Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.
Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.
I would like to contribute
President Barack Obama has shown little interest in peddling a gun control agenda during his first term, but the National Rifle Association is urging its members not to let its guard down ahead of the 2012 election.
In a new mailer, forwarded to us by a reader, the gun rights group lists "Ten Reasons Why Obama is Bad for the Second Amendment." We’ve been exploring several claims on the list this week -- you can see our findings here.
A crucial point to the don’t-sleep-on-Obama thinking comes in as reason No. 10 on the NRA list: "Obama admits he’s coming for our guns, telling Sarah Brady, ‘We are working on (gun control), but under the radar.’"
The quote and the claim struck us as interesting because 1.) It’s typically not smart to say you’re doing something "under the radar," if you’re actually doing something under the radar, and 2.) It suggests something of a conspiracy because Sarah Brady is a prominent gun control advocate, having helped create the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence with her husband Jim. (We’re assuming you know the Brady story, but if you don’t -- this will help.)
We decided to check it out.
While the NRA didn’t respond to our questions about the claim, we found the genesis of the Obama quote easy enough.
It comes from a 2011 Washington Post profile of White House gun policy adviser Steve Croley. It’s not a direct quote from Obama, rather it’s Brady recalling to Post reporter Jason Horowitz her meeting with Obama on March 30, 2011, the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
Here’s what Horowitz wrote:
During the meeting, President Obama dropped in and, according to Sarah Brady, brought up the issue of gun control, "to fill us in that it was very much on his agenda," she said.
"I just want you to know that we are working on it," Brady recalled the president telling them. "We have to go through a few processes, but under the radar."
In the meeting, she said, Obama discussed how records get into the system and what can be done about firearms retailers. Her husband specifically brought up the proposed ban on large magazine clips, and she noted that even former Vice President Dick Cheney had suggested that some restrictions on the clips might make sense.
"He just laughed," Sarah Brady said approvingly of the president. Both she and her husband, she emphasized, had absolute confidence that the president was committed to regulation.
The rest of the Post article focuses on how Democrats and the Obama administration have largely ignored gun control issues, how Obama has failed to deliver on a promise to eliminate an amendment requiring the FBI to destroy records of gun buyers’ background checks, and how Obama chose to avoid a debate over gun issues in the weeks and months after the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
We contacted Post reporter Jason Horowitz, who declined to comment.
To recap: The Washington Post reported that Sarah Brady said Obama told her his administration is "working on it," likely referring to gun control (in what way is unclear in the article). And Brady then tells the Post Obama said, "We have to go through a few processes, but under the radar."
The quote then gets distorted by the NRA to "Obama admits he’s coming for our guns, telling Sarah Brady, ‘We are working on (gun control), but under the radar.’"
Although the wording leaves plenty of room for interpretation, it's not accurate to summarize that quote by saying "Obama admits he’s coming for our guns" because the specifics of Obama’s comment -- as relayed by Brady -- are unknown.
We contacted Brady, who told us her quote has been misinterpreted and that she herself never spoke with Obama about gun policy.
"I so remember (Jason) Horowitz -- he was at the press get-together in the briefing room after our meeting. (Her husband) Jim was asked lots of questions -- then (Horowitz) followed me as we walked out of the briefing room until he got back into the main part of the West Wing. He kept trying to pin me down -- asking what I thought -- I was trying to be evasive as I didn't want to paint Obama as with us or against us -- as we hadn't really talked about it. If I remember correctly, I just kept shaking my head and trying to get away from him. What ever I might have said or agreed to was purely speculative as I never spoke to the president myself about this issue."
We also spoke with one of the few other people in the room during the meeting between the Bradys and Obama -- Paul Helmke, the former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Helmke told us he did not recall Obama making any specific promises on gun issues, and that if Obama was talking about anything, it was likely a proposal to require gun shops in border states to report purchases of two or more of semi-automatic rifles if they were made within a five-day window by the same person.
The federal proposal was first considered in December 2010, and went through a lengthy public comment process during the first six months of 2011. The rule was implemented in July, though it is being challenged in court by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Helmke said the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence had been discussing the proposal to better track multiple sales of semi-automatic rifles with the Department of Justice before meeting with the president.
"I don't think (Obama) should be seen as referencing anything more than just requiring border-area gun dealers to report multiple sales of long guns," Helmke said.
If that context is correct, Obama’s statements fall far short of what the NRA claims, namely that Obama is "coming for our guns."
But even if Helmke is wrong, the NRA -- which did not respond to us -- has produced no evidence that the president is crafting a plot to take away firearms. Not through his policies. Or his words.
On top of that, the context of the quote is being challenged by the person who gave it -- Brady.
In a mailer, the National Rifle Association says that "Obama admits he’s coming for our guns, telling Sarah Brady, ‘We are working on (gun control), but under the radar.’ "
We found no evidence of an Obama admission anything like the NRA suggests.
What happened is Brady gave an interview to the Washington Post, where she recalled what the president said to her during a private meeting.
But the NRA makes a tremendous leap by concluding that the quote shows that "Obama admits he's coming for our guns." A person at the meeting said Obama was likely referring to 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. Brady says she never talked to Obama about gun policy.
The NRA has taken a fragment of an unclear quote and prescribed the most far-reaching, conspiratorial conclusion. There simply isn't enough evidence for such a sweeping claim. We rate it Pants on Fire.
NRA, "Ten Reasons Why Obama is Bad News for the Second Amendment," accessed June 12, 2012
Washington Post, "Over a barrel? Meet White House gun policy adviser Steve Croley," April 11, 2011
Email interview with Jason Horowitz, June 12, 2012
Email interview with Paul Helmke, June 12, 2012
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, proposed reporting rule, April 29, 2011
CBS News, "ATF requests info about semi-automatic rifle sales in border states," July 11, 2011
ABC News, "Judge Upholds ATF Gun Rule for SW Border States," Jan. 13, 2012
Email interview with Sarah Brady, June 14, 2012
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.