1/28/2013

Letter in today's WSJ on Obama's 40% claim

I wish that more of the argument had been kept about the first point. From today's Wall Street Journal:
It is disappointing to see that the Journal seems to accept President Obama's assertion that "as many as 40% of guns are purchased without a background check" ("Obama at the Gun Rack," Review & Outlook, Jan. 16). Unfortunately, the 20-year-old survey of 251 people conducted under the Clinton administration proves nothing of the sort.
Mr. Obama's presentation contained another false statement: "over the last 14 years [background checks] . . . kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun." Well over 99% of these cases were false positives, with delays of many weeks or months. For most, it is just an inconvenience. For those who face serious threats, those delays may be the difference between life and death.
Remember the five times that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy missed flights because his name was on the "no fly" list? Mr. Obama's method of counting would be the equivalent of saying that the "no fly" list stopped five flights by terrorists. Sen. Kennedy may have been kept off those flights, but he still flew on later planes.
John R. Lott Jr.
Burke, Va.
What was cut from the letter at the end of the first paragraph:
Most of the survey covered the transfer of guns before the Brady Act went into effect in February 1994.  And the vast majority of the 40% (actually Obama rounding up from 36%) does not refer to purchases but to inheritances and gifts from family members.  Further, there were biases in the survey -- such as most respondents not realizing that indeed they had been subject to background checks when they filled out the papers with the small-scale firearms dealers.

If only considering purchases, the true figure then would more likely have been in the single digit range. 
A more detailed write up of this discussion is available here.

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