Robert Reich’s false claims about Guns

Apr 14, 2018 | Featured

Robert Reich’s “5 Points to Counter the NRA” received over 2 million views just on one Facebook page (video is available here).  So it isn’t too surprising that a large number of Americans are being convinced that stricter gun control is the answer for reducing gun-related deaths.  The video above is from a discussion that John Lott had with Gavin McInnes about Reich’s video.

Gun control advocates are making lots of similar videos and claims. We responded here to a popular Vox article and video.

Here are responses to each of Reich’s claims in the order that he made them.

1. “Gun laws save lives. Consider the federal assault weapons ban. After it became law in 1994, gun massacres – defined as instances of gun violence in which six or more people were shot and killed – fell by 37 percent. The number of people dying from mass shootings fell by 43 percent. But when Republicans in Congress let the ban lapse in 2004, gun massacres more than doubled.”

Robert Reich is referring to a non-academic study by Louis Klarevas.  There are numerous problems.  First, Klarevas doesn’t even try to separate out the very few attacks where military-style assault weapons are used.  Instead, he looks at attacks that used any type of firearm.  This is an important distinction to make when studying the effects of an assault weapons ban.  Without any explanation, he defines mass public shootings as requiring that 6 or more people have been killed.  For 30 years, the traditional FBI definition required 4 or more fatalities.  In 2013, the FBI changed that to a standard of 3 or more.  The other big difference is that the FBI definition of mass public shootings excludes mass public shootings that involve some other type of crime such as a gang fight over drug turf or a robbery (Lankford’s book p. 158).  It isn’t that these cases aren’t important, but the FBI viewed the causes and cures for gangs fighting against each other to control drug turf are dramatically different than the attacks   While we have a lot of problems with Mother Jones’ data on mass public shootings, so as to satisfy liberals, here is there data broken down by 4 or more and 6 or more deaths in an attack.


Looking at just the number of attacks using any firearm and Klarevas’ measure of 6 or more dead, one can see that there was a 20% drop in attacks from before the ban to during the ban and a 238% increase in the 10 years after the ban.  With the traditional FBI definition, the changes are much smaller.  There was a 6% drop in attacks from before the ban to during the ban and a 140% increase in the 10 years after the ban.  If you look at the attacks committed with assault weapons, the actual changes in terms of the number of attacks is very small, changing by one or two attacks between the three different periods — hardly something that could be viewed as statistically significant.

But mass public shootings go up and down for all sorts of reason.  One would think that if legalizing these types of guns would increase these mass public shootings than the share of these attacks using this type of gun should be increasing.  But the share of mass public shootings using “assault weapons” has been falling over time.  Even whether one uses Klarevas’s measure of 6 or more killed in a mass public shooting or the FBI’s of 4 or more, the share of mass public shootings using assault weapons has fallen dramatically over time — going from 30% in the ten years before the assault weapons ban to 25% during the ban to just 14.8% after the ban.

It is hard to look at these graphs and see any evidence that the assault weapons was important in terms of the frequency of these mass public shootings.

Academics wouldn’t make the types of comparisons that Klarevas makes.  They would see how death rates changed in states where the federal ban affected the ability of citizens to own assault weapons.  Then they would compare them with other states where nothing changed because bans were already in place.  Some studies that do this type of test properly are discussed here.  This study by Dr. John Lott covers both before, during, and after the federal assault weapons ban, and finds no impact on any type of crime rate (“More Guns, Less Crime,” University of Chicago Press, 2010, 3rd edition, Chapter 10).  Apparently, many liberal Democrats such as Jeff Roth and Chris Koper (here and here) have failed to find results anywhere close to what Reich points to.  For example, in their 1997 study paid for by the Clinton administration’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Roth and Koper found: “The evidence is not strong enough for us to conclude that there was any meaningful effect (i.e., that the effect was different from zero).”  In a follow up study in 2004, also for NIJ and this time with fellow criminologist Dan Woods, they concluded, “We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.”

2. “The Second Amendment was never intended to permit mass slaughter. When the Constitution was written more than 200 years ago, the framers’ goal was to permit a “well-regulated militia,” not to enable Americans to terrorize their communities.”

The CPRC doesn’t really address Constitutional issues, but for those who are interested, here is the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s decision in Heller (see pages 22 to 24 for his discussion of the term “well-regulated militia”).  The term “the right of the people” is discussed on pages 5 to 7 and numerous other places in his decision.

3. “More guns have not, and will not, make us safer. More than 30 studies show that guns are linked to an increased risk for violence and homicide. In 1996, Australia initiated a mandatory buyback program to reduce `the number of guns in private ownership. Their firearm homicide rate fell 42 percent in the seven years that followed.”

Studies. Here is a list of 27 academic studies on just the topic of permitted concealed handguns that show more guns mean fewer violent crimes and fewer murders.  Robert Reich’s discussion points to an article in Scientific American has already been heavily criticized for bias by Dr. Lott in a letter in that same magazine.

The studies that Reich relies on are also overwhelmingly poorly done papers by public health researchers.  Take what is probably the most famous public health research.  The research claims: “Keeping a gun in the home carries a murder risk 2.7 times greater than not keeping one, according to a study by Arthur Kellermann. . . . The study found that people are 21 times more likely to be killed by someone they know than a stranger breaking into the house.

