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It’s a quote that keeps on giving, campaign after campaign. It’s even slightly plausible, if you’ve followed Lee Fisher’s positions on gun control. The quote, cited since at least 1994 by gun-rights advocates, political opponents (including the campaign of at least one Democrat), blogs and websites:
"I never met a gun control bill I didn’t like."
But did Fisher really say it?
We turned to groups that have used the quote against Fisher, including the Buckeye Firearms Association, the Ohio Republican Party and the campaign of Rob Portman, the Republican running against Fisher for U.S. Senate. They all suggest his support for the Second Amendment runs from weak to nonexistent. We spoke with people who dealt with Fisher two decades ago and opposed him on issues in the Ohio Senate. We asked the National Rifle Association -- twice -- to dig into its research archives, although the NRA didn’t follow up either time. We checked decades worth of of newspaper clippings and websites, and asked those who keep using the quote to check their records in case they’ve found it.
No one has.
This has been an ongoing examination ever since the Buckeye Firearms Association and an operative in the campaign of Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, separately cited the quote during Ohio’s Democratic primary. Fisher won that primary against Brunner, who is Ohio’s secretary of state.
They and others noted earlier references to the quote, and not just from this year. The quote was a piece of political folklore, and Fisher had not appeared to do anything to tamp it down until recently. We won’t speculate why, although it’s clear that any discussion of Fisher and guns can get sticky when he says he’s a Second Amendment supporter. Fisher has tried repeatedly to regulate guns, whether from his perch as a former board member of Handgun Control, Inc., or from his service in the Ohio Senate, or from his time as Ohio attorney general.
Fisher says that Americans have the right to own guns for protection and sport. But as he said in May on a radio program, "we should do background checks to make it harder for bad guys, or people who have a serious mental illness to get a gun." He embraced assault-weapons bans. Prior to 1993, when Congress passed the so-called Brady Bill to require background checks and a waiting period for gun purchases, Fisher tried repeatedly to get a similar law passed in Ohio.
Second Amendment absolutists and many other law-abiding sportsmen disagree with Fisher. Critics cite other statements he has made in support of gun regulation, such as this, from a 1993 memo when Fisher was Ohio attorney general: ''The right to bear arms is a very limited right..."
That’s how the Portman campaign characterizes Fisher’s statement, anyway, although the full quote was actually: ''The right to bear arms is a very limited right and the state and its political subdivisions have the authority to regulate the possession and use of assault weapons."
So we can stipulate that no matter what Fisher says about his support for the Second Amendment, he and the gun rights lobby are going to be far apart. But what of the "never met" quote?
When a Brunner operative and the Buckeye Firearms Association used it during the spring primary, The Plain Dealer mentioned it, writing, "Gun rights advocates as well as Brunner loyalists like to cite Fisher's famous quote from 1994: ‘I never met a gun control bill I didn't like.’"
Fisher’s campaign then said it wasn’t sure of the quote’s origin or whether Fisher actually uttered those words. But the Ohio Republican Party used the quote in an online video attack ad in June. Shortly after, Portman used the quote in a campaign news release. Told that The Plain Dealer was looking into the quote’s origins and questioned its authenticity, a Portman spokeswoman defended its usage, saying the quote had been in circulation for years without any record of Fisher disputing it.
But Fisher’s campaign refutes the quote now. Fisher never said it, according to spokesman John Collins. We have searched and asked around widely and find nothing that contradicts him, nor did the Buckeye Firearms Association, which turned to its own sources and traced its usage to at least 1994.
So where did the quote come from?
That’s not entirely clear, but a 1989 column in the Columbus Dispatch sheds some light. Fisher was a state senator then, trying for the fifth time to pass a statewide gun-control law. This time, Fisher’s proposal was getting a second look, and then-state Sen. Paul Pfeifer, the Republican who chaired the Judiciary Committee, indicated he would give Fisher a hearing.
Pfeifer, describing the political climate for gun control, told the Dispatch then that Fisher had a reputation of having "never met a gun-control bill he didn’t like." Those were Pfeifer’s words, however, not Fisher’s.
Pfeifer, now an Ohio Supreme Court justice, told The Plain Dealer he doesn’t recall details of what he may have said in 1989, but "if you found the quote, then I probably said it."
Pfeifer added, "It’s tough enough being responsible for the things you did say" in a long political career. "And it’s hell being blamed for something you never did say."
Seems fair enough to us. That’s why we find this claim False.
Buckeye Firearms Association
Interview with John Collins, spokesman for the Lee Fisher campaign
Interview with Jessica Towhey, spokeswoman for the Rob Portman campaign
Interview with Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer
Columbus Dispatch: "Gun Laws Have a Fair Shot," April 2, 1989.
The Tom Roten Show, WVHU Radio (Huntington, W.Va.), May 20, 2010.
Plain Dealer archives.
Cleveland News Index (published by Cleveland Public Library), 1980-1990.
Newsbank archives of all Ohio newspapers, 1984-2010.
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