September 23, 2008

FactCheck.Org Misses the Target

My days of considering FactCheck.Org a reliable source are over.

In a release yesterday that targets NRA claims made against Barack Obama, FactCheck.Org simply failed to do their research in several instances, and were more than willing to take at face value claims made by the Obama campaign that were disputed or counterfactual.

Patterico does the bulk of debunking the debunkers, but I'll tackle one specific claim in more detail just to show how lacking their research really was.

The article claimed stated:

NRA Claim: "Ban Rifle Ammunition Commonly Used for Hunting and Sport Shooting"

False: Obama is not proposing to ban hunting ammunition. And he did not, as claimed in an NRA TV spot featuring a Virginia hunter named Karl Rusch, vote to "ban virtually all deer hunting ammunition." What Obama voted for was a measure to ban "armor-piercing" ammunition, which the measure's sponsor has said repeatedly would not cover hunting ammunition.

This claim is based on Obama's vote on S. 397 in the U.S. Senate. Obama was one of 31 senators who voted in favor of S. Amdt. 1615 to S. 397 which sought to "expand the definition of armor piercing ammunition."

The amendment applied only to handgun ammunition "capable of penetrating body armor" and to rifle ammunition that is "designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability," however.

It's true that common high-powered rifle bullets are capable of penetrating the vests worn by police, which are a defense chiefly against lower-velocity handgun rounds. But does that mean hunting ammunition is "designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability"? That's the NRA's argument, and it was repeated on the floor of the Senate by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He said flatly that the measure "would ban nearly all hunting rifle ammunition," without any elaboration. However, the measure's sponsor, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, said his amendment was not intended to cover hunting ammunition:

Sen. Kennedy (July 29, 2005): This is not about hunting. We know duck and geese and deer do not wear armor vests; police officers do.

Kennedy's measure failed by a vote of 64 - 31.

By the way, the NRA has used this ploy before. It ran ads in 2004 claiming Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had voted "to ban deer-hunting ammunition" when he had actually voted on an earlier occasion for this same Kennedy amendment on armor-piercing rounds. Kennedy said then:

Sen. Kennedy (March 2, 2004): My amendment will not apply to ammunition that is now routinely used in hunting rifles or other centerfire rifles. To the contrary, it only covers ammunition that is designed or marketed as having armor-piercing capability.

FactCheck refers to the Kennedy amendment, but let's read it for ourselves:

SA 1615. Mr. KENNEDY submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill S. 397, to prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages, injunctive or other relief resulting from the misuse of their products by others; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:

     On page 13, after line 4, insert the following:


     (a) EXPANSION OF DEFINITION OF ARMOR PIERCING AMMUNITION.--Section 921(a)(17)(B) of title 18, United States Code, is amended--

     (1) in clause (i), by striking "or" at the end;

     (2) in clause (ii), by striking the period at the end and inserting a semicolon; and

     (3) by adding at the end the following:

     "(iii) a projectile that may be used in a handgun and that the Attorney General determines, under section 926(d), to be capable of penetrating body armor; or

     "(iv) a projectile for a center-fire rifle, designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability, that the Attorney General determines, under section 926(d), to be more likely to penetrate body armor than standard ammunition of the same caliber.".

     (b) DETERMINATION OF THE CAPABILITY OF PROJECTILES TO PENETRATE BODY ARMOR.--Section 926 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

     "(d)(1) Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this subsection, the Attorney General shall promulgate standards for the uniform testing of projectiles against Body Armor Exemplar.

     "(2) The standards promulgated under paragraph (1) shall take into account, among other factors, variations in performance that are related to the length of the barrel of the handgun or center-fire rifle from which the projectile is fired and the amount and kind of powder used to propel the projectile.

     "(3) As used in paragraph (1), the term `Body Armor Exemplar' means body armor that the Attorney General determines meets minimum standards for the protection of law enforcement officers.".

The following language would indeed ban most centerfire handgun hunting ammunition as being armor-piercing:

     "(iii) a projectile that may be used in a handgun and that the Attorney General determines, under section 926(d), to be capable of penetrating body armor; or

It may not have been Senator Kennedy's intention to ban handgun hunting ammunition, but the fact of the matter is that bullet-resistant vests used among uniformed police officers on patrol nationwide are designed to stop common low-to-medium velocity handgun bullets (SWAT teams typically wear much heavier ballistic vests featuring large plates such as those worn by the military, designed to stop common assault rifle rounds).

The overwhelming majority of commercial, factory-loaded ammunition for hunting-class centerfire handguns will penetrate bullet-resistant vests, because the majority of these handgun calibers are high-velocity. While most ballistic vests will typically stop common defense rounds such as low-to-moderate velocity .38 Special, 9mm, 40S&W, and 45ACP, they begin having problems with higher velocity +P and +P+ loadings that are increasingly more common in these calibers. We want our police protected against unduly dangerous ammunition, but none of these listed are properly classified as armor-piercing.

