Wayne LaPierre, a longtime leader of the National Rifle Association, says President Barack Obama is biding his time to destroy the Second Amendment.
The group’s executive vice president spoke for the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington on Feb. 10, 2012, arguing the president’s strategy has been to "hide, shroud and cloak" his anti-gun plans.
One piece of evidence for that hidden agenda against the right to bear arms, LaPierre said: "(Obama) endorsed a total ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of all handguns."
A @PolitiFact Twitter follower wanted to know: Really?
Turns out, we’ve seen a similar claim before.
Back in 2008, the NRA said that then-Sen. Barack Obama had a 10-point plan to "change" the Second Amendment, including a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns.
We found it False, saying a "fuzzy stand in ‘96 does not amount to a plan."
This time, LaPierre said that Obama "endorsed a total ban." Does his wording make a difference?
Here’s the shred of truth behind LaPierre’s rhetoric: In 1996, Obama’s campaign for Illinois Senate filled out a questionnaire for a state voter group. (Maybe Obama did it; maybe his campaign manager did. A spokesman for his 2008 presidential campaign later said that staff "unintentionally mischaracterized his position," and that he never saw the survey.)
The questionnaire asked about Obama’s stance on various issues, including, "Do you support state legislation to … ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns?"
The typed answer: Yes.
(You can see the questionnaire here and here, and read stories about it by the Associated Press and POLITICO.)
Obama never endorsed a "total ban." But his campaign for state Senate almost 16 years ago did say yes to supporting such a ban on a state level in a questionnaire.
What came of the campaign endorsement of such a policy?
The Associated Press noted that Obama's legislative record in Illinois "shows strong support for gun restrictions, such as limiting handgun purchases to one a month, but no attempts to ban them." On a different questionnaire eight years later, Obama’s position was that "a complete ban on handguns is not politically practicable" but that reasonable restrictions should be imposed, AP reported.
The president’s policies
Has Obama’s presidential administration shown sympathy for banning handguns?
In 2009, FactCheck.org said, "We’ve seen little or no evidence that the Obama administration is doing much to regulate guns or gun ownership."
In 2010, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave the president a report card of seven F’s for his first year in office, including on "standing up the to the gun lobby."
We talked with Caroline Brewer, director of communications for the Brady Center’s sister organization, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
"We certainly don't have a record of him calling for a ban of any kind on handguns in the United States," she said. "... There's no logical reason to believe the president would ever advocate the banning of all handguns, and we as organization don't advocate for that, either."
She noted that after the Tucson, Ariz., shootings that injured former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, the president called for better background checks, not banning guns.
Here’s a quote from that Obama op-ed, as published in the Arizona Daily Star on March 13, 2011:
"Now, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. And the courts have settled that as the law of the land. In this country, we have a strong tradition of gun ownership that's handed from generation to generation. Hunting and shooting are part of our national heritage. And, in fact, my administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners — it has expanded them, including allowing people to carry their guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. …
"I'm willing to bet that responsible, law-abiding gun owners agree that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few — dangerous criminals and fugitives, for example — from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.
"I'm willing to bet they don't think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas — that we should check someone's criminal record before he can check out at a gun seller; that an unbalanced man shouldn't be able to buy a gun so easily; that there's room for us to have reasonable laws that uphold liberty, ensure citizen safety and are fully compatible with a robust Second Amendment."
(It’s true, by the way, that Obama repealed Reagan-era rules to keep loaded guns out of national parks, something else that didn’t sit well with the Brady Campaign.)
LaPierre argues Obama’s rhetoric is a sign that he’s biding his time until a second term, when he’ll unfurl his full anti-gun agenda — an uncheckable prediction. (See: "Obama’s Secret Plan To Destroy The Second Amendment By 2016.") However, none of Obama’s previous years in office hint at the kind of extreme policy push the NRA claims he’s yearning to unleash.
LaPierre said "(Obama) endorsed a total ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of all handguns." Obama’s 1996 campaign for state Senate did endorse a state-level ban, on a questionnaire from which he has since distanced himself.
He never suggested such a law in office, and later questionnaires showed a more nuanced approach, as have his more recent statements on gun control, including those during his time in the U.S. Senate and as president. In fact, his gun-control agenda has earned him failing grades from a prominent gun-control advocacy group.
We can’t rule on a shadowy conspiracy to destroy the Constitution in Obama’s second term. But we can say that LaPierre’s claim that Obama endorsed a total ban on handguns contains a small element of truth (a typewritten "yes" on a long-ago questionnaire about a state ban) but ignores critical facts — that is, Obama's statements and record — that would give a different impression. That's our definition of Mostly False.