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VPC Fact Check – Because Details Matter

In Continuing Disregard for the Truth,
VPC Attempts to Reissue Bulk of Its 2001 Propaganda

by Sean Oberle

February 2, 2002

If such a record were kept, Violence Policy Center (VPC) on January 31 might have broken the single-day record for untruths issued by a lobbying group. Actually, I might be more correct to write “reissued.” VPC issued nothing new. Rather, it slapped together two synopses of much of what it published in 2001, effectively lumping the bulk of last year’s propaganda into one day. We should be neither shocked nor surprised that VPC would regurgitate last year’s propaganda for the press — the first rule of propaganda is repetition.

The “new reports” are: 

John Ashcroft: Year One, which is a synopsis of VPC’s politically-motivated attacks on the attorney general from last year, and;

The State of the Gun Industry, which is a synopsis of five “reports” it issued last year.

The following are just a taste of the bogus 2001 leftovers that VPC attempted to reheat:

VPC Claim: In the U.S v Emerson ruling, the judges’ “lengthy digression on the Second Amendment was purely advisory and non-binding, because the ultimate decision in the case was that Emerson had no Second Amendment right and could stand trial” (John Ashcroft: Year One, page 7).

Fact Check: It simply is not true that the judges decided Emerson had no Second Amendment right. Rather, they decided he has such a right, but its suspension in this case passed constitutional muster — a protective order was sufficient reason to suspend the right.

VPC, like other gun control groups, consoles itself by insisting that the finding of an individual right is dicta (unnecessary pronouncements in a ruling that are advisory and not legally binding). VPC is free to argue that, though it is wrong — the nature of the right (individual) was crucial to the decision of whether it was violated, which the judges explained in the ruling itself. 

However, VPC’s assertion that the ruling was dicta because the decision “was that Emerson had no Second Amendment right” is the most ludicrous and untrue spin I have seen to date. At least others who make the dicta claim pretend that the nature of the right was irrelevant, not that it is nonexistent.

VPC claim: “[Gun manufacturers have] been working even harder to keep hidden from the American public a secret they readily share amongst themselves — handguns are a poor choice as a tool for self-defense. The Violence Policy Center study, Unintended Consequences, is comprised substantially of writings from pro-gun experts who readily admit handguns are extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, to use effectively in self-defense” (The State of the Gun Industry, page 1).

Fact Check: VPC’s November 19 Unintended Consequences is actually a 90-page distortion of the writings of pro-gun experts, not a revelation of their admissions. For example, VPC quotes Massad Ayoob, 

“…one must be both discreet and competent with the weapon. The gun-carrying man who lacks either attribute is a walking time bomb...” 

VPC claims that this is proof that 

“handguns in particular are a dangerous choice for all but a tiny minority of exceptionally well-trained people who maintain their skills with regular and intensive practice.” 

Ayoob, of course, wrote nothing of the sort — pointing out the need for discretion and competence is not the same thing as saying only a tiny minority is capable of using handguns for self-defense. For more on this “report” see my article “VPC’s Thanksgiving Turkey — How the Gun Control Group Cooks Up “Proof” Against Handguns”.

As for keeping anything secret: True enough, the gun industry does not publicize the absurdly distorted quotations and junk-science statistics that VPC and other gun control groups spew. Why should they promote untruths targeted specifically to harming their industry for the political gain of their enemies? If that is keeping secrets, more power to them.

VPC claim: “Today, 50 caliber rifles are still easier to buy than handguns: a youth of 18 years can legally buy a 50 caliber sniper rifle, but cannot purchase a handgun until age 21. In the past two years, the gun industry has offered a much broader choice of 50 caliber sniper rifles and the price has plummeted” (The State of the Gun Industry, page 1).

Fact Check: True enough, 18 year olds can legally purchase rifles no matter the caliber, but the suggestion that .50s are easier to buy than handguns is a big equivocation. Consider, if nothing else, the price that VPC says has plummeted. The low-end it cites in its October 7 propaganda, Voting From The Rooftops, runs $2,450 to $2,615 (section four, page 66). Easy? Two-and-a-half grand is outside the gun budget for most 38 year olds, much less 18 year olds (the high-end prices VPC lists run from $6,999 to $12,265).

