Obama and guns: Eleven false or misleading claims from the president's remarks this week
With tears in his eyes, President Obama pulled out all the stops in pushing his new executive orders on gun control this week. A Washington Post headline exclaimed, "President Obama’s amazingly emotional speech on gun control.” But the president also tried to appeal to people’s minds with a barrage of (pseudo) factual claims.
Unfortunately, the president’s remarks had a large number of errors. Here are 11 of the false or misleading claims that the president made.
1. “But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency. It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close.”
Last year, both France and the US had four mass public shootings. France suffered more casualties (murders and injuries) from mass public shootings in 2015 than the US has suffered during Obama’s entire presidency (532 to 396). And this occurred despite the US being five times more populous than France.
But it isn’t just the horrific year that France had last year. Far from being well below the frequency found in US, other European countries actually have a worse problem. From 2009 through December 2015, eleven European countries experienced mass public shootings at a greater frequency than did the US, after adjusting for population. These countries include Switzerland, Norway, Belgium, and the Czech Republic.
President Obama’s statement is clearly false.
2. Five years ago this week, a sitting member of Congress and 18 others were shot at, at a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. It wasn’t the first time I had to talk to the nation in response to a mass shooting, nor would it be the last. Fort Hood. Binghamton. Aurora. Oak Creek. Newtown. The Navy Yard. Santa Barbara. Charleston. San Bernardino. . . . with common-sense gun safety measures we can reduce gun violence a whole lot more. . . . Number one, anybody in the business of selling firearms must get a license and conduct background checks, or be subject to criminal prosecutions.”
Obama claims that expanding background checks to include any private transfers of guns will reduce mass public shootings. But he offers no evidence. Not one mass public shooting during Obama’s administration would have prevented by these checks.
Often overlooked is that the three most recent massacres occurred in states – California, Colorado, and Oregon – which already have such laws in place.
The same is true of mass public shootings that have occurred in France, Belgium, Norway, Germany and other European countries.
Examining all the mass public shootings in the US from 2000 through 2015, shows that states that adopted additional background checks on private transfers saw a statistically significant increase in rates of killings (80% higher) and injuries (101%) from mass public shootings.
3.“I believe in the Second Amendment. It’s there written on the paper. It guarantees a right to bear arms.”
Here’s another quote: “I don’t believe people should be able to own guns.” That’s what Obama said to me when we were colleagues at the University of Chicago in 1996. Obama has also publicly supported a nationwide “ban [on] the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns” as well as a “ban the sale or transfer of all forms of semi-automatic weapons.” Even as late as the 2008 Presidential primaries, Obama supported Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban.
4. “Contrary to the claims of what some gun rights proponents have suggested, this has not been the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation.”
It would be nice to take President Obama’s word for this, but Americans have seen this scenario play out before and at least realize this fear isn’t completely misplaced. California, New York, and Chicago have all used registration lists to identify who owns guns that are no longer legal.
Since 2004, the FBI has been required to destroy NICS records of gun sales and transfers within 24 hours of receipt. However, federally licensed dealers are required to maintain records of background checks that have been done on customers. Congress currently forbids federal collection of this information into a central database, but there’s no guarantee that this won’t change. With records on all private transfers and sales, the government could potentially figure out who legally owns a gun. Five years down the line, a future President Hillary Clinton could push to require that federally licensed dealers make copies of their records and turn them into the federal government. This would be the start of a national registration list.
5. “The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules. A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked. A recent study found that about one in 30 people looking to buy guns on one website had criminal records — one out of 30 had a criminal record. We’re talking about individuals convicted of serious crimes — aggravated assault, domestic violence, robbery, illegal gun possession. People with lengthy criminal histories buying deadly weapons all too easily.”
This “internet loophole” is fictitious. If you try to buy a firearm over the Internet from a licensed firearms dealer, you have to go through a background check, period. They’ll ship the gun to your nearest licensed dealer. There’s no loophole there.
If you buy on the Internet from a private seller in another state, they can’t just mail the gun to your doorstep. The Gun Control Act of 1968 strictly regulates direct mailing of firearms across state lines, the only exception being for antiques. Within state rules never provide different regulations for private gun sales on the Internet. There is no Internet “loophole.”
