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A reader’s nudge about a Facebook post led us to look into the ratio of gun shops to abortion clinics in Republican-steered Texas.
Humorist Andy Borowitz, who composes the satirical Borowitz Report as a contributor to The New Yorker magazine, said in his June 9, 2015, post: "Texas is now our most pro-life state, with just seven abortion clinics and a little over ninety thousand gun stores."
Just kiddin’, a spokeswoman for the magazine ultimately told us.
Still, we hunted accurate counts. After all, state lawmakers restricted facilities that perform abortions in 2013 and this year they voted to allow holders of concealed handgun licenses to openly carry guns in public and on college campuses.
An online search led us to a June 2014 Wonkblog post by the Washington Post. Reporter Christopher Ingraham said he calculated the prevalence of gun stores nationally by checking federally licensed gun dealers by state as tabulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
For our part, we spotted an ATF chart indicating that in May 2015, there were 10,847 federally licensed gun dealers in Texas (out of 140,313 nationally). But by telephone, a Washington, D.C.-based ATF spokeswoman, Dannette Seward, told us the agency doesn’t keep track of gun shops, though maybe we could attempt as much by culling the agency’s Texas list of licensed dealers to isolate "brick and mortar" stores. Licensed dealers also can sell guns at gun shows and online.
We also asked the National Rifle Association about Texas gun shops, hearing back from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which calls itself the trade association for America’s firearms industry. By email, spokesman Bill Brassard Jr. called the "over 90,000" count "wildly off base."
"There are an estimated 15,000 storefront federal firearms licensees (FFLs)" in the whole country, Brassard wrote, while the ATF list of Texas licensees indicates about 5,950 dealers, gunsmiths and pawnbrokers in the state. Our look at the data yielded a slightly different count, though it was still under 6,000.
And abortion clinics? There are more than seven in Texas--three times more, according to state-provided information.
By email, Chris Van Deusen of the Texas Department of State Health Services provided lists suggesting that as of May and June 2015, 22 facilities were licensed to provide abortions. The facilities were located in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth and McAllen, according to the lists.
Van Deusen, asked if that means 22 clinics provide abortions, said that at the least, the listed establishments are licensed to provide abortions.
Borowitz: Figures not factual
So, Borowitz’s Facebook post understated the number of Texas clinics by 15, or 214 percent, while overstating the number of Texas gun shops by perhaps 84,000--a 14-fold exaggeration.
Remember, though, he’s a comedian. As we settled out the actual counts, we heard back from Molly Erman, a spokeswoman for The New Yorker, who said by email that all of Borowitz’s work for the Borowitz Report is satire "and that extends to what he posts on Facebook."
So he made up his counts? The figures, Erman replied, "aren’t factual."
Chart, "Report of Active Firearms Licenses - License Type by State Statistics," Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, May 10, 2015 (downloaded June 15, 2015)
Telephone interview, Dannette Seward, public affairs specialist, ATF, Washington, D.C., June 16, 2015
Email, Bill Brassard Jr., senior director, communications, National Shooting Sports Foundation, June 16, 2015
Documents, "ASCs [AMBULATORY SURGICAL CENTERS] that may be/are providing abortion services," Texas Department of State Health Services, list current as of May 26, 2015; "Profession Roster Report, Abortion Facility," DSHS, June 9, 2015 (received by email from Chris Van Deusen, press officer, DSHS, June 16, 2015)
Emails, Chris Van Deusen, press officer, Texas Department of State Health Services, June 16-17, 2015
Emails, Molly Erman, associate director of communications, The New Yorker, June 16, 2015