WASHINGTON — The intensifying gun-control debate has given rise to sloppy claims on both sides.
Here’s a sampling, with the first two examples from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on guns Wednesday, and the third from Vice President Joe Biden’s online video chat last week during a Google Plus forum.
IOWA SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY, the top Republican on the committee: “The 1994 assault weapon ban did not stop Columbine. The Justice Department found the ban ineffective.”
THE FACTS: The 2004 study conducted for the Justice Department did not conclude the decade-old ban was a failure or a success. The nuanced report found that the effects of the ban “have yet to be fully realized” and it might take years to see results directly attributable to the prohibition on certain weapons and large capacity magazines. The ban expired later in 2004.
The study’s author, Christopher S. Koper, then of the University of Pennsylvania, considered the restrictions modest and speculated that they would have similarly measured results — perhaps as much as a 5 percent decline in gunshot victimization over time if the ban were kept in effect.
His main finding: There were not enough statistics and time to understand the impact of the ban and “it may take many years for the effects of modest, incremental policy changes to be fully felt, a reality that both researchers and policy makers should heed.”
The study made no recommendation whether the ban should be renewed. But it said that if the ban expired, it was “possible, and perhaps probable” that new assault weapons and large capacity magazines coming into the market “will eventually be used to commit mass murder.”
WAYNE LaPIERRE, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association: “I think without any doubt, if you look at why our Founding Fathers put it (the Second Amendment) there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny. I also think, though, that what people all over the country fear today is being abandoned by their government. If a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs, that they’re gonna be out there alone. And the only way they’re going to protect themselves in the cold and the dark, when they’re vulnerable, is with a firearm. And I think that indicates how relevant and essential the Second Amendment is in today’s society to fundamental human survival.”
SEN. DICK DURBIN, Illinois Democrat: “Well, Chief Johnson, you’ve heard it. The belief of NRA is, the Second Amendment has to give American citizens the firepower to fight back against you, against our government.”
THE FACTS: Durbin mischaracterized LaPierre’s statement in this exchange, which also involved James Johnson, Baltimore (Md.) County police chief.
LaPierre drew a distinction between what he saw as the original purpose of the Second Amendment and a contemporary fear that the government will abandon citizens, so that they must be able to protect themselves against criminals after a disaster. His statement was not a call to arms against the government.
BIDEN: “Let me give you an example: 98 percent, according to a New York Times poll, 98 percent of the American people believe that there should be tighter controls on who can own a gun.”
THE FACTS: It would be a miracle if 98 percent of Americans agreed on anything. And by any measure, that many don’t agree on guns.
In a New York Times/CBS News poll, 54 percent said “gun control laws should be made more strict,” 34 percent said they should be left as they are and 9 percent said they should be less strict. The poll also found that 92 percent would favor “a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers,” a result on par with the level of support that proposal gets in other polls. Biden made the comment last week at a Google Plus forum.
How elusive is 98 percent agreement?
Americans came close after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In October 2001, Gallup found that 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden had an unfavorable rating of 97 percent.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Agiesta and Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE _ An occasional look at claims by public figures that take shortcuts with the facts or don’t tell the full story