Ten Terrifying Facts Ignorant Lies About Guns in the US

Somebody named Mansur Gidfar has posted a list of ten supposed facts (terrifying facts!) about guns in America at upworthy.com. In an upset, some of them actually have a bare kernel of truth to them, but all are so misleading as to constitute flat out lies. So let’s fix Mansur’s post, shall we? . . .

Fact #1: 31.5 Americans are killed with guns every day.

True dat. Of course this also means that 259,999,968.5 guns didn’t kill anyone that day. And 16.4 Americans are killed with something other than a gun each day. But when I read something stating that X number of Americans do this, that or the other thing, this it implies to me that all Americans are at equal risk for becoming a homicide victim which is simply untrue.

The fact of the matter is that criminals make up more than ⅔ of homicide victims. According to the Chicago PD’s 2011 Murder Analysis Report, 69.42% of homicide victims had at least one prior arrest. And in the decade preceding 2011, 87.89% of homicide offenders had at least one prior arrest. So if you avoid being a criminal and avoid hanging out with criminals you are much less likely to be murdered.

Fact #2: 46,000 Americans will be killed with guns during President Obama’s second term in office – unless Washington acts.

Maybe so, maybe no; as the number of concealed carry permit holders has risen over the last two decades the homicide rate has generally been dropping as you can see in this chart:

Fact #3: Due to a legal loophole approximately 40% of all U.S. guns are sold through private sellers who aren’t required to conduct a federal background check.

There are a couple of problems with this statement. The first is that private sales are not a “loophole”; when the law was written in 1993 giving private individuals access to NICS was discussed and rejected. Also there were more than a quarter of a million FFLs (up from about 150,000 in 1975) and the number had been trending upward for decades.

The bulk of these dealers were folks who came to be referred to disparagingly as “kitchen table” dealers; people who got their FFL mainly to get wholesale pricing for their own purchases. These dealers probably only sold a dozen or so weapons a year, mostly to friends, family and co-workers. If you look at the graph below, however, you will see that just as the Brady bill passed the number of dealers dropped precipitously:

So what caused the drop in the number of dealers? Would you believe it came from the same folks who are now agitating for more background checks? It was the Brady Campaign who started the push to, well, I’ll let them explain:

Federal laws and regulations in the early 1990s instituted real reform in the licensing requirements for retail firearms dealers, making it much tougher for individuals to obtain licenses and ensuring that those who were licensed were in fact bona fide businesses.

Hypocrisy much?

Next problem is that 40% number. I just sold a shotgun to someone in Pennsylvania, and as a private seller I didn’t conduct a background check. However, as required by law I shipped the weapon to a FFL who will perform a NICS check before allowing the purchaser to take possession, so despite the private nature of the sale the Brady checks were still performed.

In addition, CA and RI require checks on all sales, CT, HI, MD, NJ and PA require checks on all handgun sales, and CO, IL, NY and OR require checks on all sales performed at a gun show, private seller or no. So just because 40% of sales are between private individuals does not mean that 40% of sales are NICS check free.

Also implicit in this 40% figure is the idea that since there was no check it must be criminals buying the guns. I’ll address this point when I hit Myth Fact #5.

Fact #4: In an undercover investigation of online gun sales, 62% of private gun sellers on the internet agreed to sell a firearm to buyers who said the probably couldn’t pass a background check.

There was only one transcript given but I think we can assume it is representative:

INVESTIGATOR: Now, you’re not one of those licensed guys or anything right?

SELLER: No, no, no. [Laughs]

INVESTIGATOR: […] No background checks?

SELLER: [Laughs] No, I just take cash, and there you go. [Laughs].

INVESTIGATOR: Alright, no background checks – that’s good ‘cuz I probably couldn’t pass one of those things.

SELLER: [Laughs]

The fact that the seller is laughing indicates to me that he doesn’t believe the investigator’s claim and frankly I don’t think I would believe it either. If the claim were true then the buyer is essentially saying

INVESTIGATOR: Hi, I have no idea who you are but I am going to go ahead and confess some federal felonies to you.

Nope, I certainly wouldn’t believe it.

Fact #5: A national survey of inmates found that nearly 80% of those who used a handgun in a crime acquired it from an unlicensed secondary-market seller.

My grandfather was a writer and journalist for most of his adult life and had rather a way with words. One of my favorites was the phrase undulating lie. As far as I know he invented the term and I have never heard anyone outside our family use it, but it really is quite useful. An undulating lie is when someone tells you something that is factually true, but so misleading as to constitute a lie.

