“Mary Landrieu voted to take away your gun rights.”

— new National Rifle Association ad, airing in Louisiana 

This new NRA ad certainly packs a punch. It opens with idyllic scenes of a mother in an upper-middle-class home checking on her baby in the crib and texting a spouse who’s away: “Love You. Good Night.” Then an intruder is shown breaking through the front door — and the next scene depicts yellow police-line tape and an armed police officer, suggesting something horrible has happened inside that home.

“It happens like that. The police can’t get there in time,” the narrator says. “How you defend yourself is up to you. It’s your choice. But Mary Landrieu voted to take away your gun rights. Vote like your safety depends on it.”

The ad, which is part of an $11 million election-year campaign to influence key races, itself does not cite a source for its assertion about Landrieu’s record. But the NRA’s documentation cites her vote in favor of the amendment to bolster gun background checks, authored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.).

The amendment, on a vote of 54-46, failed to overcome a Senate filibuster in 2013. (The vote was generally along party lines, though four Republicans voted for it and four Democrats voted against it, not counting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who changed his vote to no to preserve his right to call it up again.)

“It is a provocative ad,” acknowledged NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. “The NRA doesn’t run boring ads.”

But is the combination of words and images factually correct?

The Facts

The NRA took a hard line against the Manchin-Toomey proposal, which was intended as an effort to bridge the wide gap between gun-rights supporters and gun-control advocates over whether to overhaul the current background check system, which is limited to federally licensed gun dealers.

Essentially, Manchin-Toomey would have expanded background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, but the lawmakers said it would not have affected sales between friends and family members. (The original gun-control bill pushed by Democrats would have placed more limits on private sales.)

When The Fact Checker first contacted Arulanandam, asking how the Manchin-Toomey bill would have affected this woman, we noted that none of the statements issued by the NRA concerning the Senate proposal said at the time that it would take away a person’s gun rights. So what was the NRA referring to?

In an e-mail, Arulanandam gave a specific example: “One example of how M-T infringes on individual gun rights and takes them away is by limiting who a person can sell a firearm without first asking the government’s permission. Say you have a stalker and you are a located in a remote area and there are limited places for you to purchase a gun in a pinch. Your cousin’s neighbor down the street wants to sell you his shotgun. He can’t if M-T is law.”

Hmmm, the home in this ad did not seem to be in remote area, but okay.

When we checked with the Toomey and Manchin staffs, we got a different answer. Part of it hinges on whether a gun for sale has been advertised on the Internet or in a publication — and whether or not you knew it had been advertised. No background check was required if you were unaware it had been advertised — and simply posting a gun for sale on a church bulletin board would not compel a background check.

We went back to Arulanandam and, after consulting with the NRA lawyers, he provided us with a lengthy statement that included this section: “A neighbor could still loan or sell a firearm to another neighbor who was a victim of stalking, etc., if they arranged the transaction between themselves outside of a gun show and not by means of a prohibited advertisement, and the recipient wouldn’t have to go through the mandatory check.”

In other words, the hypothetical woman in this ad could still have purchased a shotgun from her cousin’s neighbor, even if the Manchin-Toomey amendment had become law. As Emily Litella would say, “Never mind.”

Arulanandam stood his ground, insisting that “Manchin-Toomey takes away rights that gun owners currently have.  If it didn’t, they wouldn’t have introduced their amendment.  They were trying to make something illegal that is currently legal.  For anyone to claim that M-T doesn’t take away rights that gun owners currently have is untrue.”

Arulanandam also cited a variety of other Landrieu votes that he said weakened gun rights. He pointed to a 1999 vote for a bill to tighten restrictions at gun shows — which failed to pass — and a 2004 vote on an amendment that also would have required background checks at gun shows. That amendment did succeed, but the bill it was part of (giving immunity to gun manufacturers) never emerged from the Senate.  He also noted Landrieu’s vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, despite what he said was clear evidence that Sotomayor was anti-gun and did not believe in the individual right to own a firearm.

Landrieu aides counter that she has cast many more votes in favor of gun rights, including votes in support of concealed firearms, against the assault weapons ban and for measures to protect gun manufacturers and dealers from civil liability lawsuits.

“The ad says ‘voted to take away your gun rights,’ ” Arulanandam said.  “The ad is correct and factual.”

The Pinocchio Test

The NRA has every right to offer its interpretation of various proposed laws, or to suggest that a single change in gun laws would take away a person’s rights. But the vivid imagery of this ad goes well beyond the facts.

There was nothing in the Manchin-Toomey bill that would have prevented the mother in this ad from buying a weapon to defend herself, even on short notice. Even the NRA’s own lawyers acknowledge that. The same holds true for the other votes on legislation cited by Arulanandam, which were limited to gun-show restrictions. The hyperbolic disconnect between the images on the screen and the practical impact of the law in question earns this ad Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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