A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

The Rifle Association’s ‘True Story’

A misleading NRA ad claims Obama voted 'to deny citizens the right of self-protection.'


Summary

The National Rifle Association’s misleading attacks on Obama continue. A new ad shows a terrified woman grabbing a gun after an intruder smashes his way into her home. It accuses Obama of voting repeatedly for a measure that would "make you the criminal" in such cases, and voting to "deny citizens the right of self-protection."

The NRA says the incident depicted is "a true story." Not quite.

  • The actual 2003 burglary didn’t involve a woman, and it didn’t become violent until the male homeowner went downstairs and started firing before calling police.
  • The ad fails to mention that the issue was a local handgun ban that made the homeowner’s gun illegal to keep in the house.
  • What Obama voted for was not any general repeal of the right of self-defense, but to uphold enforcement of the local gun ban, a "petty offense" that carried a maximum penalty of a $750 fine.

Analysis

The National Rifle Association continues to go after Sen. Barack Obama on the issue of gun control with a new 30-second TV spot called "Imagine," which it said would run in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. The ad takes liberties both with the facts of the "true story" it purports to tell, and the substance of Obama’s vote.

[TET ]

NRA Ad: "Imagine"

Announcer: Imagine your child screaming in the middle of the night when a convicted felon breaks into your home. Worse, he comes back a second time. You use a firearm to defend yourself and your family. Unbelievably, Barack Obama voted to make you the criminal. It’s a true story and it gets worse.

Obama voted four times to deny citizens the right of self-protection even in their home.

Defend Freedom. Defeat Obama. Get the facts at GunBanObama.com.

The NRA Political Victory-Fund is responsible for the content of this advertisement.[/TET]

 
Not Quite ‘A True Story’
 
The ad shows a dramatic re-creation of a home invasion and asks viewers to "imagine your child screaming in the middle of the night" as a felon breaks into your home. It shows a woman wearing a nightgown grabbing a handgun. "You use a gun to defend yourself and your family," but "Obama voted to make you the criminal" and to deny citizens "the right of self-protection," it says.

The ad claims "it’s a true story," but it isn’t quite. No woman was involved, for one thing. And the burglar didn’t violently smash the door frame, as shown, but entered using a stolen key.

And Obama’s vote would not have made anybody a criminal or denied the right of self-defense. Owners of illegal weapons would simply have remained subject to the penalties of local gun bans even in cases where the weapons were used in self-defense inside a home or business. In the "true story" in question, the homeowner put two bullets into the intruder and was fined $750 for possession of a handgun.

The Real Story

The real story begins Dec. 28, 2003, at the $1.2 million home of Hale DeMar, a 54-year-old restaurant owner who lived in the tony Chicago surburb of Wilmette, on a cul-de-sac a few steps away from the shore of Lake Michigan. According to police files reviewed by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, DeMar’s home was burglarized that night by someone who crawled in through a pet door and stole a set of house keys and other items. DeMar, who was separated from his wife, was in the house with his 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. He awoke the next morning to discover that he had been robbed. He called police, who took a report.

Though DeMar knew keys to the house were now in the hands of a criminal, he did not change the locks on his house. He would tell police later that he was "unable to get a locksmith to come to his home." He put his son and daughter in bed with him, loaded his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver and put it under his bed. That night, a 31-year-old man named Morio Billings entered the home, this time through the rear kitchen door, setting off an indication on a home-security control panel in DeMar’s bedroom.

DeMar did not call the police. Instead, he left his children, went downstairs and found Billings trying to disconnect a flat-panel computer monitor (which he later told police he had mistaken for a TV set). Without saying a word, DeMar fired two shots at Billings. One missed; the other hit Billings in the shoulder. Billings ran, trying to get out of the house. DeMar fired again and missed; then fired a fourth time, hitting Billings in the calf. Billings crashed through a front window and used the family’s stolen sports-utility vehicle to drive to a hospital in nearby Evanston, where police later arrested him.

DeMar’s case caused a big stir in Illinois because Wilmette had enacted a village ordinance in 1989 banning the possession of handguns. Although the Cook County state’s attorney’s office released a statement declaring DeMar’s actions self-defense, Wilmette nevertheless charged DeMar with violating the local ban, a "petty offense" under the ordinance, and fined him $750, the maximum for a single violation. Gun-rights advocates portrayed DeMar as a hero-martyr.

Obama’s Votes
 
The bill that resulted from this celebrated case was S.B. 2165. It said that local gun bans could not be enforced in cases where the gun owner could prove the weapon was being used in self-defense or to defend another, while in his or her home or place of business.

Obama opposed the measure, voting against it twice on the floor of the Illinois Senate on March 25, 2004, when it passed 38 to 20, and again on May 25, when the Senate agreed to a House-passed version by a vote of 41 to 16. (The NRA says he voted "four times" but we find record of only two votes.)

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed the measure on Aug. 20, 2004, calling it an infringement on the power of localities to determine their own ordinances. The veto was overridden easily, however, and the bill became law effective Nov. 16, 2004. By that time Obama had been elected to the U.S. Senate, and he was not present for the final vote on the override.

It would be fair to characterize Obama as voting to uphold enforcement of local gun bans, even in cases where the banned weapons were used in self-defense. But the NRA goes too far when it claims that he voted "to deny citizens the right of self-protection" generally. He did no such thing. The vote would have had no effect at all in places that didn’t have local gun bans in the first place. And even though DeMar was fined for possession of an illegal weapon, he was not charged with anything more serious, such as assault with a deadly weapon, because he was found to be acting in self-defense. Had the bill the NRA refers to not passed, nothing would have changed for DeMar or others like him. He would not have been subject to anything more than paying the penalty for violating the local handgun ban.

The Rest of the Story
 
Billings pleaded guilty to burglary and possession of DeMar’s stolen SUV and was sentenced to seven years in prison. But he was released after serving only two years and eight months. He was arrested again 11 days later and charged with stealing a purse, keys and a 2004 Volvo parked in the driveway of a Wilmette home not far from where DeMar had shot him. He pleaded guilty again, and this time was sentenced to 15 years.
 
This June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia’s local gun ban, holding that it was incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. After that, Wilmette repealed its own gun ban on July 22.

–by Brooks Jackson

Sources

Zorn, Eric. "Police files put home defender in harsher light," Chicago Tribune 28 Sep 2004.

VerBruggen, Robert. "Self-Defense vs.Municipal Gun Bans; When Hale DeMar shot an intruder in his house, he may well have saved his children’s lives. So why was he charged with a crime?" Reason magazine June 2005.

Gibbard, Dan. "Burglar arrested days after release," Chicago Tribune 7 Sep 2006.

"Shot burglar gets 2nd prison term." Chicago Tribune 13 Dec 2006.