I think this statement falls into that category because of the use of the word acquired coupled with the phrase secondary-market seller. The combination certainly very strongly implies that a purchase was made, but without actually coming out and saying it. Of course if Mansur had used the word bought or purchased then that would have just been a flat-out lie ,something that you would never know if you didn’t go to the source and dig in a bit.

If you page down past the highlights (which also use the bullshit 80% number) you will come to Table 8:

So by using “acquired” they include all of those illicit sources which A) are illegal and 2) wouldn’t go through a background check anyway. Does Mansur seriously want us to believe that any of the “street sources” would go through NICS regardless of how many laws required it? Or that a family member or friend of a criminal is going to have them fill out a 4473 and run them through NICS?

Fact #6: The federal penalty for trafficking guns without brandishing or discharging them is the same as the penalty for trafficking livestock.

Or not quite: Trafficking in stolen livestock gets you 5 years, but you face 10 years for violating 18 USC § 922(g):

[It shall be unlawful for a prohibited person] to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.

Keep in mind that you face that much time per unit. In other words if you are caught trafficking 1 weapon and 100 rounds of ammunition you face more than one thousand years in prison.

Fact #7: There have been 61 mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982. The killer used a legally obtained weapon in 49 of them.

And 60 of those 61 mass murders have occurred in supposedly “gun-free” zones.

Fact #8: Among 23 high-income countries the U.S. accounted for 80% of all firearm deaths.

Unfortunately access to this study is restricted, so I can only guess which countries were counted, but I do have some relevant questions and points.

First, what are the relative populations? If the U.S. constituted 90% of the population then the fact we had 80% of gun deaths is meaningless. This is why you should always demand rates rather than mere numbers.

Second, what were non-firearm death rates? What were the overall death rates? If you look at the rate of gun suicides, the U.S. tops the list:


But if you look at the overall suicide rate, we are right near the middle:

Third, is our non-firearm homicide rate the same as other countries? Actually I know good and well that it isn’t, our national non-firearm homicides run about 4 times those in the UK, so if it is guns that are the problem, why aren’t the non-gun rates the same?

Fact #9: The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is 19.5 times higher than in other high-income countries.

Oops, jumped the gun there; but the fact remains, there are other factors, social, economic and cultural at work. Also ignored is the fact that vast swathes of the country have very low homicide rates; according to Larry Pratt in an interview with Pier Morgan, Fairfax County VA (home of Gun Owners of America) a locale that is awash with guns has a homicide rate that is one-tenth of the rate in Great Britain.

Furthermore, homicide is not the only violent crime in existence and the fact of the matter is that apart from homicide the violent crime rate in (to pick a country at relative random) Scotland is almost eleven times the rate in the U.S. According to the Scots’ own government website, there were “[a]pproximately 220,000 violent crimes of assault or robbery” committed in Scotland in 2011.

So given that the population of Scotland is about 5.2 million, that gives us a violent crime rate of 4230.8/100K. Then we look to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and find that in 2011 the US’ violent crime rate was 386.3/100K. This means that in “gun free” Scotland you are almost eleven times as likely to be the victim of a violent crime as you are in the lax-lawed US.

And this is not a new phenomenon; as pointed out in Fear in Britain[1]:

To the great consternation of British authorities concerned about tourism revenue, a June [2000] CBS News report proclaimed Great Britain “one of the most violent urban societies in the Western world.” Declared Dan Rather: “This summer, thousands of Americans will travel to Britain expecting a civilized island free from crime and ugliness…[But now] the U.K. has a crime problem….worse than ours.”

Finally, even if we ignore the fact that the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility[2] there remains the fact that twice as many lives are saved in DGUs[3] as are taken in CGUs[4].

According to a study performed in the early 1990s by Drs. Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, there are between 2.1 and 2.5 million DGUs annually. Now there are a lot of people out there who deride this number as ludicrous. They’re unable or (more likely) unwilling to accept that Dr. Kleck is not a shill for the Eee-vil Gun Lobby™. This, despite the good doctor disclosing in his 1997 book Targeting Guns (quote from GunCite.com):

The author is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Independent Action, Democrats 2000, and Common Cause, among other politically liberal organizations He is a lifelong registered Democrat, as well as a contributor to liberal Democratic candidates. He is not now, nor has he ever been, a member of, or contributor to, the National Rifle Association, Handgun Control, Inc. nor any other advocacy organization, nor has he received funding for research from any such organization.

But skeptics will always be skeptical and antis will always prefer their own “reality” so let’s go ahead and throw the Kleck-Gertz study number out in favor of a more conservative one.

