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Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's faux-news program "The Daily Show," wryly noted on its Sept. 29 episode that the Obama administration's track record is "why you see so many Democrats running ads proudly touting their party's accomplishments."
Then flowed a montage of Democratic campaign ads denouncing President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. The last clip? A Sept. 17 ad for Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco: "And when Washington liberals wanted to take away our guns, Chet said no."
"Those are the ads that Democrats are running?" Stewart marveled.
On Stewart's cue, we wanted to know more about Edwards' supposed showdown with gun-averse liberals.
Megan Jacobs, an Edwards' spokeswoman, sent us a statement citing several pieces of legislation to defend his boast.
Namely, on March 17, 2009, Edwards was one of 65 House Democrats who sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. "As strong supporters of the Second Amendment, we were very concerned to see your recent remarks suggesting that the administration will push for reinstatement of the 1994 ban on 'assault weapons' and ammunition magazines," the letter says. "Many of our constituents lawfully own and use these firearms and ammunition magazines that would be affected by a new ban."
The letter concludes: "We would actively oppose any effort to reinstate the 1994 ban or to pass any similar law. We urge you to abandon this initiative and to focus instead on effective law enforcement strategies to enforce our community laws against violent criminals and drug traffickers."
What prompted the letter? Jacobs pointed us to a February 2009 article on ABC News' website that quotes Holder saying: "As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons." Obama's campaign website said in 2008 that he supports making the expired federal assault weapons ban permanent "as such weapons belong on foreign battlefields and not on our streets."
Some background: In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed legislation prohibiting the sale of 19 types of semi-automatic assault weapons — like AK-47s, Uzis and revolving-cylinder shotguns — and imitation models of those guns. The law didn't apply to more than 650 other types of firearms that were manually operated by a bolt, pump, lever or slide action, were permanently nonfunctional and antique firearms. Also, the ban was set to expire in 2004 unless Congress reauthorized it, which it didn't.
Edwards told us he voted for the ban in '94 after a 1991 shooting in Killeen left 24 dead. He said he opposed the ban's reauthorization because he didn't think it was effective in significantly reducing gun violence.
We wondered how many Texans would be affected by bringing back the ban. Tim Carroll, a spokesman with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told us that the agency doesn't track how many people own assault weapons.
Carroll also told us that when the 1994 ban was implemented, it did not apply to firearms anyone already owned. Meaning: No one would had their guns taken away.
Speaking to Edwards' pro-gun bonafides, Jacobs noted that the congressman drew an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, meaning it considers Edwards a "solidly pro-gun candidate" who "has supported NRA positions on key votes in elective office," according to an explanation of the ratings on the NRA's website.
The letter to Holder signed by Edwards is one of 11 reasons the association lists on its website for endorsing the congressman. Other reasons include legislation Edwards cosponsored to repeal a gun ban in the District of Columbia, legislation he cosponsored to extend federal protections to state right-to-carry license and permits nationwide and legislation he cosponsored to prohibit gun confiscation during states of emergency.
We did not find fresh signs the Obama administration is pushing to return the ban, though there have been reports about assault weapons in the news. In May, Mexico President Felipe Calderon asked a joint session of the U.S. Congress to renew the ban to help Mexico's war with drug cartels. In June, Reuters reported that police in the Texas border city of Laredo seized 147 AK-47 assault rifles bound for Mexico. And on Sept. 28, Colton Tooley, a 19-year-old student at the University of Texas at Austin, sprayed several rounds from an AK-47 on campus before killing himself.
Of course, Edwards' ad says liberals wanted to take away "our guns" — not just assault weapons.
The statement Jacobs sent us further says that "since Democrats gained a House majority since 2007, numerous bills have been introduced that require the registration of guns that would limit gun ownership." Edwards' statement singles out Pelosi and Reps. Henry Waxman, George Miller and Barbara Lee of California and Barney Frank of Massachusetts as liberals "on the opposite sides of Edwards on many key gun-related votes."
The statement cites a host of Edwards votes on gun issues, including: a 2003 vote to protect firearms manufacturers and dealers from being sued for damages resulting from the misuse by others of their firearm or ammunition and a 2004 vote not to extend the assault weapons ban.
