A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

NRA Targets Obama

It falsely claims in mailers and TV ads that Obama plans to ban handguns, hunting ammo and use of a gun for home defense.


Summary

A National Rifle Association advertising campaign distorts Obama's position on gun control beyond recognition.

The NRA is circulating printed material and running TV ads making unsubstantiated claims that Obama plans to ban use of firearms for home defense, ban possession and manufacture of handguns, close 90 percent of gun shops and ban hunting ammunition.

Much of what the NRA passes off as Obama's "10 Point Plan to 'Change' the Second Amendment" is actually contrary to what he has said throughout his campaign: that he "respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms" and "will protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use guns."

The NRA, however, simply dismisses Obama's stated position as "rhetoric" and substitutes its own interpretation of his record as a secret "plan." Said an NRA spokesman: "We believe our facts."

Perhaps so, but believing something doesn't make it so. And we find the NRA has cherry-picked, twisted and misrepresented Obama's record to come up with a bogus "plan."

Update, Sept. 29: The Obama campaign asked broadcasters to take down ads from the NRA, citing this article and a separate Washington Post article that called the ads misleading. The NRA attacked us on its Web site, claiming that we are neither impartial nor independent. We respond in the Analysis section.

Analysis

The NRA announced it will spend $40 million during this year's elections, including $15 million to portray Sen. Barack Obama as a threat to gun rights. The NRA has been circulating fliers and mailers that claim to be "Barack Obama's 10-Point Plan to 'Change' the Second Amendment." And on Sept. 22 reports surfaced that the NRA had launched TV ads in several key states, also attacking Obama. They are false portrayals.

The flier looks almost as though it comes from the Obama campaign. It uses the same color and font scheme as well as the campaign's sunrise logo. And on some points it is right; Obama has called for national legislation against carrying concealed firearms, and he would revive and make permanent the expired ban on semi-automatic "assault weapons," for example. On other points it exaggerates. Obama has spoken in favor of government registration of handguns, for example, but has not called for registration of all "firearms" including hunting rifles and shotguns. But the TV spots and fliers also make claims that are directly contrary to what Obama actually says about guns

What Obama Says

Obama lays out his basic stance on guns in a "Sportsmen" fact sheet and also in an "Urban Policy" paper on reducing gun violence. The NRA's claims find little support here.

Regarding a Constitutional right to guns, Obama says:

Obama, "Sportsmen": Barack Obama believes the Second Amendment creates an individual right, and he respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms. He will protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use guns.

On the issue of urban policy, Obama says he favors "commonsense measures" to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children, and that he would bring back the expired "assault weapon" ban and make it permanent:

Obama, "Urban Policy": Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals who shouldn't have them. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent, as such weapons belong on foreign battlefields and not on our streets.

What the NRA Claims

Despite what Obama says, the NRA's material claims that he plans to take such extreme measures as to "ban use of firearms for home self defense" and "ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns." Where does the NRA come up with these? We contacted Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA's director of public affairs. He declined to speak to us except to say that the claims are based on Obama's voting record and statements he has made in the media. "We're comfortable with what we put on there," Arulanandam said. "We believe our facts."

The NRA's lobbying arm, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, lists several such "facts" about Obama, including the 10 claims listed on the flier. The NRA-ILA brushes aside Obama's stated position. "Don't Believe Obama," it says. "Don’t listen to his campaign rhetoric! Look instead to what he has said and done during his entire political career."

Very well. Let's do that. What we find is that the NRA is often offering its own spin as Obama's "plan."

NRA Claim: "Ban use of Firearms for Home Self-Defense"

[TET ]NRA Ad: "Veterans"

Kurt Rusch: Like all the guys I fought with in Iraq, I was honored to defend our country and our freedom. But when I got back stateside, I learned that Barack Obama opposes my right to own a handgun for self -defense. It's ridiculous.

Out there in the desert, defeat was not an option. Sure, combat was hell, but on the frontline, I knew I served a real purpose. Defeating terrorism. Protecting our way of life. That's what it's all about. There's no way I'm voting for a president who will take that away.

The freedoms that I fought for and my friends died to defend. I served my country on the battlefield to protect our freedom. There's no way I'm voting for a president who will take them away.

Announcer: On November 4, defend freedom, defeat Obama. Get the facts at GunBanObama.com[/TET].

