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Fact-Checkers Appoint Themselves Arbiters of What Constitute “Gun Rights”

Friday, October 3, 2014

In the past, NRA has detailed the tendency of mainstream media “fact checkers” to skew information to support a particular viewpoint or agenda.  This tradition continued this week as the Tampa Bay Times’ PolitiFact and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker both took issue with an NRA ad running against Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu.

The ad correctly states that “Mary Landrieu voted to take away your gun rights,” following images of a mother at home with a child during a break-in.  The two fact-checking outfits seized on the statement and deemed it false, giving it their lowest ratings.

In 2013, Landrieu voted for the Manchin-Toomey-Schumer amendment, which would have banned private firearm transfers initiated on websites or print publications or at gun shows (as defined).  The Post seemed skeptical that the amendment would have restricted gun rights at all, and took issue with the statement’s accuracy in relation to the ad’s vivid imagery.

To the first point, it is incontestable that a vote for the Manchin-Toomey-Schumer bill constitutes a vote to take away gun rights.  Currently, gun owners in most states enjoy the right to privately transfer firearms.  They often do so by facilitating such transfers at gun shows and by advertising through online and print publications.  The private transfer restriction amendment would have outlawed this activity, making firearm transfers more difficult, and therefore less likely to occur.

Contrary to what many at the Post or PolitiFact might think, background checks can be a significant burden for gun owners.  Unlike the picture painted by gun control supporters, the background check regimes operated by the federal government and several states are not the picture of efficiency.  As of 2013, 28,000 firearms purchasers have been forced to resort to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System’s Voluntary Appeals File program to avoid lengthy delays.  These are lawful purchasers whose checks are initially flagged for additional scrutiny but eventually allowed to proceed after further investigation.  In 2013, about 8 percent of firearm transfers were “delayed for additional review,” affecting nearly 1.7 million transferees.  Some state background check systems have shut down for maintenance, or experienced significant delays.  Further, there are time and monetary burdens associated with finding and traveling to a location that can conduct a check, even if the background check system performs flawlessly.

Additionally, there is a privacy burden imposed by the amendment.  Those knowledgeable of the history of confiscation in countries that have instituted recordkeeping requirements on firearms understand that the ability to transfer firearms without federal recordkeeping or interference is a vital part of their gun rights.  This is all the more so, given recent proposals in the U.S. to round up disfavored firearms that were originally purchased lawfully and used only for lawful purposes.  While the legislation would not have outlawed these transactions in all scenarios, it would have subjected major categories of transfers to this control by forcing firearms transferees to fill out federal paperwork that Federal Firearm Licensees are required to maintain.

Finally, Federal Firearm Licensees could have charged any fees they wished for conducting these checks or refused to do them altogether, potentially rendering them a practical impossibility in some cases.  A $50 transfer fee might be the difference between whether or not some people, especially low-income people living in high-crime neighborhoods, could afford to buy a defensive firearm.

To the Post’s second point, it is undeniable that the Manchin-Toomey-Schumer amendment would have, at the very least, restricted the mother’s options for acquiring a firearm for self-defense, thus taking away a portion of her gun rights that she might have otherwise exercised.  The Post neglects to acknowledge that this restriction of options necessarily imposes an additional cost on acquiring firearms.  Gun control supporters in part advocate for further costs to be imposed on gun owners, knowing that the more burdensome it is to acquire a gun, the less people will be willing to become gun owners. Is it conceivable that a mother, many of whom face significant time and monetary burdens, could be discouraged from owning a firearm for self-defense by legislation that restricts her options for acquiring a firearm and imposes additional privacy, time and monetary costs?  Of course it is.  Suppression of gun ownership, whether broadly or at the margins, underlies nearly all gun control proposals.

The scenario depicted by the ad also serves to underscore more broadly the need for robust protection of the Second Amendment.  However it is originally obtained, having a firearm at the right moment could be a matter of life and death. This is exactly why those who support the Second Amendment consider attempts to limit the means by which persons obtain firearms for lawful purposes an infringement of their rights.  As the ad states, “How you defend yourself is up to you. It’s your choice.” The Manchin-Toomey Amendment inarguably would have limited the choices people had in obtaining firearms for self-defense.

It is ironic that these two media outlets would presume to decide what constitutes a gun right or its taking, considering that their editorial boards reacted with disbelief to the notion that the U.S. Constitution protects an individual right to keep and bear firearms at all.  In a 2002 editorial complaining about Attorney General John Ashcroft’s endorsement of the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment, titled, “Ashcroft becomes what we feared,” the Tampa Bay Times (then the St. Petersburg Times) lamented, “[f]or at least six decades, the Justice Department has interpreted the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms as pertaining to a state-organized militia. Not anymore.”

Following the 2008 Heller Supreme Court decision recognizing an individual right to keep and bear arms, the Post ran an editorial with a title calling the ruling “misguided.”  Refusing to yield to reality, it groused that “Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, concluded that the amendment guarantees a right to bear arms for private use, such as self-defense, although nowhere is that explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.”  Statements like these show that PolitiFact’s and the Post’s definitions of gun rights, or what might be considered an infringement of them, exists against the backdrop of an established record of Second Amendment denial.

NRA’s ad takes to task a politician for a vote to restrict the right to privately transfer firearms.  Any reasonable analysis of the Manchin-Toomey-Schumer amendment would concede that the legislation would have taken away gun rights currently enjoyed by gun owners.  This includes the rights of the mother depicted in the ad.  She, as well as other law-abiding Americans, would have found herself deprived of avenues for obtaining affordable firearms for lawful purposes they might have otherwise used.

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