow’s original ad, "Nobody," features him brandishing guns owned and used by his grandfather and father. He used it in his last campaign, when Republicans considered his seat vulnerable. Barrow also touts his endorsement from the NRA in the ad. He ends the spot with the comments, "I approved this message because these are my guns now, and ain’t nobody gon’ take ‘em away."
The coalition’s video intersperses selective parts of Barrow’s original ad (and comments) with horrific images and news voiceovers from the Newtown massacre. As the video ends, audio from news reports of the names and ages of some of the children killed at Newtown provide a voiceover for the text, "Shame on you, Congressman John Barrow. ... Tell Congressman John Barrow to reject NRA blood money."
The coalition put out a news release with the video. In the release, the coalition’s executive director, Josh Horwitz, says that Barrow "has decided to put his love of the NRA above his concern for his fellow Americans." The group noted that during Barrow’s eight-year congressional career, he has received $27,250 in campaign contributions from the NRA. (The coalition has used similar pressure tactics against U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who also criticized Obama’s gun-control policies.)
Further examination reveals that the anti-gun group has left out key parts of Barrow’s statements from the original ad. For example, Barrow begins the ad by saying: "I’m John Barrow, and long before I was born my grandfather used this little Smith and Wesson here to help stop a lynching." But the coalition ad leaves off the words "to help stop a lynching."
Barrow’s ad also says: "my father always had this rifle real handy just to keep us safe." But the coalition ad leaves off "just to keep us safe." The coalition ad also leaves out a key line Barrow says in his ad: "That’s why I support the Second Amendment."
The gun-control group said in a statement to PolitiFact Georgia that it stands by the ad. The statement said the coalition was "disturbed to see Congressman Barrow double down on his support of the NRA in the wake of the tragedy at Newtown."
The coalition’s goal was to highlight Barrow’s legislative record on guns and his strong ties to the NRA, said Ladd Everitt, the coalition’s communications director. Everitt characterized Barrow’s original ad as insulting to the constituents in his district.
Everitt said his group couldn’t find evidence to prove Barrow’s grandfather helped quell an attempted lynching. Barrow’s ad seemed to indicate that it was white armed citizens who vindicated the civil rights of black citizens in the Deep South, and "that narrative of history is a bogus one," Everitt said.
Barrow’s original "Nobody" ad was rolled out in October during a highly scrutinized re-election campaign for the conservative east Georgia district. Barrow, the last white Democrat in the U.S. House from the Deep South, is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate, mostly Southern, Democrats that often breaks with the party leadership.
The coalition first took note of Barrow last year when he was one of a handful of House Democrats to vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for failing to turn over documents in the botched Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation, Everitt said. The coalition noted that several members of Congress who supported the contempt vote had received campaign contributions from the NRA, including Barrow.
The group also disagreed with his comments about Obama’s gun-safety package. "I strongly disagree with proposals that would deny law-abiding citizens their Second Amendment rights," Barrow said in part about Obama’s proposals. The ad’s use of the Newtown images implies that his pro-gun stance is directly related to the Newtown massacre. For his part, Barrow posted a short Facebook message on the same day of the shooting telling his followers that he was "shocked by the news" and asking for prayer for the victims and their families.
Barrow declined to comment on the coalition’s ad. But that’s not surprising, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.
" I think (Barrow) probably correctly senses that in that district being endorsed by the NRA is probably an advantage," Bullock said. "For a Blue Dog to survive, they have to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Democratic Party. He’ll probably say, ‘yes, a liberal group is saying that I’m tied to the NRA.’ " Being attacked could actually help him win over some voters, Bullock said.
So what to make of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence’s ad?
The group was attempting to put pressure on pro-gun Democrats critical of the president’s gun-control policies. It took a Barrow campaign ad, doctored the video by splicing in scenes and sounds from the Newtown mass shooting and adding a "shame on you" tagline.
Even more egregious, the coalition chose to selectively edit Barrow’s original statements, leaving out key elements that helped explain the congressman’s stance on gun rights. By leaving those parts out, the coalition changes Barrow’s central message supporting gun ownership for protection and self-defense.
The group attempted to target Barrow with a highly emotional ad. But it comes across as the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.
The coalition gets our lowest rating on this one. Pants On Fire.
The war over gun control is heating up.