False: Obama is proposing no such ban.

This falsehood from the "10 point plan" flier is repeated in a TV spot in which a man identified as Kurt Rusch, an Iraq war veteran says, "Obama opposes my right to own a gun for self-defense."

The NRA bases this overheated claim on a vote Obama cast on March 24, 2004, in the Illinois state Senate. He was one of 20 who opposed SB 2165. That bill, which passed 38 – 20 and became law, did not make it a crime to use firearms for self-defense, however. Rather, it created a loophole for persons caught violating local gun registration laws.

It states that in any Illinois municipality where a gun ban is in effect, it shall be an "affirmative defense" if the person accused of violating the ban 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."

Letting the owner of a banned firearm escape a municipality's penalty is one thing, but it's another thing entirely to make it a crime to use any firearm – registered or not – in self-defense. The bill came about after Hale DeMar, of Wilmette, Ill., shot a burglar who had invaded his home. At the time, Wilmette had an ordinance that prohibited owning handguns.

Clarification: To avoid any confusion, we've modified this section to make clear the bill would have pertained to municipalities with local gun bans.

NRA Claim: "Ban Rifle Ammunition Commonly Used for Hunting and Sport Shooting"

[TET ] NRA Ad: "Hunter"

Karl Rusch: I gotta tell you, with the high cost of gas and just about everything else, we're all feeling pinched. And now I learn that Barack Obama supports a huge new tax on my guns and ammo. And he voted to ban virtually all deer hunting ammunition. Where is this guy from? He's probably never been hunting a day in his life.

But it's not just new taxes that Barack Obama wants. If you can believe it, he also supports a ban on the shotguns and rifles that most of us use for hunting. No politician is going to take away my guns and ammo.

You don't have to be bitter to know that Barack Obama isn't the kind of change we need.

Announcer: On November 4th, defend freedom, defeat Obama. Get the facts at GunBanObama.com[/TET].

False: Obama is not proposing to ban hunting ammunition. And he did not, as claimed in an NRA TV spot featuring a Virginia hunter named Karl Rusch, vote to "ban virtually all deer hunting ammunition." What Obama voted for was a measure to ban "armor-piercing" ammunition, which the measure's sponsor has said repeatedly would not cover hunting ammunition.

This claim is based on Obama's vote on S. 397 in the U.S. Senate. Obama was one of 31 senators who voted in favor of S. Amdt. 1615 to S. 397 which sought to "expand the definition of armor piercing ammunition."

The amendment applied only to handgun ammunition "capable of penetrating body armor" and to rifle ammunition that is "designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability," however.

It's true that common high-powered rifle bullets are capable of penetrating the vests worn by police, which are a defense chiefly against lower-velocity handgun rounds. But does that mean hunting ammunition is "designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability"? Or that a rifle round that some handguns might accept would be banned? That's the NRA's argument, and it was repeated on the floor of the Senate by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He said flatly that the measure "would ban nearly all hunting rifle ammunition," without any elaboration. However, the measure's sponsor, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, said his amendment was not intended to cover hunting ammunition:

Sen. Kennedy (July 29, 2005): This is not about hunting. We know duck and geese and deer do not wear armor vests; police officers do.

Kennedy's measure failed by a vote of 64 – 31.

By the way, the NRA has used this ploy before. It ran ads in 2004 claiming Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had voted "to ban deer-hunting ammunition" when he had actually voted on an earlier occasion for this same Kennedy amendment on armor-piercing rounds. Kennedy said then:

Sen. Kennedy (March 2, 2004): My amendment will not apply to ammunition that is now routinely used in hunting rifles or other centerfire rifles. To the contrary, it only covers ammunition that is designed or marketed as having armor-piercing capability.

Clarification, Sept. 29: We originally misstated the NRA’s argument. The group rests its case on the amendment’s language regarding handgun ammunition, not rifle ammunition. The NRA argument goes this way: The Kennedy amendment would have covered ammunition that “may” be used in a handgun and is “capable” of piercing police body armor. A few uncommon handguns can accept rifle rounds, such as the Weatherby Mark V CFP or the Thompson Contender.

 

Weatherby Mark V CFP
Thompson Contender

 

 

Therefore, the NRA says, Kennedy’s language could be interpreted as banning high-velocity rifle rounds used for hunting, which can penetrate police body armor.

