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PolitiFact.com | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in politics

NRA claim that Obama is 'coming for our guns' way off target

Here's something you won't hear from the National Rifle Association: The Second Amendment is fading as a wedge issue in American politics, gun owners are winning, and President Barack Obama is doing little to alter the scales.

Nearly one in two Americans now has a gun in the home and just 26 percent favor an all-out ban on handguns, down from 60 percent in 1959, according to a recent Gallup survey. The number of Americans who support tighter gun laws is at an all-time low.

And Obama?

Gun talk has been almost anathema at the White House. Obama signed a bill in 2009 that allows people to carry loaded guns into most national parks; in 2011, he largely avoided a discussion — to the anger of many gun control activists — about strengthening gun laws following the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

We couldn't find a word about gun policies on Obama's re-election website.

Yet, that's not what the NRA is focused on as it campaigns against Obama in 2012.

In a new campaign mailer — the contents of which we expect to be repeated in emails and at dinner tables — the gun rights group is casting Obama as a gun control crusader who is "coming for our guns."

PolitiFact decided to put some of the NRA's latest claims to the Truth-O-Meter.

The gun rights group says Obama supported former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy's proposal "to outlaw all deer-hunting ammunition."

That's False.

The NRA claim is cherry-picking an extreme, worst-case interpretation of a 2005 amendment to expand the definition of armor-piercing ammunition, which is legal to own or use in the United States but illegal to purchase or make.

Kennedy's proposal had nothing to do with deer hunting, but the NRA contended it could be threatened by the bill. Yet Kennedy said his proposal wasn't meant to target rifle ammunition commonly used to hunt deer, and since the language was never approved, we don't know how it would have been applied. More important, we have no idea if Obama would have supported a hypothetical deer ammo ban as the NRA claims.

To ban deer-hunting ammunition "would be suicide politically," added David "Mudcat" Saunders, a pro-gun Democratic strategist. "There might be some way the NRA could twist the facts. But it's not true."

In another claim, the NRA also targets Obama's regulatory adviser, Cass Sunstein, for saying in 2007 that he wants to ban hunting and that animals should be represented in court.

Sunstein, a law professor at Harvard University, said those things — but he also walked back most of his comments in 2009 as he was joining the Obama administration.

"I strongly believe that the Second Amendment creates an individual right to possess and use guns for purposes of both hunting and self-defense," Sunstein said in part.

We rated the claim against Sunstein Half True.

The NRA earned a True for its claim that Obama is "trying to slash funding for the Armed Pilots Program designed to prevent terror attacks."

However, it's not necessarily clear that the cut to the program, which was scrapped by the Republican-controlled House, should be considered antigun.

The federal government has budgeted $25 million a year since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to deputize and train volunteer commercial pilots to carry firearms on commercial flights. But as part of his proposed 2013 budget, Obama wanted to cut funding for the program in half.

"In an ideal world, one without budget constraints, we would fully fund the program. We're not in that environment, so we are taking reductions," Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole said.

Critics say the move was political. The $12 million to $13 million in potential savings is about 0.15 percent of the entire TSA $7.6 billion proposed budget.

"The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that this was being done for antigun reasons," said Brian Darling, a senior fellow for government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has been following the issue.

The evidence for another claim was completely underwhelming, we found.

Relying on a secondhand quote of Obama — relayed to the Washington Post by gun control advocate Sarah Brady — the NRA claimed that "Obama admits he's coming for our guns, telling Sarah Brady, 'We are working on (gun control), but under the radar.' "

The genesis of the quote is a brief 2011 White House meeting between Obama, Brady, her husband Jim, and former Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence president Paul Helmke.

Helmke told PolitiFact that there was no promise from Obama on gun policy, and certainly no dramatic pledge to come for anyone's firearms.

Likely, the president was talking about an in-the-works program to get gun dealers in border states to forward some gun purchases to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Helmke said.

Brady told us that her quote has been misinterpreted and that she herself never spoke with Obama about gun policy. "Whatever I might have said or agreed to was purely speculative as I never spoke to the president myself about this issue," she said.

Whatever was said and what it was referring to is murky, but the NRA took a fragment of an unclear quote and prescribed the most far-reaching, conspiratorial conclusion— when there simply isn't enough evidence for such a sweeping claim. We rated that claim Pants on Fire.

Read the full fact-checks at PolitiFact.com.

NRA claim that Obama is 'coming for our guns' way off target 06/15/12 [Last modified: Sunday, June 17, 2012 8:52pm]
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