Likewise, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .454 Casual, 500 S&W, and literally dozens of other hunting and long-distance target cartridges (.357 SuperMag, for example) will penetrate most common soft body armor worn by law enforcement agencies, and there is no language in the Kennedy Amendment that exempts these various cartridges, nor the various bullet designs commonly used in hunting or sport shooting in these calibers.

Based upon this alone, FactCheck.Org is at least partially incorrect, but the ambiguity in the Kennedy Amendment continues:

     "(iv) a projectile for a center-fire rifle, designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability, that the Attorney General determines, under section 926(d), to be more likely to penetrate body armor than standard ammunition of the same caliber.".

Kennedy, either by intent or negligence, does not define what constitutes a center-fire rifle bullet "designed" with armor piercing capability, nor does he define what constitutes "standard ammunition". Would that include hard cast lead bullets? Ammunition that uses bullets with full-metal jackets, commonly used as practice ammunition? How would this amendment view high velocity ballistic tip or hollowpoint ammunition? Does that affect higher velocity +P or +P+ loadings that are common in many centerfire loadings, including many kinds of ammunition designed for hunters, and self defense for both police and civilians?

We don't and can't know due to the vague language Kennedy used, and his proposed language to determine the capability of projectiles to penetrate body armor contains a "trojan horse."

     "(3) As used in paragraph (1), the term `Body Armor Exemplar' means body armor that the Attorney General determines meets minimum standards for the protection of law enforcement officers.".

"Body armor that the Attorney General determines meets minimum standards" could mean any armor classification arbitrarily determined by the Attorney General, whether that means almost useless (and therefore almost never issued) Category I armor, the slightly more effective and generally agreed-upon minimum of II-A, or perhaps even higher (and probably most commonly issued) Level II, or even Level III-A armor.

We simply don't know what level an Attorney General might determine to be the minimum, and the lower the level, the more common ammunition runs the risk of becoming unfairly classified as "armor-piercing."

FactCheck's fact check of the NRA claims largely consisted of taking politicians at their word and a shallow, almost negligent reading of the laws and language they've supported.

The rest of us have a word for that.


Posted by Confederate Yankee at September 23, 2008 11:17 AM

I remember this controversy quite clearly. The existence of the Thomson Center Contender, a handgun chambered in nearly every caliber, makes this "handgun" business deadly to RKBA. Could we expect the Brady Campaign types to rely on press releases and cant in their litigation or on the strict letter of the law? Gee, that is a head scratcher. It's an old game and the Dems are trying it again on drilling, giving with one hand and counting on their trial lawyer allies to take it back in court later. But don't forget, "Barack Obama respects the 2nd Ammendment!!!" Was that in your face enough?

Posted by: megapotamus at September 23, 2008 12:34 PM

I smell a concerted push going on here. I spent the better part of yesterday driving around the tri-cities area of northeast TN. The Obama campaign is running saturation ads on the radio (which reaches far into SW VA - the likely true target of the ads) touting his endorsement by the American Hunters and Shooters Association. AHSA is an astroturfed organization created by the gun banners as an answer to the NRA.

Now Fact check is on the scene to 'debunk' Obama's lack of respect for the Second Amendment? Coincidence? I think not.

Posted by: ThomasD at September 23, 2008 12:34 PM

Did you see the hatchet job did on the FairTax a while back? They had a guy (Joe Miller) with a couple of philosophy degrees do it largely based on any press attack and the President's tax panel which didn't even look at the FairTax! Of course the smear was disputed and FairTax had such a good case (Miller didn't even include the fed payroll taxes the FairTax would eliminate in his figures) that they posted the FairTax rebuttal on their own page as an additional document. I've never looked at them the same since...

Posted by: Aaron at September 23, 2008 01:00 PM

My husband hasn't called me yet to say "I told you so" but he has been saying was a liberal weapon for a long time...

Posted by: WeBearArms at September 23, 2008 01:32 PM

Wasn't there a recent discovery of a connection between Bill Ayers or the Anneberg group and Bias?

Posted by: Jon at September 23, 2008 01:40 PM

You understate the case against Handguns such as the Thompson Center are chambered for rifle ammunition. For that reason alone virtually all hunting and target rifle ammunition would be banned by the plain language of the amendment.

Also, all bullets might be used in a handgun and probably have. Virtually all such projectiles can penetrate "minimum" armored vests and would be automatically banned by the amendment. "(iii) a projectile that may be used in a handgun and that the Attorney General determines, under section 926(d), to be capable of penetrating body armor; or"

The NRA is 100% correct. Factcheck either did not do minimal research or is just lying.

