Fact Check: Overview Of Claims Made During Biden's Argument With Michigan Autoworker Over Guns

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  • by: Ryan Cooper
Fact Check: Overview Of Claims Made During Biden's Argument With Michigan Autoworker Over Guns

Did Joe Biden, a U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, spar with a Michigan autoworker over the issue of gun control? Yes, that's true, and here's some context: Biden and the man, Jerry Wayne, did exchange words at a Detroit, Michigan, auto plant on March 10, 2020. Biden was campaigning ahead of the critical Michigan primary, which he decisively won later that night. Lead Stories is taking the opportunity to fact check some of the claims both men made during the event.

Videos of the profanity-laden argument have been widely shared online in various posts, including one published by Guardian News on March 10, 2020, titled "Joe Biden spars with Michigan autoworker over guns" (archived here). It opened:

Joe Biden, frontrunner for the US Democratic presidential nomination, got into a heated exchange with an autoworker at a campaign stop when questioned overwhether he was going to take away people's guns. 'You're full of shit,' Biden told the man, who accused him of 'actively trying to end the second amendment'. The exchange came during a typical election-day voting photo shoot at Detroit's first new auto assembly plant in decades, marking another episode of Biden's propensity for going off-script and undercutting his campaign's desired messaging.

Users on social media only saw this:

Joe Biden spars with Michigan autoworker over guns

Joe Biden, frontrunner for the US Democratic presidential nomination, got into a heated exchange with an autoworker at a campaign stop when questioned overwhether he was going to take away people's guns. 'You're full of shit,' Biden told the man, who accused him of 'actively trying to end the second amendment'. The exchange came during a typical election-day voting photo shoot at Detroit's first new auto assembly plant in decades, marking another episode of Biden's propensity for going off-script and undercutting his campaign's desired messaging

On March 10, 2020, the former vice president got into a heated exchange with an autoworker at a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plant in Detroit. As Biden was touring the factory, Wayne confronted him and claimed the candidate would take away guns if he wins the presidential election.

According to CNN, here is a transcript of what they said:

Man: "You are actively trying to end our Second Amendment right and take away our guns."
Biden: "You're full of shit. I did not--no, no, shush. Shush. I support the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment -- just like right now if you yelled fire, that's not free speech. And from the very beginning, I have a shotgun, I have a 20-gauge, a 12-gauge. My sons hunt, guess what? You're not allowed to own any weapon, I'm not taking your gun away at all. You need 100 rounds?"
Man: "You and Beto say you're going to take our guns --"
Biden: "I did not say that. That's not true. I did not say that."
Man: "It's a viral video."
Biden: "It's a viral video like the other ones you're putting out that are simply a lie. Wait, wait wait, wait, take your AR, your AR-14, Don't tell me anything about (inaudible)"
Man: "You're working for me, man."
Biden: "I'm not working for -- gimme a break man. Don't be such a horse's ass."

It is difficult to hear the exchange because the two men were not wearing microphones, so The Guardian placed subtitles on the video clip:

During the heated exchange, Biden referenced a nonexistent AR-14 weapon. He had misspoken because he later mentioned an AR-15, which is a semiautomatic rifle. Critics have seized upon that particular moment:

As to the comment about fire, Biden was referring to falsely shouting "Fire!" in a theater and creating a panic. The oft-used phrase has served as a metaphor for the limits on free speech. Despite the guarantees in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, statements that would create a "clear and present danger" have often been interpreted as unprotected free speech. Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. elaborated on this in 1919:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting 'Fire' in a theatre and causing a panic... The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.

Free speech rights are limited in that Americans can't libel or slander other people, incite murder, or distribute child pornography.

Similarly, Biden was suggesting that there are limits on the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Former Rep. David Jolly, a one-time Republican, spoke on MSNBC on March 10, 2020, about this particular point:

The Second Amendment is a fundamental right, but it is not an absolute right. And the talking point of conservatives, and Republicans, and Fox News, is the Democrats want to take their guns. That is not the case. Democrats recognize that it is a fundamental right that is not beyond the reach of regulation. And that the idea of weapons of war needs to be addressed as something that should - it should be as difficult to get a weapon of war, as it is to get a security clearance if you can get it at all.

