Opinion

Fact Checking the Democrat Presidential Debate on Guns

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Posted: Feb 26, 2020 9:01 AM
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Fact Checking the Democrat Presidential Debate on Guns

Source: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

For once, a gun control claim was too much for even the media fact-checkers. During last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina, former Vice President Joe Biden bizarrely declared: “A hundred and fifty million people have been killed since 2007, when Bernie voted to exempt the gun manufacturers from liability.”

Obviously, half of the country hasn’t disappeared since 2007. We can charitably infer that this was just Biden’s latest gaffe.

But the rest of the sentence was also problematic and it was only one of many false claims made during the debate. How exactly was Senator Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) “2007” vote responsible for gun violence? Actually, it was a vote about the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), but, much more importantly, it didn’t immunize gun companies from all product liability. You can still sue them if they make a defective gun that explodes during regular use. You can also sue them for “negligence” or harm that results from not obeying existing laws. For example, if a gun store sells a 15-year-old a gun and the minor accidentally shoots themselves or someone else, the store can be sued for damages.

Put aside that Sanders already disavowed his vote back in the 2016 presidential election. Sanders’ original defense of the law was extremely reasonable. You can’t sue General Motors because someone ran over another person with one of their cars - unless the vehicle had manufacturing defects which caused the accident. Nor can you sue GM if their car was used as a getaway vehicle in a robbery. 

The 2005 law merely limited lawsuits against gun makers, making their liability the same as what exists in other industries. 

Biden also tried linking Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to the 2015 Charleston Church shooting that left nine black churchgoers murdered.

“Walking distance [from] here is Mother Emanuel Church — nine people [were] shot dead by a white supremacist. Bernie voted five times against the Brady Bill … I’m not saying he’s responsible for the nine deaths, but that man would not have been able to get that weapon with the waiting period of what I suggest.”

Democratic presidential debaters keep demanding that the “Charleston loophole” be closed.

Supposedly, the murderer, Dylann Roof, was able to obtain his gun because of improperly labeled paperwork that prevented the government background check from identifying him as a prohibited person. Gun control proponents argue that they could save lives if only the National Instant Criminal Background Check System had more time to perform the checks. 

But the truth is that Roof wasn’t a prohibited person. Even if they had six months to do the check, Roof would still have been able to purchase a gun. 

Felonies and some types of misdemeanor convictions prohibit people from legally buying a gun. You also can’t buy a gun if you are facing a trial for a state crime that carries a sentence of up to two years. For federal crimes, the possible prison sentence threshold is only one year. Other conditions, such as drug addiction, can also prevent you from buying a gun.

But Roof had no prior convictions. He awaited trial for a misdemeanor drug possession charge, but South Carolina law did not allow for sentences over six months. Nor did Roof ever admit to being a drug addict, and no judge has ever classified someone as a drug addict based upon only one arrest for simple possession.

Then FBI director James Comey initially claimed that Roof faced felony drug possession charges, but the FBI quickly released a correction and noted that it was only a misdemeanor charge.

Roof stole the gun that he used in this attack, so the conversation about his legal gun purchase is neither here nor there. Roof could also have bought a gun illegally, perhaps from the very same drug dealer that sold him his drugs. Roof planned his attack for at least six months, and he had plenty of time to figure it out.

There were numerous other false claims about gun control by both the candidates and the moderators in the debate last night. But don’t expect the news media to care anymore about accuracy here than Michael Bloomberg’s gun control groups do in all the ads he puts on the airways.