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Monday, October 5, 2015

Obama Gets Two Pinocchios for Claim that ‘States with the Most Gun Laws Tend to Have the Fewest Gun Deaths

Well this didn't take long.  The Washington Post Fact Checker has taken Obama's claim that states with the most gun laws have the fewest gun deaths and found it's not as simple as Obama would have us believe:
But this is also an issue about scope. Most gun deaths — more than 60 percent in 2013 — are actually suicides. The president made his remarks in the aftermath of the tragic shooting rampage at an Oregon community college, and so it’s a judgment call as to whether counting suicides is appropriate. After all, Obama wants to thwart mass shootings by enacting universal background checks aimed at people with criminal histories.

Some might argue that it is wrong to exclude suicides from the data, as less access to guns might result in fewer suicides. The data on that is mixed. Gun-related suicides might decline, but studies have shown little connection between suicides and access to guns. A 2004 report published by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “some gun control policies may reduce the number of gun suicides, but they have not yet been shown to reduce the overall risk of suicide in any population.”

Japan, for instance, has among the world’s most-restrictive gun-control regimes — and yet also has among the world’s highest suicide rates, almost double the U.S. suicide rate.

As we will show below, the numbers change, sometimes dramatically, when suicides are not counted.
When the Post contacted the Administration to find out where they got the information for their claim, the "official" responding said it was based on a chart published by National Journal in August.  That chart calculated the number of gun-related deaths per 100,000 people by including all gun deaths, including homicides, suicides, accidental gun deaths and legal intervention involving firearms.  By doing so, according to the Post, the states at the top of the chart — Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey — are listed as having tough restrictions, based on seven kinds of criteria. The states at the bottom — Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Wyoming — have virtually none of the these restrictions.  The Post went and extracted the suicides and their findings were quite different:
Alaska, ranked 50th on the National Journal list, moved up to 25th place. Utah, 31st on the list, jumped to 8th place. Hawaii remains in 1st place, but the top six now include Vermont, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Iowa and Maine. Indeed, half of the 10 states with the lowest gun-death rates turn out to be states with less-restrictive gun laws.

Meanwhile, Maryland — a more urban state — fell from 15th place to 45th, even though it has very tough gun laws. Illinois dropped from 11th place to 38th, and New York fell from 3rd to 15th.
This is not the first time that the Post has called out Obama for using the gun ban lobby's talking points. The first time was in April 2013 when he trotted out the oft repeated claim that 40% of gun sales are completed without a background check.
We wavered between Two and Three Pinocchios, but in the end settled on Two. Most of the states at the bottom appear to have less-restrictive gun laws even when calculated without suicides. So that’s an interesting data point. But the evidence is not as clear cut as the president claims.
The Post is much more diplomatic in their conclusion.  Most people would just say Obama is not being honest (i.e. lying).  But the Post simply calls it a classic situation of a politician exaggerating a study's conclusions to justify a policy.

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