Traverse City Record-Eagle


January 4, 2014

Fact Check: Gun control year-end report

From day one, 2013 was fraught with grief. Just a couple of weeks earlier, Adam Lanza killed his mother, six educators and 20 elementary school students before shooting himself in Newtown, Conn.

As the town faded from the spotlight to recover, eyes turned back to Sanford, Fla., where neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman had shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, in February 2012. On July 13, a jury found Zimmerman not guilty, continuing a lengthy debate about “stand your ground” laws.

Following these events and others, talk of tightening and loosening gun restrictions has permeated the national conversation. We’ve been busy all year following gun rhetoric to vet claims from all sides.

What’s going on with gun violence, anyway?

Since PolitiFact has fact-checked guns extensively, perhaps it’s surprising that our most important lesson doesn’t come from the facts that we proved right or wrong. Rather, the most salient point from 2013 is that there are many facts we don’t have enough data to rule on.

Right now, due to a lack of research, we can’t concretely say how many guns are in civilian hands, a statistic Washington, nonvoting congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton tried to get at after the Navy Yard shooting. We rated her claim Half True.

Most states don’t register guns or license owners, so our most accurate data is from the 1990s, before Congress nixed government-sponsored gun violence research at the National Rifle Association’s insistence.

Slate showed us that, due to this lack of research, even a question as seemingly simple as “How many people have been killed by guns since Newtown?” is tough to answer definitively. They’re still trying via crowdsourcing.

But restricted access to data doesn’t mean we didn’t stumble upon the occasional kernel of truth in the political sphere.

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