Is the NRA right that Obama is 'coming for our guns'?
By Aaron Sharockman
Published on Friday, June 15th, 2012 at 1:42 p.m.
Here are some facts you probably won't hear from the National Rifle Association: The Second Amendment is fading as a wedge issue in American politics, gun owners are winning, and President Barack Obama is doing little to alter the scales.
Nearly one in two Americans now have a gun in their home and just 26 percent favor an all-out ban on handguns, down from 60 percent in 1959, according to a recent Gallup survey. The number of Americans who support tighter gun laws is at an all-time low.
Gun talk has been almost anathema at the White House. Obama signed a bill in 2009 that allows people to carry loaded guns into most national parks; in 2011, he largely avoided a discussion -- to the anger of many activists -- about strengthening gun laws following the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Obama received a failing grade from the nation’s preeminent gun control group, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
We couldn’t find a word about gun policies on Obama’s re-election website.
"The gun control debate is over," said Rick Wilson, a GOP political consultant. "We live in a country where guns are a fundamental part of mainstream American culture. The moment I saw that Walmart now sells AR-15s (a type of semi-automatic rifle), I knew the debate was over."
Yet, you won’t hear much of that as the NRA campaigns against Obama in 2012.
In a new campaign mailer -- the contents of which we expect to be repeated in emails and at dinner tables -- the gun rights group is casting Obama as a gun control crusader who is "coming for our guns."
PolitiFact decided to put some of the NRA's claims to the Truth-O-Meter.
The gun rights group says Obama supported former Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy’s proposal "to outlaw all deer-hunting ammunition."
The NRA claim is cherry-picking an extreme, worst-case interpretation of a 2005 amendment to expand the definition of armor-piercing ammunition, which is legal to own or use in the United States but illegal to purchase or make.
Kennedy’s proposal had nothing to do with deer hunting, but the NRA contended it could be threatened by the bill. Yet Kennedy said his proposal wasn’t meant to target rifle ammunition commonly used to hunt deer, and since the language was never approved, we don’t know how it would have been applied. More importantly, we have no idea if Obama would have supported a hypothetical deer ammo ban as the NRA claims.
"It is absolutely ludicrous to believe that a Democratic administration would have risked the political fallout of trying to use this section to prohibit rifle ammunition," said William Vizzard, a criminal justice professor at California State University-Sacramento and a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agent. "The Democrats have avoided all gun control controversies assiduously."
To ban deer-hunting ammunition "would be suicide politically," added David "Mudcat" Saunders, a pro-gun Democratic strategist. "There might be some way the NRA could twist the facts. But it’s not true."
Other NRA claims on the mailer include a 1995 quote from now-Attorney General Eric Holder. The mailer quotes him saying we need to "really brainwash people" against guns. The comment came in a discussion about the need to change public opinion about firearms. Holder, then a U.S. attorney, said, "What we need to do is change the way in which people think about guns, especially young people, and make it something that’s not cool, that it’s not acceptable, it’s not hip to carry a gun anymore, in the way in which we’ve changed our attitudes about cigarettes."
The NRA's mailer also targets Obama’s regulatory adviser, Cass Sunstein, for saying in 2007 that he wants to ban hunting and that animals should be represented in court.
Sunstein, a law professor at Harvard University, said those things -- but he also walked back most of his comments in 2009 as he was joining the Obama administration.
"I strongly believe that the Second Amendment creates an individual right to possess and use guns for purposes of both hunting and self-defense," Sunstein said in part.
We rated the claim against Sunstein Half True.
The NRA earned a True for its claim that Obama is "trying to slash funding for the Armed Pilots Program designed to prevent terror attacks."
However, it’s not necessarily clear that the cut to the program -- which was scrapped by the Republican-controlled House -- should be considered anti-gun.
The federal government has budgeted $25 million a year since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to deputize and train volunteer commercial pilots to carry firearms on commercial flights. But as part of his proposed 2013 budget, Obama wanted to cut funding for the program in half.
"In an ideal world, one without budget constraints, we would fully fund the program. We’re not in that environment, so we are taking reductions," Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole said.
Critics say the move was political. The $12 million-$13 million in potential savings comprises about 0.15 percent of the entire TSA $7.6 billion proposed budget.
"The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that this was being done for anti-gun reasons," said Brian Darling, a senior fellow for government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has been following the issue.
The evidence for another claim was completely underwhelming, we found.
Relying on a secondhand quote of Obama -- relayed to Washington Post by gun control advocate Sarah Brady -- the NRA claimed that "Obama admits he’s coming for our guns, telling Sarah Brady, ‘We are working on (gun control), but under the radar.’ "
The genesis of the quote is a brief 2011 White House meeting between Obama, Brady, her husband Jim, and former Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence president Paul Helmke.
Helmke told PolitiFact there was no promise from Obama on gun policy, and certainly no dramatic pledge to come for anyone’s firearms.
Likely, the president was talking about an in-the-works program to get gun dealers in border states to forward some gun purchases to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Helmke said.
Brady told us her quote has been misinterpreted and that she herself never spoke with Obama about gun policy. "What ever I might have said or agreed to was purely speculative as I never spoke to the president myself about this issue," she said.
Whatever was said and what it was referring to is murky, but the NRA took a fragment of an unclear quote and prescribed the most far-reaching, conspiratorial conclusion -- when there simply isn't enough evidence for such a sweeping claim. We rated that claim Pants on Fire.
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Researchers: Aaron Sharockman
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