John Fund at National Review absolutely dismantles President Obama’s phony “40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check” factoid today. It’s astonishing just how absolutely and completely false this figure is. It’s not a little clever wordplay or a bit of disingenuous number-twisting from the President; it’s a flat-out lie, and he knows it.
To summarize Fund’s case: the study that purportedly produced the 40 percent figure (which was actually 36 percent, but Obama rounded it up, presumably because he thinks his target audience can’t handle two-digit numbers) comes from a tiny survey of only 251 people, conducted twenty years ago, which means “most of the survey covered sales before the Brady Act instituted mandatory federal background checks in early 1994.”
And those who responded to this survey only thought they might have been buying guns from unlicensed dealers, based on their perception of the seller’s operation. No effort was made to verify if these impressions were accurate. Furthermore, the total included guns transferred as gifts or inheritances – transactions not even President Obama’s new proposals really crack down on.
Fund talked with economist John Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime for the true percentage of guns sold without background checks. “We don’t know the precise number today,” said Lott, “but it is hard to believe that it is above single digits.”
Barack Obama is the President of the United States, not some casual Net surfer who stumbled across a juicy statistic and breathlessly related it in a Facebook post. He has a gigantic staff. He and his people know perfectly well his statistic is false. They even “sexed up” the number to a nice even 40 percent… a volume of fudge that might equal half of the real percentage.
This illustrates the danger of allowing our perceptions to be manipulated with dubious appeals to authority. Not all “studies” are equally valid; even the earnest ones can have failures of methodology. And the people who want to panic us with scary numbers rarely bother to explain all of the variables in the equation behind those numbers. How foolish would Obama have looked during his big gun control Romper Room press conference if he had said, “A twenty-year old study of 251 people revealed that some of them thought they were buying guns from unlicensed dealers who didn’t perform background checks, and if you throw in all the guns handed down from father to son, you might be up to 36 percent?”
An Obama defender might respond, “Well, the exact numbers don’t matter. There are still too many unchecked gun sales. And if we can take an action that saves just one life…” But the numbers do matter, or Obama wouldn’t have cited one. He made a false effort to turn an emotional argument, or at best a discussion of general principles, into a scientific debate. If reasonably accurate figures are not important to a discussion, then no figures have any place within it.
If Obama’s gun control case is so strong, why can’t he make it without using cooked numbers, or surrounding himself with children?