Posted by: George Bruce at September 23, 2008 04:08 PM

TRUTH OR FICTION.COM is just as biased.
I quit using them long ago for the same reasons as mentioned in the article.

Posted by: sanjuro at September 23, 2008 04:08 PM

But we knew that, didn't we? The nose under the tent thing.

Posted by: cmblake6 at September 23, 2008 05:32 PM

I don't exactly understand this refutation. Senator Kennedy said that section (iii) was not to be interpreted as applying to bullets commonly used by hunters and sportsmen. (I do wonder, however, if there is an overlap between the type of weapons/bullets used by these folks and your average gun-toting criminal that the police might confront?) For some reason, you assume that Kennedy said one thing and really meant another. Why that's the case I am not sure. You haven't presented any evidence that Kennedy (or more importantly Obama) interpreted this provision differently on a separate occasion. Moreover, the NRA’s claim refers to RIFLE-ammunition and section (iii) refers to HANDGUN-ammunition - so at the very least it appears we have an apples and oranges problem. (Otherwise section (iv) is entirely superfluous if RIFLE ammunition would be covered by section (iii)).

As for section (iv), this provision expressly refers to "a projectile for a center-fire rifle, designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability, that the Attorney General determines, under section 926(d), to be more likely to penetrate body armor than standard ammunition of the same caliber.". The provision doesn't mention handguns. And unless all COMMONLY used rifle projectile (bullets?) would be covered by this provision, I don't see how it applies. In any event, the provision requires the projectile to have been designed or marketed as having armor-piercing capability. Is anyone suggesting that ammunition commonly used by sportsmen/hunters in their rifles to hunt deer is marketed or designed for piercing (police) body armor? If the ammunition isn't marketed that way, then section (iv) would not even apply. In sum, your refutation of the piece is not very persuasive.

Posted by: Alex at September 23, 2008 05:59 PM

Alex, that is a beautiful, well-written response. It is also completely wrong, on every single point you contest.

You seem to be nice enough and so please don't take it the wrong way when I tell you that you are apparently so fundamentally ignorant (and I don't mean you are stupid, there is just a huge knowledge gap between what you and even the average person would know) regarding this particular subject that I simply don't have the time it takes to make you even passably informed enough to begin to show you where you are wrong.

I'm sorry. Perhaps one of the other commenters has the time, but I simply don't.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at September 23, 2008 07:38 PM

Alex, I suggest you acqaint yourself with the fact that Senator Kennedy said this when discussing the armor-piercing ammunition that is not an ordinary hunting round:


Another rifle caliber, the 30.30 caliber, was responsible for penetrating three officers? armor and killing them in 1993, 1996, and 2002. This ammunition is also capable of puncturing light-armored vehicles, ballistic or armored glass, armored limousines, even a 600-pound safe with 600 pounds of safe armor plating. It is outrageous and unconscionable that such ammunition continues to be sold in the United States of America.

The cartridge he refers to originated as the .30-WCF, and was renamed the .30-30 (or .30.30), in the 1890's. It since became one of the most popular hunting rounds in the United States.


In short, while Kennedy may claim to not be after normal hunting ammunition, I can't trust him to know the difference between Armor Piercing Ammunition and normal hunting ammunition.

Since he apparently can't (or won't) figure that out, I can't give any credence to his "Trust me" claim.

Likewise for Senator Obama, who apparently support Senator Kennedy in this motion.

Posted by: karrde at September 23, 2008 09:32 PM

To continue slightly on karrde's post...

Here is the info that Kennedy routinely referenced in his speeches on the floor (part of which karrde quoted)
Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed with Firearms: Type of Firearm and Size of Ammunition that Penetrated Body Armor 1995-2004

all were with rifle rounds

Posted by: Gunstar1 at September 23, 2008 09:51 PM

If an anti-gun politician doesn't intend to ban most rifle ammunition, despite his or her faux-sincere protestations to the contrary, then it's quite a simple matter to change a few words in proposed legislation to make it impossible for innocent ammunition to be banned. Isn't it amazing how such brilliant legislators never seem to realize that, and are never, ever willing to do it? Why, one might be tempted to think that they really do intend to ban such ammunition and that's why they wrote their bill as they did!

Posted by: Mike at September 23, 2008 11:18 PM

politifact says the same thing about the NRA ads.

Posted by: Bryan at September 24, 2008 02:02 PM

So why do you think is more of an expert, Bryan? The many gun bloggers and Second Amendment experts that gutted FactCheck.Org's response, or yet another general knowledge journalist without a deep knowledge of the subject matter, and which takes Obama campaign claims at face value, even as they counter his record?

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at September 24, 2008 02:09 PM

The language of the bill gives the Attorney General very broad discretionary powers in determining what constitutes an "armor-piercing" round. Can you imagine another Janet Reno having this kind of power?

Posted by: SicSemperTyrannus at September 25, 2008 07:51 AM