Tuesday afternoon the president gave remarks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago. It called for the need to enact sensible criminal justice reform, improving relations between the police and citizenry, and arguing the necessity to repair and strengthen those community-policing methods to curb crime. At the same time, as Cortney noted, the president was frank about the racial bias in the system, and the disproportionate number of stops made by police against persons of color. The president reflected on his own experiences, where he admitted that most of the times he got a ticket was deserved, but added that there were times when that wasn’t the case. Criminal justice reform is an area where both sides are coming together. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) is one of the leaders on the conservative side leading that debate. Yet, towards the end of his almost hour-long address, gun control was also brought into mix. Obama wanted to make something clear: he’s not out to take people’s guns away (via the Hill):
[Gun control portion of speech begins at the 40-minute mark]
“Some of you are watching certain television stations or listening to certain radio programs, please do not believe this notion that somehow I’m out to take everyone’s guns away,” he told the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
“Every time a mass shootings happens, one of the saddest ironies is suddenly the purchase of guns and ammunition jumps up because folks scared into thinking that, ‘Obama’s gonna use this as an excuse to take away our Second Amendment rights,’” he added. “Nobody’s doing that."
"We’re talking about common-sense measures to make criminals don’t get them, to make sure background checks work, to make sure that we’re protecting ourselves.”
The president then rattled off more anecdotes and facts to support this argument for gun control. One of them is that in Chicago, and other cities across the country, it’s easier for young people to buy a gun than a book–or fresh vegetables in a supermarket. Hence, the reason why we should expand background checks for gun purchases. He also said that police are three times more likely to be killed in states with high gun ownership rates. The most insane figure the president threw out was that 400,000 Americans have been shot and killed since 9/11.
“That’s like losing the entire population of Cleveland or Minneapolis over the past 14 years,” said the president.
Unsurprisingly, the president is wrong. He was wrong during his post-Oregon shooting press conference, where he said mass shooting should be politicized, as if he missed what his allies were already doing after Newtown–and they still lost. First, it’s federal law that all gun purchases from a gun dealer with a federal firearms license conducts a background check. The same applies for online purchases. You don’t need a background check to buy a book. Yes, private sales do happen, but they’re a very small proportion of gun sales. Most of these sales are conducted among family members by way of inheritance. Second, Oregon has a universal background check law. It didn’t stop the horrific shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. Third, 400,000 Americans have been shot and killed since 9/11; that’s insane. Yet, the president never said homicides, so we have to assume that he’s including suicides, which, while tragic, aren’t gun violence, to inflate the numbers. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has the data on firearms homicides. They found that between 1993-2011, firearm-related homicides dropped 39 percent. If you look at the raw numbers from 2001-2011, you can see that the 400,000 figure isn’t even true. From 2001-2012, 142,389 Americans have been murdered by gun homicides. It’s still a tragic finding, but it’s nowhere near the president’s figure. Plus, if we’re going to turn this into a numbers game, then you’ll find that tobacco and automobile accidents kill more Americans annually than gun homicides.
At the same time, the president had previously commended officers for their service in reducing crime rates to historic lows. That cannot be possible if entire city populations are being wiped out by gun violence. It would mean we would be experiencing a violent crime wave akin to what we’ve seen in movies like Robocop.
Regarding the link between police deaths and gun ownership rates, I’ll let Dr. Lott take this one. Spoiler alert: the data is skewed since the researcher apparently didn’t take into account anti-gun biases:
The study, which was announced last week and is forthcoming in the American Journal of Public Health, received extensive national and international news coverage. But if the researchers hadn’t left out controls used by everyone else for this type of empirical work, they would have gotten the opposite results from what they claimed.
Previous research has done just that. And it has found that concealed handgun permits lead to fewer police deaths. The authors offered no explanation for the new study’s unorthodox approach.
There is a big benefit to using so-called panel data, where you follow changes in crime rates across many different states over a number of years. Doing that allows you to have many different experiments and makes it possible to more accurately explain for differences in crime rates across states or over time.
A couple of simple examples show why other studies on crime take into account these factors.
Take a common comparison of different countries. As many people point out, the UK has both a lower gun ownership rate and a lower homicide rate than the US does. Yet, it does not logically follow that reducing gun ownership leads to a reduction in crime. And, in fact, after the UK’s 1997 nationwide handgun ban, their homicide rate actually increased by 50 percent over the next eight years. The UK still had a lower homicide rate than the US, but this wasn’t because of the handgun ban. Other factors must have played a role. The ban itself raised their homicide rate.
A similar point applies over time. Suppose a state passes a gun control law at the same time that crime rates are falling nationally. It would be a mistake to attribute the overall drop in national crime rates to the law that got passed. To account for that concern, researchers normally see whether the drop in crime rate for the state that had the change is greater or less than the overall national change.
Looking at data by state over many years allows researchers to account for both of these potential biases, but the American Journal of Public Health study doesn’t account for this bias over time and the authors offer no explanation for this lapse.
If they had done what everyone else does, it would have reversed their results. Instead of their claim of a one-percentage point increase in the percent of suicides committed with guns increasing the total number of police killed by 3.5 percent, they would have found it reducing police killed by 3.6 percent.
The president also added that he understands the rural/urban divide that is often not considered, or outright ignored, by the folks of the anti-gun left. And he conceded that regional differences would have to be taken into account in this debate. Obama also called for a ban on military-style assault rifles since people don’t need them and they’re not used for hunting. The president then mentioned how criminals shouldn’t be able to outgun the police. I agree. Does he know that a hunting rifle is more powerful than an AR-15 rifle?
So, I’m going to say for now, that we should take Obama at his word. He’s approaching the lame duck era of his presidency; there are zero votes for any confiscation proposal in Congress; and he’s surely not going to bring this up during the 2016 election, with a flawed Democratic candidate running to succeed him. This will surely drive Republican turnout and alienate moderate, southern, and gun-owning Democratic voters, which constitute 30 percent of the party.
In fact, Obama was throwing Hillary a lifeline with the “I’m no going to take your guns away” declaration since the prohibitive nominee pretty much said gun confiscation is something to consider at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. Any one who says we should follow, or consider, the Australian, UK-based model for gun control is endorsing confiscation. Period. Yet, now Hillary could just point to the president and say she's behind whatever he said in his Chicago address. One of which was universal background checks, which are popular with voters, Democratic and Republican, which hits on Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin’s point about one of Hillary’s advantages for 2016: her campaign staff knows how to find highly popular policy positions, and Hillary can allegedly sell them.
Obama says he isn’t gunning for our Second Amendment rights, but Hillary might be. She did say that the Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment. Nevertheless, the president has vowed to change the composition of Congress on gun control, but I doubt he’ll succeed. While there may have been areas of bipartisan agreement with this address, we seem to be approaching the point where we might as well be talking to a ficus when it comes to gun control if someone brings up background checks or so-called assault weapons bans.
Where we could find agreement, and one where a long debate is needed revolves around reforming mental health. Now, that’s an issue that breaks in our favor by more than a two-to-one margin, as Americans blame our failure to detect and treat mental illness for mass shootings than lax gun laws. That is a fact. The question is will Democrats be willing to come to the table? Right now, probably not. They still have to dole out a few more patently false data points on gun violence.
Last Note: Charles Cooke of National Review tweeted this 2013 throwback piece from Reason, which reported on a survey of 15,000 "law enforcement professionals" and found that they opposed new gun control measures.