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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

NRA Ad Falsely Accuses Kerry

It says he's sponsoring a proposal to ban 'every pump shotgun' and voted 'to ban deer-hunting ammunition.' Don't believe either claim.


The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund began airing a TV ad Oct. 26 falsely accusing Kerry of voting to ban deer-hunting ammunition. In fact, what Kerry voted for was a proposal to outlaw rifle ammunition “designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability.”

The NRA ad also claims Kerry is co-sponsoring a bill to “that would ban every semiautomatic shotgun and every pump shotgun.” That’s false. Kerry co-sponsored extension of the now-expired assault-weapon ban, a measure that would have expanded the ban to cover military-style shotguns but specifically exempts pump-action shotguns.


This ad began airing in Wisconsin Oct. 26, and may also be running in other battleground states. Some of the claims are false, others merely misleading or exaggerated.


Announcer: John Kerry says he’s a sportsman, so why did he vote to ban deer hunting ammunition and vote 9 times to ban guns? Why is Kerry sponsoring a bill in the Senate that would ban every semiautomatic shotgun and every pump shotgun? If John Kerry is really a sportsman, why is he endorsed by groups that want to restrict your gun rights and outlaw hunting?

Kerry: I think you ought to tax all ammunition. I think you ought to tax guns.

Announcer: Kerry a sportsman? That dog don’t hunt. NRA-PVF is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Kerry and Gun Control

There’s a clear division between Kerry and Bush on the issue of guns. Kerry co-sponsored an legislation that would not only have extended the old assault-weapon ban that expired Sept. 14, but would also have expanded it to cover more weapons. Bush said he would have signed an extension of the expired ban, but didn’t lobby Congress or push publicly for such legislation. The NRA has endorsed Bush, while the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (formerly Handgun Control, Inc.) has endorsed Kerry.

Kerry nevertheless describes himself as a “life-long hunter and fisherman” and made a point of going goose hunting in Ohio on Oct. 21. One picture of that hunt appears on Kerry’s Web site, and others got front-page display in many newspapers the following day.

It is that image of Kerry — a gun-toting sportsman — that the NRA seeks to undermine with this ad. But to make its point, the ad falsely characterizes Kerry’s record.

Armored Deer?

The ad starts off saying, “John Kerry says he’s a sportsman, so why did he vote to ban deer hunting ammunition . . .?” In fact, what Kerry voted for was an amendment sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy that would have covered rifle bullets capable of piercing soft body armor and also marketed as “armor-piercing,” and wasn’t aimed at hunting ammunition.

Kennedy described the intent of his amendment during Senate debate March 2, 2004:

Sen. Kennedy: My amendment will not apply to ammunition that is now routinely used in hunting rifles or other center-fire rifles. To the contrary, it only covers ammunition that is designed or marketed as having armor-piercing capability. That is it–designed or marketed as having armor-piercing capability, such as armor-piercing ammunition that is now advertised on the Hi-Vel Web site.

Kennedy’s Amendment


(a) EXPANSION OF DEFINITION OF ARMOR PIERCING AMMUNITION.–Section 921(a)(17)(B) of title 18, United States Code, is amended–

(1) in clause (i), by striking “or” at the end;

(2) in clause (ii), by striking the period at the end and inserting a semicolon; and

(3) by adding at the end the following:

“(iii) a projectile that may be used in a handgun and that the Attorney General determines, pursuant to 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, pursuant to section 926(d), to be more likely to penetrate body armor than standard ammunition of the same caliber.”


(The term “body armor” is later defined to mean “body armor that the Attorney General determines meets minimum standards for the protection of law enforcement officers.”)

The NRA attacked Kennedy’s amendment, claiming it would outlaw most rounds now used for deer hunting. The amendment did propose to expand a ban on armor-piercing ammunition for handguns to cover rifle ammunition as well, and it would have introduced a performance-based standard applying to rounds that “the Attorney General determines . . . to be more likely to penetrate body armor than standard ammunition of the same caliber.” (See box above for full text of relevant portion of Kennedy’s amendment.)