In any event, VPC issued Voting From The Rooftops in connection with its vicious allegation that “The U.S. gun industry sold at least twenty-five 50 caliber sniper rifles to Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terror network.” International terrorists — with millions and even billions of dollars to spend — would not care about price (assuming that terrorism by .50 caliber rifle even is in their agendas). Indeed, they are perfectly capable of getting any conventional weapon they want, regardless of price, on or off the black market, in or outside the U.S. 

Making it legally harder for civilians to get .50s will not make it harder for terrorists to get them (though it might make them get .50s from different places). In the end, limiting civilian ownership of .50 caliber rifles as an anti-terrorism strategy would be about as valid as limiting civilian ownership of aircraft, which, using VPC’s non-logic, are easier to buy than handguns and potentially more deadly. Incidentally, VPC’s allegation about an al Qaeda connection is insufficiently substantiated as I demonstrate in my January 18 column Diaz Escalates Allegations.

VPC Claim: “Just after taking office, Attorney General Ashcroft unlawfully suspended a Clinton Administration rule that would have permitted the FBI to keep records of approved gun sales for 90 days so that the system could be audited to uncover fraudulent gun purchases and abuses of the system” (John Ashcroft: Year One, page 5).

Fact Check: The 90-day rule for destroying NICS records was not in effect when Bush took office (though, true, it is a “Clinton Administration rule”). It was submitted just before Bush’s inauguration, appeared in the Federal Register on January 22, 2001, and was slated to become effective that March. Ashcroft delayed the effective date.

Leave aside the quibbling question of whether Ashcroft could suspend a rule not yet in effect. Rather consider that VPC’s allegation of unlawfulness is based in the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires the executive branch to allow for public comment, via Federal Register notice, in relation to additions or changes to federal rules. Ashcroft did not allow for a comment period when announcing the delay in the Federal Register. “Unlawful!” screams VPC.

Not so fast: For one thing, the Administrative Procedures Act allows for comment-period exemptions when the wait would be “contrary to the public interest” [5 USC 553 (b)(A)]. This exception was among those cited by Ashcroft in forgoing the comment period (it’s not the only exception he cited).

The public interest Ashcroft cited was privacy. Privacy not only is a legitimate public interest, but as it relates specifically to NICS records, its consideration is statutorily required by the Brady Act (103(h)).

Now, put this statutorily required concern for privacy together with the fact that the rule was pushed through along with a mass of other rules in a last-minute surge of rulemaking by the Clinton administration. That the administration finalized a mass of rules like a student writing a paper in a zero-hour all-nighter raises the legitimate question of whether it took proper care with them or sent them along to the Federal Register whether or not the work on them was complete. This concern included the new NICS rule and the 90-day destruction period.

VPC filed a lawsuit on this matter. It must show that Ashcroft was not legitimate in his concern for privacy (as well as address the other exemptions to the Administrative Procedures Act he cited). Or as VPC appears to allege, it must show that the privacy claim is just a pretext. 

Ashcroft since has proposed new rules with a one-day rather than 90-day delay, and this is “proof” to VPC that privacy was a pretext. That is absurd. It would be legitimate to argue that the one-day rule would place too much emphasis on privacy and not enough on the competing goal of auditing the system, but not that consideration of privacy — as required by the rules — is a sham.

Indeed, if it is a sham, what’s behind the sham? VPC raises the case NRA v. Reno, claiming that Ashcroft is attempting to give the NRA what it couldn’t win in court. What was the NRA seeking in that case? Among other goals, it sought to limit the retention period due to privacy concerns. See what VPC has to argue? It must argue that the attorney general’s public claim of privacy concerns really is a pretext so that he can push through his real, NRA-inspired agenda: privacy concerns. Privacy is a pretext hiding privacy? Go figure.

Yes, Ashcroft is giving the NRA what it could not win in court. So what? That doesn’t make it unlawful — counter to VPC’s goals, perhaps, but not unlawful. 

Further VPC claims that Ashcroft’s actions are not legitimate because NRA v. Reno says a long retention period is lawful. True enough, but being legally allowed to do something — set a long period — does not preclude Ashcroft from doing the opposite. He’s giving more than the legally minimum deference to privacy.

Sean Oberle is a Featured Writer and gun control analyst for Reach him at  View his previous articles in his archive at