The notion that Kellermann’s paper was seriously designed to “assess the relationship between keeping a gun in the home and the risk of being murdered by any weapon” is wrong.  My book, “More Guns, Less Crime” (University of Chicago Press, all three editions), explains what the problems are.

Australia. As to Australia’s 1996/97 gun buyback, Reich’s claim depends on looking at simple before and after averages, but that is quite misleading in this case.

This is part of a longer piece that Dr. John Lott wrote up on Australia’s buyback program (an entire chapter in “The War on Guns” covers this topic, the data are available here):

But looking at simple before-and-after averages of gun deaths in Australia regarding the gun buyback is extremely misleading. Firearm homicides and suicides were falling from the mid-1980s onwards, so you could pick out any subsequent year and the average firearm homicide and suicide rates after that year would be down compared to the average before it.

The question is whether the rate of decline changed after the gun buyback law went into effect. But the decline in firearm homicides and suicides actually slowed down after the buyback.

Australia’s buyback resulted in almost 1 million guns being handed in and destroyed, but after that private gun ownership once again steadily increased and now exceeds what it was before the buyback.

In fact, since 1997 gun ownership in Australia grew over three times faster than the population (from 2.5 million to 5.8 million guns).

Gun control advocates should have predicted a sudden drop in firearm homicides and suicides after the buyback, and then an increase as the gun ownership rate increased again. But that clearly didn’t happen. . . .

4. “The vast majority of Americans want stronger gun safety laws. According to Gallup, 96 percent of Americans support universal background checks, 75 percent support a 30-day waiting period for all gun sales, and 70 percent favor requiring all privately owned guns to be registered with the police. Even the vast majority of gun owners are in favor of common-sense gun safety laws.”

Take the claim for the most popular proposal.  For years, gun control advocates have claimed that universal background checks were supported by 80 to 90% of Americans.  Bloomberg had universal background checks on the ballot in 2016 in Maine and Nevada, he spent a total of $28 million.  Bloomberg lost in Maine by 4 percent, and won in Nevada by just 0.8 percent. Bloomberg’s initiative only eked out the win in Nevada because of the $20 million spent to support it, amounting to an incredible $35.30 per vote. He outspent his opponents by a factor of three – in Maine, the $8 million he spent outdid the other side by a factor of six.

Past polling on specific federal legislation on background checks shows nowhere near that level of support.  A Pew Research Center survey in 2013 asked people if they were disappointed that the Machin-Toomey universal background check bill was defeated.  While they were disappointed by a 47 to 39 percent margin, it was not close to the 80 to 90 percent frequently claimed at that time.  A Reason-Rupe poll showed that after the background check bill was defeated in April 2013, Americans by a 62 to 33 percent margin wanted Congress to move on to other issues and not try again to pass the bill.

These results suggest a real disconnect between these surveys claiming massive over support and what people think about the actual proposals.

The results for these polls also partly depend on when they are taken.  Here is a discussion from CNN about how support for gun control chanegs over time (click on figure to enlarge).

5. “The National Rifle Association is a special interest group with a stranglehold on the Republican Party. In 2016, the group spent a record $55 million on elections. Their real goal is to protect a few big gun manufacturers who want to enlarge their profits.”

If anyone is beholden to people in the gun control debate, it is Democrats to Michael Bloomberg.  The NRA spent $54.4 million for or against candidates during the 2015-16 election cycle.

— According to, in 2016 Michael Bloomberg donated $23,737,524 to Democratic candidates running for federal office.  At the same time, the NRA donated $1,085,100 to federal candidates.

— As just noted in the previous answer, Bloomberg spent $28 million in 2016 on  just two initiatives for universal background checks: $20 million was spent in Nevada. In Maine, he spent $8 million.  In both case, Bloomberg outspent all spending on the other side by 3-to-1 or 6-to-1 margins.

— Meanwhile, Bloomberg spends about $50 million per year “building a nationwide grass-roots network to motivate voters who feel strongly about curbing gun violence, an organization he hopes can eventually outmuscle the National Rifle Association.”  This is about twice what the NRA spends.

— A dollar amount spent by Bloomberg on state legislative races isn’t available, but it appears to be at least as large as Bloomberg’s expenditures for federal offices.  In 2015, Bloomberg spent $2 million on just two state Senate races to flip the control of the Virginia state Senate (this would count towards the NRA spending during the 2015-16 cycle).  During that election cycle in Minnesota, Bloomberg spent what the local media describes as “loads of money” to give Democrats control of the state House so that they could push for background checks on private transfers.

Bottom line: With just the spending on federal campaign spending, two state Senate races in Virginia, and the two ballot initiatives in Maine and Nevada, Bloomberg spent $53.7 million.  If one adds in spending from Bloomberg’s Everytown and state legislative races across the country, Bloomberg spending dwarfs the NRA’s expenditures.

Robert Reich’s website where we obtained his write up on his five points is available here.


1 Comment

  1. Lars

    Wow, once again, Democrats spewing false statistics all over, spreading fear and hate of the very people who are trying to train citizens to be safe with weapons. Thank you, John and Gavin, for this illuminating video.

    Oh, John, you missed a figure in this sentence re: NRA expenditures: “— NRA spent a total of .” in the third to last paragraph of the article.


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