 

We grant that it is a theoretical possibility that some future administration could interpret Kennedy’s language as banning common hunting ammunition, despite Kennedy’s clear statement of intent to the contrary. But we judge the likelihood of that to be vanishingly small, given the outcry that would surely follow.

In any case, what the NRA claims in its TV ad is that Obama “voted to ban virtually all deer hunting ammunition.” There was no such vote. If the NRA wants to argue that Obama’s vote on armor-piercing ammunition could be misinterpreted and applied to hunting ammunition, they should say so honestly.

NRA Claim: "Ban the Manufacture, Sale and Possession of Handguns"

False: Obama says he does not support any such handgun ban and never has. He supports "reasonable restrictions on the sale and possession of handguns" (not manufacture) and has said a ban is not "politically practicable."

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.

Whatever his position may have been in 1996, in 2003 he submitted another survey form to the same group avoiding a yes-or-no answer to the gun ban question and stating a position similar to his current stance. According to the Chicago Sun-Times,  Obama's answer read:

Obama, 2003: While a complete ban on handguns is not politically practicable, I believe reasonable restrictions on the sale and possession of handguns are necessary to protect the public safety. In the Illinois Senate last year, I supported a package of bills to limit individual Illinoisans to purchasing one handgun a month; require all promoters and sellers at firearms shows to carry a state license; allow civil liability for death or injuries caused by handguns; and require FOID applicants to apply in person. I would support similar efforts at the federal level, including retaining the Brady Law."

In February 2008, the Associated Press reported that Obama said, "[T]here are people who say, 'Well, he doesn't believe in the Second Amendment,' even though I come from a state – we've got a lot of hunters in downstate Illinois. And I have no intention of taking away folks' guns." Even more recently, on April 16 at a Democratic debate in Philadelphia, Obama said,"I have never favored an all-out ban on handguns."

NRA Claim: "Mandate a Government-Issued License to Purchase a Firearm"
 

Misleading: Obama indeed has spoken in favor of licensing handguns, but so far as we can determine he hasn't called for registration of hunting weapons. And he's said a national gun registration law isn't politically possible: "I just don't think we can get that done."

Obama's Web site quotes what he said in a 2001 Chicago Defender article: "I know that the NRA believes people should be unimpeded and unregulated on gun ownership. I disagree. I do not object to the lawful use and ownership of firearms, but I do think it is entirely it appropriate for the state to monitor it. … Too many of these guns end up in the hands of criminals even though they were originally purchased by people who did not have a felony. I'll continue to be in favor of handgun law registration requirements and licensing requirements for training."

During a Democratic debate in January, Obama said he didn't think such a national law was possible, and called instead for "common-sense enforcement" to trace guns used in crimes.

NBC's Tim Russert, Jan. 15: Senator Obama, when you were in the state senate, you talked about licensing and registering gun owners.

Would you do that as president?

Obama: I don’t think that we can get that done. But what I do think we can do is to provide just some common-sense enforcement. One good example — this is consistently blocked — the efforts by law enforcement to obtain the information required to trace back guns that have been used in crimes to unscrupulous gun dealers. That’s not something that the NRA has allowed to get through Congress. And, as president, I intend to make it happen.

But here’s the broader context that I think is important for us to remember. We essentially have two realities, when it comes to guns, in this country. You’ve got the tradition of lawful gun ownership, that all of us saw, as we travel around rural parts of the country.

And it is very important for many Americans to be able to hunt, fish, take their kids out, teach them how to shoot.

And then you’ve got the reality of 34 Chicago public school students who get shot down on the streets of Chicago.

We can reconcile those two realities by making sure the Second Amendment is respected and that people are able to lawfully own guns, but that we also start cracking down on the kinds of abuses of firearms that we see on the streets.

The NRA's flier isn't entirely false. It states Obama's positions on concealed weapons and on semi-automatic "assault weapons" reasonably accurately.

NRA Claim: "Pass Federal Laws Eliminating Your Right-to-Carry"

True: In 2004, while running for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat he now holds, Obama indeed called for "national legislation" to prevent anyone but law enforcers from carrying concealed firearms. The Chicago Tribune, which queried the candidates on several issues, reported:

Chicago Tribune (Feb. 20 2004): Obama … backed federal legislation that would ban citizens from carrying weapons, except for law enforcement. He cited Texas as an example of a place where a law allowing people to carry weapons has "malfunctioned" because hundreds of people granted licenses had prior convictions.

