On Thursday, January 7, President Barack Obama appeared in the CNN-produced “Guns in America,” an invitation-only “town hall” held on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Immediately following the forum, CNN shifted to several pundits who offered their analysis of the event. On hand was former Obama administration “Special Advisor for Green Jobs” Van Jones, who, perhaps unintentionally, offered some of the most astute observations of the evening. Jones admitted Obama answered some of the questions “poorly,” later adding that “some of his answers made my skin crawl,” implying that the president does not truly know the issue or understand America’s culture of gun ownership.
This is an accurate assessment of the president’s performance, as Obama repeatedly mischaracterized the concerns many Americans have pertaining to their gun rights and cited faulty information to further his arguments.
Mischaracterization of gun owner concerns over confiscation: The president repeatedly labelled the widely-held belief that there is a concerted effort to ban and confiscate firearms as a conspiracy theory. When pressed by host Anderson Cooper about whether the term was appropriate for these concerns, Obama doubled-down on his assertion.
Gun owner fears of confiscation are well-founded. The president has repeatedly cited the confiscatory gun control regimes of the United Kingdom and Australia while advocating gun controls here at home. Democratic presidential frontrunner, and former Obama administration official, Hillary Clinton has expressed her support for an Australia-style mandatory gun turn-in.
The New York Times ran a front page editorial December 5, that noted, “Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.” The President must hold some measure of respect for the paper, as he penned an anti-gun column that appeared in its January 8 edition.
In 1995, the author of the 1994 “assault weapons” ban, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) expressed her support for confiscation, telling 60 Minutes, “If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them—‘Mr. and Mrs. America, turn ‘em all in,’ I would have done it.”
Further, a founding goal of the gun control movement in the United States was the abolition of private handgun ownership. As former president of the National Coalition to Control Handguns (now known as the Brady Campaign) said in a 1976 interview, “The first problem is to slow down the number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. The final problem is to make possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition—except for the military, police, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs and licensed gun collectors—totally illegal.”
A conspiracy typically requires secrecy. The refreshingly candid behavior of prominent gun control advocates has exposed their confiscatory designs to all.
Misrepresentation of defensive gun use and the dangerousness of firearms in the home: In response to a question from rape survivor Kimberly Corban regarding defensive gun use, the president stated, “there's no doubt that there are times where somebody who has a weapon has been able to protect themselves and scare off an intruder or an assailant, but what is more often the case is that they may not have been able to protect themselves, but they end up being the victim of the weapon that they purchased themselves.” He also contended, “What is true is, is that you have to be pretty well trained in order to fire a weapon against somebody who is assaulting you and catches you by surprise.”
Here the president is likely alluding to the widely-debunked work of Arthur L. Kellermann that popularized the notion amongst gun control supporters that a firearm in the home makes the home less safe. The methodology of the studies purporting that guns make a home less safe has been soundly refuted by Florida State University Criminologist Gary Kleck and others, and such studies routinely discount the actual number of defensive gun uses. Kleck called the popularized statistic from Kellerman’s work, “the most nonsensical statistic in the gun control debate.” In truth, guns have been used for self-defense up to 2.5 million times per year.
Implying that NFA trusts are used by criminals: In regards to federal rulemaking involving trusts used for the ownership of firearms registered under the National Firearms Act, the president said, “we don't know whether -- are these sales going to, you know, drug traffickers? Are they -- we don't know who's purchasing them right now. And so what we're saying is, you know what? That is something that we got to do something about.”
Obama’s words imply that current rules governing NFA trusts facilitate dangerous individuals acquiring firearms, but the federal government has almost no evidence that they are used in this fashion. NRA research during the rulemaking process did not uncover a single instance where an NFA firearm registered to a private legal entity was used in the commission of a crime. Moreover, ATF has only cited three cases where a person prohibited from firearm ownership was in some way connected to a trust, and it is unclear as to whether these individuals ever took possession of a trust–owned firearm.
Implying more guns, more crime?: In trying to downplay the fact that violent crime has decreased significantly, while the number of guns owned by the American public has continued to rise, Obama stated, “Now, I challenge the notion that the reason for that is because there's more gun ownership, because if you look at where are the areas with the highest gun ownership, those are the places in some cases where the crime rate hasn't dropped down that much. And the places where there's pretty stiff restrictions on gun ownership, in some of those places, the crime has dropped really quickly.”
