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Fact-checking a pair of claims on crime

By Louis Jacobson
Published on Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 at 8:33 a.m.

Over the weekend, the National Rifle Association held its annual meeting in St. Louis. Today, we look at two items having to do with guns.

One stems from an often heated public debate sparked by the killing of Trayvon Martin, a Sanford, Fla., teen. Martin’s death has brought public attention to "stand-your-ground" laws, which had been aggressively pushed in many states by the NRA.

At the meeting in St. Louis, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s CEO, sought to put the Martin killing in context by noting that "violent crimes happen all the time in cities across the United States."
Specifically, LaPierre said, "By the time I finish this speech, two Americans will be slain, six women will be raped, 27 of us will be robbed, and 50 more will be beaten."

Overall, LaPierre’s estimate was fairly accurate. He was very close with assaults, and off by just 10 percent for rape and 16 percent for robbery. But he offered a rate of killing that was twice as high as the actual rate. On balance, we rated his statement Mostly True.

Meanwhile, we also rated a claim by Vice President Joe Biden, in which he said, "You know, the bulk of the people who are shot with a weapon — other than these drug gangs taking on one another — end up being shot with their own weapon."

Biden’s office pointed us to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which showed that the majority of firearm deaths in the U.S. are by suicide, and most suicides are committed with the deceased's own gun.
Biden’s had a point if he was talking only about firearm deaths. But including non-fatal shootings makes Biden’s statement problematic, because people don’t typically become the victim of assaults with their own guns.
Donald Braman, a law professor at George Washington University, said the statement is "probably technically true but also misleading as most gun fatalities are suicides."
We concluded that Biden cited a true statistic but left out important context -- that he was talking only about fatal shootings, which would include suicides. We rated the item Half True.

About this article:


Wayne LaPierre, speech to the NRA’s national meeting in St. Louis, April 14, 2012

New York Times, "N.R.A. Official Attacks Florida Shooting Coverage," April 14, 2012

FBI, summary of violent crime statistics, accessed April 16, 2012

Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Criminal Victimization in the United States," 2008

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2010"

Email interview with James Alan Fox, criminologist at Northeastern University, April 16, 2012

Researchers: Louis Jacobson, Molly Moorhead

Names in this article: Joe Biden, Wayne LaPierre

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