Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler ruled that a true statement by President Obama on how guns are sold was inaccurate because it was "confusing," just weeks after writing that an unprovable claim about mass shootings made by GOP hopeful Marco Rubio was true.
Kessler's recent fact check of Obama is his latest botched article on the issue of gun violence.
On January 5, Obama announced during a speech from the White House that his administration is taking executive action to address gun violence in light of Congress' inaction following several high-profile mass shootings.
A large share of media coverage on Obama's move focused on the president's plan to expand background checks by clarifying what it means to be "engaged in the business" of selling firearms, although the plan also includes provisions addressing effective enforcement of existing gun laws, funding for mental health treatment, and developing gun safety technology.
During his remarks, Obama said, "The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules. A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked." Kessler purported to fact check this statement in a January 6 article.
What Obama said is factually accurate. There are two sets of rules for people who sell guns. People who are "engaged in the business" of selling firearms must obtain a license and perform background checks on customers, while people who claim that they are not "engaged in the business" do not need a license or to run checks. This discrepancy is what is known as the "private sale loophole" or "gun show loophole."
Obama's "engaged in the business" executive action clarifies the law on what it means to be a gun dealer and requires people who are engaged in high-volume sales or engaging in commercial enterprises to obtain a Federal Firearms License and run background checks on customers.
Obama's second statement is also true. Due to the existence of the "private sales loophole," a convicted felon could purchase a firearm without a background check through ArmsList.com or several other websites that allow private transactions.
Taken together, the statement is true as a whole. Gun sellers operate under two sets of rules, and as a consequence someone with a felony conviction can buy a firearm online without a background check from a so-called "private seller" who says he or she is not "engaged in the business" of selling firearms.
Kessler, however, awarded Obama "two Pinocchios" for his statement, claiming that Obama had used "slippery" or "confusing" language while purporting that "many readers" interpreted Obama's remark to mean that the president claimed that on the Internet "it legally permitted violent felons to obtain guns" -- a bizarre interpretation of the plain meaning of Obama's remark. (According to Kessler's rating scale, a "two Pinnochios" claim involves "Significant omissions and/or exaggerations.")
Kessler was only able to reach his conclusion by misrepresenting what Obama said, writing, "Obama erred in saying the rules are different for Internet sellers. They face the same rules as other sellers -- rules that the administration now says it will enforce better." Obama actually referred to "some gun sellers," not just "Internet sellers" in his statement, before using a felon buying a gun online without a background check as an example of how the two different sets of rules for "some gun sellers" work in the online context.
Kessler's purported fact check of Obama stands in stark contrast to a December 10 fact check of GOP presidential contender Rubio's claim that, "None of the major shootings that have occurred in this country over the last few months or years that have outraged us, would gun laws have prevented them."
In his article, Kessler wrote that he was initially skeptical of Rubio's claim but in the end awarded it "a rare Geppetto Checkmark," concluding that the claim "stands up to scrutiny."
But there is no way to actually verify whether or not stronger gun laws could have prevented recent public mass shootings unless one possessed the ability to accurately project an alternate history where the stronger gun law was in place at the time of the mass shooting plot. (And how do you count the mass shootings that did not occur because the gunman wasn't able to get a firearm?) Kessler -- along with Rubio and other GOP presidential candidates -- is certainly entitled to the opinion that stronger gun laws do not prevent dangerous people from accessing firearms, but there is no factual basis for this opinion. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite.
As a September 2015 article in online magazine The Trace explained while summarizing academic research on the topic: "criminals routinely respond to incentives, and policies such as background checks and permit-to-purchase requirements demonstrably save lives by reducing criminal access to firearms." While comprehensive gun laws would not stop every would-be mass shooter, the evidence suggests that strong gun laws meaningfully raise opportunity costs for dangerous people to obtain firearms.
