FactCheck: Trump ‘hears’ Obama wants to take your guns
Donald Trump says he "heard" that President Obama "is thinking about signing an executive order where he wants to take your guns away," claiming that he "read it in the papers." None of the major newspapers in the country has reported that.
Here are the facts: The Washington Post reported that Obama is considering an executive order that would expand the number of gun sellers required to subject buyers to background checks. Such an action wouldn't take anyone's guns away.
And — separately — in the wake of mass shootings, Obama has mentioned Australia's legislation on gun control, which did involve taking away some guns. But Obama has not indicated, nor has any major media outlet suggested, that he is even considering an executive order that involves confiscating guns.
Trump initially made the claim during a rally in Anderson, South Carolina (starting at the 1:23 mark).
The following day on CNN's "New Day," host Alisyn Camerota challenged Trump on that claim, saying that Obama had signed no such executive order. Trump said he'd only heard that Obama was "thinking about it," and he cited "the papers" as his source (starting at the 3:24 mark).
We reached out to Trump's campaign to find out what news stories he was referring to, but we did not hear back. So we scoured the news archives in Nexis of all major newspapers in the country, as well as CNN, and found only one recent story related to Obama and executive orders regarding guns. It was an Oct. 8 story in the Washington Post that ran under the headline "Obama weighs expanding background checks through executive authority."
The story cites an unnamed "senior administration official" who said the White House is mulling an executive order that would require private gun dealers who sell a large number of guns to conduct background checks on buyers. Already, those "engaged in the business" of firearms dealing are required to be federally licensed, and must then subject buyers to background checks. But the law exempts any person "who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms."
According to the Washington Post, the White House considered an executive order in 2013 that would broaden the definition of those "engaged in the business" of firearms dealing to include those who sell at least 50 guns annually. The proposal died, however, because some federal lawyers and officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives feared it would be difficult to enforce and would be vulnerable to a court challenge.
But even if such an executive action were proposed, it would be a far cry from seeking to "take your guns away," as Trump put it. Such an order would expand background checks to more purchases, and some gun-rights advocates might argue that it would restrict access to gun sales. But again, that's much different from taking someone's guns away.
In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Oct. 20, Sam Clovis, Trump's campaign co-chair, shed a bit more light on what Trump may have been talking about. Clovis said Trump's claim was related to Obama's praise for strict gun laws initiated in Australia and the United Kingdom (at the 1:48 mark).
Obama has, in fact, referenced Australia as an example of a country that dealt with mass shootings by enacting tougher gun laws. After a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996, Australia instituted major federal changes to its gun laws, including banning certain semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns; requiring nationwide registration for gun ownership; and requiring a 28-day waiting period. Permits for gun ownership were only allowed for a "genuine reason," such as hunting, but specifically not for "personal protection." The law included a one-year amnesty for prohibited weapons and a buyback program in which the government purchased 640,000 prohibited firearms. After the amnesty, prohibited guns were deemed illegal. So in that sense, the Australian government did take some guns away.
Here's how Obama put it in a Tumblr Q&A on June 11, 2014 (at the 1:07 mark).
Obama said the country "has to do some soul-searching about this." But Obama also made it clear he was not calling for similar laws in the U.S., but was advocating more modest changes related to background checks. Big changes will only come, he said, if public opinion demands "change in Congress."
In a podcast interview with Marc Maron several days later, Obama again referenced the Australian gun policy (at the 17:06 mark).
But that's not all Obama said on the subject that day. Maron asked Obama about those who would say, "They're gonna come for our guns." Obama said that wasn't happening in the United States, though he was vague about what kinds of sweeping changes he might ultimately support. And he said any major changes would have to come through Congress.
More recently, in the wake of the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Obama referenced the gun control policies of Australia and Great Britain.
A Library of Congress report notes that Great Britain has "some of the most stringent gun control laws in the world." Handguns are prohibited without special permission, which requires the owner to demonstrate a good reason for possession — and self-defense is not considered a good reason.
But Obama did not advocate similar policies in the U.S.
Nor did Obama suggest he was considering sweeping unilateral action, instead deferring to Congress to make any big changes.
That is consistent with Obama's most aggressive push on gun control following the shootings in Newtown, in which a gunman shot and killed 20 students and six staff members. On Jan. 16, 2013, Obama announced that he would take 23 "executive actions," including initiatives such as launching "a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign" and issuing a presidential memorandum "requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations."
But even as he announced those actions, Obama acknowledged the limit of his ability to affect major change in gun laws, and he said that "[t]o make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act — and Congress must act soon." Obama called on Congress to pass legislation requiring universal background checks, including for sales at gun shows, and banning "military-style assault weapons" and large-capacity magazines. Proposals to ban assault weapons, regulate large-capacity magazines and expand background checks were all subsequently voted down in the Senate.
We should note that none of the sweeping changes proposed by Obama involved taking away anyone's guns. The proposed ban on assault weapons, for example, which was proposed in an amendment introduced by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and supported by Obama, included a grandfather clause that would have exempted any weapons legally owned prior to the law's passage, unlike the law in Australia. Feinstein's amendment was rejected.
On Oct. 20, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Trump's claim that Obama was working on an executive order to take people's guns away.
Earnest replied, "Well, I think the president has made no bones about the fact that he's prepared to use every element of his administrative authority to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. But I think the president's track record makes clear that he doesn't just respect, but actually is willing to protect the basic Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. Those are just the facts about the president's record. Those are the facts about the president's priority. And we certainly would welcome others who share that common-sense view for making their voices heard.
"So," the reporter followed, "Trump is lying or misinformed?"
"I have no idea what Donald Trump is doing," Earnest said.
We can't know what Obama is "thinking about," but we can say that he has not advocated any kind of gun confiscation. He has referenced the Australian legislation that included the buyback of certain types of weapons (after which the weapons were deemed illegal) in the context of the U.S. public doing some "soul searching" on the issue of guns. But he has not proposed a unilateral executive order that would confiscate guns. Nor has any major media outlet reported such a thing, as Trump claimed.
FactCheck.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. Based in Philadelphia, FactCheck monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Its goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding. Find a list of FactCheck.org funders here.