There is no correlation between the severity of a state’s gun control laws and its crime rates. The FBI has identified over a dozen factors that determine the type and amount of crime that takes place in any jurisdiction, and gun control laws are not on the FBI’s list.
Obama is trying to deflect public attention from the fact that reality has proven that gun control supporters are fundamentally wrong. For decades, they have claimed that the expansion of gun ownership and legal recognition of firearm ownership rights must, by necessity, cause crime to increase. But what has happened in reality, is that as more people have acquired more guns, of the types that gun control supporters most loathe (handguns and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns), and more people have carried guns for protection in more states, violent crime has dropped to a 44-year low and murder, in particular, has also reached an all-time low. At the same time, public opinion has shifted against gun control and in favor of firearm ownership rights.
Disputing accurate information on background checks: At one point, Cooper questioned Obama, asking, “The vast majority of criminals get their guns from -- either illegally or for family or friends. So background checks is not something that's going to affect them, is it?” to which Obama responded, “Well, but that's not exactly accurate.”
Actually, it is accurate. The Department of Justice has repeatedly found that most criminals who use guns, get their guns by theft, from the black market, or from acquaintances. Further, ATF has determined that nearly half of illegally trafficked firearms are because of straw purchasers, such as allegedly occurred in the San Bernardino terror attack. Even Obama’s Department of Justice has reported that less than 1% of guns used in crime are acquired at gun shows.
Conflating traffic accidents with firearms misuse: The president continually noted the progress that has been made in diminishing traffic fatalities, in arguing for further gun control measures.
It is apples-vs.-oranges to compare deaths involving motor vehicles, almost all of which are accidents, with those involving firearms, only a fraction of which are accidents. Accidental deaths involving motor vehicles vastly outnumber those involving firearms, 35,398 to 586 in 2014.
Claim that NRA opposes “smart gun” technology: In discussing his recent efforts to use taxpayer money to fund “smart gun” development, the president lamented what he views as efforts to stymie this technology. He added, “I would think there might be a market for that. You could sell that gun… in any other area, in any other product, any other commercial venture, there’d be some research and development on that, because that’s a promising technology.”
First, NRA is not opposed to the development of “smart gun” technology. NRA is however, opposed to mandating that firearms contain such technology. This mandate is a goal of gun control proponents, as evidenced by New Jersey statute. NRA does not support using taxpayer money to fund research into technology that gun owners have demonstrated they do not want, as evidenced by its lack of prevalence in the marketplace.
Second, there is in fact ongoing development of “smart gun” technology by some in the private sector, as evidenced by the Armatix iP1. Those interested in learning more about this firearm should see NRA’s review of the handgun.
Use of biased information on private transfers initiated through the internet: In relation to private transfers initiated by use of the internet, the president noted, “one study has shown that 1 out of 30 persons who are purchasing weapons over the Internet turn out to have a felony record, and that's not something you want to see.”
In truth, the “study” in question was conducted by Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun activist group. It was not peer-reviewed. They skimmed thousands of “for sale” listings, were able to identify the poster in a small number of instances, and found that one in 30 of them had the same name as someone with a disqualifying criminal history. Obviously, nobody really knows how Bloomberg’s group put the data together, how accurate (or inaccurate) the data is, and whether or not other controlling factors (such as differences in reporting across jurisdictions) was controlled for. This methodology is so fatally flawed it doesn’t warrant mention by anyone, let alone the president.
Mischaracterization of CDC gun control funding ban: The president stated, “Right now, Congress prohibits us even studying, through the Center for Disease Control, ways in which we could reduce gun violence. That's how crazy this thing has become.”
In the 1980s and 90s CDC advocated against firearm ownership. For instance, in a December 1993 Rolling Stone article that included an interview with CDC official Mark Rosenberg, cited Rosenberg’s focus as, “He envisions a long-term campaign, similar to those on tobacco use and auto safety, to convince Americans that guns are, first and foremost, a public-health menace.”
Holding that the American taxpayer should not be forced to pay for research advocating the diminution of their rights, NRA supported restricting this type of activity with an appropriations rider reading, “Provided further, that none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” As is made clear by the text of the rider, the ban is on advocacy, not research.
Further, there are ample private resources available to researchers interested in anti-gun advocacy. The work of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Gun Policy and Research, funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, is one example.