In addition to his flawed premise, Kessler's accounts of mass shootings he used as examples to legitimize Rubio's claim do not stand up to scrutiny, most notably his treatment of the June 2015 mass shooting at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In purporting to prove that no gun law could have prevented the shooting, Kessler wrote that "some analysts believe [Charleston gunman Dylann] Roof actually would have passed the background check if it had been done correctly." Kessler's sourcing for that claim was highly suspect. Any analyst making that claim would be in disagreement with the FBI, the agency responsible for administering the national background check system, which determines whether or not someone should have passed a check.
In July 2015, the FBI released a statement revealing that Roof was legally prohibited from purchasing a gun because of a pending drug charge. But due to a loophole in federal law, Roof's sale proceeded because an examiner at the National Instant Criminal Background Check System was unable to locate Roof's prohibiting record within three business days, allowing the gun dealer to go forward with the sale without a completed background check. Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation that proposes to give the FBI more time to process background checks to prevent this scenario from occurring in the future.
Apparently made aware of the FBI's actual view of the sale to Roof, Kessler added the following update to this post (while also failing to delete his baseless suggestion that Roof may have been a legal gun purchaser):
In a statement after this fact check was first published, the FBI said Roof would have been denied a gun based on an "inference of current use."
Kessler's suggestion that the FBI said Roof would have been prohibited only after his fact check was published is false; it occurred months earlier in July 2015. And the mere fact that Kessler had to make a significant revision to his analysis -- one that undermined a central piece of evidence cited to defend Rubio's claim -- arguably debunks the entire premise of giving Rubio a "Gepetto checkmark." (Kessler never mentioned the legislation introduced to prevent similar future occurrences.)
Kessler also failed to mention the 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista, California, at all in his fact check. Following that tragedy, California signed into law legislation to specifically address the circumstances of the shooting. Before the shooting was carried out, the family of gunman Elliot Rodger expressed concern to law enforcement authorities that Rodger was experiencing a mental health crisis, but no legal mechanism existed to remove his firearms at the time. The responsive law, known as a "gun violence restraining order," allows family members or law enforcement personnel to petition a judge for the temporary removal of firearms from individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others. The "gun violence restraining order" law -- which has now been introduced on the federal level -- has applicability to a number of other recent mass shootings where family members or law enforcement knew that someone posed a danger, but lacked a mechanism to remove firearms from that person's possession.
Kessler's fact check of Obama's statement about online gun sales is his latest in a series of suspect articles on the issue of gun violence. In October, Kessler awarded Obama "two Pinnochios" because Obama included gun suicides within his use of the term "gun deaths" - echoing a common right-wing talking point that gun suicides should not be included in the "gun death" total.
Discredited Republican lawyer Joseph diGenova is baselessly claiming that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her staff will face criminal prosecution by the FBI over her use of private email as secretary of state, despite numerous media reports explaining that Clinton is not the target of the FBI's investigation, which is also not criminal in nature. DiGenova has been discredited as a result of unprofessional behavior while working for Republicans in the 1990s and false claims he has made about the September 2012 Benghazi attacks.
In 2015, state legislatures proposed nearly 400 anti-choice bills with the aim of restricting reproductive rights, part of a wave of anti-choice attacks that were assisted in part by a smear campaign launched against Planned Parenthood by the Center for Medical Progress. As many media outlets are reporting, 2016 has the markings of being an even more dangerous year for women's health, with two high-profile Supreme Court cases to be decided and a litany of contentious state-level attacks on reproductive rights.
From the January 6 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Leading up to and after the unveiling of President Obama's executive actions on gun violence, conservative media figures have made numerous misleading and false claims about them, including that they do not have popular support, will be ineffective, are unconstitutional, and will lead to mass gun confiscation.
The National Rifle Association has offered contradictory criticisms of President Obama's plan to release a series of executive actions to address gun violence. While the NRA has dismissed the actions as "not really doing anything" when talking to the media, the group has warned its members that Obama's plan represents a serious national security threat.
