A few quick corrections for Nigel Farage, the Pierce/Maguire double act on Sky News’s paper reviews, and all the other British commentators out there these past few days who have been weighing in on America’s gun laws following the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night. If you watched Tuesday night’s debate, you'd probably think the biggest issue for Americans in the 2016 race is gun control. Firearms seemed to be the centerpiece of discussion in the two hour debate hosted by CNN.
But according to Gallup, gun control does not fall into even the top eight issues voters care about going into next November. The most important issue by a landslide is the economy, followed by "the way Government operates in Washington" (someone should e-mail Hillary Clinton to flag up this second one). That may not have been obvious on Tuesday, however, as America’s federal debt, deficit, growth numbers and unemployment figures were not mentioned. Not once.
But back to guns. Brits seem to have a real fascination with gun culture in America. (I don’t blame them – so do I.) But that fascination turns quickly to disbelief - disbelief that there could be any merit to living in a society with guns proliferated everywhere.
This blog isn't trying to convince Brits to take up gun culture in the UK (I already did that here), nor is it meant to explain the better side of gun culture in America (if you're in the market for that, click here). This is simply a red flag, blowing lonely in the wind, to tell you to be wary of the rhetoric I've heard on guns the past few days:
Farage on LBC
“Well, you know, I have to say I think the U.S.A gun laws are insane and… and…and I, you know, I do actually think on this, Obama actually makes quite a lot of sense. I mean the idea that… the idea that you don't have to prove, you know, who you are or have some basic background check before buying a 20-round repeating rifle strikes me as being quite extraordinary.” - Nigel Farage (Transcript credit: LBC)
I'm curious to know what laws - or lack there of - Mr Farage was referring to. Besides two major federal laws on guns - one pertaining to most background checks and one pertaining to manufacturing and importing of guns - almost all gun laws are implemented on a state level.
But Mr Farage was clearly taking issue with the comparably small amount of gun purchases that take place through private sales in some states - but still, he would need to be more specific. In Vermont, for example, you can buy a rifle with no background checks, but this doesn't seem to be a problem whatsoever (more detail below).
We also know that the majority of mass shootings in the States would not have been thwarted with more rigorous background checks, as most guns were obtained legally with background checks or obtained completely illegally through theft.
It seems fair for Farage to flag up problems with gun laws in the US on two simple conditions. 1) He knows what even just a few of the state laws are and b) how those laws actually impact crime stats.
America loses 90 people a day from gun violence
This figure was mentioned this morning by the Pierce/Maguire team, who must have missed that CNN's fact-checker ranked this 'True, but Misleading'.
According to CNN's fact checker, only one-third of the deaths Clinton sited were "violence-related deaths by homicide or legal intervention". (Emphasis mine.)
Of the remaining two-thirds, the majority were suicides - and it's not clear that preventing access to guns will reduce the number of suicides committed.
Bernie Sanders: your anti-gun, American hero
Sorry to break some left-wing hearts, but this claim is probably the most outlandish of them all.
As Senator of Vermont, Sanders has a strong record as a social democrat - except when it comes to gun control. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave him and his state an 'F' ranking in 2014 for not requiring background checks on private gun purchases, as well as allowing a host of other loose restrictions on firearms.
Of course, Sanders is on the right side of this issue, especially considering his state. Vermont is made up of a relatively high amount of rural gun owners, who value their hunting and protection rights. And despite having almost no gun control measures, Vermont remains one of the safest states in the country, with the least or second least amount of murders per year.
Americans are begging to have their guns taken away.
Americans are pretty sensible. Republicans and Democrats alike support background checks and general gun safety laws. The are also big supporters of gun ownership and the Second Amendment, and support for gun control continues to wain.
In hindsight, both Clinton and Sanders gave a spectacular performance on Tuesday in relation to guns; they talked big on gun control to excite the base, while managing to avoid the promotion of any policy that could be seen as a real imposition on gun owners.
This blog previously read that Bernie Sanders is the Governor of Vermont. This has been changed to Senator.