At Townhall: On Biden’s Newest False Claims About Guns

Aug 16, 2023 | op-ed

Dr. John Lott has a new op-ed piece at Townhall.

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On Saturday, President Biden tweeted his support for an assault weapons ban, for safe storage requirements, for holding gun manufacturers liable for gun crimes, and for enacting universal background checks. Unfortunately, all of these measures will either have no effect or will increase crime.

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We have tried a federal assault weapon ban before, and it didn’t save lives.

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In 2003, the last full year before the ban expired, the U.S. murder rate stood at 5.7 per 100,000 people. The murder rate stayed below that level until the COVID pandemic in 2020. In 2019, it was 5.0 per 100,000 people. 

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There was no drop in the number of attacks with assault weapons during the 1994 to 2004 ban. if the policy worked, we should see a drop in the percentage of attacks with assault weapons during the federal ban period and then an increase in the post-ban period. but the exact opposite happened.

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Safe storage laws may also sound like a reasonable proposal, but making people lock up their guns actually costs lives. According to my research, published in the Journal of Law and Economics and elsewhere, these laws make it more difficult for people to respond quickly and successfully defend themselves and their families. As a result, criminals became more emboldened to invade people’s homes. 

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There have been 300 more total murders and 4,000 more rapes each year in states with safe storage laws. Burglaries are also significantly higher.

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If you want to see the importance of deterrence, consider “hot” burglaries, where residents are at home when criminals strike. The United Kingdom not only has twice the burglary rate of the United States, but 59% of break-ins there are hot burglaries. By contrast, the U.S. has a hot burglary rate of 13%. Consistent with this, surveys of convicted burglars in the two countries indicate that American criminals spend about twice as much time casing a home and making sure no one is home. American burglars frequently comment that they avoid late-night break-ins because ‘‘that’s the way to get shot.” These are concerns that British burglars don’t share, given the UK’s strict gun laws.

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Biden’s continued claim that gun makers are immune from lawsuits is absurd. Those who are harmed by a defective gun or a gun sold illegally can sue the gun maker or seller. 

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Biden proposes to make gun manufacturers liable for misuse of the guns they sell. That means people could sue manufacturers and sellers whenever a crime, accident, or suicide occurs with a gun. The straightforward result would be to put gun makers out of business. 

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Imagine what would happen to the car industry if it were subject to such liability. The National Safety Council estimates that 39,404 Americans died and 4.5 million were injured from car accidents in 2018. Criminals also use cars to commit crimes.

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If buyers have passed a background check, it makes no sense to hold the gun dealers liable. Background check systems are broken and require reform, but adding additional checks is not the solution. California mandates background checks even for private transfers that take place outside of a gun store, but its mass public shooting rate per capita is 29% higher than in the rest of the country. Since 2020, California has had more than twice as many mass public shootings per capita as the rest of the US. California is also much higher if you look at the years from 2000 or 2010.

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There isn’t one mass public shooting this century that would have been prevented by federally mandated universal background checks, even if they were perfectly enforced. But the news media virtually never challenges gun control proponents on whether their proposals would actually make a difference. Only in 2016, in a rare instance, did CBS’s Jon Karl ask the question of Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), “Why are we focusing on things that have nothing to do with the massacres that we are responding to?” Murphy responded: “we can’t get into the trap in which we are forced to defend our proposals simply because it didn’t stop the last tragedy.”

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President Biden and other Democrats claim that background checks stopped four million dangerous or prohibited people from buying guns. In fact, there is a massive error rate in the background check system. Some 99% of the denials are law-abiding people who are mistakenly stopped. 

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The system discriminates most against black and Hispanic males. When I worked at the U.S. Justice Department, I saw data showing that the error rate for black males was more than three times their share of the population; for Hispanic males, 2.5 times. The federal government could easily fix this if its background checks met the same standards as those used by private companies.

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Biden has yet to come across a gun control law he doesn’t support. Many proposals sound reasonable but don’t stand up to scrutiny. We need to really fight back against crime, not scapegoat gun manufacturers or pass laws that create nuisances for law-abiding gun owners.

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John R. Lott, Jr., “On Biden’s Newest False Claims About Guns,” Townhall, August 16, 2023.

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