Friday, October 5, 2012

Bill Adair Editor, PolitiFact BY EMAIL ONLY Dear Mr. Adair: I’m writing on behalf of the National Rifle Association, in response to multiple recent PolitiFact reviews of NRA statements. We believe PolitiFact’s treatment of our issues shows a clear pattern of poor reporting and outright bias. PolitiFact has repeatedly rated statements by the NRA and its affiliates as false, based on unsupported assertions from third parties or differences over how to interpret conflicting evidence. Even when PolitiFact ultimately finds truth in our statements, it concedes the point grudgingly. We believe this pattern deserves a comprehensive review for the benefit of the public, and will therefore also publish this letter on our website. “Medical Misadventures” vs. Firearm Accidents In 2011, a PolitiFact reporter challenged Marion Hammer—a former president of the NRA and current executive director of the NRA-affiliated Unified Sportsmen of Florida (USF)— about a USF fact sheet which pointed out that nationwide and in Florida, many more people die in “medical misadventures” than in firearm accidents. The fact sheet noted that the source of the relevant data was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). For many years, the NCHS used the term “medical misadventures” to refer to accidental deaths in the course of medical care, though more recently it has renamed them as deaths due to “medical care, adverse effects.” Our research staff guided your reporter to the NCHS data, which indisputably showed that many more people die of medical misadventures than in firearm accidents. Strangely, the reporter continued to express doubt, on the grounds that other sources of data showed that accidental deaths due to medical misadventures were even more numerous than reported by the NCHS. The reporter contacted Robert N. Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the CDC, who said “I don't think they [NRA and Mrs. Hammer] are off base. I don’t think they are doing something making an invalid comparison. ... What they are basically doing is looking at the government's underlying cause data. They are not even saying it's a gross underestimate [of medical misadventures]. They are being very conservative here.” 1

Nevertheless, PolitiFact rated the statement as only “mostly true,” on the grounds that the individual death certificates upon which the NCHS data are based could undercount those due to medical misadventures, and on the grounds that the USF had only compared medical accidents to firearm accidents, rather than to the aggregate of firearm accidents, suicides, and criminal and self-defense homicides. Neither of these objections has merit. If imperfect medical reports cause medical misadventure deaths to be undercounted by the NCHS, it would mean that such deaths outnumber firearm accident deaths by an even larger margin than asserted in the USF fact sheet. PolitiFact’s focus on suicides and homicides was inappropriate, because the USF fact sheet dealt only with accidents in the first place. President Obama and Sarah Brady In 2011, the Washington Post reported that Sarah Brady, chairwoman of the pro-gun control Brady Campaign, had claimed that President Obama told her he intended to work for gun control “under the radar.” In June of this year, PolitiFact reviewed an NRA campaign mailer that made use of the President’s reported statement. PolitFact said our statement was “pants on fire” false, mainly because Mrs. Brady now claimed that President Obama never made the comment. But surely the NRA should be free to believe her initial report of the conversation, just as PolitiFact is free to believe her later denial. While we’re on the subject of facts, PolitiFact incorrectly identified Mrs. Brady as a cofounder of the Brady Campaign. In fact, “Brady Campaign” is only the newest name of the group, founded in 1974 as the National Council to Control Handguns and renamed Handgun Control, Inc. in 1979, before Mrs. Brady became associated with the group. It was only after she became involved with the group that it was renamed “Brady Campaign.” President Obama’s Appointment of an Anti-Hunting Extremist In the same mailer, the NRA pointed out the extreme “animal rights” views of Obama’s “regulatory czar,” Prof. Cass Sunstein. In a 2004 book, Prof. Sunstein said that animals should be able to sue human beings. In a 2007 speech, Sunstein repeated his support for animal lawsuits and also said “We ought to ban hunting, I suggest, if there isn’t a purpose other than sport or fun.” Although PolitiFact agreed that Sunstein had made the statements, it rated our account of them as only “half true,” on the grounds that Sunstein had apparently changed his tune when his ideas appeared to stand in the way of his Senate confirmation. The supposed change came in a carefully worded letter that didn’t expressly renounce his earlier views. But even if it had, why shouldn’t we be entitled to believe his initial comments, rather than his later, self-interested denial?