This year, Edwards was one of 159 cosponsors of legislation "to restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia." The bill would prohibit the District from restricting a person's right to carry a firearm at his or her home, personal land or business, repeal D.C's registration requirement to possess firearms and repeal a ban on semiautomatic weapons. In 2005, Edwards voted to prohibit the use of federal funds to enforce a D.C. law requiring certain firearms to be unloaded and disassembled. In 2008, he voted to overturn the D.C. ban.
Still, we did not track with Edwards' logic. While it's evident he's supported legislation that is considered pro-gun and said "no" to legislation that isn't, we didn't see anything showing that Washington liberals were coming to take our guns away.
As we neared completion of our review, Edwards told us that "the reason a lot of gun-control legislation has not come up, been introduced, but it's been killed," is thanks to "Democrats like me and those who have opposed it."
Edwards cited 2009 legislation by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois, which sought to create a licensing system for certain firearms and a record system tracking the sale of those firearms. Specifically, Edwards said he objected to a provision requiring applicants seeking a firearm license to submit "a clear thumbprint" and "a current, passport-sized photograph of the applicant," according to the bill.
"If I'm a citizen in Texas and I say I'm not about to be fingerprinted or photographed to keep a handgun, then I am in violation of the law" he said. "The federal government would have the right to take that gun away." Those who failed to comply with Rush's proposal, which never came to a vote, would have been subject to a fine or imprisonment or both, but we saw no language stating that guns would be taken away.
In a letter Edwards sent a constituent in January, he said, "I oppose this bill and do not believe there should be a national gun licensing system."
Edwards told us that he has gone to Democratic leaders in the House and said, "Don't allow these gun control bills to come to the floor. Not many have. That's my point."
Edwards also pointed to legislation he supported to expand gun rights in the District of Columbia, which prohibited gun owners from keeping handguns in their homes. In June 2008, the Supreme Court overturned D.C.'s ban."They wanted to be able to take guns away, I wanted to stop them from legally being able to take those guns away," he said.
Where does that leave us?
Edwards makes a case that he’s steadfastly opposed efforts to impose gun controls. However, none of his cited measures would "take away" anyone’s weapons. It’s overblown claims like this that keep the Truth-O-Meter in business.
His statement is False.
Chet Edwards for Congress, Press release: Edwards campaign releases new ad: "Stand," Sept. 17, 2010
Chet Edwards for Congress, "Stand," posted on YouTube Sept. 17, 2010
Comedy Central, Daily Show episode from Sept. 29, 2010
Project Vote Smart, Rep. Thomas 'Chet' Edwards, accessed Oct. 4, 2010
The Dallas Morning News, Calderon urges Congress to renew ban on assault weapons in fight against drug cartels, May 21, 2010
Reuters, Texas police seize 147 Mexico-bound AK-47 rifles, June 2, 2010
PolitiFact.com, Obama consistently on the fence, July 8, 2008
Mother Jones, Obama puts silencer on assault weapons ban, May 21, 2010
National Rifle Association, Texas candidate endorsements, accessed Oct. 5, 2010
Organizing for America, Fact check: No news in Obama's consistent record, Dec. 11, 2007
The Associated Press, Congress lets assault weapons ban expire, Sept. 13, 2004
The Library of Congress, H.R.3355: Violence Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, enacted Sept. 13, 1994, accessed Oct. 7, 2010
The New York Times, Justices to decide on right to keep handgun, Nov. 2, 2007
The New York Times, Justices, ruling 5-4, endorse personal right to own gun, June 7, 2008
Rep. Chet Edwards, letter to a constituent, Jan. 19, 2010
The New York Times, Assault weapons ban allowed to stay in anti-crime measure, July 28, 1994, accessed via LexisNexis
E-mail interview with Megan Jacobs, communications director, Oct. 3, 2010
E-mail interview with Alexa Fritts, spokeswoman, National Rifle Association, Oct. 7, 2010
Interview with Donna Sellers, spokeswoman, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Oct. 8, 2010
Interview with Tim Carroll, program manager with the public affairs office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Oct. 8, 2010
Interview with Rep. Chet Edwards, congressman for the 17th district of Texas, Oct. 8, 2010
Interview with John Dingell, congressman for the 15th district of Michigan, Oct. 8, 2010
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