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Rumor Control--Debunking the Latest Legends

Friday, February 6, 2009

Lately, the rumor mills have been running at full capacity.  Among other things, we've heard phony tales circulating about such things as guns being banned for the elderly, ammunition with expiration dates, and a prohibition on gun and ammunition imports. This sort of scuttlebutt is nothing new, but let's try to shed some light on these dark assertions. 

"Guns to be Banned for Elderly" was the cry.  The "report" assured readers that Deputy Attorney General Designate David Ogden has circulated a draft of an executive order in which "firearms possession would be severely limited to people over 60." 

This report is bogus and, in fact, it was labeled as "satire" on the website where it first appeared.  There was an isolated case last year in which an 81-year-old Delaware woman was initially delayed in receiving approval to purchase a firearm based on her age and gender.  The delay on the approval was eventually lifted--10 days after the initial application and after significant pressure was brought to bear by NRA. 

Then, not long ago, the rumor regarding ammunition primers "expiring" resurfaced.  The rumor was that the government would require all primers in ammunition to contain something that would cause them to permanently fail after two years.  In other words, no primer = no spark = no burning gunpowder = no moving bullet = useless ammunition. 

We received hundreds of calls and letters about this during the early-Clinton panic buying period in 1993, and that was before most people had the Internet and the spread of misinformation was more limited.  There was no such proposal then, and we have not heard of any such proposal now. 

The 1993 rumor may have been a result of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's (D-NY) proposal to put a colossal tax on certain handgun ammunition.  (Senator Moynihan had the bizarre idea that ammunition was only good for a couple of years, and that his tax would quickly dry up the supply.)  In fact, properly stored ammunition remains usable for decades. 

Since the first rumors about such proposals in the early 1990s, two inventors have actually received a patent for a chemical process that would supposedly allow manufacture of primers that would go dead after a specific period of time.  But an invention doesn't actually have to work, let alone be a good idea, to get a patent--patents have been issued for such odd ideas as crank-operated pneumatic shoelaces, a "banana protective device," and the use of explosives to tenderize meat.   And it's hard to imagine anyone making or buying ammunition that's doomed to fail, without a government mandate--a mandate that no one, so far, has actually proposed. 

Additional rumors have recently been circulating about stopping gun and/or ammunition imports.  And once again, NRA and representatives of firearm importers know of no real measures proposing this, yet. 

It is important to note that the President does have broad power with respect to imports; we've obviously seen that power expressed in the 1989 and 1998 import bans on various semi-auto rifles, and the 1993 "assault pistol" import ban.  But President Obama has yet to propose any new import ban (though that would certainly not be out of the question). 

Finally, a lot of these rumors involve supposedly secret "executive orders."  Even a real executive order--a formal document reviewed by the Justice Department before the President signs it--does not have the force of law; it just serves as guidance for Cabinet officers.  The same goes for other kinds of documents, like the presidential memoranda that previous presidents used to impose import bans on various kinds of firearms. 

And it's worth mentioning that these orders and memoranda aren't secret.  President Obama's executive orders and presidential memoranda are available online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing_room/executive_orders/

In fact, all of the anti-gun memoranda by past presidents were very well publicized, because the presidents who issued them wanted to get media attention for their actions. 

Now don't take all this to mean that we underestimate our anti-gun opponents, or that we don't believe they would happily and readily seize the opportunity to adopt and enforce any of these measures.  We know full well that they would.  Rather, our message is this:  Rumors abound, so don't believe everything you read.  If it's a legitimate concern, rest assured your NRA-ILA will promptly address it and will give you the straight story.
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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.