Media Matters attempts to defend accuracy of NICS system

Media Matters cites the Violence Policy Center for evidence that the NICS system doesn't have a high false positive rate. Media Matters was responding to a post on my website that had responded to their earlier inaccurate attack on me. The Obama administration report on how well the government background checks work is available here: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bjs/231052.pdf. Media Matters cites the VPC this way:

M. Kristen Rand, Legislative Director for the Violence Policy Center explains further:

RAND: The act of trying to buy a gun when you are in a prohibited category is not a crime per se. The bottom line is that when Lott says "The 78,906 initial denials resulted in only 147 cases involving banned individuals trying to purchase guns," he is not accurately describing the category.

The 78,906 represents the universe of denials evaluated for referral for potential prosecution. Of those, 5,573 were referred to ATF field divisions for further review. Ultimately, the field offices referred 147 cases to prosecutors. This has absolutely nothing to do with whether the NICS accurately identified the 1 percent of people denied for being in a prohibited category, e.g. the system identifies that a buyer has a felony record and the transfer is denied. That person is a "banned individuals trying to purchase guns," as Lott describes it. The fact that that person is not later singled out for prosecution is irrelevant to the fact that he is in fact a prohibited purchaser.

Take the 5,573 number. That implies a 93 percent false positive rate. However, the 5,573 cases involves no legal finding that a prohibited person actually tried to buy a gun, just that it was likely that it happened. While neither the VPC nor Media Matters might want to believe this, it is possible that the government made a mistake here. In 147 cases, the government believed that they had sufficient evidence to prosecute a prohibited individual. A 99.8+ percent false positive rate. Even here it is possible that the government has made a mistake on whether the person should have been prevented from buying a gun. In only 43 cases did the government have sufficient evidence to convince a jury that a prohibited person had tried to buy a gun that they knew they weren't allowed to obtain. A 99.95 percent false positive rate. Now I admit that some of the other cases may have involved guilty individuals who should have been stopped from getting a gun. If that rate is about twice as high, you will still get a 99.9 percent false positive rate. It also contains some individuals who may not have realized that they were prohibited from buying a gun, though that implies that someone forgot about prior felonies or covered misdemeanors that they had committed -- something that can happen, but presumably rarely do people forget about their criminal convictions. Juries are generally unsympathetic to people forgetting about their criminal convictions, and these should be easy cases for the government to prove, especially if they were to ever involve someone who actually posed a real safety threat.

My take away from this is that even the VPC concedes that there is a false positive rate of 93 percent. I think that is very low for obvious reasons, but it is a start and I assume that even gun control supporters would concede that is a high rate.

It is interesting that Media Matters has to point to the VPC as the ultimate source for its gun control claims. But if they really want to go around defending a 93 percent false positive rate (a number biased in their direction), go ahead.

Other notes on a new set of inaccurate Media Matters' claims:

1) "As the gun lobby's apologist-in-chief, John Lott needed to explain why the National Rifle Association (NRA) refused to meet with the Obama administration, despite agreeing with the policy President Obama laid out in a recent editorial."

After this bit of typical inaccurate name calling by Media Matters about me, I have to say it isn't obvious to me what the NRA would gain from meeting with Obama. Obama would very likely try to demonize them and any compromise that would come out of their discuss would harm law-abiding citizens.

2) "To support his assertion that "The Obama administration has been a consistent opponent of gun ownership," Lott claimed that the Obama administration "enacted a ban on the importation of semiautomatic guns," then cited an article about an administration action that blocked the bulk sale of surplus military rifles from South Korea. The State Department's decision blocking the bulk importation of these particular surplus military firearms is not in any way a "ban on the importation of semiautomatic guns." The importation of semiautomatic guns hasn't been banned, nor do any of the Obama administration policies suggest doing so."

Note that Media Matters doesn't even try to defend the Obama administration’s push for the U.N.’s Arms Trade Treaty or the nomination of Andrew Traver given his anti-gun statements in the past. That said, the administration is actually banning the importation of "the aging rifles," the M1s, from South Korea. I provided a link to the quote that describes exactly what was meant by the quote. Media Matters wants to claim that "blocking the bulk importation" of guns is not a "ban on importation."

3) "Lott also criticized Obama for a request made by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) citing an out-of-date article, saying that the Obama administration has 'also imposed much more extensive reporting requirements on sales of long guns.' In fact, the Obama administration has not imposed the regulation in question. The proposed regulation by the ATF has been repeatedly delayed by the Obama administration, which most recently rejected the ATF's request to enact the proposal as an emergency regulation."

In fact, my quote is "They have also tried imposing much more extensive reporting requirements on sales of long guns." Besides, even if the point had been honestly misread, if someone has tried to check the link, the point would have been clear. Nice try Media Matters.

UPDATE1: As is usual at Media Matters, they are making it very difficult for me to put up a comment on their website. In this case, they appear to have disabled my account to post comments.

UPDATE2: For those coming to this page from Paul Krugman's post please see this.

UPDATE3: Media Matters has no problem using a doctored picture of me (editing the color of my hair and clothes and doing something with my hair), but some such as Paul Krugman amazingly assume that Media Matters won't doctor screen shots of webpages.

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Blogger John A said...

I agree with almost everything, except possibly the M1s. It is my understanding that the difficulty is that Korea does not own them, the US does - they were loaned, not given. I would love to see them successfully [re-]imported and sold, but it seems it would take a literal act of Congress either altering the loan into a gift or setting some minimal (say, a dollar per) transfer price so K could buy them and then re-sell them. Somehow, I do not foresee Congress doing anything at all about it...

3/24/2011 2:12 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I believe most of what is said here. After reading the MM article and seeing the screenshots of an earlier version of your site, can you explain the screenshots that show that your website was edited and originally contained the accurate quote that MM used?

3/06/2013 4:54 PM  

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