Let’s use the numbers from the study which was commissioned by the Clinton Department of Justice shortly after the K-G study came out[5]That study, conducted by Drs. Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig (who bothhave a long record as very strong proponents of very strict gun control) concluded that there were 1.46 million DGUs per year.

I imagine that some may find even this lower number dubious, probably preferring to rely on the numbers from the National Crime Victimization Surveys which show between 50,000 and 100,000 DGUs per year. Unfortunately for those hopeful doubters, the way the NCVS is structured means that it seriously undercounts the number of DGUs. I’ll let Dr. Tom Smith, Senior Fellow and Director of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago explain:

First, it appears that the estimates of the NCVSs are too low. There are two chief reasons for this. First, only DGUs that are reported as part of a victim’s response to a specified crime are potentially covered. While most major felonies are covered by the NCVSs, a number of crimes such as trespassing, vandalism, and malicious mischief are not. DGUs in response to these and other events beyond the scope of the NCVSs are missed.

Second, the NCVSs do not directly inquire about DGUs. After a covered crime has been reported, the victim is asked if he or she “did or tried to do [anything] about the incident while it was going on.” Indirect questions that rely on a respondent volunteering a specific element as part of a broad and unfocused inquiry uniformly lead to undercounts of the particular of interest.

There’s another problem with the failure to directly inquire about DGUs: the DGU question is only triggered by someone saying they were the victim of a crime. If someone came towards me with a knife saying “Gimme your wallet,” and I put my hand on my weapon and replied “I don’t think so, Skippy,” causing the assailant to retreat, was I actually the victim of a crime?

Before I started researching these issues I would have told the NCVS interviewer that no, I hadn’t been the victim of a crime so they never would have learned of my DGU.

But now that we have a number for annual DGUs, we need to try to figure out how many lives were saved. I turn once again to Kleck and Gertz’s article Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun[6]. They found that 15.7% of people involved in a DGU believed that they “almost certainly” saved their life of someone else’s.

That might strike some people as an awfully large percentage, but if you take into account the fact that most locales regard the mere act of pulling a gun as using deadly force, and combine it with the fact that most places also require someone to be in “reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm” before he or she can lawfully use deadly force, the number seems more feasible.

In addition to the “almost certainly” pool, The K-G study also found that 14.6% of respondents believed that someone “probably would have” been killed if not for their DGU.

Because I want my numbers to be distinctly conservative let’s say that 9 out of 10 of the “almost certainly” folks were wrong, and let’s say that 99 out of 100 of the “probably” people were also incorrect. That means we can state with a fair degree of certainty that at least 1.716% of the 1.46 million DGUs saved a life.

Doing the math that translates to over 25,000 lives that are saved annually by guns.

So we’ve determined that at least 25,000 lives per year are saved by DGUs, and according to the CDC’s WISQARS website, between 1999 and 2010 there were an average of 11,740 gun-related homicides annually, which means that for every criminal homicide with a firearm there were more than two lives saved by DGUs.

Fact #10: 82% of gun owners (including 74% of NRA members) support requiring criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun.

Unfortunately Mansur doesn’t tell us where these numbers came from. The only recent poll I found specifically of gun owners was this one performed by Word Doctors at the behest of Mayors Against Illegal Guns but unfortunately there was no such question on that poll. The closest it came was asking about sellers specifically at gun shows and in answer to that question 82% of NRA members and 86% of non-NRA members support it. Strange.

Also strange is the fact that one result Mansur doesn’t mention is that 92% of Nms[7] and 83% of nNms[8] believe in Constitutional Carry; specifically that:

Law-abiding Americans should have the freedom to choose how to protect themselves, based on their personal situation. No local, state or federal government should dictate this decision.

Or that 83% of Nms and 71% of nNms believe that laws on gun sales should be kept the same or made less strict.

Or that 93% of Nms and 86% of nNms believe the Second Amendment should apply to state and local laws.

Or that 43% of Nms had a college or post-graduate degree, while only 30% of nNms did[9].

So not so much terrifying as merely tedious.


[1] Dr. Paul Gallant, Dr. Joanne Eisen and Dave Kopel 7/18/00

[2] L. Neil Smith: Letter to a Liberal Colleague

[3] Defensive Gun Uses

[4] Criminal Gun Uses

[5] Some cynical gunnies believe that the Administration was trying to refute the K-G numbers. If so, Oops!

[6] Northwestern University School of Law, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 86, issue 1, 1995

[7] NRA members

[8] Non- NRA members

[9] Okay, this one was just a bit of elitist snark, sorry.