Guest column: Giffords group was right about Ryan blocking gun bills

Editor's note: David Jolly is PolitiFact's Republican guest columnist and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives serving Florida's 13th congressional district from 2014-17. Read more about the guest columnist position here.

In this critique, Jolly is writing about a PolitiFact Wisconsin fact-check of a claim made by Giffords PAC, which you can read here. His post has been edited only for style and grammar.

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Most elected officials and candidates for public office find themselves at one point or another on a conflicting journey with PolitiFact. It’s an inevitable part of the process for both politicians and fact-checkers alike. At times you find yourself in agreement, at times disagreement, and still others merely frustrated over fundamental disagreements as to how best to evaluate certain claims or statements.

Whether I’ve found myself agreeing or disagreeing with PolitiFact’s individual judgments, the truth is I generally always understand the approach with which a ruling is made, and even in cases where I disagree, I recognize it simply reflects a fundamentally different approach to certain subject matters, or to the trustworthiness of certain actors being evaluated.
 
In fact, in my earlier columns as a guest ombudsman evaluating certain PolitiFact judgements, I’ve largely sided with its rulings, or at least understood its dissection of a complex statement. However, an April 6 PolitiFact rating of a statement by noted gun control group Giffords PAC elicited meaningful disagreement. 
 
Giffords PAC recently claimed that Paul Ryan has "blocked all effort to strengthen our nation’s gun laws." PolitiFact rated the statement Mostly False. I would have rated the statement Mostly True.
 
Sometimes the facts speak for themselves. Following the 2016 shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people, Speaker Ryan called the Democrats sit-in to demand action on stronger background checks a "publicity stunt," and in a deflection away from the gun issue, Ryan insisted that "terrorism is the issue" and the nation’s focus should be on "confronting radical terrorism." 

Following the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Ryan cautioned against considering "knee-jerk reactions" to gun violence, refused to call up firearm legislation, and went as far as to say to reporters just 48 hours after 58 people were killed and over 850 injured, "Right now, we’re focused on passing our budget."

Following the 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that took the lives of 17 people, Ryan responded that "this is not the time to jump to some conclusion," and instead turned the House’s attention to mental health laws, infrastructure hardening, and ironically, an expansion of gun rights.

Without direct evidence of cause and effect — in this case, more than mere correlation between Ryan’s statements and congressional inaction — it can be nearly impossible for fact-checkers to assign culpability for one’s behavior even in the face of what may appear as obvious to a casual observer. It is a routine challenge in law, politics, and journalism. 

By my reading, it is largely this absence of sufficient cause and effect that provided the foundation for PolitiFact’s ruling. But in my personal experience, this Congress under Paul Ryan’s leadership has refused to consider any measures to further restrict gun use. Ryan could direct the House to proceed otherwise but hasn't.
 
The Mostly False ruling generally relies on two approaches to reach its verdict: first, a strict reading of the speaker’s responsibilities and formal authority; and second, an acceptance of Republican messaging that Congress’ recent consideration of a GOP legislation addressing "gun violence" is sufficiently similar to advancing stricter "gun control."

On the first point, in practice, if not by formal rule, the speaker can call up or block any legislation he or she chooses. The speaker of the House sets the broad agenda of the majority. Such has been the case historically with all major legislation, from trade to taxes, to healthcare to gun control. Although jurisdiction may rest within a specific committee, the speaker, as the person with almost singular influence over who chairs and serves on those committees, historically has green-lighted or called to a halt committee activity on specific priorities.

Similarly, as the regular legislative order has broken down in Congress in the last decade, the speaker often directs legislation to come before the House that has never actually been through the committee process, instead allowing it to be written behind closed doors by leadership aides and the Speaker’s policy experts. The converse is true as well — the speaker of the House in practice routinely prevents legislation from coming to the House floor for consideration, effectively killing policy agendas with which he or she disagrees.
 
On the second point of the ruling, PolitiFact seems to take issue with the broadness of Giffords PAC’s accusation by countering that Ryan in fact did allow a package of Republican proposals addressing gun violence to be considered — national reciprocity of state "right-to- carry" measures, additional school safety funding, additional mental health funding, and a law that insists states have to abide by already existing law.

But while providing Republican policy prescriptions for gun violence, nothing in that basket of legislative items substantively strengthens restrictions on firearm ownership. If anything, it expands the legal use of firearms, provides resources for healthcare issues that are fundamentally agnostic of specific weapons, and provides for additional security resources related merely to defenses against firearm violence.

By word, deed, and platform, the Republican party is fundamentally opposed to greater firearm restrictions, and Paul Ryan, as the Speaker of the Republican controlled House, ultimately sets this agenda in Congress.

Paul Ryan’s record is clear. During his tenure as Speaker, Ryan has ensured no meaningful gun control measures have been considered.

I think Giffords PAC got it right in stating Ryan has "blocked all effort to strengthen our nation’s gun laws." In my opinion, the PolitiFact ruling should have been Mostly True.

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