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A deadly school shooting near Detroit once again has sparked debate over tightening gun control measures at the federal level, as lawmakers split largely along party lines over how to keep the weapons out of the hands of the wrong people and improve safety while protecting Second Amendment rights.
After a Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, when 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley is accused of opening fire and killing four people and injuring seven, the Iowa Democrats — the verified Twitter account of the Iowa Democratic Party — took to the platform to point fingers at Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is seeking re-election in 2022, for not taking sufficient steps to stop gun violence.
“Sen. @ChuckGrassley is bought and paid for by the gun lobby. For $226,007, the NRA has gotten to call the shots and use Grassley as their puppet,” the Iowa Democrats tweeted Dec. 3, referring to the National Rifle Association.
The Iowa Democrats continued criticizing Grassley’s positions on gun control just two hours later in another tweet: “The majority of Americans — including gun owners — agree that universal background checks are key to ending gun violence. But during the same week as a deadly school shooting, @ChuckGrassley blocked common sense gun reform that could have saved lives. We deserve better.”
The majority of Americans – including gun owners – agree that universal background checks are key to ending gun violence.— Iowa Democrats (@iowademocrats) December 3, 2021
But during the same week as a deadly school shooting, @ChuckGrassley blocked common sense gun reform that could have saved lives. We deserve better. pic.twitter.com/RkS41Af0DG
First, we’ll take a look at the claims about the $226,007 that the Iowa Democrats say the NRA, the nation’s leading gun rights group, has contributed to Grassley.
The Iowa Democrats pointed to figures from the not-for-profit Brady Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence.
The NRA’s political action committee registered with the Federal Elections Commission is the National Rifle Association of America Political Victory Fund, or NRA-PVF. This committee is subject to spending and contribution limits. FEC data shows this entity has given $147,020.10 in campaign contributions to Grassley.
The group also has a lobbying arm, the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, or NRA-ILA, which makes independent expenditures and is not required to disclose donors. The NRA-ILA has spent $86,208.31 in support of Grassley from one reported expenditure in 2016, according to the FEC.
Through both the NRA’s PAC and its lobbying arm, it has spent $233,228.41 combined — more than the Brady Campaign analysis found. The Brady data did not give a date, but a description suggests its review went through the first half of 2019.
We give this claim an A.
Next, we will look at whether, “during the same week as a deadly school shooting,” Grassley “blocked common sense gun reform that could have saved lives.”
That was in reference to Grassley's opposition to the Bipartisan Background Checks Act on Dec. 2 — just a few days after the Oxford High School shooting.
The bill, which was introduced by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and passed by the House in March, would require new background checks for gun transfers between private parties and expand a 10-day review for gun purchases and transfers.
It also would bar transfers of firearms between individuals unless a licensed dealer or manufacturer takes possession of the firearm to complete a background check.
Currently, when someone buys a gun through a federally licensed dealer, he or she is subject to a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a database maintained by the FBI. Private sales are not subject to background checks at the federal level. A number of factors in a person’s background would prompt an investigation before he or she could buy a gun, such as certain criminal convictions.
Murphy requested unanimous consent to pass the legislation. Under this procedure, if all lawmakers agree on any matter before the Senate, the chamber sets aside a rule of procedure to speed up proceedings — in this case, allowing for the passage of legislation without the regular voting process.
Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, objected to the request — effectively blocking the measure from advancing.
“This bill is hostile toward lawful gun owners and lawful firearms transactions,” Grassley said on the Senate floor. “This will not solve the problems that it seeks to solve.” He argued it would not prevent crime and “turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals.”
Grassley instead offered a unanimous consent request for a bill he co-sponsored in 2013 and has reintroduced, the Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act of 2021. He said it would improve the availability of records to the FBI-maintained database, address mental illness in the criminal justice system and end trafficking of illegal firearms.
Several news media outlets’ headlines called attention to Grassley’s move to block a gun control measure. While it’s not the Fact Checker’s role to determine what is “common sense,” that Grassley blocked the legislation is true.
That said, it’s impossible to know at this point in the investigation into the shooting whether background checks could have saved lives. Authorities said the gun was given to Crumbley by his parents as a Christmas present, the Associated Press reported, though it is illegal in Michigan for a minor to possess a firearm in public, and kept it in an unlocked drawer. The parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
FOX 2 in Detroit reported reviewing the parents’ criminal backgrounds and found convictions of driving under the influence, driving on a suspended license and writing worthless checks — all misdemeanors from when they lived in Florida. The station reported those convictions “would not prevent them from passing a background check mandated by the state to purchase a gun.”
With such a caveat, we give this claim a B.
The Iowa Democrats were correct on Grassley’s campaign support from the NRA and his move to block a gun control measure from proceeding in the Senate shortly after a deadly school shooting. But it’s unclear what role background could have played in saving lives, as the tweet said. These claims earn a B overall.
The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.
Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the Fact Checker team are Erin Jordan, Michaela Ramm and Marissa Payne. This Fact Checker was researched and written by Marissa Payne.