"National legislation will prevent other states' flawed concealed-weapons laws from threatening the safety of Illinois residents," Obama said.

More recently, Obama was quoted by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in an article on April 2, 2008, saying "I am not in favor of concealed weapons. … I think that creates a potential atmosphere where more innocent people could (get shot during) altercations."

NRA Claim: "Expand the Clinton Semi-Auto Weapons Ban to Include Millions More Firearms"

Partly true: The NRA refers here to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which was put in place during former President Bill Clinton's administration. Title XI of the legislation spoke directly to regulations on assault weapons. The law outlawed the semi-automatic versions of 19 kinds of military-style assault weapons, but it expired in 2004. The "assault weapon ban" was always a misnomer, however. Fully automatic weapons – like the military assault rifle carried on battlefields – had always been illegal to own without a very hard-to-obtain federal license, under legislation going back to the days of Al Capone. They remain so today.

Nevertheless, Obama called the ban a "common sense gun law" and favors bringing it back on a permanent basis. Obama's "Urban Policy" fact sheet says he "supports making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent, as such weapons belong on foreign battlefields and not on our streets."

As recently as Aug. 28, when accepting his party's nomination at the Democratic National Convention, Obama said, "The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals."

Obama's policy statement doesn't mention any expansion of the expired ban, however. We're not sure where the NRA gets its claim that "millions" of additional weapons would be covered.

NRA Claim: "Appoint Judges to the U.S. Supreme Court and Federal Judiciary Who Share His Views on the Second Amendment"

Unsupported: The NRA's fact sheet points out that Obama has voted against the two newest members of the U.S. Supreme Court. Obama voted against the confirmations of Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005 and Justice Samuel Alito in 2006. They happen to be two of the five justices that voted in favor of the Court's decision to overturn the District of Columbia's longstanding handgun ban this year. The New York Times has reported that Obama "favored Democratic filibusters to block many Republican nominees deemed too conservative." But the NRA can point to no statement by Obama calling for a Second-Amendment test for his judicial appointees, and we could find none.

What Obama has actually said about selecting judges is that "[w]e need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges."

In any case, Obama says he believes the Second Amendment "creates an individual right" to bear arms. That's at odds with some strong gun-control advocates who had argued that the Second Amendment limited the right to bear arms to a "well-regulated militia." The Supreme Court rejected that view in its June ruling overturning the D.C. gun ban. But Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, "Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." Chief Justice John Roberts joined that opinion. To the dismay of gun-control advocates, Obama did not criticize the ruling. Instead, he said it "will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country."

NRA Claim: "Increase Federal Taxes on Guns and Ammunition by 500 Percent"

Uncertain: This claim is based on an article that appeared in the Chicago Defender on Dec. 13, 1999, when Obama was in the Illinois state Senate. According to the Defender, at an anti-gun rally, Obama "outlined his anti-gun plan," which, among other things, sought  to "increase the federal taxes by 500 percent on the sale of firearm, ammunition [sic] — weapons he says are most commonly used in firearm deaths." As a U.S. senator, however, Obama has not pushed for any such tax on ammunition.

We asked the Obama campaign about his position on an ammunition tax but have received no response.

NRA Claim: "Close Down 90 Percent of Gun Shops in America"

Uncertain: This claim also is based on the 1999 Defender article. It reported Obama was pushing "all federally licensed gun dealers sell firearms in a storefront and not from their homes while banning their business from being within five miles of a school or a park." The NRA states that the 5-mile limit would have resulted in the closing of 90 percent of gun shops in the country. But as a U.S. senator Obama hasn't pushed for a 5-mile limit and isn't proposing one as part of his presidential campaign.

We asked the Obama campaign about his current position on imposing a five-mile limit on gun shops but have received no response.

