Monday, May 6, 2013

Background checks...can I see some ID?

Last week I did a set of polls where I asked readers to weigh in on how old they defined "young" as in various situations.  The answers didn't totally surprise for "youngness" seems to begin to drop when you hit 18 and peter out by the time you hit 30 or 35.

What triggered the question to begin with was a link someone put up on facebook to a letter from a young conservative girl about gun control.  When I read the headline, I had been thinking that this "young girl" was going to be 15 or 16, maybe a college student at the most.  I took a look at the picture accompanying the article and was interested that the woman pictured looked a bit older than I had thought.  I did a little digging, and from the best I can tell, the author (Katie Kieffer) seems to be about 30*.

It's a little nit-picky, I know, but I'm 31 and if someone under 80 or so called me a "young girl" I'd be surprised.  My theory is that politics is dominated by older people, and thus people are described as young for longer than in everyday life.  Just a theory.

Anyway, what really caught my eye about her article was what she labeled "Obama Lie #1":

Obama Lie #1: “90 percent of Americans” support the Manchin-Toomey bill for extended background checks.
False. According to the latest Gallup Poll, just 4 percent of Americans think that guns/gun control is the most important issue facing our country. That means 96 percent of Americans are NOT worried about this issue and would not support increased gun control, especially if they knew the truth about background checks. Dr. John Lott has shown that: “There is no real scientific evidence among criminologists and economists that background checks actually reduce crime.”
Now honestly, I grew up in New Hampshire.  I think I was 9 the first time I fired a gun.  I find it relaxing. I'm not big on laws I see as reactionary that lack evidence to back up their methods. But characterizing this as a lie?  That seems a bit much.

For the first part: the Washington Post/ABC poll did, in fact, find that 90% of people agreed with expanding background checks to gun shows.  The Pew research center put it at 85%.   Now there are definitely details you could use to protest this: Obama actually said 90% support universal background checks, and these asked about gun show background checks...different wording could cause different answers.  Different polls find different numbers, 90% is on the high side, etc.  At the end of the day though, there are legitimate polls showing high support for background checks at gun shows.

What truly baffled me was her assertion that "96% of Americans are NOT worried about this issue and would not support increase gun control".  I looked up the Gallup Poll she cited and found that the exact question asked was "What do you think the most important problem facing this country today?".  It's true that only 4% listed guns, but I'm pretty sure no one thought that classifying one of these issue as "most important" was saying that they wouldn't support any action on any of the other things on the list.   Other things that scored lower than guns: ethics and moral decline, education, taxes and immigration.  I'm sure everyone will be thrilled to know we don't need to talk about those any more

In conclusion, I think Obama quoted the poll with a fair degree of accuracy.  Results of a different poll with a completely different question don't actually make that in to a lie.

It's a pity because her last statement, about a lack of evidence that background checks work, actually has some credibility.  It looks like the biggest point of impact is actually suicides in those 55+, but not much on homicides.

*Her bio lists that she started the St Thomas Standard in her sophomore year of college, when most people are about 20.  The St Thomas Standard lists their founding date as 2003.  


  1. Agreed. I thought 90% for anything on any poll was suspicious, but that people might support some specific expansion of background checks seemed plausible. And just because somethings not your first worry doesn't mean you don't care at all. I can't tell if she's a little dim or a little deceptive here.

    But it is true that the laws don't seem to make much difference. Strict ones, loose ones, the violent crime rate is pretty stable, depending on the ethnic mix. More importantly, changing the laws doesn't seem to make much difference in an area - which as I recall is also true for sex ed in the schools, drug education, and just about everything. We wave our hands in the air excitedly, hoping it will help.

  2. ID? I've got a card around here somewhere...

    Even if there was 90% support for the generic idea, there may not have been such support for the ideas that were presented in the Senate with Obama's approval. Even if only 4% of the U.S. describes that goal as high-priority, that doesn't mean that 96% of the U.S. are opposed to any attempt at the goal.

    And partisan arguers have a tendency to bend statistics in their favor, when they are not making up good-sounding numbers.

  3. I usually think of "young" as less than 2/3 my age and "old" as greater than 4/3 my age.

    1. Funny story...a while back at sign out rounds, our doctors were discussing where we should put the age limit on getting a transplant. The general wisdom used to be 65, then it went up to 70, now they were arguing over whether over 70 is acceptable. One of the younger doctors looked at the head of the department and the head of the division (both of whom are about 60) and said "Are you guys just making the limit 10 years older than your own ages?" Everyone laughed, but afterward I did have to wonder if there was some truth to it.

      I imagine the health prospects of a 70 year old look far different to a 60 year old than to a 30 year old.