Fox Makes Faulty Comparison To Criticize Obama's Gun Violence Proposals

Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry made a faulty comparison between Chicago and New York City in order to promote conservative opposition to President Obama's proposals to reduce gun violence. While previewing a speech to be delivered by Obama in Chicago, Henry misled by citing the larger number of crime guns seized this year in Chicago compared to New York City to give credence to “conservative critics” who say “gun control may not necessarily be the answer” to reducing gun violence. 

HENRY: Now we've looked at the numbers, though, and more than 800 guns have been seized here in Chicago this year, that is nine times what's been seized in New York City and yet there's been 41 gun-related, shooting-related murders in the city. And that's leading conservative critics to say, well wait a second, gun control may not necessarily be the answer, there's a broader problem here.

New York City, the comparison point cited by Henry, has both strong gun laws and a gun homicide rate lower than the national average.*

Henry also ignored the large disparity between New York City and Chicago in terms of the number of illegal firearms annually trafficked into those cities.  

Both Chicago and New York City have been effective in preventing a substantial number of firearms that originate in those cities from being used in crime. The city of Chicago does not have any gun stores, although numerous firearms stores operate in the suburbs. In New York City, more than 85 percent of firearms recovered at crime scenes originate from outside of New York state.    

Instead, Chicago and New York City crime guns primarily originate from places with weaker gun laws including both intrastate jurisdictions with weaker gun laws and other states with lax gun regulation. New York City and Chicago, however, display significantly different firearms trafficking patterns. In 2011, the latest year of trace data released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Tobacco (ATF), firearms recovered in crimes were trafficked into Chicago at a per capita rate over four and a half times higher than in New York. In New York City, which has a population of 8.2 million, there were 3,980 recoveries, whereas Chicago with a population of 2.7 million had 6,023 recoveries.

Two factors place Chicago at a disadvantage to New York City in terms of gun trafficking. Although both states rank within the top 10 in terms of strongest gun laws in the country, Illinois' laws are comparatively weaker than firearms laws in New York.  

Furthermore, an analysis of ATF trace data by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence determined that states with weak gun laws export crime guns at a per capita rate nine times higher than states with strong gun laws. Given that proximity is an additional factor in firearms trafficking, it should come as no surprise that the states that surround Illinois typically have weaker gun laws than the states that surround New York:

[Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, accessed 2/15/13]

Media reports comparing local gun laws to local rates of gun violence must understand that municipalities do not exist in a vacuum. Given the significant problem of illegal firearms diversion, any discussion of gun violence in a particular city must take into account not only that city's laws but the laws of surrounding areas. 

*As of December 28, 2012, New York City had recorded 237 firearms homicides. Given the city's population of 8,224,910, the firearms homicide rate is approximately 2.88 per 100,000. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease control, the national firearm homicide rate is 3.59 per 100,000. [Correction: This post originally overstated the extent to which New York City's gun homicide rate is lower than the national average. The post has been updated to fix the error.]