WaPo fact check: Rubio's right that gun-ban laws would have no impact on recent mass shootings

This started more than a week ago, when Marco Rubio appeared on CBS’ This Morning to rebut the Democrats’ demand for more gun laws in the wake of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino. Rubio explained to a skeptical panel that none of the proposals from Barack Obama or other Democrats would have prevented the San Bernardino shooting, or any of the other recent mass shootings (via Cortney O’Brien):


“None of these crimes that have been committed or in this case what I believe is a terror attack in California would have been prevented by the expanded background checks,” Rubio said.

He added, “This terrorist that was able to access these weapons is not someone that would have wound up in any database and this is one of the risks of home-grown violent extremism. These are not people that have done anything before who suddenly become radicalized and within months are taking action.”

“None of the major shootings that have occurred in this country over the last few months or years that have outraged us would gun laws would have prevented them,” Rubio continued.

On Thursday, the Washington Post decided to fact-check Rubio’s claim. Glenn Kessler approached his claim with an appropriate level of skepticism for a fact check, and covers the circumstances of several such massacres in detail. Instead of Pinocchios, Rubio came away with the rare Geppetto check mark:

This is certainly a depressing chronicle of death and tragedy. But Rubio’s statement stands up to scrutiny — at least for the recent past, as he framed it. Notably, three of the mass shootings took place in California, which already has strong gun laws including a ban on certain weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Gun-control advocates often point to the experience in other countries that have enacted gun laws that heavily restrict gun ownership; as we have shown, quantitative measures of cross-comparative crime statistics, especially where the crime is not consistently defined (i.e., “mass shooting”), usually end up being apples-to-oranges comparisons. It is possible that some gun-control proposals, such as a ban on large-capacity magazines, would reduce the number of dead in a future shooting, though the evidence for that is heavily disputed. But Rubio was speaking in the past, about specific incidents. He earns a rare Geppetto Checkmark.


If Rubio earns a rare confirmation from Kessler, the rest of the debate has been embarrassingly unschooled and incoherent. In an LA Times column yesterday, Adam Winkler lamented the fact that gun-control advocates end up showing that they know so little about the subject that they inevitably wind up with egg on their face:

Little wonder then that a 2004 study commissioned by the Department of Justice found that the federal ban didn’t lead to any decrease in gun crime or gun deaths. For starters, rifles, assault or otherwise, are rarely used in gun crime. Notwithstanding the two rifles used in San Bernardino (and a few other memorable mass killings), rifles account for only about 3% of criminal gun deaths. Gun crime in the United States, including most mass shootings, is overwhelmingly handgun crime.

The nationwide federal ban on assault weapons did accomplish one thing: According to the 2004 study, fewer of the banned guns were found at crime scenes (down from 2% of guns recovered to 1%). Although this suggests that gun laws affect the inventory of guns in the marketplace — again, contrary to the claims of the NRA — the study’s authors concluded that criminals had just switched to other guns.

America’s gun debate suffers because of unreasonable, extreme positions taken by the NRA. But gun control advocates who push for bans on one kind of rifle primarily because it looks scary also contribute to the problem. Such bans don’t reduce gun crime, but they do stimulate passionate opposition from law-abiding gun owners: Gun control advocates ridicule the NRA’s claim that the government is coming to take away people’s guns, then try to outlaw perhaps the most popular rifle in the country.


Plus, Winkler fails to mention that these bans are offered as a “solution” to mass shootings, when it’s clear that the policies espoused would have done nothing to prevent them, as Rubio notes. Popehat’s Ken White followed up at the LA Times on that point, and argued that the debate on the nature of rights is similarly ignorant, But it’s his metaphor on banning “attack dogs” that’s the best part of his argument:

Me: I don’t want to take away dog owners’ rights, but we need to do something about pit bulls. We need restrictions on owning an attack dog.

You: Wait. What’s an “attack dog”?

Me: You know what I mean. Like military dogs.

You: Huh? Pit bulls aren’t military dogs. In fact “military dogs” isn’t a thing. You mean like German Shepherds?

Me: Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody’s trying to take away your German Shepherds. But civilians shouldn’t own fighting dogs.

You: I have no idea what dogs you’re talking about now.

Me: You’re being both picky and obtuse. You know I mean hounds.

You: Hounds? Seriously?

Me: OK, maybe not actually “hounds.” Maybe I have the terminology wrong. I’m not obsessed with violent dogs the way you are. But we can identify breeds that civilians just don’t need to own.

You: Apparently not.

Be sure to read it all, and pass it along the next time someone proposes an “assault weapon” ban.



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