By cutting off federal funding for research and stymieing data collection and sharing, the National Rifle Association has tried to do to the study of gun violence what climate deniers have done to the science of global warming. No wonder: When it comes to hard numbers, some of the gun lobby's favorite arguments are full of holes.
Myth #1: They're coming for your guns. Fact-check: No one knows the exact number of guns in America, but it's clear there's no practical way to round them all up (never mind that no one in Washington is proposing this). Yet if you fantasize about rifle-toting citizens facing down the government, you'll rest easy knowing that America's roughly 80 million gun owners already have the feds and cops outgunned by a factor of around 79 to 1.
Myth #2: Guns don't kill people—people kill people. Fact-check: People with more guns tend to kill more people—with guns. The states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114% higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Also, gun death rates tend to be higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership. Gun death rates are generally lower in states with restrictions such as assault-weapons bans or safe-storage requirements. Update: A recent study looking at 30 years of homicide data in all 50 states found that for every one percent increase in a state's gun ownership rate, there is a nearly one percent increase in its firearm homicide rate.
Myth #3: An armed society is a polite society. Fact-check: Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively.
• Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without.
• In states with Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot in self-defense, those policies have been linked to a 7 to 10% increase in homicides.
Myth #4: More good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys. Fact-check: Mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years: 0
• Chances that a shooting at an ER involves guns taken from guards: 1 in 5
Myth #6: Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer. Fact-check: In 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime.
• In one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property. However, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50% involved using guns in an aggressive manner, such as escalating an argument.
• A Philadelphia study found that the odds of an assault victim being shot were 4.5 times greater if he carried a gun. His odds of being killed were 4.2 times greater.
Myth #7: Guns make women safer. Fact-check: In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
• A woman's chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
• One study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates.
Myth #8: "Vicious, violent video games" deserve more blame than guns. Fact-check:So said NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre after Newtown. So what's up with Japan?
Myth #9: More and more Americans are becoming gun owners. Fact-check: More guns are being sold, but they're owned by a shrinking portion of the population.
• About 50% of Americans said they had a gun in their homes in 1973. Today, about45% say they do. Overall, 35% of Americans personally own a gun.
• Around 80% of gun owners are men. On average they own 7.9 guns each.
Myth #10: We don't need more gun laws—we just need to enforce the ones we have.
Fact-check: Weak laws and loopholes backed by the gun lobby make it easier to get guns illegally.
• Around 40% of all legal gun sales involve private sellers and don't require background checks. 40% of prison inmates who used guns in their crimes got them this way.
• An investigation found 62% of online gun sellers were willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn't pass a background check.
• 20% of licensed California gun dealers agreed to sell handguns to researchers posing as illegal "straw" buyers.
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives did not have a permanent directorfor 7 years, due to an NRA-backed requirement that the Senate approve nominees.
This article has been updated.
Icons in gun ownership chart: Handgun designed by Simon Child, rifle designed by Nadav Barkan, shotgun designed by Ammar Ceker, all from the Noun Project
When they're not coming for yours, presidents love their guns. Below, photos of modern presidents enjoying their right to bear arms. (And scroll down for some bonus shots featuring Eleanor Roosevelt, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden.)
A young Theodore Roosevelt, back when being into fringey gun stuff meant something entirely different, 1885.
Then-Senator Truman shows off a pair of pistols once owned by Jesse James to Vice President John Nance Garner, 1938. (According to the Library of Congress, "Senator Truman secured the guns in Southern Missouri from a doctor's wife, whose husband received them in payment of medical services rendered Frank James, another of the James' boys.")
General Dwight D. Eisenhower squeezes off some rounds with wartime colleagues Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Omar Bradley, 1945. As president, Eisenhower installed a skeet shooting range at Camp David.
Keystone Pictures USA/ZUMA Press
President John F. Kennedy shoots skeet at Camp David, 1963. Watching him on the right are David Niven, Ben Bradlee, and Hjördis Paulina Tersmeden, Niven's wife. (Jackie Kennedy is likely on the bench. Watch a brief clip of her shooting skeet here.)
President Jimmy Carter (kneeling) shooting with kids in Plains, Georgia, 1978.
Arthur Grace/ZUMA Press
Former President Ronald Reagan accepts a Colt Sporter AR15 from the American Shooting Sports Council at his ranch in California, 1992. "This much was obvious—Ronald Reagan loves shooting and loves people," ACCS's executive director wrote (PDF) about the day. "The anti-gunners may have thought they co-opted our pro-gun former president for their exclusive use. No way! He believes in our industry, he believes in our products, and he shares our views about individual responsibility, accountability and personal freedom." (Bold in original.)
American Shooting Sports Council
President George H.W. Bush hunting in Texas, 1992.
A new survey conducted by the National Rifle Association finds that—surprise!—NRA members really, really like the NRA and its policies. More specifically, it found that 98 percent have a favorable view of the gun-rights organizationand its absolutist stance. On the flip side, 93 percent have an unfavorable view of President Barack Obama; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg squeaks by with an 80 percent disapproval rating. Moreover, the NRA finds its members overwhelmingly reject gun-control measures that nobody in Washington is seriously proposing.