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Obama’s Vote for a Hunting Ammunition Ban The same mailer also noted that in 2005, then-Senator Obama voted for legislation introduced by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., proposing to redefine “armor piercing ammunition” in a way that would have banned commonplace hunting rifle ammunition. Though PolitiFact did not explain the details, the legislation would have established a definition of “armor piercing ammunition” that would have applied to almost all center-fire rifle ammunition, essentially due to the velocity at which rifle cartridges propel their bullets and the fact that many rifle cartridges can also be fired from handguns. A similar definition was opposed by the Justice Department in the 1980s, for the same reasons.1 PolitiFact rated our statement “false,” mainly based on a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent’s opinion that the ATF would never interpret the proposed law so harshly. But we believe the actual words of the legislation count for more than one man’s unsubstantiated opinion, especially given our experience with many situations in which the ATF has interpreted firearms laws more restrictively than a plain reading of the laws would warrant. Tom Barrett’s Gun Ban Vote An NRA radio ad during the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election this year pointed out that the Democratic candidate, former U.S. Rep. Tom Barrett, had “voted to ban 15 different kinds of guns, even a lot of common deer rifles.” The statement referred to then-Congressman Barrett’s vote for the federal “assault weapon” ban when it was enacted in 1994. Our staff spent considerable time compiling materials in response to a PolitiFact inquiry on this statement, and explaining the ban to your reporter on the phone and by e-mail. Among the information we provided were several pre-1994 articles describing the rising popularity of semi-automatic rifles targeted by the ban, including their use by hunters in various states. According to your own Tampa Tribune, one of those hunters was then-Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, a ban supporter who admitted that he owned and hunted with a Ruger Mini-14 rifle that had features that would bring it within the definition of “assault weapon” in the 1994 ban.2 We also sent your reporter testimonials by gun owners concerning their sporting use of other firearms covered by the ban. Yet your reporter discounted all of the articles, either because they weren’t specific to Wisconsin—a standard the reporter never mentioned to us, and which was irrelevant because the law was a federal ban that applied throughout the United States—or because the articles described the rifles as popular for hunting, without specifically mentioning deer. (We had explained to the reporter that any rifle in a caliber suitable for hunting game such as bears or wild hogs can also be used to hunt deer.) Finally, even though the reporter agreed that the term “common” was impossible to quantify, he disregarded our documented evidence in favor of
Armor-Piercing and Exploding Bullets: Hearings on H.R. 2280, H.R. 5392, and H.R. 5437 Before the Subcomm. On Crime of the House Committee on the Judiciary, 97th Cong. 134 (testimony of then-Associate Attorney General Rudolph W. Giuliani concerning “the problem posed by ammunition which can be fired interchangeably from handguns and long guns”). Vickie Chachere, “Guns 'n politics; Hunting enthusiast Chiles owns type of weapon that's subject to ban,” Tampa Tribune, May 10, 1994.
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undocumented claims by a handful of Wisconsin “experts.” By moving the goalposts and by giving three individuals’ opinions greater weight than the evidence we provided, PolitiFact rated our statement “mostly false.” Sen. Bill Nelson’s Gun Ban Vote On our website this year, we stated that “Bill Nelson voted for a ban on millions of commonly owned firearms, which included many popular hunting and target rifles.” It is beyond dispute that Sen. Nelson voted to extend the federal “assault weapon” ban of 1994 beyond its scheduled expiration date in September 2004. Therefore, the remaining questions are whether the types of guns that were banned from future manufacture in the 1994 law were commonly owned when Nelson cast his vote, and whether those guns included popular hunting and target shooting rifles. PolitiFact rated our statement “false,” largely based on a comment by a Brady Campaign spokesman, who said that the 1994 law “only banned the sale or possession of newly manufactured guns,” not guns already owned—as if we had tried to imply that the ban would have required people to turn in guns they already owned. This objection is absurd. First, the ban is widely understood to have prohibited only the manufacture of banned guns while the law was in effect, as we explain in detail on our website, www.gunbanfacts.com. Second, the word “ban” is often used to mean a ban on the production and sale of something in the future. For example, numerous newspapers, including the Miami Herald, have reported on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to “ban” large soft drinks—meaning,, of course, a “ban” on the future sale of the drinks, not the confiscation of drinks people already possess.3 Perhaps most importantly, firearms that met the 1994 ban’s definition of “assault weapon” were already commonly