Inconvenient Facts

Published: January 22, 2016

By Jim Lichtman
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Spoiler Alert: This commentary may just come as a shock to gun rights advocates… maybe. gun-show Regular readers already know that I’m a fussbudget about facts and statistics. They also know that I’ve spoken out against assault-style weapons, and the need to do more when it comes to the epidemic of mass shootings in the country. Nonetheless, from an ethical standpoint, I believe in knowing as much information as possible in making the best decisions possible.

Nicholas Kristof is a regular columnist for the New York Times. His commentaries not only discuss the problems we face, but strive to put forth some possible solutions.Recently, I was surprised to read one of Mr. Kristof’s latest opinions regarding guns in America (Some Inconvenient Gun Facts for Liberals, Jan. 16).

“The number of guns in America,” Kristof writes, “has increased by more than 50 percent since 1993, and in that same period the gun homicide rate in the United States has dropped by half.”


The Washington Post writes (Oct. 5. 2015), that “A 2012 Congressional Research Service report published exactly one month before the Sandy Hook school shooting put the number of civilian firearms at 242 million in 1996, 259 million in 2000, and 310 million as of 2009.”

According to Pew Research (Oct. 15, 2015), “Between 1993 and 2000, the gun homicide rate dropped by nearly half, from 7.0 homicides to 3.8 homicides per 100,000 people. Since then, the gun homicide rate has remained relatively flat. From 2009 to 2014, the most recent year data are available, the number of gun homicides has hovered around 11,000 and 12,000 per year.

“The nation’s overall gun death rate has declined 31% since 1993,” Pew writes. “This total includes homicides and suicides, in addition to a smaller number of fatal police shootings, accidental shooting deaths and those of undetermined intent.”

“A 113-page study,” Kristof points out, “found no clear indication that it reduced shooting deaths for the 10 years it was in effect. That’s because the ban was poorly drafted, and because even before the ban, assault weapons accounted for only 2 percent of guns used in crimes.

“With some 13 million Americans now licensed to pack a concealed gun, many liberals expected gun battles to be erupting all around us. In fact, the most rigorous analysis suggests that all these gun permits caused neither a drop in crime (as conservatives had predicted) nor a spike in killings (as liberals had expected). Liberals were closer to the truth, for the increase in carrying loaded guns does appear to have led to more aggravated assaults with guns, but the fears were overblown.”

In general, most fears are usually overblown. (Look at the popularity of Donald Trump.)

Nonetheless, with a rise of mass shootings, recent polls have favored steps for gun safety. Kristof points out that “74 percent even of N.R.A. members favor universal background checks to acquire a gun, [and] the latest New York Times poll found that 62 percent of Americans approved of President Obama’s executive actions on guns this month.”

So why does nothing get done? Kristof asks.

The N.R.A. provides its own fear factor by rating and attacking any member of Congress who favors any gun legislation even common sense issues such as requiring gun show dealers to be held accountable for running background checks on purchases just as gun shop owners are required to do.

As Pew Research points out, “…Americans strongly support a variety of specific gun control measures, including expanded background checks (85%), laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns (79%) and creation of a federal database to track all gun sales (70%). A smaller majority (57%) support a ban on assault-style weapons.”

However, Kristof points out a few more startling statistics.

“Just since 1970, more Americans have died from guns than all the Americans who died in wars going back to the American Revolution (about 1.45 million vs. 1.4 million). That gun toll includes suicides, murders and accidents…

“We spend billions of dollars tackling terrorism, which killed 229 Americans worldwide from 2005 through 2014, according to the State Department. In the same 10 years, including suicides, some 310,000 Americans died from guns.”

The possible solutions?

“Research suggests,” Kristof writes, “that the most important practical step would be to keep guns away from high-risk individuals, such as criminals, those who abuse alcohol, or those who beat up their domestic partners.

“That means universal background checks before somebody acquires a gun. New Harvard research confirms a long-ago finding that 40 percent of firearms in the United States are acquired without a background check. That’s crazy. Why empower criminals to arm themselves?

Further, Kristof says, “Some public health approaches to reducing gun violence have nothing to do with guns. Researchers find that a nonprofit called Cure Violence, which works with gangs, curbs gun deaths. An initiative called Fast Track supports high-risk children and reduces delinquency and adult crime.”

Last December, I wrote (Sorrow and Shame) that, “According to the International Association of Police Chiefs (Oct. 26), ‘The proliferation of firearms is one of the factors behind a rise in homicide rates in many U.S. cities this year,’ according to senior law enforcement officials at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago.

“ ‘Current rules on background checks apply to licensed dealers, but up to 40 percent of firearms sales involve private parties or gun shows and do not require checks,’ the chiefs said.

“The police leaders called for expansion of background checks to cover all gun purchases and for a stronger background check system to ensure all agencies share the same records including criminal and mental health backgrounds.”

While I acknowledge that, based on Kristof’s research, much has been overblown regarding gun issues; however, police chiefs – individuals on the frontlines of gun violence – are calling for more action.

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported (Jan. 20) that Attorney General Loretta Lynch was testifying before a congressional committee. “Ms. Lynch said that the increased funding for the F.B.I.’s system for examining attempted gun sale purchases would allow it to expand to 24 hours a day from 17 hours. The background check system aims to weed out sales to people with certain types of criminal records and mental health issues, and officials said it had helped to stop more than two million sales since it began in 1998. …

“One of the key pieces of [President Obama’s] plan would ‘clarify’ what it means to be a licensed gun dealer, and lays out a series of conditions and scenarios that could subject someone to background checks before being able to sell guns. Having a website, using a business card or selling guns in original packaging, for instance, could all be factors.”

Committee Chair and Alabama Republican Richard Shelby “said that he was putting Ms. Lynch and the Justice Department ‘on notice’ that his subcommittee ‘will have no part in undermining the Constitution and the rights it protects.’ ”

If Mr. Shelby is unwilling to listen to the voices of (Republican and Democratic) police chiefs; if he is unwilling to consider clarification on what it means to sell guns; if he is unwilling to provide funding for the FBI to process more background checks to increase the odds of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, then he is not only willfully ignoring the desire of a majority of American citizens but an appeal from law enforcement officials.

Short of always falling back on the Second Amendment, there must be some common ground that both sides can agree on.


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