Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Gun-crime claims abound, but which are on target?

At a Jan. 30, 2013, Senate hearing, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz contrasts murder rates in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Chicago with those in Austin and Houston. For tables of murder rates, visit bit.ly/PFTcities, bit.ly/PFTstates and bit.ly/UNnations.

Claims about gun crime and gun control are thick in the air, and we’ve recently tackled two from prominent Texas politicians.

Do stricter gun laws coincide with higher crime? The answer we found was "sometimes," but that wasn’t enough to validate a bold claim by new U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. On PBS Jan. 7, 2013, Cruz said, "If you look at the jurisdictions with the strictest gun control laws, almost without exception, they have the highest crime rates and the highest murder rates."

Using stats from the FBI and United Nations alongside varied assessments of the "strictest" laws, we found that America’s two strictest cities (Washington, D.C., and Chicago) don’t have the highest murder rates, that most U.S. states with "tight" gun laws fall toward the middle or bottom of the pack in crime and murder rates, and that of five nations regarded as having stringent laws, four had low murder rates and one had the world’s 10th highest murder rate.

That’s not across-the-board proof, but it does scuttle Cruz’s "almost without exception" statement. For tables of murder rates, click on to the story or go straight to bit.ly/PFTcities, bit.ly/PFTstates and bit.ly/UNnations.

Cruz cast doubt on a different number during a Jan. 30, 2013, Senate committee hearing. A claim that 40 percent of guns are sold without a background check "is unfortunately based on a study that occurred before the background check went into effect," Cruz said. Not quite, we learned.

The 40-percent figure -- which popped up almost simultaneously in a PolitiFact national item, on which we drew -- relied on data from a 1994 telephone survey about gun ownership taken months after the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 took effect, mandating background checks of individuals buying guns at gun shops. So Cruz’s claim is chronologically incorrect, but still drives at the fact that the oft-quoted survey was conducted nearly two decades ago, before the federal law had time to have much effect. Read the full story, where we rated Cruz’s claim Half True.

Texas’ attorney general, Greg Abbott, echoed another familiar claim Jan. 3, 2013, when he tweeted, "FBI: More people killed with hammers & clubs each year than rifles," with a link to news commentary that drew on FBI homicide data. PolitiFact had recently checked a similar claim in the form of statistics posted on Facebook:



Those numbers were mostly correct, and thus so was Abbott’s statement -- although neither item mentioned the 6,220 people murdered in 2011 with handguns, adding up to 72 percent of all firearm murders and slightly under half of all murders using any kind of weapon that year.

Click through to our story to see more numbers, including a table of the most-used murder weapons 2005 through 2011.

And visit www.politifact.com/subjects/guns for these recent fact-checks and more:

  • FALSE: George Washington said a free people should be armed to guard against government tyranny.
  • HALF TRUE: Accidental firearm deaths hit a 100-year low because of private education programs such as the NRA’s.
  • MOSTLY TRUE: Gun homicides fell nearly 60 percent after Australia passed tough gun laws.
  • HALF TRUE: Forty percent of guns are bought without a background check.
  • HALF TRUE: Violence "skyrocketed" when Washington, D.C., passed tough gun laws.