On January 5, Obama announced several ways his administration will attempt to reduce gun violence in response to a series of mass shootings and subsequent inaction by Congress. A large share of media coverage of Obama's move focused on the president's plan to expand background checks by clarifying what it means to be "engaged in the business" of selling firearms, although the plan also includes provisions addressing effective enforcement of existing gun laws, funding for mental health treatment, and developing gun safety technology.
The day before the plan was released, the NRA offered contradictory criticisms, one to the press and the other to its members.
On January 4, an NRA spokeswoman commented to the New York Times, saying of the plan, "This is it, really?"
A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association said on Monday that the organization's lawyers would look at the president's proposals more closely to determine if there was anything they might go to court to challenge. But she said that at first glance the plan seemed surprisingly thin.
"This is it, really?" asked Jennifer Baker, an official with the N.R.A.'s Washington lobbying arm. "This is what they've been hyping for how long now? This is the proposal they've spent seven years putting together? They're not really doing anything."
The same day, the NRA released a video on its NRA News network. Far from downplaying the plan as "not really doing anything," the NRA claimed that Obama's plan to take executive action meant that he is now "our biggest threat to national security":
According to a Media Matters review of internal video archives, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN all reported on the NRA's statement to the Times downplaying the significance of Obama's executive action, while none of these networks mentioned the NRA's unhinged messaging to its member base.
Media should highlight the importance that gun violence prevention measures have on Latinos when reporting on President Obama's executive actions designed to address the issue. The issue of gun violence particularly impacts Latinos -- who widely support gun violence prevention measures -- since Latinos are disproportionately affected by fatal shootings despite being less likely to own guns themselves.
From the January 5 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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With the President's announcement today that he will take sensible executive action to strengthen background checks for purchasing guns, among other common sense measures, I can hardly wait to turn my dial to hear El Rushbo and friends' reactions. He's overstepping his bounds by bypassing Congress, he's taking away guns, public places are more dangerous if they're gun-free zones. We've heard it all before, folks. And there isn't a lick of truth to any of it.
Speaking of gun-free zones, I don't usually give advice to the GOP -- it's not exactly my business -- but this idea seemed so obvious for conservatives, I figured they just forgot to mention it: Why not let folks bring their guns to the Republican National Convention?
If you listen to the rhetoric of many conservative wackadoodles, guns should be welcome at Quicken Loans Arena. (The only flashes the event staff should worry about should be from photography, not firearms.)
The convention floor seems like logical next place to expand gun rights, a sort of manifest destiny for the Second Amendment. Republicans have already voted for your right to carry in all sorts of public places: churches in Georgia... state parks in Maine, Louisiana, and Virginia... stadiums, hospitals, and day care centers in Michigan... Mississippi high schools, courthouses, polling places, colleges, churches, and the passenger terminal of Jackson-Evers International Airport.
Thanks to Republican legislators, you'll soon be able to pack heat on the quad of Texas A&M or at the college bar in town. Which brings a whole new meaning to "taking a shot."
But for some reason, the march of progress hasn't made it yet to political rallies. The 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa - which adopted a platform "uphold[ing] the right... to keep and bear arms" - was curiously a "gun-free zone." Firearms were also disallowed at a campaign event last year in Nevada featuring Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. And when the Republican hopefuls debate on January 28 at Iowa Events Center, they'll be doing so in an arena that usually prohibits "weapons of any kind," presumably because the event coordinators think it'll keep people safer. In yet another head-scratcher, the RNC has chosen Quicken Loans Arena, where a stadium policy "strictly" forbids firearms, for their next national convention.
This has to be an oversight.
See, the conservative argument against gun-free zones - and for the right to carry anywhere - is that it deters gun violence. And if it doesn't deter gun violence, then at least it gives anybody the chance to put two in the chest of a wannabee murderer. As Ted Cruz put it, "You stop bad guys by using our guns."