Beyond the Saddam-like approval ratings, the survey of 1,000 NRA (PDF) members shows that the vast majority "are united in their desire for Washington to focus on keeping firearms from the mentally ill and to reject unconstitutional gun control measures that infringe on Second Amendment rights." More than 90 percent support keeping firearms away from the mentally ill, 89 percent oppose an assault-rifle ban, 83 percent oppose a ban on high-capacity clips, and 82 percent back the NRA's proposal to put "armed security professionals" in every public school.
And the one-sided responses keep coming as the survey tosses out some wacky hypothetical gun laws: 92 percent of NRA members say they oppose "government confiscation of certain semi-automatic firearms…through a mandatory buy-back program," and 92 percent also oppose "a new federal law banning the sale of firearms between private citizens." When presented with Obama's claims that "a balanced approach" toward reducing gun violence is needed, 79 percent say they still suspect "his real goal is to pass sweeping gun control regulation that will take away our 2nd Amendment rights." (Related: New research shows that the more informed political conservatives are, the more likely they are to believe in conspiracy theories.)
The organization says the survey is "the only legitimate survey of NRA members in existence," suggesting that external surveys, such as this one conducted for Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns—by longtime Republican pollster Frank Luntz—are bunk. That survey found that 74 percent of NRA members support requiring criminal background for all gun purchasers. (Currently, around 40 percent of gun sales are conducted without background checks due to an NRA-backed loophole.)
The National Rifle Association claims to speak for more than 4 million gun owners. But the shots are really called by a hush-hush group of 76 directors. The majority are nominated via a top-down process and elected by a small fraction of NRA members. A breakdown of the current board, based on their official bios:
87 percent are men. 93 percent are white.
25 percent are current or former federal, state, or local lawmakers or officials.
22 percent are current or former law enforcement officers. 30 percent are current or former members of the military.
24 percent are lawyers.
12 percent are entertainers or athletes.
64 percent are hunters. 71 percent are sport or competitive shooters.
At least 71 percent were nominated, endorsed, or selected by the NRA's Nominating Committee.
Some notable members of the NRA's current board of directors:
The Magnum, P.I. star, gun buff, and vocal gun-rights supporter was the top vote-getter in 2008's board election. (Fellow '80s TV heartthrob Erik Estrada sought a seat on the NRA board in 2011 but eventually withdrew his candidacy.)
At the NRA's 2012 annual conference, the Nuge announced, "If Barack Obama becomes the next president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year," prompting a meeting with the Secret Service.
"I love speaking out for the NRA in large part because it drives the left a little bit nuts," says the Iran-Contra conspirator and Call of Duty pitchman.
The former NRA president helped craft and implement Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which provided a model for similar self-defense laws in 24 other states.
"About the only thing I'd rather do than play basketball is hunt," says the retired NBA player in an recruitment ad for the NRA.
A record-holding shooter, Clark has been on the board of directors since 1999 and is currently the head of the NRA's nominating committee, which helps pick the majority of board members. She lives in Newtown, Connecticut.
R. Lee "The Gunny" Ermey
Former Marine turned actor is best known for his turn as a drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket (who is gunned down by a suicidal recruit). He's also a spokesman for Glock.
Wayne A. Ross
In 2009, Sarah Palin nominated the former NRA vice president to be Alaska's attorney general, but lawmakers passed on him after he was accused of making homophobic and sexist comments.
The head of the Congress of Racial Equality, a civil rights organization now known as a climate-denyingastroturf outfit. While representing the United States at a UN arms conference in 2001, Innis explained, "The Rwanda genocide would not have happened if the Tutsis had had even one or two pistols to fight back with."
Carl T. Rowan Jr.
Formerly a cop, FBI agent, and vice president for the private-security firm Securitas.* He is the son of columnist Carl Rowan Sr., who once caught a teenager swimming in his backyard pool and wounded him with an unlicensed handgun. (Update: As of July, 2014, Rowan no longer appears to be an NRA board member.)
The former Idaho senator sponsored a 2005 law protecting gun makers from liability in connection with their products being used by criminals. The NRA spent $1.8 million on lobbying Congress that year.
The president of Americans for Tax Reform is a NRA Life Member and member of the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association. After Newtown, he echoed the NRA's line: "We have got to calm down and not take tragedies like this, crimes like this, and use them for political purposes."
A couple of years ago, Google's chief economist predicted, "The sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians." (Hello, Nate Silver!) If you aren't quite ready to spend your life running regressions, Naked Statistics provides a taste of the hot data action. With a dollop of corny jokes and just a dash of math, Charles Wheelan (a Dartmouth prof) offers a conversational introduction to the concepts you need to understand everything from why "rich nerds" should have seen the 2008 Wall Street collapse coming to the best strategy for winning a car on Let's Make a Deal. If your interest in statistics is above average, this book is worth sampling.