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"Nice Try, But No Cigar" For Brady Campaign's Paul Helmke

Friday, September 24, 2010

"The NRA is wrong again," said Brady Campaign president Paul Helmke on Tuesday, in his 176th (and counting) blog post on the left-wing Huffington Post website. Helmke was upset because of three things we pointed out in our annual "More Guns, Less Crime" fact sheet and Grassroots Alert last week.

First, the number of guns has risen to an all-time high. Second, for decades Brady Campaign has repeatedly predicted with unfettered confidence that more guns would necessarily cause crime to rise. But third, the nation's violent crime and murder rates have instead fallen to 35- and 45-year lows, respectively.

Our fact sheet and alert didn't say that crime has gone down because the number of guns has risen. And we didn't even mention that crime has gone down in large part because in the 1990s many states adopted laws that NRA called for, to require violent criminals to spend time behind bars, to increase the length of violent criminals' prison sentences, and to reduce their ability to obtain parole and probation (we'll do that in next year's fact sheet.  Thanks for the reminder, Paul).

All our fact sheet and alert pointed out was that, contrary to Brady Campaign predictions, an increase in guns didn't cause crime to go up.

Nevertheless, Helmke whined, "The NRA is misleading again."  The NRA is trying "to wave and shout and dance and steal the credit" for crime going down. NRA's leaders "treat us as fools."

Helmke didn't deny that there is less crime. And he didn't deny that there are more guns. Instead, he paraphrased some of Violence Policy Center's hogwash, saying, "the average number of guns per owner has gone up, but the percent of American households with a gun? That's right: it's gone down."

What Helmke didn't mention is that polls measuring the percentage of households that acknowledge having at least one gun don't accurately measure gun ownership by household or the number of Americans who own guns.

In its 1996 National Survey of Private Ownership of Firearms in the United States (NSPOF), the Police Foundation identified one of the limits of surveys attempting to measure gun ownership by household.

"For households headed by a married couple, 49 percent of the husbands report a gun in the home, compared with just 36 percent of the wives. Since this difference is far larger than can be explained by chance, it appears that many wives either do not know about their husband's guns or are reluctant to discuss it with a stranger. The NSPOF estimates based on a respondent's report of all guns in the household is 107.2 million working firearms. The NSPOF estimate based on a respondent's report of his or her own firearms is 192.1 million working firearms."

Similarly, criminologist Gary Kleck has noted that in his and Marc Gertz's landmark survey of defensive firearm use, "50.1% of married men reported a household gun, but only 37.4% of married women did. . . . Fourteen consecutive General Social Surveys found married women to report household guns at lower levels than married men."

Kleck added that a person is more likely to acknowledge that he or she own guns, than to acknowledge the ownership of guns by someone else in the household, but that while "it is most commonly a male who owns the household guns . . . . [M]arried women make up around 31% of the usual adult survey samples."

Helmke also didn't note (but Kleck did) that the percentage of people telling pollsters that they have guns in their homes dropped precipitously during the years of the Clinton Administration's war against gun owners, from the 40+ percentage range, down into the 30s.

And there is one other, factor that Helmke didn't take into account: The population of the country rises by about one percent, or three million, every year. Surveys began showing a decline in "household" gun ownership in the 1980s, but since 1985, for example, the population of the country has increased 30 percent, from 239 million to 310 million. That's more than enough to compensate for the decline in "yes" responses to pollsters asking whether people have any guns in their homes.

So, we'd say we hate to be the one to tell you, Paul, but that wouldn't be honest. We're glad to tell you. There are more Americans owning more guns than ever before and, as we both agree, violent crime is way, way, down.

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