The NRA Encourages Its Members To Lie To Their Families At Thanksgiving

Photo by Marcus Quigmire

This year several ideological groups and news outlets are trying to prep their readers for the inevitable political conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table. But the National Rifle Association is taking a new tact -- it wants you to lie to your family members about gun violence.

In advance of Thanksgiving, Demand Action -- a project of gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) -- released a fact sheet called “Talking Turkey About Guns.” According to Demand Action, “when talk around the table turns to politics and current events, you can help set the record straight on some of the most common myths about guns.” The fact sheet offers a number of arguments in support of expanded background checks on gun sales and points out that the United States has more gun violence than any other developed country in the world.

The NRA responded to the fact sheet with a rebuttal titled, “Bloomberg is full of stuffing,” a reference to MAIG founder and co-chair Michael Bloomberg. According to the NRA, Bloomberg is attempting to “put a damper on a favorite American holiday” and “he wants to turn Thanksgiving table talk to curtailing our Second Amendment rights.” The NRA encourages its supporters to “take a few minutes before dinner to set the record straight about Michael Bloomberg's latest attempt to inject himself into every Americans' life.”

The NRA rebuttal, however, is extremely dubious. Most glaringly, in two of its four sections it fabricates quotes that purport to come from the Demand Action fact sheet in a way that distorts Demand Action's points. The other two sections are also suspect. In one, the NRA falsely suggests that a claim in Demand Action's fact sheet was unfavorably fact checked by The Washington Post, when the Post fact check was about a claim Demand Action did not make. The other section fails to debunk a Demand Action claim by pushing the discredited theory that increasing gun ownership reduces crime.

The NRA Downplays The Substantial Number Of Guns That Change Hands Without A Background Check

The NRA claims that it is a “Bloomberg Myth” that “40 percent of guns are transferred without a background check.”

However, a 1994 study found that between 30 and 40 percent of firearm transfers occurred without a background check, supporting Demand Action's assertion. The study does suffer from two flaws: the data is nearly 20 years old and the sample size in the study was small. But as PolitiFact pointed out, the National Rifle Association has not provided data to contradict the figure. Furthermore, for decades the NRA has used its allies in Congress to stifle research on gun violence that could produce an updated figure.

Regardless, other data -- including research from the gun industry -- support the claim that a substantial number of firearm transactions occur without a background check. A 2012 analysis by Michigan State Police of handgun sales found that 48 percent were conducted through private sales where no background check is required. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a lobbying group representing the gun industry, found in a 2010 member survey that approximately half of respondents purchased assault weapons from venues where a background check is not necessarily required, including over the Internet, from gun shows, or through a face-to-face sale.

The Washington Post fact check that the NRA cites in its rebuttal did not fact check the 1994 survey -- which Demand Action cited -- but rather a claim that evolved out of the survey that 40 percent of gun “sales” -- as opposed to “transfers” -- were conducted without a check. Indeed, the NRA's mockup of the Washington Post article includes the headline, “Obamas [sic] continued use of the claim that 40 percent of gun sales lack background checks.” Furthermore, The Post fact check is suspect because it relied on the statistical analysis of gun researcher John Lott who is widely discredited in academic circles because he frequently manipulates data to support the position of the NRA.

The NRA Hides The Fact That The United States Has More Gun Violence Than Anywhere Else In The Developed World

The NRA attempts to rebut Demand Action's statement that “If more guns in the hands of more people stopped gun crime, we'd be the safest country in the developed world,” by falsely asserting that an increase in gun ownership is responsible for a decline in murder rates in the United States.

Demand Action's claim is likely a reference to the fact that other high-income nations -- which tend to have stronger gun laws compared to the United States -- have significantly lower gun homicide rates than the United States' rate. A 2011 study in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the United States has a gun homicide rate 19.5 times the average of other high-income nations.

While the NRA cites “the numbers of guns and carry permit-holders” to suggest the discredited mantra that more guns equal less crime, the percentage of Americans who own a gun has been declining for decades. According to the General Social Survey, household firearm ownership has fallen from 43 percent in the 1990s to 35 percent in the 2000s. Overall household ownership is down from 50 percent in the 1970s. It is theorized that the recent boom in gun sales is largely limited to individuals who are already gun owners.

While the gun homicide rate has fallen substantially since the early 1990s, there are a number of compelling explanations for this decrease, including reductions in lead levels and the end of the crack epidemic. Indeed, much of the decline in the gun homicide rate occurred in the years immediately following 1993 as opposed to more recent years. Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal found that serious gunshot wounds -- where hospitalization is required -- actually increased by half between 1991 and 2001, but that the reduction in fatalities may be due to medical advances.

More generally, it is an established fact that “where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.”

The NRA Misquotes Demand Action To Distort Their Position On The Constitutionality Of Gun Regulation

The NRA claims that Demand Action's fact sheet states that supporters of the Second Amendment think that “all gun laws are unconstitutional.” But those words do not actually appear in Demand Action's fact sheet. Instead, the Demand Action fact sheet said that it was a “myth” that “new gun laws are unconstitutional.”

Demand Action's claim is buttressed by the Supreme Court's landmark Second Amendment decision District of Columbia v. Heller. Writing for the majority, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia ruled, "[l]ike most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited" and that “the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Furthermore, an analysis of new gun regulations proposed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre by preeminent constitutional scholar and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe found that expanded background checks on gun sales and bans on assault weapons would withstand judicial scrutiny.

The NRA's response also advances the conspiracy theory that universal background checks would lead to a gun registry; a farfetched claim that ignores the creation of a national gun registry is illegal under federal law and that the United States Senate proposal to expand background checks would have preserved this prohibition.

The NRA Misquotes Demand Action Again To Attack Expanding Background Checks On Gun Sales

The NRA rebuttal quotes the Demand Action fact sheet as saying, “Prohibit private transfers of firearms. Criminals will obey the law.” But, again, those words are not found in Demand Action's fact sheet. Instead, the Demand Action fact sheet states that it is a “myth” that “criminals don't follow the law, so expanding background checks will only affect law-abiding citizens.”

Demand Action supports its contention by citing the fact that since 1998 the FBI-administered National Instant Criminal Background Check System and state background check systems have stopped the sale of guns to at least 2 million people prohibited by law from owning a firearm.

Furthermore, Demand Action never supported prohibiting private firearms transfers as the NRA suggests. Instead it supported a legislative proposal that would have required all commercial firearms sales to include a background check. Under the proposal, firearms dealers would oversee for-profit private transactions by running a background check on the purchaser for the seller.

The NRA rebuttal also argues that the current background check system “doesn't stop criminals from stealing guns, buying stolen guns, or getting guns through straw purchasers.” But the fact that some criminals do currently skirt the background check system to obtain firearms is not a valid argument against expanding background checks or otherwise improving the background check system. In fact, it is an argument for those proposals. Indeed, research has shown that a large percentage of criminals obtain firearms through private transactions, which is what the legislative proposal supported by Demand Action sought to regulate.