Sen. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, outlined the argument against a performance-based standard during Senate debate:

Sen Craig: The amendment’s actual aim and effect would be to expand the definition of “armor-piercing” to include ammunition based, not on any threat to law enforcement officers, but on a manufacturer’s marketing strategy. . . . The standards he establishes in his legislation, performance-based standards, ban what is currently on-the-shelf hunting ammunition. Does the hunting ammunition in a high-powered rifle have the ability to penetrate soft body armor? Yes, it does. . . . He says not. . .The fact is, virtually all hunting and target rifle ammunition is capable of penetrating soft body armor. That is a reality. So by his definition does that go off the market? I believe it does. That is why I think it is unnecessary.

Ignored both by Craig and the NRA, however, is the plain language of the amendment itself, which referred to ammunition that could penetrate body armor and is designed or sold as “armor piercing.” Both conditions would have had to apply for the ammunition to fall under the proposed ban.

The Kennedy amendment was rejected  34-63, with only one Republican in favor of the measure and 13 Democrats against it.

Nine Votes to Ban Guns?

The ad states that Kerry voted “nine times to ban guns.” In fact, Kerry did vote repeatedly to ban some guns, but by no means all guns.

Six of the nine votes cited by the NRA were in favor of the 1994 assault-weapons ban. Three were on its passage in 1994 and two others were in 1993 when the Senate initially considered its version of the ban. The sixth vote was in March of this year to extend the ban for another ten years without any changes. That proposed extension passed 52-47 but later died when the bill to which it was attached as an amendment was defeated.

The three other votes came in 1990 during consideration of an omnibus crime bill, and included an unsuccessful, early attempt to ban 12 specific assault weapons. The ban that later became law covered 19 specific weapons.

Ban Shotguns?

The NRA ad falsely claims Kerry is sponsoring a bill “that would ban every semiautomatic shotgun and every pump shotgun.” That’s just the opposite of Kerry’s stated position, and falsely characterizes what’s actually in the bill that Kerry co-sponsored (S.1431, authored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. See “supporting documents” below.)

Kerry’s Stated Position: In a campaign document on his Web site called a “Sportsman’s Bill of Rights” Kerry vows to support “The Right to Own Firearms,” and adds:

Kerry Campaign: John Kerry and John Edwards will always support the Second Amendment right of law-abiding American citizens to keep and bear arms, such as rifles and shotguns, including semi-automatic firearms used by hunters and sportsmen across this country. Gun rights are fundamental for the sport of hunting, and they will vigorously support those rights as president.

What the Bill Really Says: The Lautenberg bill that Kerry co-sponsored actually stopped well short of any blanket ban on semiautomatic shotguns or pump-action shotguns, two types of weapons commonly used for hunting.

  • Pump-action shotguns: These guns can fire more than one round without reloading. After firing one shot, the shooter ejects the spent cartridge and chambers a new round by pulling back on a slide or pump located under the barrel. Far from banning all such weapons, the bill Kerry co-sponsored specifically exempted them. It said the ban “shall not apply to any firearm that–
    (A) is manually operated by bolt, pump, level, or slide action ;
    (B) has been rendered permanently inoperable; or
    (C) is an antique firearm.”(We have underlined the word “or” to show that the exemption for pump or slide-action weapons applies independently of the other two exemptions for antique or inoperable weapons.)
  • Semiautomatic shotguns: These weapons can also fire more than one round without reloading, but the spent cartridge is ejected and a fresh round chambered automatically. The recoil action from the first round powers the mechanism that loads the next one. Kerry’s bill would have banned any semi-automatic shotgun that had any one of the following features: “a folding or telescoping stock . . . a pistol grip . . . the ability to accept a detachable magazine, or . . . a fixed magazine capacity of more than 5 rounds.” But semiautomatic shotguns sold for hunting or target shooting typically don’t have detachable clips, and hold no more than five rounds, so few if any sporting weapons would have been affected.

