The Campaign Spot

Fact-Checking FactCheck.Org on Obama and Guns

FactCheck.org doesn’t think much of the NRA’s ads criticizing Obama.

They are, sadly, way off base. This is, presumably,one of the reasons why Stuart Taylor Jr. of the National Journal declared he “no longer trust the major newspapers or television networks to provide consistently accurate and fair reporting and analysis of all the charges and countercharges.” He’s got good reason.
For starters, FactCheck.org takes Obama at his word that he “believes the Second Amendment creates an individual right, and he respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms.” Many gun owners are not so willing to give the benefit of the doubt, as Obama spent most of his adult life in a city with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, and, according to every record of the past 20 years, never uttered a word of objection. If a candidate claimed that he strongly opposed legal gambling, and yet lived in Las Vegas for 20 years, voters would be understandably skeptical.
Obama voted against a bill that declared that “in any Illinois municipality where gun registration is required it shall be an “affirmative defense” if the person accused of violating the registration requirement can show that the weapon was used “in an act of self-defense or defense of another … when on his or her land or in his or her abode or fixed place of business.” FactCheck says, “Letting the owner of an unregistered firearm escape the penalty for failing to register is one thing, but it’s another thing entirely to make it a crime to use any firearm – registered or not – in self-defense.”
No, that’s precisely it — local law had already made it illegal for Hale DeMar to own and use the handgun that he used to protect himself from a burglar. State lawmakers sought to change that; Obama opposed them.
If you see that vote as supporting “a right to own a handgun in self-defense”, then you can see any position in any vote.
FactCheck is particularly sloppy by taking Kennedy at his word that an amendment offered in 2005 that would ban “armor piercing” bullets, but was not meant to ban hunting ammunition. As Dave Kopel laid out in detail, the amendment changed an existing ban on “armor piercing bullets” measured by the content of the bullet to a penetration standard.

Instead of a penetration standard (which would ban most rifle ammunition), a content standard was adopted. The sale or import of handgun ammunition with a significant amount of steel, titanium, or other metal core was outlawed.
The Kennedy amendment refers to rifle ammunition that has more penetrating capability than “standard” ammunition of the same caliber. In other words, a bureaucrat could decide that “standard” ammunition in a certain caliber has a certain weight and velocity, and any round with a greater weight or velocity could be administratively prohibited.

Existing law is designed to ban armor-piercing bullets while ensuring that hunting ammunition was kept legal; Kennedy’s amendment, despite his claims of what he meant to do, would have opened the door, and perhaps even required banning most rifle ammunition.
On the third charge, that Obama supports a ban on handguns, FactCheck writes:

The NRA bases its claim on a disputed 1996 questionnaire that Obama’s Illinois state Senate campaign filled out for the nonprofit voting group, Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization. On it, somebody filled in the word “yes” in response to the question, “Do you support legislation to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns?” But the Obama campaign said that the survey was actually filled out by his then-campaign manager who “unintentionally mischaracterized his position,” adding that Obama never saw the survey.
As we wrote previously, an amended version of the questionnaire was later submitted to the group, with Obama’s handwritten notes on it providing more detail on some of the answers. Obama clearly saw and handled this version personally and did not alter the question about banning the sale and manufacturing of guns. Nevertheless, his aides maintain that the gun-ban answer was a mistake and didn’t reflect Obama’s true position.

Nonetheless, FactCheck.org deems the charge that Obama supports a ban on handguns false. Apparently like the Boston Globe and the Washington Post in their fact-checking features, FactCheck.org has decided that their own previous research is no longer reliable.
FactCheck says that the NRA is “misleading” when they statethat Obama would “mandate a government-issued license to purchase a firearm.” They say that he has only called for licensing handguns, and because he said a national gun registration law isn’t politically possible: “I just don’t think we can get that done.” That’s a thin reed to argue that Obama opposes the idea, or wouldn’t push for it if it were politically possible (in a Congress that is likely to be significantly more Democratic next year).
Finally, FactCheck.org concludes:

At a campaign stop in Duryea, Pa., in early September, Obama again attempted to reassure gun owners that he doesn’t intend to take away their guns, and couldn’t even if he wanted to:

Obama (Sept. 5): The bottom line is this. If you’ve got a rifle, you’ve got a shotgun, you’ve got a gun in your house, I’m not taking it away. Alright? So they can keep on talking about it but this is just not true. And by the way, here’s another thing you’ve got to understand. Even if I wanted to take it away, I couldn’t get it done. I don’t have the votes in Congress.

The fact that FactCheck thinks this reinforces the argument that Obama respects the Second Amendment speak volumes. Pro-Second Amendment lawmakers just don’t talk this way.


By the way, since 1980, the ratio of NRA endorsed-Republican presidential candidates to winning Republican presidential candidates has been 1:1 — Reagan twice, Bush in 1988 but not 1992, Bush twice. So far, they have not officially endorsed a candidate, even though. I know the NRA is generally positive on McCain, but had some major beefs with him in the past (campaign finance reform and restrictions on sales at gun shows). Will the addition of lifetime NRA member Sarah Palin be enough to get the organization to make an official endorsement?
UPDATE: Bob Owens is similarly unimpressed with FactCheck. And the Washington Post looks at the NRA ad and, to the surprise of no one, makes all of the same errors as FactCheck — i.e., because Obama hasn’t said since 1999 that he supports increasing taxes on guns and ammunition by 500 percent, he must not support it now. One of the really surprising developments in this election has been how the “fact-checking” features of major news organizations have been sloppy and vague with large omissions… just about always to the benefit of of Obama.

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