A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center
FactCheck.org is celebrating 15 years of holding politicians accountable.

Obama’s Gun Ban?


Q: Did Obama promise last year to ban all semi-automatic guns during his first year as president?

A: A widely circulated e-mail quoting Obama is baseless and almost certainly fabricated. He does support reinstatement of the expired "assault weapons ban" but isn’t calling for a wider ban on all semi-automatic weapons. He said repeatedly during the campaign, "I am not going to take your guns away."

FULL QUESTION

Obama on his gun control plans once president:

My first priority will be to reinstate the assault weapons ban as soon as I take office. Within 90 days, we will go back after kitchen table dealers, and work to end the gun show and internet sales loopholes. In the first year, I intend to work with Congress on a national no carry law, 1 gun a month purchase limits, and bans on all semi-automatic guns."

–Barack Obama, VPC Fund Raiser, 2007

Is there any way that your office can verify or deny this quote? If true, it undermines what Obama said in his presidential campaign. If false, it just confirms how far the ultra right-wing conservatives will go to instill fear about something they don’t understand.

I know that you are extremely busy with other political matters of greater import. But thanks for any comment that you have time to provide.

 

FULL ANSWER

The quote contained in this e-mail supposedly came during a "VPC Fund Raiser" in 2007. "VPC" could stand for the Violence Policy Center, a Washington-based group that bills itself as the "most aggressive group in the gun control movement." But Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, said in an e-mail to us that Obama made no such speech to his group:

Sugarmann: It is categorically false that Barack Obama attended, or made these remarks, at a VPC fundraiser in 2007. To our knowledge he has never attended any VPC fundraiser. In 2007 the VPC held no fundraising events.

Sugarmann added that he had no knowledge of Obama ever making such a comment.

Could "VPC" be an acronym for another group or organization? We checked with the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, which seeks to reduce violence in Los Angeles communities, and it also denied any knowledge of the alleged Obama remark:

Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles: [W]e can verify that President Elect Obama has never spoken at any of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles’ events. We can also verify that this quote did not originate from any one affiliated with the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles.

In July 2007, Obama delivered a speech on inner-city gun violence at another potential "VPC," the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago. But the quote our reader is inquiring about wasn’t included in the prepared remarks delivered to the congregation by the former senator. If Obama veered from the script, the alleged quote wasn’t in the reports about the event from the Associated Press or the Chicago Tribune. Anyway, the event at which he spoke was not a fundraiser at the church, but was a regular Sunday church service.

We also conducted searches of the Internet and of proprietary news databases, and found no news reports, video or audio of Obama making any such remarks. References to this dubious "quote" on gun-rights blogs, online forums and in the comment sections of Web sites all fail to provide any link to an original source, or to cite any authority.

Obama: "I’m not going to take away your guns"

The spurious "quote" is contradicted by what Obama has said publicly on the subject. He is not proposing "bans on all semi-automatic guns." Such a ban would cover a wide range of rifles, shotguns and handguns, including many common hunting rifles. We find no instance of Obama calling for such a ban at any time during his presidential campaign, much less promising to bring one about during his first year as president.

A decade ago, while running for a seat in the Illinois Legislature in 1998, Obama responded to an Illinois State Legislative Election National Political Awareness Test and indicated that he would support action to "ban the sale or transfer of all forms of semi-automatic weapons." But he has not called for such a ban in recent years.

To the contrary, he has said repeatedly that he has no intention of calling for a broad ban on guns.

For example, he said at a campaign rally in Lebanon, Va., on Sept. 9 that "I am not going to take your guns away." Video of the event is posted on YouTube.

Obama, Sept. 9: I don’t want any misunderstanding when you all go home, and you’re talking to your buddies, and they say, "Aw, he wants to take my gun away." You’ve heard it here; I’m on television, so everybody knows it. I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away. … There are some common-sense gun safety laws that I believe in. But I am not going to take your guns away. So if you want to find an excuse not to vote for me, don’t use that one. … It just ain’t true.

He made similar remarks days earlier at a campaign event in Pennsylvania, where he promised sportsmen that "I’m not going to take away your guns." As The Wall Street Journal reported:

Wall Street Journal, Sept. 5: “If you’ve got a gun in your house, I’m not taking it,’’ Obama said. But the Illinois senator could still see skeptics in the crowd, particularly on the faces of several men at the back of the room.

So he tried again. “Even if I want to take them away, I don’t have the votes in Congress,’’ he said. “This can’t be the reason not to vote for me. Can everyone hear me in the back? I see a couple of sportsmen back there. I’m not going to take away your guns.’’

Assault Weapons Ban: Obama does support permanent reinstatement of the so-called "assault weapons ban." That ban, which expired in 2004, covered certain military-style, semi-automatic firearms. (Fully automatic assault rifles remain illegal to own in most cases under legislation dating back to the 1930s.) This e-mail exaggerates, however, when it quotes Obama as saying he would make reinstatement "my first priority." We could find no evidence of Obama promising any sort of gun-policy time table.

During his nearly two-year presidential campaign, Obama declared that he believes the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals to bear arms, but he said that some "common-sense" laws are necessary for safety. The president-elect’s transition Web site contains a general outline of how he plans to address gun violence in cities, including closing the so-called "gun show loophole" that allows unlicensed individuals to sell guns at gun shows without having to perform a background check on potential buyers. There is no mention, however, of Obama pushing to do that "within 90 days":

Obama-Biden, "Urban Policy": As president, Barack Obama would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. 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.

 

The Obama-Biden agenda doesn’t mention implementing a "national no carry law," imposing "1 gun a month purchase limits," or placing "bans on all semi-automatic guns," as mentioned in the e-mail quote. Nor does the 2008 Democratic National Platform. While Obama has favored these regulations in the past, he hasn’t said that he plans to pursue them during his presidency.

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune reported that Obama "backed federal legislation that would ban citizens from carrying [concealed] weapons, except for law enforcement," and quoted the then state senator as saying, "National legislation will prevent other states’ flawed concealed-weapons laws from threatening the safety of Illinois residents." Then last spring, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Obama said, "I am not in favor of concealed weapons. … I think that creates a potential atmosphere where more innocent people could (get shot during) altercations." In 2004, Obama did vote for a measure that would have allowed retired police officers and retired military to be able to carry concealed weapons.

In 2000, Obama was a cosponsor of SB 1614 in the Illinois state Senate. The bill sought to prohibit the transfer of more than one handgun in a 30-day period, with exemptions for federally licensed firearms dealers, military personnel, law enforcement officers and certain hunters. And in 2003, Obama voted in favor of  HB 2579, a measure that would have made it illegal for someone to sell or give a person more than one handgun in a 30-day period. Neither bill became law.

-D’Angelo Gore

Correction, Feb. 6: We originally referred to "unlicensed dealers" at gun shows. We meant to refer to "unlicensed individuals." Federal law defines "dealers" as "any person engaged in the business of selling firearms at wholesale or retail" and requires them to hold a federal license.

Sources
 

Barack Obama and Joe Biden. "Urban Policy Agenda." Change.gov, accessed 4 Dec. 2008

U.S. Senator for Illinois. Remarks of Senator Barack Obama on Chicago Violence. 15 July 2007

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

Mendell, Dave. "Democratic hopefuls vary a bit on death penalty." Chicago Tribune, 20 Feb. 2004.