owned in 1994 when the ban was imposed. They were just as commonly owned in 2004, when Nelson cast his vote, for the very reason noted by PolitiFact: the ban did not apply to firearms already owned when the ban was imposed. For example, consider the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, just one of the 19 firearms that the law banned by name, in addition to the much larger number of firearms that were banned either as “copies or duplicates” of the named guns, or on the basis of their physical features. While there is no publicly available record of how many AR-15s were sold from the rifle’s introduction in 1963 until 1985, annual firearm manufacturing and export reports published by the ATF since then indicate that about 360,000 AR-15s—all of which met the ban’s definition of “assault weapon”—were made between 1986 and September 1994, when the ban was imposed.4
See, e.g., John Dorschner, “Hot national debate: Should food stamps be used for junk food?,” Miami Herald, June 23, 2012 (“In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on supersized soft drinks”); Michael M. Grynbaum and Marjorie Connelly, “60% in City Oppose Soda Ban, Calling It An Overreach by Bloomberg, a Poll Finds,” New York Times, Aug. 23, 2012 (“The big-soda ban is losing some of its fizz”). Hard copies of BATFE’s reports for 1986-1997 are on file with the NRA. Reports for 1998-2010 are available online at www.atf.gov/statistics. In the aggregate, these reports show that approximately 2.25 million AR15s were made and not exported between 1986 and Sept. 1994, and between September 2004 and 2010, and that another roughly 775,000 AR-15s, identical but for the absence of a flash suppressor, bayonet mount, and/or adjustable-length stock, were made while the ban was in effect.
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Furthermore, supporters of the 1994 ban agreed that the guns were widely owned. For example, in a commentary in the Washington Post on May 1, 1995—less than a year after the ban was imposed—the ban’s author, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), said there were “1.5 million to 2 million” so-called “assault weapons” already owned at that time. A few months later, the Violence Policy Center—one of the anti-gun groups consulted by PolitiFact for its story—declared, “The assault weapon ban has finally turned off the spigot that for more than a decade has flooded the nation’s streets with these weapons.”5 And the other antigun group consulted by PolitiFact, the Brady Campaign, said in 2004 that before the ban was imposed, the firearms it affected “were manufactured, imported and sold freely in this country” because of “an enormous demand for these weapons.”6 PolitiFact also relied on its flawed analysis of the Wisconsin issue discussed above to suggest that the guns weren’t common for hunting, as well as on the point that the 1994 ban “contained a list of more than 600 hunting or sporting shotguns or rifles that remained legal.” But that’s a diversion, in part because the list “exempted” guns that would not have been touched by the ban in the first place. It was equivalent to passing a law that said “It shall be unlawful to drive a blue car, but this prohibition shall not apply to red cars.” The question is not which guns were not affected by the ban; the question is which guns were affected by the ban. Furthermore, the banned guns are indeed popular with hunters and target shooters. For example, the popular AR-15 is available in a variety of calibers that are widely used for hunting large and small game. AR-15s are also the rifle most commonly used for marksmanship competitions in the United States, including the National Matches. Sen. Nelson’s Vote to Confirm Sonia Sotomayor On the same web page, we said “Nelson voted to confirm (President) Barack Obama’s anti-gun nominees to the Supreme Court — including Sonia Sotomayor who signed a Supreme Court opinion saying Americans do not have an individual right to own firearms.” PolitiFact admitted that Nelson voted to confirm Sotomayor, and that once Sotomayor took her place on the Court she dissented from the court’s decision in McDonald v. Chicago, which declared that individual rights under the Second Amendment are protected against infringement by the states. PolitiFact consulted legal experts who largely agreed with our interpretation of that dissenting opinion. Nevertheless, PolitiFact concluded that our statement was only “mostly true,” on the grounds that “Nelson voted to confirm Sotomayor before she signed the opinion.” That objection is beyond ridiculous. How could Sotomayor have “signed a Supreme Court opinion” before she was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice?

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Violence Policy Center press release, Sept. 1995, available at http://www.vpc.org/press/9509cop.htm. Brady Campaign, “Assault Weapons in America,” 2004, on file with NRA.

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This review of our experiences should make clear why the NRA has recently declined to respond to PolitiFact inquiries. I hope that in the future, the NRA’s statements on issues that are important to our members, other gun owners, and Americans generally will be assessed more honestly, fairly and accurately by your organization. Sincerely,

John C. Frazer Director, Research and Information Division

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