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Making up facts about guns

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Reuters

President Obama just can't seem to help himself. Over and over again, he makes exaggerated or false claims about guns and crime.  

Last year Obama kept asserting the bogus numbers such as “40 percent of all gun purchases take place without a background check.”  Besides the study being based on a tiny survey it was started before the Federal background check law went into effect.  Moreover, the 40 percent figure referred to all transfers, not just sales, and the vast majority of transfers took place within families through gifts and inheritances. Then, for good measure, Obama added an extra 4 percentage points to increase the number from 36 to 40 percent. 

If Obama had a stronger case for gun control, he wouldn't have to make up so many facts and distort others.

Unfortunately, this past Tuesday Obama was at it again. He lamented: 

"My biggest frustration has been that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage.  We are the only developed country on earth where this happens." 

Does Obama not consider Norway a developed country? After all, Anders Breivik shot 69 people to death and wounded 110 others.  That attack holds the record for a single-person shooting spree.  

Is Germany a developed country?  While the president focused on school shootings, he never acknowledged that two of the three worst K-12 school shootings have occurred in Germany since 2000, not in the United States.  These were:

-- Erfurt, Germany on April 26, 2002: a former student killed 18 at a secondary school.  

-- Winnenden, Germany, March 11, 2009: a 17-year-old former student killed 15 people, including nine students and three teachers.

A partial list of mass shootings in Europe from 2000 to early 2010 is available here.

Obama also claimed: "The idea, for example, that we couldn't even get a background check bill in to make sure that if you are going to buy a weapon you have to go through a fairly rigorous process so that we know who you are so that you can't just walk up to a store and buy a semi-automatic weapon makes no sense." 

Obama ought to try purchasing a gun himself.  He will realize it is not as easy as he thinks to buy a gun.  No store in the entire United States can legally sell a semi-automatic gun without conducting a background check.  Indeed, That has been the federal law for two decades now, since 1994. 

"The combination of the NRA and gun manufactures are very well financed and have the capacity to move votes in local elections and congressional elections and so if you are running for election right now that's where you feel the heat." 

Gun control advocates have plenty of money to get their message across. Thus last year, gun control advocates outspent their opponents by a ratio of 7.4 to 1 on television advertisements.  

This year is shaping up to be just as lopsided.  While the NRA spends about $20 million annually on political activities, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending about $50 million per year. And Gabreille Gifford's anti-gun organization is putting up another $20 million. Still others are putting in tens of millions more dollars. On top of that gun control advocates have a very sympathetic media that gets their points across.

“Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no advanced, developed country on earth that would put up with this.” 

The U.S. doesn't have the most gun murders among developed countries. 

In any case, the total number of murders is the more important comparison and the U.S. murder rate is less than the average murder rate for the world.  Nor is it close to having the highest murder rate among developed countries.

"...but that we are going to put some commonsense rules in place that make a dent, at least, in what’s happening -- until that is not just the majority of you -- because that’s already the majority of you, even the majority of gun owners believe that." 

The surveys that Obama references by Michael Bloomberg are misleading.  Asking if people support background checks on the "sale" of guns is not the same as asking them if they support background checks on transferring guns within families or the actual bills being put before congress.  Clear majorities of Americans were actually happy that the gun control bill that Obama backed last year was defeated.

"Australia just said, well that is it, we aren't seeing that again and basically imposed very strict, tough gun laws and they haven't had a mass shooting since."

Pointing to one single country doesn't prove very much.  For example, I could point to neighboring New Zealand, another isolated island nation that is demographically and economically similar, that appears to prove the exact opposite. From 1980 to 1996, New Zealand actually had a slightly higher mass murder rate (0.0050 incidents per 100,000 people versus Australia’s 0.0042). 

But while Obama points to Australia not have mass shootings since its gun regulations in 1997, New Zealand, which has remained a heavily armed country, has also not had any more mass shootings.

What needs to be done is a systematic study of many different areas to see whether changes in gun laws cause statistically significant differences in mass shootings.  And that type of study is exactly what Bill Landes and I did for all the mass shootings in the US from 1977 to 1999, and we found clear evidence that the only type of gun law that made people safer was one that increased gun ownership.

If Obama had a stronger case for gun control, he wouldn't have to make up so many facts and distort others.  But with policies such as background checks, which would have done nothing to stop any of the attacks, Obama has little choice but to make things up.  However, getting policies right requires accurate facts.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.