Reporting from Sinclair Broadcast Group on background check legislation and recent executive action announced by President Joe Biden has misleadingly portrayed these efforts to reduce gun violence as an effort to take guns out of the hands of everyday Americans. The reality is, they do no such thing.
On March 11, the House of Representatives passed two background check bills designed to close loopholes in the process of purchasing a gun. The bills would expand background checks to nearly all commercial sales and extend the amount of time background checks can be conducted before a gun sale is finalized. And on April 7, President Biden announced several executive actions to begin addressing what the administration described as “the gun violence public health epidemic.” Among these actions is an order to the Department of Justice to publish model legislation for extreme risk protection orders, also known as “red flag” laws. The administration’s fact sheet described these laws:
Red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement to petition for a court order temporarily barring people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. The President urges Congress to pass an appropriate national “red flag” law, as well as legislation incentivizing states to pass “red flag” laws of their own. In the interim, the Justice Department’s published model legislation will make it easier for states that want to adopt red flag laws to do so.
Sinclair’s national news coverage of these actions on its morning program The National Desk, which airs on 68 Sinclair-owned or -operated TV stations, has irresponsibly pushed outrageously false claims. At least three times, Sinclair reporting has framed these actions to reduce gun violence as an attempt to confiscate all firearms in the U.S.
- During the March 9 edition of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s The National Desk, correspondent Angela Brown interviewed a gun range owner named Matthew Nash about the background check bills. During Brown’s report, Nash opined that the bills will fail to help stem gun violence and when they don’t, “the next step is to just take the guns away from people.”
- On March 24, two days after the mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, The National Desk anchor Jan Jeffcoat repeated baseless Republican lies that “any reform could ultimately take guns and rights away from law-abiding citizens.”
- On April 9, Club for Growth President David McIntosh said on The National Desk that Biden’s executive actions are part of a “continuing effort by Biden, and the very liberal people around him, … to go after people's Second Amendment rights.” He continued, saying: “Their agenda is to get rid of guns and take away those from law-abiding citizens.” McIntosh also claimed red flag laws will lead to abuse, saying: “If you give blanket authority for family members or police officers or any officials, without any other proof that somebody has that type of mental condition, it could be abused and really start to force people to prove, no I'm not mentally ill. They've taken away their guns, and then they have to go through a process to get them back. And when you get into a jurisdiction that is very anti-Second Amendment that could mean that they lose them virtually forever.”
It shouldn’t need to be said that the background checks bills which passed the House wouldn’t confiscate guns from anyone. But Sinclair repeatedly aired this false claim. An article from FactCheck.org explained: “There is nothing in either of the two bills passed by the House that calls for the confiscation of any guns or that prevents someone legally allowed to purchase a gun from doing so.” FactCheck.org also pointed out that the legislation may reduce gun trafficking, could lessen gun violence, and would likely prevent some ineligible buyers from obtaining firearms.
And as for McIntosh’s suggestion that extreme risk protection orders violate Second Amendment rights and are ripe for abuse, they in fact share a similar design with existing laws that remove guns from individuals under domestic violence restraining orders, include due process protections, and have been upheld by courts as constitutional. And just like any civil proceeding, extreme risk protection orders under these laws must show a standard of proof ranging from “clear and convincing” to probable cause. There are of course emergency exceptions, but those also include due process. McIntosh also falsely stigmatized people with mental illness -- red flag laws temporarily remove someone’s firearms and prevent them from buying new ones based on threats or acts of violence, not the presence of mental illness.