Obama’s 1-in-30 claim misstates what occurred. Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown organization set up an internet site pretending to sell guns, but no guns were sold. Criminal background checks were done on the people’s names for those who visited the site and people who might have criminal backgrounds were identified, but there were all kinds of false positives. I might not have a criminal record, but there are other people with similar names who do have criminal records.
6.“Congress actually voted to make it harder for public health experts to conduct research into gun violence; made it harder to collect data and facts and develop strategies to reduce gun violence.”
This claim stems from another study funded by Michael Bloomberg. In 1996, Congress passed a budget amendment that banned the CDC from using Federal funds to lobby for gun control. Bloomberg claimed that firearms research in medical journals fell by 60 percent between 1996 and 2010. But what Bloomberg measured was firearms research relative to all other research. In fact, total research on firearms increased over that time. Firearm studies soared from 69 in 1996 to 121 in 2013. Other medical journal research simply increased even much faster.
7. "After Connecticut passed a law requiring background checks and gun safety courses, gun deaths decreased by 40 percent. Forty percent.”
There are 18 states with background checks on the private transfers of guns. The Bloomberg funded study picked the state that most serves their agenda here. But a great deal of manipulation was still required. To get the 40% figure, 1995 to 2005 is conveniently selected as the time period.Adding one more year to the data completely undermines Obama’s claims. Connecticut’s firearm homicide rate only fell by 16% between 1995 and 2006. It fell by 12.5% between 1995 and 2010. Meanwhile, the US and the rest of the Northeast experienced much greater drops. From 1995 to 2006, the firearm homicide rates for the US and the rest of the Northeast fell by 27% and 22%, respectively. From 1995 to 2010, these drops were even more pronounced – 39% and 31%. Therefore, when one looks at these longer time periods, one actually observes a relative increase in Connecticut’s firearm homicide rate.
8. "since Missouri repealed a law requiring comprehensive background checks and purchase permits, gun deaths have increased to almost 50 percent higher than the national average.”
This is yet another Bloomberg funded study. Again, another it picked out one state out of many that have these laws. After the law was changed, Missouri’s murder rates did in fact rise by 17 percent relative to the rest of the US. However, murder rates were already on a sharp, upward trend, having increased by 32 percent in the five years prior to the change. The murder rate increase thus actually slowed down after the background checks on private transfers were ended.
Also, there was no relative fall in Missouri’s murder rate after the state adopted comprehensive background checks in 1981.
9. "there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives.”
Despite Obama’s claims, the law is actually quite clear on those who have to get a federal firearms license and it poses real problems for his plans: “a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms, but such term shall not include a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.” Yet, Obama’s rules will cover people who sell as few as one gun. How one reconciles that with the language of the statute is a mystery. For many individuals, even a couple of dozen gun sales are unlikely to be an individual’s primary occupation.
10. “We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence. Some of you may recall at the same time that Sandy Hook happened, a disturbed person in China took a knife and tried to kill — with a knife — a bunch of children in China, but most of them survived because he didn’t have access to a powerful weapon.”
Guns are more effective weapons, but that also means that they are more effective tools for self-defense. In any case, it is fortunately as President Obama says that “most of [the victims] survived” in the attack that he chose to mention, but, over the years, there have been lots of very deadly knife attacks in China.
11.“Just as with more research, we’ve reduced traffic fatalities enormously over the last 30 years. . . . Today, many gun injuries and deaths are the result of legal guns that were stolen or misused or discharged accidentally. . . . We need to develop new technologies that make guns safer. . . . we’re going to work with the private sector to update firearms technology. . . . a product that now kills almost as many Americans as car accidents. . . .”
The claim that government safety regulations has made cars safer – either in reducing accidents or suicides -- and could similarly be used to make guns safer is wrong. Between 2000 and 2013, without any of the regulations that Obama claims are necessary, the drop in accidental firearm deaths fell almost twice as much as the drop in accidental motor vehicle deaths. While firearm suicides rose by 28 percent over that period, suicides using motor vehicles rose by 47 percent.
The real problem with Mr. Obama’s policies is that they will actually cost lives. Possibly President Obama has seen too many James Bond movies, but requiring the technology that limit who can use a gun is extremely expensive and is hardly fool proof.
The one gun on the market right now works with a watch like wrist ban that sends out a short-range radio signal that needs to be near the gun for it to fire costs $1,800. Police won’t use the guns because radio-jamming devices can effectively disarm the police. The high cost will prevent poor people from having the option to defend themselves.
John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.