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DENVER – The TV ad begins with the wailing sirens and grief-stricken images of the Aurora movie theater shooting.
“In our community, we know what happens when a dangerous person gets their hands on a gun,” the ad’s female narrator says.
“But career politician Mike Coffman has been Trump and the NRA’s ‘Yes Man.’ He’s accepted more money from the NRA than any other member of Congress from Colorado,” she adds.
This is how the Giffords PAC begins its ad to persuade state voters that Coffman, the incumbent Republican representative for the 6th Congressional District, is more beholden to the NRA than he is to the safety of Coloradans.
Giffords PAC, is led by Gabby Giffords, a former Arizona Democratic congresswoman who was gravely wounded in a 2011 shooting in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 13 others. She and her husband Mark Kelly, a former Navy combat veteran and a retired NASA astronaut, founded the organization in 2016 “to fight the gun violence epidemic.”
Let’s start with the ad’s first claim: “He’s accepted more money from the NRA than any other member of Congress from Colorado.”
We asked Giffords PAC to back up the statement. They pointed to the National Rifle Association political action committee’s record of campaign contributions to U.S. House members on the Center for Responsive Politics website.
The claim is accurate. Coffman, who is seeking his sixth term, has received $41,650 from NRA PAC since his first successful run for Congress in the 2007-2008 election cycle.
He’s far above his fellow Republicans in NRA cash. That’s partly because he’s been in office longer than most and largely because his backers know he needs the campaign cash to hold onto the most competitive House seat in Colorado.
Here’s what his fellow Republicans have received from the NRA PAC:
Rep. Doug Lamborn, first elected in 2006: $20,950.
Rep. Scott Tipton, first elected in 2010: $19,950.
Rep. Ken Buck, first elected in 2014: $8,950 (This includes NRA donations from Buck’s unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010).
If you’re wondering, no current Democrats make the list. It’s been eight years since a Colorado Democratic member of Congress received NRA money.
The Coffman campaign did not respond to our request for information rebutting the advertisement’s claims.
The ad continues with the narrator saying of Coffman, “When it comes to background checks that stop criminals and the severely mentally ill from buying guns, he voted to weaken them. No wonder they gave him an ‘A’ rating.”
Giffords PAC points to two votes Coffman made.
In 2017, Coffman joined the House Republican majority’s 235-180 vote to repeal an Obama administration rule that would have required the Social Security Administration to submit records of people who receive benefits because of a severe mental illness to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The rule, authorized under the implementation of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, would have prevented an estimated 75,000 people with mental disorders from being able to purchase a gun, according to the Associated Press. It was crafted as part of President Barack Obama’s efforts to strengthen the federal background check system in the wake of the 2012 massacre of 20 young students and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Existing laws have long prohibited gun sales to convicted felons and anyone “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution.” But the rule, finalized in December 2016 in the last days of the Obama presidency, would have provided a new mechanism to enforce existing restrictions on gun sales by allowing the sharing of information from one agency to another, Snopes, the fact-checking website, reported.
The Obama rule was killed before it took effect when President Donald Trump signed the repeal bill that Coffman and fellow Republican lawmakers passed on largely party line votes.
A New York Times editorial criticized Republicans for “striking down a sensible Obama administration rule designed to stop people with severe mental problems from buying guns.”
“Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, envisioned people with ‘an eating disorder’ being barred from buying a gun,” the editorial stated. The editorial countered that the rule was “focused narrowly” on individuals so disabled by mental illness that they “require a trustee for personal management. They would have had the right to appeal.”
Opposition to the rule went beyond Republicans and the NRA.
The American Civil Liberties Union and 23 national disability groups opposed it.
“The thousands of Americans whose disability benefits are managed by someone else range from young people with depression and financial inexperience to older adults with Down syndrome needing help with a limited budget,” ACLU attorneys wrote in a USA TODAY commentary after the rule was repealed. “But no data — none — show that these individuals have a propensity for violence in general or gun violence in particular.”
“We opposed [the rule] because it would do little to stem gun violence but do much to harm our civil rights,” the attorneys concluded.
The second Coffman vote cited by Giffords PAC occurred on Oct. 8, 2015. It was a week after a gunman opened fire at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, killing nine people and wounding eight others before killing himself.
During House floor discussion on an energy bill, Democratic lawmakers sought to introduce an amendment that, if passed, would have required floor debate on a “bipartisan” bill to expand background checks to include people buying a gun online or at a gun show. But first, lawmakers would conclude the energy bill discussion.
A sponsor of the background check bill told lawmakers there was an urgent need to pass gun-safety legislation, given a recent string of shootings that had killed a news reporter and photojournalist in Virginia; two people at a movie theater in Louisiana and nine African-Americans during a church prayer service in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Every single time a mass shooting happens we go through the same routine -- thoughts and prayers are sent; statements are made; stories are written; moments of silence are held -- and nothing changes. No action is taken. No votes are cast,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mike Thompson of California, according to a transcript of the discussion.
When the vote happened that day, Coffman joined the Republican majority in a 244-to-183 party-line vote to continue debating the energy bill. That effectively prevented discussion of the gun-related bill.
Giffords PAC’s ad says Coffman has “accepted more money from the NRA than any other member of Congress from Colorado.” Campaign finance records confirm this.
We rate this claim Fact.
The ad says, “When it comes to background checks that stop criminals and the severely mentally ill from buying guns, he voted to weaken them.”
Coffman voted with the Republican majority in Congress to successfully repeal a pending Obama-era rule that would have added people to the gun-purchase background check system, by requiring the Social Security Administration to submit records of some beneficiaries with severe mental illness. The rule was killed as it was about to take effect. So, there’s a semantic debate over whether Coffman could “weaken” something that hadn’t been implemented. But it’s accurate to say his vote to repeal the rule helped blocked interagency information sharing that would have strengthened the background-check system and stop an estimated 75,000 people with severe mental illness from buying guns.
We note that ACLU attorneys and disability advocates said the rule would have harmed the civil rights of mentally ill individuals when there’s no evidence that they have a propensity for gun violence.
Taking all of this into account, we rate this part of the claim Some Fact and Some Fiction.
In a second facet of the claim, Coffman voted to continue discussing an energy bill, in effect blocking discussion of a bill to expand background checks, according to a transcript of the floor debate and voting records. But it’s a stretch to say he voted to weaken background checks in this instance because there wasn’t a direct vote on the bill, let alone passage.