As to Biden's comment about not being able to own just any weapon, the vice president was likely referring to the heavy regulation over machine guns or automatic firearms that rapidly shoot ammunition. According to ABC News:

In 1986, the feds imposed the Firearm Owners Protection Act which expanded on the original law.

It also banned possession and transfer of new automatic firearms and parts that fire bullets without stopping once the trigger is depressed.

Critically, legal machine guns must be manufactured before May 19, 1986 -- the cutoff date imposed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives (ATF).

Because of their scarcity, legal machine guns are very expensive, still require the original 1934 Machine Gun Tax stamp of $200 and the owner or trader must undergo extensive background checks and also permit the federal government to conduct searches.

Law enforcement agencies and the military are not subject to the same stringent measures.

An AR-15 is a semiautomatic rifle, and this type of weapon has been used in several mass shootings in the United States, according to The Washington Post:

These AR-style rifles have appeared in some of the deadliest shootings in the past few years, including a concert in Las Vegas, a nightclub in Orlando, a church in Texas and an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Biden wants to ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, according to his campaign website. In 1994, Biden, then a U.S. senator, spearheaded the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and pushed it through the Senate. According to CNN, the legislation "banned the manufacture of 19 types of semiautomatic firearms and criminalized the possession of high-capacity magazines." It expired in 2004.

After that back-and-forth, Wayne referenced the "viral video" - likely that of Biden and Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas representative and one-time presidential candidate. Lead Stories has already fact checked that video, in which Biden was heard saying he was "coming for" O'Rourke to possibly join his administration if he's elected. Critics on the right have claimed that he was saying he was coming for their guns, but that is not what he said in that video.

Biden has called for universal background checks and an assault weapon ban. He has never said he plans to confiscate guns. His campaign website details his gun safety plan. In it, he supports "buyback" programs for assault weapons, a practice that has helped to reduce gun-related deaths in other countries, including Australia. According to The Washington Post, the buyback program would be voluntary, not mandatory. Here is what Biden's plan states regarding the buyback program:

Buy back the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines already in our communities. Biden will also institute a program to buy back weapons of war currently on our streets. This 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.

O'Rourke has taken a more controversial stance, advocating for mandatory confiscations of assault weapons. On September 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential debate, O'Rourke voiced his now-famous line about coming after machine guns:

Wayne then mentioned, "There are more deaths in America with handguns than there are with what you call assault rifles. Why are you advocating for assault rifles when people are dying by handguns?" By that point, Biden started to move on through the crowd. The autoworker was correct: according to FBI statistics from 2017, handguns were involved in 64% of the 10,982 U.S. gun murders.

The day after the event, Wayne appeared on Fox & Friends and said the former vice president "went off the deep end" during their conversation:

Bottom line: both men approached the issue of gun control from their entrenched positions and armed with their own sets of facts. Biden misspoke about the nonexistent AR-14, but he later referenced the real semiautomatic rifle. The autoworker wrongly claimed that Biden wants to end Americans' Second Amendment rights. The former vice president says that is not true. Indeed, regulating the sale of certain types of weapons does not mean an end to the right to bear arms - but many gun owners and Republicans, as well as the gun lobby, see things very differently. For them, any attempt to modify gun laws is an outright attack on the Constitution.

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  Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a staff writer and fact-checker for Lead Stories, is the former Director of Programming at CNN International, where he helped shape the network's daily newscasts broadcast to more than 280 million households around the world. He was based at the network's Los Angeles Bureau. There, he managed the team responsible for a three-hour nightly program, Newsroom LA.

Formerly, he worked at the headquarters in Atlanta, and he spent four years at the London bureau. An award-winning producer, Cooper oversaw the network's Emmy Award-winning coverage of the uprising in Egypt in 2011. He also served as a supervising producer during much of the network's live reporting on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, for which CNN received an Edward R. Murrow Award.

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