A “factoid” is not a piece of trivia. A factoid is a falsehood, or part of the truth, that is treated as fact.
Thomas Sowell, my favorite living economist, announced his retirement in 2017. It seems appropriate to memorialize him with this Dec. 6 quote, “One of the most zealous crusades of the Left has been to prevent law-abiding citizens from having guns, even though gun-control laws have little or no effect on criminals who violate laws in general. You can read through reams of rhetoric from gun-control advocates without encountering a single hard fact showing that gun-control laws reducing crime in general or murder in particular.”
No doubt the gun control nuts have contributed far more than their fair share of factoids, fantasies, and frauds to America’s political debates, but there’s a wider issue here. We must face the hard fact that obsessing over hard facts would divert our attention from the emotions of the moment, dissipate the excitements of the muddy-stream media, dim the hopes of ambitious politicians, and mute a huge volume of the carnival barker’s rhetoric. Seriously, an excess of hard facts can only cripple the legislative process.
First, hard facts hamper political discourse by exposing the average voter to more solid information than he is willing, or able, to digest. Second, they slow down and disrupt committee testimonies. Third, worst of all, they may expose incompetent legislators. This can only enfeeble their enthusiasm, force them to do more hard work, and expose their responsibility for long strings of failure. Say it again, legislation will be crippled.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of twenty children and six adults on Dec. 12, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut demanded a prompt legislative response. The parents and relatives of victims deserved it. The horrified public demanded it. Politicians knew they had to act. They would surely have preferred to do something useful, but if they couldn’t think of anything useful, they would have to do something useless.
On Jan. 15, 2013 New York’s legislature enacted the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (SAFE Act). This aimed to incorporate every gun control measure short of erasing the Second Amendment. What stood out at the time was a provision that every “assault gun” owner had to register their weapon by April 15, 2014 or face criminal charges.
Seeing that New York’s gun nuts were already organizing resistance, I predicted at a gun rights rally in Augusta in Feb. 2014 that this legislation would fail to identify more than a tiny fraction of the estimated million “assault guns” in the state.
After the deadline, opponents claimed that an estimated million gun owners had defied the threat of arrest. New York’s state government refused to make its compliance statistics public. Why not? Well, because it didn’t have to. That was their legal defense. No kidding.
In the end, Paloma Capenna, a lawyer acting on behalf of SCOPE (Shooters Committee on Public Education) forced the state to release its statistics. The total number of applications to register assault-style weapons in New York was 25,536. That counts as a hard fact.
SCOPE’s president argues that “The majority of gun owners and sportsmen in New York have absolutely no respect for this law.” That counts as a reasonable conclusion, but it’s not verifiable as a hard fact. SCOPE points to estimates showing that there are about 1 million assault-style weapons in New York, so only four percent were registered.
A similar, although less expansive bill in Connecticut also demanded that those who own certain kinds of guns register them. An estimated 300,000 gun owners refused. Estimates are often useful, sometimes essential, but never rank as hard facts.
By contrast, it is a hard fact that neither New York nor Connecticut had made serious efforts to enforce their laws. SCOPE and the Hartford Courant both suggest that the primary result of those laws was the creation of tens of thousands of paper criminals. This seems very likely but can’t be demonstrated.
Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy tells the public that “In the wake of one of the worst tragedies to befall our state, we took clear and decisive action to make all residents in every one of our cities and towns safer. The common sense limitations we put in place will make sure that guns are less likely to fall into the hands of someone who shouldn’t have one.”
The only hard fact in that statement is his description of the tragedy. The action may sound “decisive,” but it decided nothing. There’s no way to prove that any residents anywhere are safer. “Make sure” sounds hard, but “less likely” takes the starch out of a statement and cannot be converted into hard fact by any procedure known to man.
A federal judge in Buffalo ruled that New York has “a right to curb and regulate ownership of certain weapon styles because they pose a legitimate threat to public safety.” This refers to such forbidden ‘styles’ as pistol grips.
It’s a verifiable hard fact that not as single person has been killed by a pistol grip in New York State since the SAFE Act passed.
Maybe the law is not a useless at it looks at first glance.