The NRA’s Latest Bald-Faced Lie

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April 17 2013 10:55 AM

The NRA’s Latest Bald-Faced Lie

An NRA ad claims 80 percent of police in a poll said background checks will have no effect. That’s a lie.

130417_POL_150_nra.ad.wp
The NRA's new Web ad

Screenshot

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

The NRA has a new ad up on the Web. On the home page of the Washington Post, it claims, “80% OF POLICE SAY BACKGROUND CHECKS WILL HAVE NO EFFECT ON VIOLENT CRIME.” The ad video (which you can watch below) repeats this claim with matching audio: “Eighty percent of police say more background checks will have no effect.”

But here’s the poll, conducted by Police One. If you read the methodology posted at the bottom, you’ll see that it isn’t really a poll, since it wasn’t conducted by random sampling. It was “promoted” to the site’s members and was easy to flood with advocates of a particular viewpoint. (To give you some idea of how biased the sample is, 62 percent of those who participated in the poll say, in question 15, that if they were a sheriff or a chief of police, they would not enforce more restrictive gun laws.) But set that problem aside. The bigger problem, in terms of the NRA’s ad, is that the poll never asks whether background checks will have an effect on violent crime.

Only two questions ask about background checks. Question 21 includes them in a list of eight options and asks which of these options “would have the most impact” in “preventing large scale shootings in public.” Fourteen percent of the respondents select background checks, making this option the fourth most popular choice. The other query about background checks is Question 10: “Would requiring mental health background checks on prospective buyers in all gun sales from federally-licensed dealers reduce instances of mass shooting incidents?” Here’s how the answers break down:

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Policeone.com poll

Obviously, the answers look nothing like the 80 percent figure quoted in the NRA’s ad. So where does that figure come from? Only one question in the poll gets results that match that number. It’s Question 7: “Do you think that a federal law prohibiting private, non-dealer transfers of firearms between individuals would reduce violent crime?”

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This morning, I asked the NRA’s media office whether the 80 percent figure in the ad is based on Question 7. I haven’t heard back yet, but there’s no plausible alternative explanation. Even with the biased sample, the poll doesn’t say what the NRA ad claims it says. If you ask a sample of gun-control skeptics about a “law prohibiting private, non-dealer transfers of firearms between individuals,” of course you’ll get lower numbers than you would if you asked about background checks. You’re fully entitled to ask the question any way you like. You’re just not entitled to misrepresent it.

The NRA’s ad is a lie. It flunks a simple background check. Senators should ask themselves what else the NRA is lying about.

The NRA's ad video:

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