3 Major Flaws In Newsweek's Red-Baiting Gun Rant

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

CoverNewsweek has published a bizarre rant on guns by playwright David Mamet as the cover story of its latest issue. Riddled with falsehoods, the piece alleges that efforts to strengthen gun laws -- many of which are supported by a majority of Americans -- are actually a Marxist plot.

Over the course of his hysterical rant, Mamet offers up several false or illogical claims. Notably, it is puzzling that Newsweek would turn to a writer for a major story on guns who is apparently wholly unfamiliar with the existence of the federal background check system or the definition of assault weapons during the current political debate -- especially after the publication acknowledged that they have no fact-checking department but instead "rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material."

Newsweek's pattern of offering up factually inaccurate stories with attention-grabbing covers seems to have outlasted the production of its print edition. 

Mamet opens the essay with several paragraphs devoted to Karl Marx's description of Communism as "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." He then compares that statement to comments by President Obama, and accuses the president of a political philosophy that promotes slavery:

President Obama, in his reelection campaign, referred frequently to the "needs" of himself and his opponent, alleging that each has more money than he "needs."

But where in the Constitution is it written that the Government is in charge of determining "needs"? And note that the president did not say "I have more money than I need," but "You and I have more than we need." Who elected him to speak for another citizen?

It is not the constitutional prerogative of the Government to determine needs. One person may need (or want) more leisure, another more work; one more adventure, another more security, and so on. It is this diversity that makes a country, indeed a state, a city, a church, or a family, healthy. "One-size-fits-all," and that size determined by the State has a name, and that name is "slavery."

Mamet also outwardly accuses advocates for stronger gun laws of being communists:

For it is, again, only the Marxists who assert that the government, which is to say the busy, corrupted, and hypocritical fools most elected officials are (have you ever had lunch with one?) should regulate gun ownership based on its assessment of needs.

Note that in the sentences immediately after writing this, he entirely undermines his point by writing that he agrees that no one outside the military and polices should have an assault rifle:

Q. Who "needs" an assault rifle?

A. No one outside the military and the police. I concur.

Not only is Mamet's article inconsistent, it's also marred by numerous falsehoods. For example: 

1)     Mamet Doesn't Understand The Background Check System

Mamet writes:

Yes, but we should check all applicants for firearms for a criminal record?

Anyone applying to purchase a handgun has, since 1968, filled out a form certifying he is not a fugitive from justice, a convicted criminal, or mentally deficient. These forms, tens and tens of millions of them, rest, conceivably, somewhere in the vast repository. How are they checked? Are they checked? By what agency, with what monies? The country is broke. Do we actually want another agency staffed by bureaucrats for whom there is no funding?

Mamet is apparently unaware of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, established by the 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The FBI explains that, for more than a decade, there have no longer been forms resting "somewhere in the vast repository," but rather prospective purchasers are subject to FBI background checks to ensure they are not ineligible to own a weapon:

Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched by the FBI on November 30, 1998, NICS is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives. Before ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or to other designated agencies to ensure that each customer does not have a criminal record or isn't otherwise ineligible to make a purchase. More than 100 million such checks have been made in the last decade, leading to more than 700,000 denials.

NICS is located at the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia. It provides full service to FFLs in 30 states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. Upon completion of the required Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Form 4473, FFLs contact the NICS Section via a toll-free telephone number or electronically on the Internet through the NICS E-Check System to request a background check with the descriptive information provided on the ATF Form 4473. NICS is customarily available 17 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays (except for Christmas).

Mamet is apparently confusing the idea of background checks in general -- which again, have existed for more than a decade at the federal level -- with the debate to institute universal background checks. Under current law, the FBI checks are only conducted on purchases from licensed dealers, not sales from private sellers. President Obama has proposed closing that loophole and requiring a background check on every gun sale, presumably through the FBI.

2)     Mamet Thinks Assault Weapons Have Been Banned For 78 Years

Mamet falsely claims that any attempt to pass an assault weapons ban would only reiterate bans that already exist on such weapons. As with his discussion of background checks, Mamet appears entirely unfamiliar with the debate that is actually occurring over strengthening gun laws. He writes:

An assault weapon is that which used to be called a "submachine gun." That is, a handheld long gun that will fire continuously as long as the trigger is held down.

These have been illegal in private hands (barring those collectors who have passed the stringent scrutiny of the Federal Government) since 1934. Outside these few legal possessors, there are none in private hands. They may be found in the hands of criminals. But criminals, let us reflect, by definition, are those who will not abide by the laws. What purpose will passing more laws serve?


The so-called assault weapons ban is a hoax. It is a political appeal to the ignorant. The guns it supposedly banned have been illegal (as above) for 78 years. Did the ban make them "more" illegal? The ban addresses only the appearance of weapons, not their operation.

In fact, the assault weapons ban does not seek to ban guns that "have been illegal" for decades. The legislation recently proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) bans the sale, transfer, manufacture, and importation of "semiautomatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine and have at least one military feature: pistol grip; forward grip; folding, telescoping, or detachable stock; grenade launcher or rocket launcher; barrel shroud; or threaded barrel," among others. This includes 157 specifically-named firearms among them all AK and AR type rifles and pistols -- all of which are currently legal.

The Feinstein bill is a stronger variant of the 1994 assault weapons ban, which also banned both a number of specifically-named firearms and weapons that had a number of characteristics.

3)     Mamet's Falsehood On Obama And Secret Service Protection

Mamet alleges that President Obama "has just passed a bill that extends to him and his family protection, around the clock and for life, by the Secret Service. He, evidently, feels that he is best qualified to determine his needs, and, of course, he is. As I am best qualified to determine mine."

As The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky writes in a response to Mamet, this claim is false:

In fact, the act provides protection for presidential children only to age 16. But it's handy to throw the kids in there. To the right, Sasha and Malia are little more than two of your more notorious members of the moocher class, having as they do the gall to be living in fancy subsidized housing and eating all those subsidized healthful foodstuffs. But in fact, after age 16, as pertains to the Secret Service, they will be on their own. Michelle would be, too, should the Obamas split up someday.

If, however, Sasha and Malia want to walk around with heat-packing muscle in their adult years, they will be able to do the same thing David Mamet can do. They can hire an armed body person. And of course they can buy handguns of their own, which David Mamet can also do. They would need to qualify for concealed carry status, but that's up to local law enforcement, not the president of the United States. So in what exact sense is Barack Obama trying to "prohibit" him from ensuring the safety of his family? The answer is, in no sense whatsoever.

The law providing Secret Service protection to Obama and his family was passed by both houses of Congress before Obama signed it -- the same way any bill dealing with gun ownership would be passed.

Mamet's piece also promotes the "more guns, less crime" myth and the falsehood that gun-free schools are more dangerous for children.

If Newsweek is going to rely on their writers to "submit factually accurate material," they should probably make a better effort to seek out people who have knowledge about what they're writing about. 

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