NRA Claim: "Restore Voting Rights for Five Million Criminals Including Those Who Have been Convicted of Using a Gun to Commit a Violent Crime"

Mostly true: We could find no NRA citation to back up this statement. We note, however, that Obama was a cosponsor of the Count Every Vote Act of 2007. The section of the legislation, "Sec. 701. Voting Rights of Individuals Convicted of Criminal Offenses," states that the purpose of Title VII of the legislation was "to restore fairness in the Federal election process by ensuring that ex-offenders who have fully served their sentences are not denied the right to vote." There has been no action on the bill since March 2007 when it was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

Currently, the Sentencing Project estimates that 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of state laws denying the right to people with felony convictions. It further estimates that this bars 13 percent of African-American men from voting. Most of those ex-offenders were not, however, convicted of gun violence. "There is absolutely no way of getting to that," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "All we can say is that the majority of felony charges are not for violent crimes and guns."

Obama "The Most Anti-Gun President"?

In another mailer making similar claims about Obama, the NRA says, "Obama would be the most anti-gun president in American history," which is a pretty tall statement. We don't know how George Washington, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson might have felt about armor-piercing ammunition or assault weapons. We can, however, quote what Obama has said about the Constitutional right to bear arms most recently, after the Supreme Court swept away the D.C. handgun ban. He issued a statement calling for striking a balance between gun rights and public safety:

Obama (June 26): I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures. The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view, and while it ruled that the D.C. gun ban went too far, Justice Scalia himself acknowledged that this right is not absolute and subject to reasonable regulations enacted by local communities to keep their streets safe. Today’s ruling, the first clear statement on this issue in 127 years, will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country.

As President, I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun-owners, hunters, and sportsmen. I know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact common-sense laws, like closing the gun show loophole and improving our background check system, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Today’s decision reinforces that if we act responsibly, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe.

Will He or Won't He?

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.

Clarification: This story originally included a reference to "assault weapons – like those carried on battlefields."  A retired military arms instructor wrote to say that the proper term for the battlefield weapon is "assault rifle." Congress included certain types of both rifles and shotguns under its now-expired ban on "assault weapons."

–- by D'Angelo Gore and Brooks Jackson

NRA Response

The NRA responded to this article on its Web site, claiming that we are not impartial or independent and are linked to the Brady Campaign. We think the facts show otherwise.

The NRA argues that both FactCheck.org and the Brady Campaign have received funds from the Annenberg Foundation, and concludes that we’re both “in bed with” the foundation and therefore we are biased.

It was actually news to us that the Annenberg Foundation has given to Brady. We had to look it up. Here’s what else we discovered: The Annenberg Foundation also has given $14.6 million to the conservative Hoover Institution, $12.3 million to the Reagan library and $3.1 million to the George H.W. Bush library. That’s a pretty crowded bed.

The truth is, the Annenberg Foundation has never advised us on what to say about gun control or any other issue.

The NRA’s claim that we are biased also ignores the fact that we have been as critical of gun-control advocates when they stray from the facts as we are of the NRA’s falsehoods. See, for example, “A False Ad About Assault Weapons.”

 

Sources

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Wereschagin, Mike and David M. Brown. "Candidates' gun control positions may figure in Pa. vote." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 2 April 2008.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 109th Congress – 1st Session, Vote No. 217 S. Amdt. 1615 to S. 397

Illinois 93rd General Assembly. Senate Bill No. 2165, 25 March 2004.

Tozzi, Lisa. "Candidates React to Supreme Court’s Gun Ruling." The Caucus Blog, New York Times, 26 June 2008.

Obama-Biden Campaign. Urban Policy. www.barackobama.com, accessed 16 Sept. 2008.

Obama-Biden Campaign. BARACK OBAMA: SUPPORTING THE RIGHTS
AND TRADITIONS OF SPORTSMEN
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Dann, Carrie. OBAMA ON JUDGES, SUPREME COURT. MSNBC First Read, 17 July 2007.

Moore, Solomon. "Former felons can often vote, but may not be aware of it." New York Times, 14 Sept. 2008.

Mendell, David. "Democratic hopefuls vary a bit on death penalty." Chicago Tribune, 20 Feb. 2008.

S. 804: Count Every Vote Act of 2007. Introduced March 7, 2007.

Pickle, Nedra. "Obama mentions God and guns in Idaho." Associated Press, boston.com. 2 Feb. 2008.

Black, Lisa and M. Daniel Gibbard. "Wilmette man shoots intruder in his home." Chicago Tribune, 31 Dec. 2003.