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Never mind that President Barack Obama has done little on gun issues -- so little, in fact, that gun control advocates are unhappy. The National Rifle Association continues to portray him as a relentless threat to the Second Amendment who wants to take your guns away.
The NRA has a website called "Gun Ban Obama" that warns he "would be the most anti-gun president in American history." One article is headlined "Hillary was right: You can't trust Obama with your guns."
In the mail comes a flier that offers "10 reasons why Obama is bad news for the Second Amendment."
This week, we plan to focus on several of those top 10 reasons as part of an effort to triangulate Obama’s positions on guns and whether the NRA attacks are accurate.
Here we’ll examine what the NRA listed as reason No. 2 -- "Obama supported Ted Kennedy’s ammo ban to outlaw all deer-hunting ammunition."
It's an oldie, but a goodie. The NRA used the same general attack against John Kerry in 2004 and against Obama in 2008.
The attack against Obama is rooted in a vote he took while serving in the U.S. Senate. It has to do with what the federal government considers armor-piercing ammunition (not, as the statement says, ammo for deer hunting).
The sale, manufacture or import of armor-piercing ammunition in handguns was banned by Congress and President Ronald Reagan in 1986. The measure, which applied only to civilians and did not outlaw the use or possession of armor-piercing rounds, passed the House 400-21 and the Senate 97-1.
As part of the 1986 law, Congress defined armor-piercing ammunition as:
(i) a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium; or
(ii) a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.
In 2005 -- as he had in years past -- former Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy offered an amendment to a gun bill that would have broadened the definition of armor-piercing ammunition -- moving away from specific metals and weights to include ammunition capable of penetrating body armor.
Specifically, Kennedy proposed to add:
(iii) a projectile that may be used in a handgun and that the Attorney General determines, under section 926(d), to be capable of penetrating body armor; or
(iv) a projectile for a center-fire rifle, designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability, that the Attorney General determines, under section 926(d), to be more likely to penetrate body armor than standard ammunition of the same caliber.''.
Kennedy’s amendment was defeated 64-31. Obama voted in favor of the amendment.
To be clear, Kennedy wasn’t proposing to outlaw deer-hunting ammunition (and so it’s even a bigger stretch to say Obama supported it). Kennedy’s amendment changed the definition of what is considered armor-piercing ammunition. It had nothing to do with deer hunting.
It’s the NRA that interpreted the deer-hunting connection. The gun rights group did not respond to us for this fact-check, but the group previously explained its thinking to FactCheck.org during the 2008 campaign. Specifically, the NRA said it was worried about Kennedy’s (iii) definition of armor piercing, because:
1.) There are a few (uncommon) models of handguns that can shoot rifle rounds, and;
2.) Most rifle rounds are considered armor piercing.
Therefore, the NRA concluded, the government can ban the rifle rounds used to hunt deer.
That reasoning ignores the latitude the amendment gives to the attorney general and Kennedy’s own words when asked about the intent of the change. "This is not about hunting. We know duck and geese and deer do not wear armor vests; police officers do," Kennedy said during debate about the amendment.
Still, David B. Kopel, research director of the Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning group that generally opposes government regulation, says Kennedy’s bill language is broad enough to allow for the banning of almost any ammunition and that his intent may be irrelevant. (Kopel’s writings have appeared on the NRA website.)
"Sen. Kennedy, the sponsor of the bill, said that he did not want to ban hunting ammunition," Kopel said. "Nevertheless, the plain language of the bill, and not Sen. Kennedy’s floor statements, were what would be enacted into law. If there were ever a judicial challenge to ban particular rifle ammunition, a court might well find that the language of the statute, along with judicial deference to agency interpretation of the statute, meant there was no need to look to legislative history."
William Vizzard, a criminal justice professor at California State University-Sacramento and a former Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agent, sees this differently.
While it’s true that almost all rifle ammunition will penetrate body armor worn by police, "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.
"The Democrats have avoided all gun control controversies assiduously," Vizzard said, adding that the attempts to ban armor piercing ammunition is "as phoney as the typical NRA issue."
"This is an example of both sides pushing symbolism over substance," he said.
There are other problems with the NRA claim.
In its 2008 attack, the NRA -- using the same evidence -- claimed Obama wanted to "ban virtually all deer hunting ammunition," arguing that "many" bullets designed and intended for use in rifles (including hunting rifles) have, over the years, been used in special-purpose hunting and target handguns, thus they ‘may be used in a handgun.’"
The 2012 version of the attack drops the qualifier "virtually" but ignores that the NRA’s own research found that "many" -- not all -- bullets designed for rifles can be used in special-purpose handguns.
Moreover, the proposed changes would not have outlawed any ammunition completely. Federal law does not prohibit the use or possession of armor-piercing rounds, and Kennedy’s amendment wouldn’t have changed that. Point being, you could keep the ammo you have. You can do a quick Google search and find plenty of people in chat rooms discussing the "AP" rounds they acquired or own.
The NRA’s claim was found to be misleading in 2008 by fact-checkers working for the Washington Post, CNN and Factcheck.org.
Said Factcheck.org in 2008: "We grant that it is a theoretical possibility that some future administration could interpret Kennedy’s language as banning common hunting ammunition, despite Kennedy’s clear statement of intent to the contrary. But we judge the likelihood of that to be vanishingly small, given the outcry that would surely follow."
In its best light, the NRA claim is cherry-picking an extreme, worst-case interpretation of an amendment proposed by Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. But even if you accept the NRA’s rationale -- which we do not -- the group fails to prove that Obama supports a ban on "all deer-hunting ammunition."
It’s entirely possible Obama voted for Kennedy’s amendment and still would have opposed a ban on deer-hunting ammunition. (For the record, there’s no evidence of Obama acting on a deer-hunting ammunition ban during his first term as president.)
Moreover, it’s worth noting that the use and possession of armor-piercing ammunition for handguns is not a federal crime. That would not have changed if Kennedy’s amendment passed.
The NRA says Barack Obama "supported Ted Kennedy’s ammo ban to outlaw all deer-hunting ammunition." We rate that claim False.
The Hill, "Gun control group gives Obama an 'F'," Jan. 19, 2010
Washington Times, "NRA official: Obama wants to outlaw guns in 2nd term," Feb. 10, 2012
NRA, "Ten Reasons Why Obama is Bad News for the Second Amendment," accessed June 12, 2012
Factcheck.org, "NRA Targets Obama," Sept. 22, 2008
Factcheck.org, "NRA Ad Falsely Accuses Kerry," Oct. 28, 2004
U.S. Senate vote on Kennedy amendment, July 29, 2005
Email interview with David B. Kopel, research director of the Independence Institute, June 11, 2012
Email interview with William Vizzard, a criminal justice professor at California State Uuniversity-Sacramento, June 11, 2012
PA Gun blog, "Armor Piercing Ammo," July 29, 2007
18 U.S.C. § 922 : US Code - Section 922: Unlawful acts (armor piercing ammunition)
Interview with David "Mudcat" Saunders, June 13, 2012
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