Washington Post Gives Bloomberg’s Anti-Cuccinelli Gun Control Ad Three Pinocchios

The Washington Post, whose editorial board limply endorsed Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe, gave three Pinocchios to a Mike Bloomberg pac sponsored attack ad going after Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli on the issue of guns. WaPo’s fact checker Glenn Kessler called the images in the ad “misleading” among other criticisms: 

Voiceover of Independence USA PAC ad attacking Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, as images flash of killers Seung-Hui Cho, Aaron Alexis, Adam Lanza and James Holmes

Independence USA PAC, the Super PAC backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is reportedly spending $1.1 million on ads supporting Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the race for Virginia governor. This ad attacks Cuccinelli for his uncompromising stance on gun rights, such as not supporting proposals that would close the so-called “gun show loophole.”

What’s the loophole? Licensed dealers at gun shows must undertake a background check of potential purchasers, but non-dealers can skirt that requirement, as can those making sales in the parking lot.

We’ve previously noted that the data on guns purchased without background checks, including the often-repeated statistic that 40 percent of gun purchases lack a background check, is rather dated and often mischaracterized. When we dug into the data, some 20 years old, it turned out that the figure is actually between 14 to 22 percent. That’s a big difference.

Kessler also notes that a 2004 study showed that “less than 2 percent of inmates incarcerated from crimes committed with handguns said they bought their gun at a gun show or a flea market.”  The WaPo fact checker remarks that “The biggest sources by far were friends/family or ‘the street.'” After listing facts about where four of the most recent mass murderers, whom the ad flashes images of, got their weapons, Kessler writes: 

In other words, none of these tragedies would have been prevented by closing the gun-show loophole, but a small case might be made that maintaining better records on mentally ill people might have made a difference.

The ad is also a bit confusing because when it mentions that Cuccinelli opposed closing the gun show loophole, it cites a 2008 Richmond Times-Dispatch article concerning a vote on a gun-control bill in the Virginia legislature — not the more recent federal legislation.

“The images of the killers is over the language that says ‘the dangerously mentally ill, criminals,'” said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for Bloomberg and the PAC. “We never say those killers got their guns from gun shows and that the background check would have prevented them in particular. They are there as representatives of killers and mentally ill people, which is what the script is saying.”

Kessler gives the attack ad three Pinocchios, saying that the emotional ad does not identify the familiar killers and viewers should be able to name at least one. 

“We have a reasonable-person test here. Most viewers would assume the gun-show loophole would have thwarted all of these attacks, but that’s not the case. Thus it is misleading to use these images in the ad,” Kessler says.

McAuliffe re-iterated his gun control stance at the previous and final debate with Cuccinelli at Virgnia Tech on Thursday, stating, “I don’t care what grade I got from the NRA.”