This week brought us more bad news for President Biden’s gun agenda, bad media coverage, a bad electoral tactic, and a bad legal argument. It was kind of a bad week.
But we had a good guest on the podcast. So, hey, that evens things out. Make sure you give that episode a listen for some insight on how local gun-rights activism works in a place like San Diego County, California.
Speaking of gun-rights activism, the NRA’s oversight meetings are coming up on Saturday in North Carolina. I will be traveling to Charlotte to cover what happens. So, make sure you stay tuned for that reporting. Often, I’m the only reporter who attends these meetings. If you want to hear honest reporting about what happens at these meetings, The Reload is your best bet.
If you want to help fund my trip to the NRA meetings, you can buy a Reload Membership today! The Reload is an independent publication that is entirely funded by its members. I literally could not cover these stories without you guys!
Alright, let’s check out the news of the week.
Biden Approval on Guns Continues to Fall
By Stephen Gutowski
Americans are more dissatisfied than ever with President Joe Biden’s handling of guns.
That’s according to a new poll from The Economist and YouGov published on Wednesday. A majority of Americans disapprove of the president’s performance on gun policy. A plurality strongly disapproves of it, while only 8 percent strongly approve. Only 24 percent approve of Biden’s performance.
That represents a drop of 10 percent in approval and an increase of 5 percent in disapproval from the same poll in June. The approval rating has dropped by half since an Associated Press poll taken in May.
The continued drop in approval could further erode Biden’s ability to institute the gun restrictions he campaigned on. He has advocated for Congress to pass a universal background check bill as well as a ban on the sale of “assault weapons,” including the popular AR-15, but has failed to gain any momentum in the evenly divided Senate. He was also forced to pull his ATF director nomination after failing to secure the 50 votes necessary to get him confirmed.
The President’s gun agenda has been having a hard time through the first year of his term, and it’s only getting worse.
The House has passed two background-check expansion bills, but they aren’t going anywhere in the Senate. His plan to ban “assault weapons,” including the AR-15, hasn’t even gotten a vote in the House. Neither has his stated top priority of repealing legal protections provided to gun makers and dealers for third parties’ criminal misuse of their products.
He couldn’t even convince the Democratic Senate caucus to vote for the ATF director nominee he was counting on to shepherd his executive-branch efforts to implement gun restrictions. And it’s now unlikely he’ll get another opportunity to confirm a director before the end of his first term. That’s especially true after the new polling we saw this week.
As Americans continue to sour on the President’s handling of guns, his political capital will sink alongside his approval numbers. His approval on the issue dropped 10 points in the Economist/YouGov poll since June. It has fallen by half since the Associated Press measured it back in May.
In an atmosphere where Biden already can’t sway moderate Democratic Senators to vote for a nominee they never publicly opposed, it’s difficult to imagine how he’ll be able to convince them to vote for gun-control policies they have come out against in the past–especially while his standing with the public continues to deteriorate. Senators Angus King (I., Maine), Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), Jon Tester (D., Mont.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) wouldn’t go along what Biden wanted when he was polling 10 points better on the issue. Why would they budge on any of the gun bills he wants to pass now?
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ATF director nominee David Chipman faced little scrutiny in his first interview since President Joe Biden pulled his nomination.
New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush described Chipman as “brash” and “one of the country’s most prominent gun control activists.” Much of the piece is dedicated to a false claim about Chipman’s time in Waco and paints Chipman as the victim of a smear campaign the White House refused to push back against. Despite declaring the story a product of a “far-ranging interview,” the Times report does not include any comment from Chipman about the multiple allegations of racism directed against him by ATF agents, nor does it even mention them in the piece.
Instead, the reader is presented with the image of Chipman being told his nomination would be pulled while he “stood near a field of sunflowers” despite “all he had been through.” No such sympathy is reserved for the black ATF agent who told The Reload Chipman attempted to end his career by making a false accusation he cheated on a promotion assessment.
“I believe it had to have been a bias,” the agent, who spent more than 25 years at the agency, said in August. “My answers were just ‘too good.’ And my thought is he just said, ‘this black guy could not have answered this well if he wasn’t cheating.'”
The story, as well as previous allegations Chipman made racist comments implying Black agents could not have passed such assessments without cheating, received little coverage outside of right-leaning media. Outlets including the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and the Washington Post skipped the piece. On Capitol Hill, the allegations made an impact. Every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter calling for a second hearing on Chipman while citing the allegations, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) called on President Biden to withdraw his nomination. Ranking member Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) said he had also received whistleblower reports that independently corroborated The Reload’s reporting.
But even after Senate Republicans took action on the allegations, the story was ignored by most major media outlets. Instead, most coverage focused on the behind-the-scenes politics of the story and, especially, how Senator Angus King (I., Maine) told the White House he opposed the nomination.
