Friday, October 24th, 2014

Fact-checks on gun control and gun violence

President Barack Obama announces this week that Vice President Joe Biden will lead a gun violence task force. (AP)
President Barack Obama announces this week that Vice President Joe Biden will lead a gun violence task force. (AP)

The shooting in Newtown, Conn. that killed 26 people has reopened a national debate about gun control. As it unfolds, you might hear some familiar claims:

Gun control

Under federal law "we do not have any limitation on the number of guns and bullets we can buy." (True) U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., was right: Three states, including New Jersey, limit the number of handguns one can purchase in a 30-day period, but there are no limits under federal law on the purchase of firearms and ammunition.

"We haven't had any legislation which took away one gun in the past 20 years from anybody in this country — not one." (Half True) The claim from U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., ignores the ‘90s Domestic Violence Gun Ban, which requires misdemeanor domestic violence offenders to surrender their guns.

"In our gun laws we’re allowing domestic abusers to sidestep this ban on getting a gun. The loophole allows a convicted abuser to walk into a gun show and walk out with a gun, no questions asked." (True) U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., was correct: Federal law does not require unlicensed gun sellers individuals, whether they are at a gun show or not, to perform background checks. Some states have closed the loophole, but the federal government has not.

"It’s going to be harder to vote in Virginia than it is now to buy a gun." (Half True) Va. Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, got half her facts straight. For a private gun sale, she’s right: It requires no wait, no identification and no easily enforceable disqualifications. But it’s easier to vote in Virginia than buy a gun from a licensed dealer, which requires a background check.

A state of Florida website can be used "to get a permit to carry a loaded hidden gun without ever leaving your house." (False) Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, overstates the ease of getting a concealed weapons permit in Florida. The law requires that people receive firearms training and be fingerprinted by law enforcement.

Gun violence

"USA is #1 in gun violence." (Half True) A viral Facebook post made a claim that’s true only if you compare the United States with other affluent nations on a per capita basis.

"The U.S. gun homicide rate is 20 times the combined rate of other western nations." (Mostly True) U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., cites a statistic based on 2003 data that includes "populous, high income" nations, including Japan. But his point — that gun homicide rates in the United States tower over those of other wealthy  European nations — holds up.

"Nearly 100,000 people get shot every year. That's 270 people a day and 87 dead." (Mostly True) The numbers in a viral Facebook post are close to accurate, as long as you make one major assumption — that suicides count as "get(ting) shot."

"Guns have murdered more Americans here at home in recent years than have died on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan." (Half True) U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., uses raw numbers to compare two very different populations.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, "270,000 Americans were killed by gunfire at home." (Mostly True) In 2011, Doonesbury cartoon strip character Mark Slackmeyer said, "Nine years, ago we were attacked — 3,000 people died. In response, we started two long, bloody wars and built a vast homeland-security apparatus — all at a cost of trillions! Now consider this. During those same nine years, 270,000 Americans were killed by gunfire at home. Our response? We weakened our gun laws." Cartoonist Garry Trudeau was right that about 270,000 Americans were killed with guns during those years, but not necessarily at or near their homes. He told us he meant "at home" vs. "abroad." "Failure to communicate clearly, I guess. Rats," Trudeau told us.

"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." (Half True) Vice President Joe Biden, the chair of President Barack Obama’s new task force on gun violence, cites a true statistic but leaves out the important detail and context that he was talking only about fatal shootings, which would include suicides.