Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Top 10 fact-checks on guns

A 2012 gun buyback program in Camden, N.J.
A 2012 gun buyback program in Camden, N.J.

The debate over gun control moves to the Senate floor this week as senators will consider legislation that would expand requirements for background checks for people who want to buy guns.

The Senate’s Democratic leadership has a proposal to expand background checks to gun shows and Internet sales. The National Rifle Association and many Republicans are opposed to the bill.

Majority leader Harry Reid has also said he intends to allow votes on amendments concerning more controversial measures, such as an assault weapons ban.  

As the debate moves forward, we thought it was a good time to look back at a few of our 140-plus fact-checks on guns.

Here, we’ll look at the 10 claims we found most interesting or significant for the current debate. Links to each check will take you to our full reports with detailed source lists.

"Today, about 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check."

We put U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on the Truth-O-Meter, but lots of Democrats have repeated this claim. There’s no question some guns are bought and sold without background checks under current law. A study tried to determine what percent of gun purchases weren’t checked and found that 35.7 percent of respondents reported obtaining their gun from somewhere other than a licensed dealer. The study was legit -- but it was also conducted nearly 20 years ago. Even the co-author of the original study says he's uncertain whether that number is correct today. We rated the claim Half True.

"USA is #1 in gun violence."

We looked at gun homicides worldwide and found a mixed picture. Yes, the United States leads Western industrialized countries in gun deaths. But we found that some Latin American and Caribbean nations have higher rates of homicides than we do. And still other countries -- Brazil, Mexico, Thailand -- have more deaths in total. We rated the claim Half True.

In 2011, more people were murdered with knives, "hands or feet" or "clubs and hammers" than with any type of rifle.

A Facebook post billed this fact as something "gun control advocates don’t want you to know." The post is accurate, but that’s because it compares murders from knives, hands, clubs, etc., with rifle deaths. Most gun deaths in the United States are caused by handguns. This post was careful in its word choice, so we rated it True.

"Across the board, violent crime in jurisdictions that recognize the Right to Carry is lower than in areas that prevent it."

The National Rifle Association made this claim in 2011, and we’ve seen variations on it ever since. Right to Carry laws allow people to more easily carry concealed weapons, and the NRA’s argument was that this led to reduced levels of violent crime. When we looked at violent crime rates and compared them to states with less restrictive gun laws, we found little correlation (much less causation). We rated the statement False.

Research found that "over the course of the existence of the Brady Bill ban, the use of assault weapons in crimes decreased by two thirds."      

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn made this claim during testimony before Congress, and its been repeated by many advocates for gun control. PolitiFact Wisconsin tracked down the study that it’s based on though, and found many qualifiers. For one thing, the study measured the types of weapons that were sent to federal authorities for gun tracing, which is not the same thing as considering all guns used in crimes. So the 70 percent figure is far from definitive. We rated this Half True.

George Washington said a free people should be armed to guard against government tyranny.

A number of conservatives have made the point that they want to own semi-automatic weapons in case they need to fight off the government itself. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said founding father George Washington even supported this view. We found this quote from Washington. "A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined." But historians told PolitiFact Texas he was calling for a well-trained militia to defend against external threats, not telling citizens to be ready to fight their own democratically elected government. We rated the statement False.

The Obama administration plans to ban all weapons for U.S. citizens through international treaties.

If this chain email landed in your inbox, you had better press delete. PolitiFact Texas found nothing to support this and much to contradict it. It appears to be pure fiction. We rated it Pants on Fire!

Air travelers "can’t get on a plane in the United States without someone doing a background check" on them.

Advocates for universal background checks like to say that everyone who gets on an airplane gets a background check without exception. And it’s true that the checks for air travel against terrorism watch lists do apply to everyone. But these checks aren’t the same kind of detailed checks that gun purchases require; felons and other convicted criminals are free to fly. We rated this statement from Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy as Half True.

There are twice as many gun shops as McDonald’s in the United States.

When you hear this claim, it’s not gun shops so much as "federal permits issued to sell guns." If you count all places where you can buy a gun -- from the mom-and-pop gun shop to Wal Mart -- then this statement is accurate. PolitiFact Georgia rated it Mostly True.

"Overwhelming majorities of Americans" support gun legislation "like background checks."

President Barack Obama made this claim during his 2013 State of the Union address. There is overwhelming support for background checks. But that’s the proposal that gains the most support from the public. For other proposals, such as a ban on assault weapons, the support levels aren’t quite as overwhelming. We rated his statement Mostly True.