Politifact’s continued biased and flawed evaluations of gun control: Questioning the claim that police are convicted at higher rates than permit holders

Mar 12, 2018 | Featured

Politifact’s Jon Greenberg claims: “Florida lawmaker repeats dodgy claim about crimes by cops vs. concealed permit holders.”  They rate the claim as “false.”

This is in response to our research “comparing conviction rates of police and permit holders.”  The Florida State Representative, Matt Caldwell (R-North Fort Myers), who made the claim being evaluated made a somewhat different statement: “A law enforcement officer is more likely to commit a crime than a CWP (concealed weapons permit) holder.”

1) The data on police counts the number of reported cases, not the number of officers involved in the crimes.  Some officers might also have multiple offenses in each case.  Greenberg claims that this makes it hard to know what the true conviction rates are for police relative to permit holders.
The first possibility means that the true crime rate for police is higher than we show below and thus means that there is a bigger gap between police and permit holders.  In any case, our research compares the number of police to the number of permit holders, not the number of crimes by police to the number of crimes by permit holders.  To put it simply, the possible cases where it “undercounts” crime isn’t relevant because we are counting the per person rate for both police and permit holders and thus the net effect of this is clearly to make police seem more law-abiding relative to permit holders and thus make the gap that we measure is smaller than the true gap.
This effect thus actually biases the claim against the statement that Representative Caldwell makes.
2) “national victimization surveys show that relatively small percentages of crimes get reported, even fewer result in an arrest, and a smaller fraction yet lead to conviction.”
Greenberg claims that because we only know the number of convictions of police and permit holders and not the actual number of crimes, we can’t draw any conclusions about the crime rates committed by the two groups.  If one believes this objection by Greenberg, it would be impossible to make any crime rate comparisons across groups of people (e.g., crimes by blacks and whites) because we only have arrest and conviction data for them.
So the question is whether the crime to conviction ratio for police is different from the same ratio for permit holders by a ratio of more than 7 to 10 times.  Take a simple example to illustrate how much lower the conviction rate would have to be for police to offset the differences that we found.  Suppose that there are 7 convictions for police and 1 for permit holders.  If permit holders committed 7 crimes (so that only 14 percent of permit holders were convicted), police would have to have 100 percent conviction rate (7 crimes) for them to have the same crime rate as permit holders.  This just illustrates how incredibly unlikely it is that police and permit holders could have the same crime rate.  If you took the 10-to-1 difference between police and permit holders for firearm violations, the odds are even more unlikely.  Taking into account the first point addressed above also makes these odds are even more unlikely.
3) Donohue claims he has found a “number of cases where the permit holder was killed while committing a crime and of course those permits are not revoked.”  The number of cases where permit molders were “killed” in the commission of crime is extremely small.  There are some cases where the permit holders commit suicide, but cases “number of cases where the permit holder was killed” must be an incredibly small number, even for the US as a whole.  Unfortunately, Greenberg didn’t bother to ask Donohue how many cases he was actually talking about and Greenberg was unwilling to ask Donohue for a specific number average per year that he has found for the entire US.  Even if there were 10 to 15 such cases a year in the US, remember that there are over 17 million concealed handgun permit holders.
Without a specific number here, it isn’t obvious how much weight Greenberg could put on this, but just the possibility is enough for Greenberg.
The first point means that the gap is even larger than the 7 to 10 times our research indicates, thus strengthening our results.  On the second point, there is no conceivable way that rate that police are convicted of crimes that they commit could be so high that it could offset the much higher conviction rate for police.  Finally, the third point is trivial in size and won’t change our results.
Disappointingly, Mr. Greenberg appears to systematically approach only pro-gun control experts to evaluate these claims.  Greenberg identifies the past results that Dr. Lott’s research has found, but he makes no attempt to make a similar identification for the experts that he interviews on the other side of this debate.
Yet, Greenberg concludes: “In short, the statement rests on dicey numbers. Those numbers point to the need for more research, but they don’t prove anything.  We rate this claim False.”  The results seem very clear to us, but how Politifact could claim that the statement and our work is false is what is actually flawed.



  1. Sean Sheridan

    Is there any indication of the rate of convictions of police while on the job? Someone recently tried to argue that police can be trusted with guns while on duty but not while off duty, in an attempt to suggest no one, including off duty police officers, should be allowed to carry in public or in the home with the exception of on duty police officers.

  2. Cauthon

    Viewing the sorry state of the supposed fact checkers with gun control, an issue that I know something about, it would not surprise me if the same problems applied to other issues. Nobody could prove that the sun rises in the east, well enough to satisfy a “fact checker” with an ideological bias against that data. As the old saying goes, it ain’t what folks don’t know as gets ’em in trouble, it’s what they do know that ain’t so. Millions of people know that if there were no AR-15’s or AK-47’s, we would all live forever in a paradise of peace and love, ignoring all kinds of facts that do not fit that ridiculous conclusion. Our good friends at so-called Politifact would probably look at the scene of blood and carnage after one of those multiple murders and say, “What a lucky thing, that none of those dead people had a gun, because then somebody might have got hurt.” And, there is as much danger in current proposals to put Politifact (or other such actors) in charge of our First Amendment rights as if we let them dictate policy about our Second Amendment rights.

  3. Keith L Hatfield

    How soon did the mass shooting at Great Falls HS (MD) drop from cable news focus after a Sheriffs Deputy was credited with stopping a bad guy with a gun, pretty darn fast. Didn’t fit narrative.