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Another "90 Percent" Lie

Monday, July 15, 2013


When the Senate voted down the Obama-Bloomberg gun control agenda (see feature on page 16) the president reacted angrily. Even before all the votes had been counted, he strode out into the Rose Garden—“the most angry I’ve ever seen him in public,” according to one White House staffer. He later delivered a speech that included these remarks:

“By now, it’s well known that 90 percent of the American people support universal background checks. … And a few minutes ago, 90 percent of Democrats in the Senate just voted for that idea. But it’s not going to happen because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate just voted against that idea. … I’m going to speak plainly and honestly about what’s happened here because the American people are trying to figure out how can something have 90 percent support and yet not happen.”

Let’s talk about that “90 percent” figure. He certainly used it a lot in his speech. And he’s used it before. Right after Obama took office, the White House claimed that 90 percent of guns seized in Mexico’s drug cartel wars had entered Mexico from the United States. But then, as now, the truth was far different from what Obama wanted the public to believe.

For example, in 2009, the Government Accountability Office reported that in 2008, the Mexican government had seized 30,000 guns from the cartels and other criminals, but only 6,700—just 22 percent—had been traced back to the United States by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Mexican government did not even bother asking the bureau to trace most of the guns that were seized, no doubt in part because the U.S. cannot trace guns that were neither made in, nor imported into, the United States.

So it’s natural to view the president’s current claims with some skepticism. And many congressmen and senators had trouble believing it as well. As one told me, “Chris, if Mike Bloomberg wants me to believe that 90 percent of my constituents support his gun control agenda, he really ought to explain why I’m only hearing from the other 10 percent.”

Other polling data supported the congressman’s suspicion. The week after the vote, a poll conducted jointly by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center found that only 15 percent of the public said they were “angry” that the bill was defeated, while 39 percent were “relieved” or “happy.” A different poll found that 52 percent of the public said they disapproved of Obama’s gun policies, while only 41 percent approved. And the president can’t count on support on this issue from the younger voters who helped him win the White House twice; another poll strictly of voters aged 18-29 found that 56 percent of them disapproved of his gun control agenda.

What’s most insulting is that the Obama-Bloomberg spin machine tried to convince the Congress that a majority of NRA members supported its agenda. No one but the NRA can poll NRA members, because no one else knows who is actually a dues-paying NRA member. And we have done just that. Our own polling of NRA members found that 92.6 percent of members disapproved of “universal background checks,” complete with the national gun registry that Obama’s Justice Department has said would be necessary to enforce the law.  

Now, let’s be candid. New polls fly through the capital media lens several times daily, and there’s something in one or another of them to justify any agenda. But it’s clear from multiple other polls gauging the same sentiment that the “90 percent” figure just doesn’t hold water.

And what if it did? Honestly, it shouldn’t matter to lawmakers who have taken an oath to protect the Constitution. Our Founders built a system of checks and balances that’s designed to insulate our Constitution and laws from the whims of fast-changing public sentiment. And that was in a day when news traveled by horse and buggy.

No matter how you count the numbers, the truth is that the Obama-Bloomberg plan was rejected because of millions of NRA members and gun owners who made their voices heard in Washington. You may have earned the president’s anger—but you have my admiration, and my thanks, for the amazing outpouring of grassroots opposition that led to the rejection of the Obama gun control agenda. 

Chris W. Cox

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.