Cruz isn't alone here; conservatives haven't been shy about this. After the attacks in Paris, Donald Trump said that had the victims been carrying, it would have been a "much, much different situation." Then Ben Carson shared this interesting bit of history: Jews might have prevented the Holocaust if they'd been packing heat in the ghettos.
In other words: Guns don't kill people. Guns just kill people who don't have guns.
This is why it's crazy that the Republican National Convention hasn't declared itself a "gun-friendly zone" yet. Republicans know they need to protect themselves. RNC boss Reince Priebus should've put out a press release by now, a thumbs up next to a trigger finger, demanding that Quicken Loans Arena reverse its policy. And Ohio Governor Kasich and his Republican legislature should've already suspended the pesky law from July 18th to the 21st that allows the arena to set its policy so the Second Amendment can be in the speeches - and in the waistbands - of everyone at the convention.
After all, these big political conventions always attract their fair share of threats. And sure, the Secret Service is there with snipers to protect the nominee. But shouldn't the Republicans on the floor - the guys from the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce and the fellows of the Heritage Foundation - be able to lock and load if ISIS breaks through the security barrier?
Or what about outside of the arena? Republicans won't be exiting by way of the covered veranda at Augusta National. (There's always the 2020 convention, guys.) This is Cleveland, and Republicans know that Cleveland so urrrrban. It's full of... How do I put this gently? What's the euphemism they'd use? ... Cleveland is full of Democrats. (That sound you're hearing is a Republican dog whistle). And when you're feeling threatened in a city you don't know, you need protection.
Look, I don't really expect anything bad to happen in Cleveland this summer. Maybe the combination of $15-dollar stadium cocktails and Limbaugh-style rage will lead the delegation from the Columbia, SC statehouse to harangue some RINO. But beyond that, I hope the convention is as boring and unwatchable as all the others.
Nevertheless, as Senate candidate Sharron Angle reminded us, Republicans should be ready with "Second Amendment remedies" should a threat ever pop up.
And if the threat never comes? Well... at least the convention-goers can take some target practice when the balloons drop. There's nothing more fun than some .22-caliber fireworks.
Someone should just warn the nominee about the ricochet.
From the January 5 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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From the January 5 edition of CNN's New Day:
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From the January 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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The National Rifle Association is promoting the claim that President Obama is "our biggest threat to national security" in response to reports that Obama will soon take several executive actions to address gun violence.
Obama reportedly plans to announce the executive actions some time during the "next several days." While details of Obama's proposals have not been released, several news reports indicate that Obama will shrink the "gun show loophole" by using regulatory authority to require unlicensed sellers who are engaging in high-volume gun sales to become licensed and perform background checks on customers.
The NRA responded to Obama's forthcoming proposals in a January 4 video, with the gun rights organization labeling the president "our biggest threat to national security":
In the video, the charge that "the biggest threat to national security is sitting in the Oval Office" is made by former Bush administration official John Bolton, a Fox News contributor. Bolton has served in an NRA leadership position and frequently appears in NRA News videos to advance the gun organization's views.
The NRA previously supported, in the words of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, "mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show," although the gun group has since abandoned this position and now claims expanded background checks would be the precursor to the confiscation of privately owned firearms.
Fox News is promoting Pete Santilli as a spokesman for the armed group that is occupying a federal building in Oregon. Santilli is better known as a conservative Internet host who has espoused conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks and repeatedly expressed a desire to shoot Hillary Clinton "right in the vajayjay."
President Obama will reportedly soon announce several executive actions to address gun violence. Although the details of the plan have not yet been released, several outlets are reporting that the Obama administration will address what is known as the "gun show loophole" or "private sales loophole" that allows the sale of guns without a background check at gun shows and through other venues such as online marketplaces. Although popular with the general public, conservative media often spread falsehoods about background checks on gun sales in order to attack proposals to expand these checks to more sales.