The Shotguns Kerry Really Would Have Banned:

“(L) A semiautomatic rifle or shotgun originally designed for military or law enforcement use, or a firearm based on the design of such a firearm, that is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, as determined by the Attorney General. In making the determination, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that a firearm procured for use by the United States military or any Federal law enforcement agency is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, and a firearm shall not be determined to be particularly suitable for sporting purposes solely because the firearm is suitable for use in a sporting event.”

The NRA’s Claim

When we asked the NRA to explain, a spokesman pointed to a provision of the Lautenberg bill that would have added a ban on military style shotguns.

But read the provision for yourself (see box above). The provision would ban a “shotgun originally designed for military or law enforcement use” that is also “not particularly suitable for sporting purposes.”

Shotguns designed for military or law-enforcement use are generally quite distinct from those commonly used by hunters or target shooters. For examples of military shotguns that would have been covered by  Kerry’s proposal, see the Benelli M4 Super 90, the Mossberg 590, the military and law-enforcement versions of the Remington 870, or the more exotic Jackhammer shotgun, which is not the sort of thing normally found in a duck blind or on the skeet range.

Tax Bullets and Guns?

The NRA ad also shows an edited portion from a decade-old TV interview in which Kerry is shown saying he favors taxing ammunition and guns. On Nov. 7, 1993 Kerry appeared on CNN’s “Late Edition” program to discuss a crime bill then making its way through Congress.

Kerry said he favored a punitive tax on what the interviewer described as “cop-killer” bullets designed to mushroom on impact. And he also said he favored “more” tax on ordinary ammunition as well.

Here is the full exchange:

Q: Now, Senator Moynihan has a very novel idea, and his idea is to put a very hefty tax on these mushrooming bullets, these bullets that are like cop-killer bullets, maybe a 10,000-fold tax on these bullets. . . . Senator Kerry, how about a big tax on guns if you’re not going to go along with a big tax on bullets?

Kerry: Well, personally I would support a tax on bullets. There is no reason in the world for these particular- these dum-dum bullets to be sold . They’re people-killers, and there is absolutely- they’re not duck-killers, they’re not deer-killers, they’re not used in hunting. They’re there to stop a human being. Absolutely-
Q: How about regular bullets ?
Kerry: I think you ought to tax all ammunition more, personally. I think you ought to tax guns.

Kerry’s offhand response failed to make clear exactly what kind of tax, or how large, Kerry had in mind. So his words are open to differing interpretations. The NRA ad edited out the word “more,” though its not clear that would have changed the sense of Kerry’s remarks.

Kerry isn’t currently proposing any new taxes on guns or ammunition.



Watch NRA Ad: “Questions”


Supporting Documents

View S. 1431, the Lautenberg bill


U.S. Senate, 108th Congress, 1st Session, S. 1431, Proposed 17 July 2003.

S. Amdt. 2637 to S. 1805, Proposed 2 March 2004.

U.S. House, 103rd Congress, 2nd Session, H.R. 3355, Proposed 26 Oct 1993.

S. Amdt. 1152 to S. Amdt. 1151 to S. 1607, Proposed 9 Nov 1993.

S. Amdt. 1151 to S. 1607, Proposed 9 Nov 1993.

S. Amdt. 2085 to S. 1970, Proposed 28 June 1990.

S. Amdt. 1681 to S. 1970, Proposed 22 May 1990.

S. Amdt. 1676 to S. 1970, Proposed 22 May 1990.

Congressional Roll Call 1993, 103rd Congress – 1st Session, Vote #103,

Congressional Quarterly: 47S.

Congressional Roll Call 1990, 101st Congress – 2nd Session,  Vote #365,

Congressional Quarterly: 31S.

CNN Late Edition, “The View From Capitol Hill,” 7 Nov 1993.