A Second Amendment group that makes the National Rifle Association look timid by comparison has found an unlikely focus for its latest pro-gun campaign: a bill involving arcana of the hearing aid industry. The call to action is the latest example of a time-honored tradition of gun partisans twisting a mundane policy into a nefarious conspiracy to rob Americans of their freedoms.
Gun Owners of America, which bills itself as “The Only No-Compromise Gun Lobby in Washington,” sent out a press release in May condemning legislation that Elizabeth Warren, the popular Democratic senator from Massachusetts, had drafted to allow for over-the-counter sales of hearing aids. Warren and her three Republican co-sponsors argue that it would lower the cost of the devices for the hearing impaired.
The gun group warned that the bill could result in side-door government control of devices hunters use to amplify sound and track game. In the GOA’s telling, Warren’s involvement in the seemingly anodyne legislation made it immediately suspect.
“In the past, anti-gun senators like Warren have used any pretext, however attenuated, to interfere with hunting and the exercise of Second Amendment rights,” the release reads.
The GOA’s campaign stretches the bounds of believability, and bipartisan patience. Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican from Iowa who is backing the measure, noted in a statement to the Boston Globe that the proposal “wouldn’t regulate or direct the FDA to regulate personal sound amplifier systems (PSAPs), including those used by hunters,’’ adding that the hunting gadgets “do not go through a medical device evaluation. The bill doesn’t change that.”
The campaign follows a clear pattern in the gun world, where prominent groups promote false narratives to the point where some adherents become primed to distrust plain facts.
As the examples below show, Second Amendment groups — from the large and established NRA to the fringe National Association of Gun Rights — have a long history of galvanizing their followers by manufacturing or fanning conspiracies in which the fine print of government is a front for nefarious gun-grabbing:
The conspiracy: President Barack Obama was plotting to ban “firearm-related speech” from the Internet.
In June 2015, the State Department revised its rules for the export of firearms from the United States. Included in the revision was language to limit the dissemination of “technical information” and intellectual property.
The NRA pounced, declaring that the rule change was a gag order on routine speech about guns. The group warned that gunsmiths and “do-it-yourselfers” could face prison sentences of up to 20 years and millions of dollars in fines for simply discussing the basic mechanics of firearms. A post on the group’s website described the rule as “much an affront to the First Amendment as it is to the Second.” The revision, it continued, would “would make online communication about certain technical aspects of firearms and ammunition essentially impossible.”
— NRA-ILA (@NRAILA) June 8, 2015
The rumor spread quickly to fringe websites with names like Government Slaves, which covered it under the headline “Obama Proposal would BAN internet gun discussion.”
The reality: The text of the State Department rule clearly carves out exemptions for all the kinds of speech the NRA said were targeted.
Excluded from the government’s definition of technical data regulated by the law: information commonly taught in schools, used in marketing materials, or available in the public domain. The rule only applied to classified information, specific patents covered by a secrecy order, and computer software.
The conspiracy: Reports of American firearms trafficked to Mexico are disinformation circulated by global elites.
Tens of thousands of firearms smuggled from the United States help to fuel extreme rates of violence south of the border.
The “Fast and Furious” gunwalking scandal elicited widespread condemnation after it was revealed in 2011 that a field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive in Arizona that was investigating Mexican cartels smuggling guns from the United States had lost track of hundreds weapons. One of the firearms was used to murder a U.S. Border Patrol agent. The NRA’s outrage over the matter focused on more than just incompetent law enforcement. The group disputed the very notion that American gun dealers and consumers had anything to do with violence in another country.
In a 2011 interview, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s leader, flatly denied that guns flow to Mexico from the United States.
“Every police officer will tell you that they’re coming from Russia, they’re coming from China, most of them are coming from Central America, and a lot of them are coming from defections from the Mexican Army,” he said.
LaPierre suggested that the Obama administration was purposely “running thousands and thousands of guns to the most evil people on earth” so that it “could stick more gun legislation on honest American gun owners of the United States.” The government-run gunrunning would cause outrage, he predicted, necessitating new restrictions. “It’s the only thing that makes sense,” he said.
The NRA has been casting doubt on reports that trafficked American guns have been used to arm criminals south of the Mexican border since at least 2009.
The reality: The steady flow of U.S. guns into Central America is well-documented. The Mexican government has begged the United States for years to clamp down on the supply, and estimates that as many as 2,000 guns are smuggled across the border every day.
The conspiracy: the United Nations wants to impose gun registration on Americans, the better to eventually confiscate their weapons.
The UN Arms Trade Treaty regulates the trade of weapons, from conventional firearms to tanks. The pact has become a particular object of horror for American gun groups.
The NRA has periodically warned its members that if the treaty is ratified, Americans will be forced to register their weapons, as gun owners do in some other countries. Gun registration would inevitably lead to confiscation, and from there to a destruction of all civil liberties.
After rumors circulated that President Donald Trump was considering David Petraeus as secretary of state, the GOA slammed the former general and CIA director as a “disastrous choice” for what it had divined as his support for the treaty, which would “would mandate gun registration, and would authorize comprehensive gun bans.”
The National Association for Gun Rights has described the UN Arms Trade Treaty as a plot masterminded by the billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros.
“Imagine foreign dictators and governments having unrestricted access to a list of every American gun owner!” a post on its website reads.
The reality: U.S. laws prevent disclosure of information about individual gun owners, and the treaty contains exceptions for countries with such statutes. The agreement is also intended to restrict sales of guns to militaries, warlords, and other large actors, not individuals.