The piece from Thrush forwards a narrative similar to the one Giffords, a gun-control group and Chipman’s current employer, included in a statement weeks ago: The nomination was sunk by a combination of lies about him and the gun industry’s opposition to his work for Giffords. It ignores the racism allegations and the other complaints current and former ATF agents levied against Chipman both on and off the record. Instead, it focuses on the false claim Chipman was in a picture in front of the ashes of the Waco compound, and on complaints about the years he spent as an activist.
Liberal Shadow PAC Runs Pro-Gun Ads Against Youngkin in Virginia Governor Race
By Stephen Gutowski
New attack ads against the Virginia gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin are not what they seem.
A series of social media ads attacking Youngkin over his lack of endorsements from gun-rights groups in the state were revealed to be the work of a shadowy political action committee on Monday. Accountability Virginia PAC has spent over $25,000 on anti-Youngkin ads that have been viewed upwards of 5 million times, according to Axios.
“While the NRA backs Donald Trump, they REFUSED to endorse Glenn Youngkin,” one of the group’s Facebook ads reads. “We can’t trust Glenn Youngkin on guns. Youngkin should tell us the truth about where he stands.”
While it is true Youngkin has not been endorsed by the NRA or the Virginia Citizens Defense League, there are several reasons to believe those funding and running Accountability Virginia are less concerned about that than they are about harming Youngkin’s chances in the race. The group was created in July 2021 by the consulting firm Mele, Brengarth, & Associates, which boasts about providing services to “the most active, progressive Super PAC’s in the 2012 and 2014 cycles” on its website. Accountability Virginia is also using ActBlue, a fundraising portal for Democrat candidates and progressive causes, to collect donations.
The group has been airing its ads in predominantly Republican sections of Virginia. Polling shows the race between Youngkin and his Democratic rival Terry McAuliffe is tight as the off-year election for control of the Virginia statehouse heats up. If the ads can convince enough gun voters to stay home on election day, it could swing the race in favor of McAuliffe. That would give Democrats a significant win in a bellwether race despite President Joe Biden’s sinking approval rating.
On this episode, I talk with Wendy Hauffen of San Diego County Gun Owners. She provides insight into what it’s like to run an effective gun-rights organization at the local level.
She described how her group was able to persuade the sheriff to issue more concealed-carry permits. They were able to get him to change the policy even though a court challenge was unable to change the state’s law.
We also talked about how the group has been able to bring women into the gun-owning community. She said the #NotMe program they run has already helped train 500 women and Hauffen said it is continuing to grow.
I also talk with contributing writer Jake Fogelman about the NRA’s upcoming oversight meetings, and why it distanced itself from CEO Wayne LaPierre in court filings this week. Plus, Jake tells us about how California is now set to share the personal information of gun owners with researchers across the country.
You can listen to the full podcast on your favorite podcasting app or by clicking here.
You can also watch the full episode on our YouTube page.
If you are a Reload Member and you want to be featured on the podcast, just reply to the members’ newsletter on Sunda and we’ll try and schedule an interview. It’s quickly becoming my favorite segment!
The ACLU has decided to once again intervene in a Supreme Court case. This time, though, it sided with the government in opposition to one of the enumerated rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The civil rights group filed a brief in the Court’s upcoming concealed-carry case. The crux of its argument is carrying guns in public is not only unprotected by the Second Amendment; it actually infringes on the First Amendment.
“This is a case about the Second Amendment, but its resolution also implicates fundamental First Amendment values—the freedoms of assembly, association, and speech,” the group said in its filing. “States have many justifications for regulating the public carrying of weapons, concealed or otherwise. But one especially important justification is that such restrictions facilitate civic engagement, by promoting safety and reducing the chances that the disagreements inevitable in a robust democracy do not lead to lethal violence. Accordingly, in assessing the validity of New York’s regulation of the carrying of concealed weapons in public, the Court should give due regard to the state’s important interest in facilitating a wideopen public debate.”
The ACLU is arguing that allowing New York officials complete discretion over who does and does not get to exercise their Second Amendment right is the proper course of action. It is saying the public bearing arms is inherently a threat to the public’s ability to speak freely.
The group goes so far as to argue there should be absolutely no limit to the government’s power to restrict gun carry.
Outside The Reload
The Reload in Media
I made my debut in The Atlantic just after our newsletter was published last Friday. They asked me to take a look at one of the common myths about gun politics: that the NRA’s campaign spending is what keeps gun-control laws from passing. I explore why that argument falls flat, what is keeping gun control from passing even with Democrats in control, and where the NRA actually derives its power. And it’s all backed up with data and quotes from Capitol Hill insiders. Give it a read and let me know what you guys think.
I was also quoted in a Fox News story about a recent Washington Post editorial that seems to have been churned out in 10 minutes by somebody who is keen to just regurgitate well-worn talking points in the least interesting way possible and is also unfamiliar with Washington’s own gun laws. I’ll leave you with my last quote in the piece:
“I would say the editorial board should be embarrassed by such an obvious mistake. But, in our current media climate, it seems most commentators have reached a plane of existence beyond the point where embarrassment can be felt.”
That’s it for this week in guns.
I’ll see you all next week.