Freedomnomics

Article published Thursday, June 29, 2015, at Investor's Business Daily.

Obama Uses Tragic Murders, False Claims To Bash Gun Rights

By John R. Lott, Jr.

President Obama just can’t help making false claims about guns. On Friday, during his eulogy in Charleston, S.C., for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Obama spent four minutes pushing his agenda for gun control.

But from how American violence compares with other countries to what opinion polls show, Obama kept on painting a distorted picture of violence and its causes.

In his eulogy, Obama lamented a recurring theme he has sounded about “the unique mayhem that gun violence afflicts upon this nation.”

And in his earlier address to the nation right after the Charleston massacre, he claimed: “This type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”

The truth is, gun violence and mass violence is much worse elsewhere.

The three worst public mass shootings occurred outside the U.S. The worst, by far, took place in Norway, where Anders Behring Breivik gunned down 67 people and wounded 110 others.

Consider the worst attacks. There were 13 cases where at least 15 people were killed. Out of those cases, four were in the United States, two in Germany and two in the United Kingdom.

But the U.S. has a population four times greater than Germany’s and five times the U.K.’s, so on a per-capita basis the U.S. ranks low in comparison.

U.S. Not Unique

Small countries such as Norway, Israel and Australia may have only one major attack each, one-fourth of what the U.S. has suffered, but our population is vastly greater.

A more traditional measure of mass public shootings looks at cases where four or more people are killed, shootings that are not tied to another crime.

The Crime Prevention Research Center collected all such cases from 2009 to the Charleston massacre on June 17. To make a fair comparison with American shootings, we have excluded fighting that might be better classified as struggles over sovereignty (such as the 22 people killed in the Macedonian town of Kumanovo last month).

Comparing the U.S. to European countries, after adjusting for population, the U.S. ranks 9th in the frequency of attacks and 8th in terms of the rate of deaths. The countries with a higher frequency were Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Slovakia and Switzerland.

Obama’s claim comparing murder is equally false: “You don’t see murder on this kind of scale, with this kind of frequency, in any other advanced nation on Earth.”

But among advanced countries, the U.S. isn’t anywhere close to having the highest homicide rate. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the arbiter of which countries are considered industrialized, ranks Russia and Brazil far ahead of the U.S., with homicide rates that are respectively 2.5 to five times higher than ours. Our rate was tied with Chile’s and just slightly above the average for developed countries.

During his eulogy, the president then called on Americans to pass new gun-control laws as a way of honoring Rev. Pinckney.

Abusing A Tragedy

Obama admitted, “None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy,” but he added, “It will be a betrayal of everything Rev. Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.”

Unfortunately, Obama’s solution — expanded background checks — would not have stopped any of the mass public shootings that have occurred during his time in office.

In the Newtown, Conn., case, the killer got his weapon from a relative; in the other, the Charleston killer apparently passed a background check.

But background checks are a mess. Virtually everyone stopped by background checks is a law-abiding citizen who just has a name similar to someone that the government wants to prevent from buying a gun.

More than 2 million people have been stopped from buying a gun. Some of them may have really needed a gun quickly to defend themselves from stalkers or other criminals. Unsurprisingly, research finds background checks ineffective or even detrimental to preventing crime.

Obama keeps telling us that 90% of Americans agree with him, but the polls that he points to just ask people if they support background checks on gun sales, not the much more complicated law that he is pushing, which would result in de facto registration.

Unfortunately, Obama’s false claims about guns are part of a long pattern. But it sure looks like he believes people will support his policies only if he lies to them.

• Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

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