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Blind Alleys On The Information Superhighway

Thursday, August 6, 2009


During World War II, soldiers stuck on troopships or remote bases would often start rumors, just for the sake of seeing how fast a tall tale would get back to them. All patriotic Americans appreciate what those GIs did to preserve freedom, but we can only imagine what the rumor mill would have been like if the Internet had existed in those days.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for gun owners. You can go online and order hundreds of thousands of gun parts and accessories, look up gun manufacturers' catalogs, and download reloading data and ballistics tables from your favorite bullet or powder makers. The same goes for range information, hunting tips, firearm history and everything else you can imagine in the world of guns.

In the legislative world, it's hard to imagine how we got along before the Internet. Just 15 years ago, lobbyists had to send messengers to Capitol Hill to pick up the latest bills; now, I can look at them on my phone while I'm stuck in an airport.

Most important is that we can communicate faster with NRA members and other gun owners than ever before. Fifteen years ago, we could only alert our members to call their lawmakers by sending slow and expensive letters and postcards, or by working the phones, which was just as expensive and less reliable. Now, you can go online to www.nraila.org and sign up for e-mail alerts that will bring you the latest news, as it happens.

But there's a price to pay for all this. Part of that price is that misinformation travels just as fast as the truth. We see this every day at NRA-ILA, where our staff answers hundreds of phone calls, letters and especially e-mails. Many are from people trying to get the scoop on the latest wild story they've heard.

In the last few weeks, for example, NRA has received hundreds of e-mails warning us about "S.B. 2099," a bill that would supposedly require you to report all your guns on your income tax return every April 15.

Like many rumors, there's only a small grain of truth in this one. It turns out someone's recycling an old alert that wasn't even accurate when it was new. There actually was a bill called S. 2099 that would have taxed handguns--nine years ago. It was introduced by anti-gun Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and it would have included handguns under the National Firearms Act's tax and registration scheme. This has nothing to do with anyone's Form 1040, of course.

Fortunately, S. 2099 disappeared without any action by the Senate, back when Bill Clinton was still in the White House. We reported about it back then in our Grassroots Alert, just as we report about new anti-gun bills every week. But today, this old news is just a distraction from real threats.

Other stories cross the line from rumor to hoax. One claimed that an "executive order" would ban gun ownership by people over 60. (The "news story" even quoted a nonexistent law professor claiming the idea would be constitutional.) Another claimed that Smith & Wesson would be seized in a government bailout scheme. (Thanks to the post-election surge of gun shopping, Smith & Wesson and other gun manufacturers are doing just fine.)

It turns out that what these two stories have in common is their source. They appeared online, on a blog where they were labeled as "satire." Unfortunately, a lot of people didn't read the fine print.

I could go on with more examples, such as the claim that February's economic stimulus bill was full of anti-gun provisions. (For the record, it wasn't.) But I'll close with one that's near and dear to all shooters: the ammunition shortage.

We all know that ammunition's been getting more expensive, and lately some calibers can be hard to find at any price. Naturally, according to the Internet buzz, there must be a conspiracy.

As this particular conspiracy theory goes, the government has told ammunition companies that they won't get government contracts unless they restrict sales to private citizens. That's similar to a concept once pushed by Bill Clinton's housing secretary, Andrew Cuomo, who thought the federal government should buy guns only from manufacturers who agree to a "code of conduct" dreamed up by anti-gun groups.

Fortunately, this time fiction is stranger than truth. Ammunition is scarce because--surprise!--people like you and me are buying a lot of it. Far from cutting back, manufacturers are running three shifts a day to keep up with the demand.

Eventually, things may get back to normal. But in the meantime, the only place busier than the ammo factories is--you guessed it--the rumor mill.

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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.