Beneath ominous music, the voice of the narrator strikes a strident chord, feverishly warning viewers: “Attention! President Obama is exercising another executive power grab! And this time, he is going directly after your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms!”
Sounding for all the world like an Alex Jones or Oath Keepers production, the video ad then launches into a paranoid description of Obama’s supposed plot to destroy the Second Amendment.
“The Obama administration was unable to impose gun restrictions and confiscation through the legislative process, so now it’s trying to ban commonly used ammunition through regulation. Obama must be stopped now! If we allow Obama to ban ammunition through executive fiat now, it will lead to the loss of our Second Amendment rights by the time Obama leaves office!”
Of course, as with most similar efforts at fearmongering over the Obama administration’s handling of gun rights and gun control, the reality regarding the supposed plot to destroy Americans’ gun rights is a far cry from what’s depicted in the ads: There was never an executive order being considered about the ammunition, as the ad suggests; and the brief consideration by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) of altering regulations of a narrow bandwidth of armor-piercing bullets had already been abruptly abandoned several weeks ago.
Indeed, with only 19 months remaining in office, the long-feared Obama “gun grab” that gun-rights and antigovernment “Patriot” groups (not to mention Jones and Co.) have feverishly warned the public against since at least 2008 appears far from ever materializing. The organization behind the ads, however, is not a run-of-the-mill far-right “Patriot” group, but presents itself as a mainstream gun-rights group, the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF).
The regulation in question – actually an ATF proposal to alter its regulation framework for certain types of ammo used in AR-15 semi-automatic weapons, especially those such as armor-piercing types that seemed unlikely to be used “primarily for sporting purposes” – was met with fierce opposition in early March by the Second Amendment Foundation, who launched the ad campaign with the incendiary video in early March.
However, the ATF recoiled quickly from the negative response generated by the video ad, and on March 10 withdrew the proposal and closed off comments by noting that “the vast majority of comments received to date are critical of the framework.”
Nonetheless, the SAF’s ads have continued to run, appearing on national media outlets such as CNN and Fox News, as well as at conservative outlets such as The Blaze. They direct viewers to an 800 phone number that, if dialed, collects the callers’ names and adds them to an SAF petition opposing any regulatory change for the ammunition, as well as the outfit’s potential donor database.
SAF spokesman David Workman told me that the non-profit organization had invested “several hundred thousand dollars” in the campaign, and the ads would cease appearing once the ad buy had expired, probably in early April. And besides, he added, his organization didn’t believe that the administration had fully retreated yet.
“When ATF pulled back on it, they didn’t say the idea was dead,” Workman said. “They’re going to go back and re-examine it, see how to present it to the public so it doesn’t generate 310,000 comments. We don’t believe this is a dead idea.”
ATF spokeswoman Danette Seward told the Washington Post that the proposed "green tip" ammo ban came from the ATF's decision to review all ammo exemptions to a 1986 law that had sought to crack down on “cop killer” bullets. Seward said the agency had seen a recent increase in the number of "sporting purposes" exemptions requested by ammunition manufacturers for the AR-15 ammo. Moreover, she said, the agency wanted to strip the “green tip” armor-piercing ammo because AR-15 handguns capable of firing the rounds have recently become available.
The White House had issued a statement calling the regulation change “common sense,” but at no time did it ever indicate that the president would make the regulation through executive action. Press Secretary Josh Earnest, likewise, had told reporters that this was an action by the ATF under its standard procedures, noting: “I’d put this in the category of common-sense steps that the government can take to protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans while also making sure that our law enforcement officers who are walking the beat every day can do their jobs just a little bit more safely.”
Workman explained that the seemingly hysterical conclusion of the ad’s narrator that the failed change in rules for the AR-15 ammunition could doom every citizen’s guns rights could be seen as rational, if one saw any gun regulation at all as a kind of slippery slope.
“If people can be convinced that it’s OK to ban one type of ammunition, it will be easier to sell the idea that it’s OK to ban another type of ammunition,” Workman said. “And then we’ll get right back to where we were before, he’ll want to ban a whole class of firearms. They’ve tried to do that before.”
He thought that raising fears about an Obama plot against citizens’ gun rights was legitimate, regardless of Obama’s prior lack of action on gun control. “You can go ahead and think what you want, but there are a lot of people out there who are very concerned about this administration’s designs on gun control,” he said. “Whether it starts with an ammunition ban or some other sort of regulation, it is still viewed by millions of people as an attempt to erode their basic right to keep and bear arms.”
Thanks in no small part to a barrage of misleading ad campaigns.