Fact check: Joe Biden’s comments on gun control

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s the current front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary, made several gun-related claims recently during an argument with an auto worker and during a tele-townhall this week. We took a look at some of those claims to see what the facts were.

Gun rights

During a campaign stop at a Fiat Chrysler assembly plant on March 10, Biden was accused by one of the workers of wanting to take away people’s guns.

“You are actively trying to end our Second Amendment right and take away our guns,” one man accused Biden.

“You’re full of sh,” Biden snapped back. “I did not—no, no, shush. Shush. I support the Second Amendment.”

Later, the man again accused Biden of saying he would take away guns in the US. “You were with Beto when he said he was going to take our guns.”

To which, Biden replied, “I did not say that. That’s not true. I did not say that.”

Facts First: Biden’s gun control plan does not include confiscating legally owned weapons and an interpretation of a “viral video” is a mishearing of what was said. The former vice president has said in the past that a Biden administration would come for people’s “assault weapons.”

Biden’s gun control plan outlines a buyback program for “assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” but the program is not a mandatory buyback and would not force people to give their up their guns.

According to Biden’s website, the buyback program “will give individuals who now possess assault weapons or high-capacity magazines two options: sell the weapons to the government, or register them under the National Firearms Act.”

But in August 2019, during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Biden was asked about people who think a Biden administration “means they’re going to come for my guns.” Biden replied, “Bingo, you’re right if you have an assault weapon. The fact of the matter is they should be illegal. Period.”

When asked about this exchange, a Biden official told CNN, “Joe Biden defeated the NRA to ban assault weapons before, and he was reminding viewers that as president he will do it again.”

The auto worker’s reference to a video of Biden and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke likely refers to one of Biden talking with O’Rourke and his wife in a restaurant in Texas.

When talking about how O’Rourke has championed certain progressive issues, Biden said “this guy (O’Rourke) can change the face of what we’re dealing with. With regard to guns — assault weapons — with regard to dealing with climate change.”

“And I just want to warn Amy (O’Rourke’s wife), if I win, I’m coming for him,” Biden said, referring and pointing to O’Rourke, who has supported confiscating assault rifles from US citizens Some have mistakenly said that Biden was claiming he would come for US citizen’s guns, not O’Rourke, but Biden is talking about coming for “him” (O’Rourke) not “’em” (i.e. guns).

Smart guns

During the tele-town hall Monday, Biden was asked a question on guns and the Second Amendment and in his response, Biden talked about what are often called “smart guns” some of which require a fingerprint to fire.

Biden claimed that in response to smart gun tech “the NRA and the gun manufactures came along and said ‘if you keep selling them, we’re going to put you out of business.'”

Facts First: The National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for firearm manufacturers, told CNN they do not oppose smart guns but do oppose mandates of the technology.

Amy Hunter, director of media relations for the NRA, told CNN in a statement that “Biden is wrong” and that the NRA simply opposes government mandates for smart guns.

“He should check his facts before opening his mouth,” Hunter said. “The NRA does not oppose smart gun technology. The NRA is opposed to government mandates that require consumers to only buy smart guns. That’s why we oppose any law that mandates when smart gun technology became available, all traditional firearms would become illegal.”

One aspect of Biden’s gun safety plan is to “put America on the path to ensuring that 100% of firearms sold in America are smart guns” and says “Biden believes we should work to eventually require that 100% of firearms sold in the US are smart guns.”

Mark Oliva, director of public affairs at NSSF, told CNN regarding Biden’s statement about smart gun tech that “the bottom line is this is categorically false. The industry has never made such a statement.”

“We represent the gun manufacturers,” Oliva said, “we have never opposed the technology, we have only opposed the mandate with the technology.” Oliva also said the technology was not ready and that “no police departments have adopted this technology because it just doesn’t work.

One issue facing “smart guns” is the New Jersey Childproof Handgun law which was passed in 2002. That New Jersey law mandates that once what the law calls “personalized” (i.e. smart) guns are available in the US, all handguns sold in New Jersey must be such “personalized” guns.

Biofire, one of the companies working on smart gun technology, says on its website that “the New Jersey mandate is a major roadblock to smart guns, and has been since it was passed 20 years ago.”

Machine guns

Biden, arguing that the Second Amendment does not give everyone the right to own any firearm or weapon they want, said during the town hall that “you’re not allowed to own, for example, a machine gun in the United States of America.”

Facts First: Older machine guns, or fully automatics, can be purchased in the US, but there are many regulations which make it difficult to do so.

Private citizens who want to purchase a fully automatic weapon must buy it from someone with a Federal Firearms License — which is necessary, among other things, to manufacture ammo and firearms and sell them as a major source of income. The gun must have been made and registered with the US government prior to May 19, 1986.

To transfer/purchase one of these machine guns there is transfer tax of $200 and the FFL holder must submit a form to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives which includes information about the gun as well as the transferee’s personal information, photo, fingerprints, and answers to questions to determine if the purchaser can legally possess the firearm.

The ATF will then review the form to determine if the transfer is legal and “will not approve the form if the transfer, receipt, or possession of the firearm would place the transferee in violation of any Federal, State, or local law.” Only when the ATF approves the transfer — checking state and local laws that govern fully automatic weapons — can the gun be purchased.

These fully automatic firearms are expensive, costing in upwards of $10,000. In 2018, there were some 638,260 registered machine guns in circulation in the US.