The proposals and opinions offered by the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre at a press conference Friday have been roundly criticized by gun control opponents already, but is he also wrong about the bare facts? While many of the gun lobby's latest claims about armed security are debatable, and LaPierre's pop-culture references — Mortal Kombat? American Psycho? — are out-of-date enough to be easily debunked, there were a handful of actual factual assertions in his speech today that we decided to double check just to see if the NRA's talking points match up with reality. Here's what we found on some of key statements.
"Killers, robbers, rapists and drug gang members who have spread like cancer in every community in this country. Meanwhile, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% — to the lowest levels in a decade.
So now, due to a declining willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years!"
It's true that the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported an increase in violent crime in 2011 (from record lows the year before), but that increase was attributed almost entirely to a rise in simple assaults: which specifically means no weapon was used. But according the FBI, "all four of the violent crime offense categories — murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — declined nationwide when compared with data from 2010." Different areas of the country have seen different experiences, but on the whole, the most violent offense continue to decline.
It's also true that federal prosecutions of gun crimes are down after a big uptick during the middle of the Bush administration. However, since it would make sense of a decline in prosecutions to also match a decline in violent crimes to prosecute, we'll let experts argue over whether fewer charges are brought because they aren't needed or we aren't trying.
"How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?"
To our knowledge, no one — not even the NRA — has proposed a national database of the mentally ill. Since similar databases of sex offenders have done little to protect children from sex crimes, that seems unlikely to help. Also, few organizations have done more than the NRA to block the registration of anything, as they work vigorously to defeat gun registration databases wherever they find them.
Most recently, they have called for the repeal of Michigan's state-wide pistol registry, a law that State Police credit for solving a recent shooting spree that targeted drives on the busy I-96 corridor. However, they do maintain a National Registry of Places to Shoot.
"Worse, they perpetuate the dangerous notion that one more gun ban — or one more law imposed on peaceful, lawful people — will protect us where 20,000 others have failed!"
It is an oft-repeated talking point that there are 20,000 federal, state, and local gun control laws currently on the books. A 2003 study from the Brooking Institution challenged that unsourced statistic, which has apparently been floating around since the 1960s. They pegged the number of statewide gun control laws at about 300 [PDF], adding that "even a very liberal interpretation of what should count as a separate law would leave the total well short of 20,000."
"But do know this President zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year's budget, and scrapped "Secure Our Schools" policing grants in next year's budget."
This is also true, but also quite bold of LaPierre to bring up, since he began his speech by attacking "gun-free school zones" and ignored the record of the NRA efforts on community policing. In the 1994 crime bill that included the original assault weapons ban, Bill Clinton included a new program called "Community Oriented Policing Services" that meant to add 100,000 new police officers to our streets (which LaPierre is essentially now proposing by putting cops in every school.) The NRA opposed that bill in 1994 and later mocked the COPS program for failing to meet its promise. Now he's complaining about the loss of "Secure Our Schools" grants. They were administered by COPS.
We need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work — and by that I mean armed security.
Mother Jones has made a persuasive case that arming civilians does little to stop mass shooters, and even cops can't stop every shooting. Columbine High School had an armed security officer on campus at the time of the 1999 shooting that killed 13 people. He even exchanged gunfire with one of the killers. Neither one of them was hit.
Those are the facts, as best we could amass them quickly. Whether some talking points came from Facebook, well, that's another story.