PolitiFact Wisconsin's 'High Five' for October 2019

Do background checks really involve submitting serial numbers to the government?
Do background checks really involve submitting serial numbers to the government?
U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin says millionaires are eligible for food stamps. Is he correct?
U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin says millionaires are eligible for food stamps. Is he correct?

The 2020 election is now about one year away.

Our list of top fact checks from October 2019 gives a sense of what readers are thinking about -- and clicking on. Hot topics included background checks, red-flag laws, welfare benefits and more. Here is our monthly "High Five" --  the most-clicked items from last month:

  1. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said universal background checks involve asking people "to submit the serial numbers to their guns to a state or federal official," and that violates the Second Amendment.

This statement came amid discussion over whether Wisconsin law should be changed to require background checks for gun sales by private parties, in addition to gun dealers, checks that are already required by federal law.

But the facts generally run counter to Fitzgerald’s claim.

The serial numbers that are submitted for background checks don’t end up in government hands for years or decades. And then the federal agency is barred from fashioning them into a database.

What’s more, there is no evidence such a requirement would violate the Second Amendment, since several states have gun registries that have not been struck down by the courts — and a similar provision was upheld by federal courts in a Washington, D.C. case.

 We rated Fitzgerald’s claim Mostly False. 

     2. U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, claimed millionaires are eligible for food stamps, but "Donald Trump came along and decided to put a stop to it."

    A rule proposed from Trump’s USDA would bar people in other programs from automatically qualifying for food stamps. It would also require a review of an applicant’s assets -- not just their income. It’s that provision that has, in the past, allowed wealthy individuals to receive the benefits. Wisconsin is among dozens of states that do not do asset checks now.

Various media outlets have reported on people in other states continuing to use food stamps after hitting it big in a state lottery. The lotto millionaires are not in high numbers and so may be outliers, but Grothman’s claim was that millionaires are eligible -- not that they were receiving benefits in high numbers. 

We rated Grothman’s claim True.

 3. GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson claimed: "Republican policies have led to business investment growth that’s 10 times faster than what we saw under President Obama."

Johnson broadly said growth has been 10 times faster under Trump than Obama in his tweet. Those who read it would, presumably think the claim took in Obama’s entire eight year tenure.

But in the data Johnson used, he only compared the final two years of the Obama administration, 2015 and 2016, to a little over the first two years of data for the Trump administration. 

When you look at all of Obama’s tenure and other measures, such as share of GDP, the picture is much closer to even between the two. In addition, Johnson over-attributes the cause of recent growth to GOP policies, when there are many other factors at work. 

We rated Johnson’s claim Mostly False.

 4. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said "red flag laws" allow gun seizure without a judge’s involvement: "They take it away first. Then you have to get permission from a judge to do it."

But red flag laws — including the one proposed in Wisconsin — don’t typically work like that. They involve police or family petitioning a judge, who must sign a preliminary order before any guns can be seized.

Indiana does have a law set up as Vos describes, but even there the seizure decision by police is subject to immediate judicial review. And that’s the exception, not the rule. 

We rated Vos’ claim Mostly False.

    5.  GOP State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Fond du Lac claimed "the vast majority of Wisconsin students cannot even read, write, or do math at grade level."

The key here is the use of the words "grade level." It’s not the same as "proficient," which is part of the measuring stick used in the statewide testing. 

Experts say proficient was once roughly equal to some definitions of grade level, but in 2013 Wisconsin raised the bar and — predictably — more kids then failed to clear it.

What’s more, Wisconsin’s definition of proficient is almost identical to that of a key federal testing agency that explicitly warns against conflating proficiency with grade level. They say proficiency is more akin to "mastery" of a subject.

We rated Thiesfeldt’s claim False.