In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., a national debate on guns has restarted in Washington. And both sides are tossing around figures which don't always give a full picture of the facts.
Take for instance, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R.-Tex., who told Fox News on Dec. 16 that "the facts are every time guns have been allowed, concealed-carry has been allowed, the crime rate has gone down."
According to a report by the National Rifle Association earlier this year, since 1991, 24 states have adopted concealed-carry laws and the number of gun owners has risen by 100 million. And according to FBI statistics, firearm murders have been on the decline since at least 2007, and the website FactCheck.org says that firearm murders are at their lowest since 1981.
But violent crime with guns has been dropping for years - including in states without carry and concealed laws, making it harder to say the laws are the direct cause of lower crime rates. And non-fatal gun injuries inflicted during assaults are on the rise, according to FactCheck.org.
The National Research Council, the research arm of government, recently cautioned the country against making direct causal connections in the gun debate.
"Statistical evidence that these laws have reduced crime is limited, sporadic, and extraordinarily fragile," the NRC said. "Some of the most persistent findings — such as the association of shall-issue laws with increases in (or no effect on) robbery and with substantial increases in various types of property crime — are not consistent with any plausible theory of deterrence."
On the flip side of the debate, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., declared last week that "we haven't had any legislation which took away one gun in the past 20 years from anybody in this country — not one."
While there's not been much federal legislation, PolitiFact.com correctly notes that Congress did pass and President Clinton did sign in 1997 the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which requires misdemeanor domestic violence offenders to surrender their guns. Ironically, that law was pushed by Pascrell's home state Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg and is often referred to as the Lautenberg amendment.
For overstating the facts in a red-hot gun debate, Gohmert and Pascrell win this week's Whopper of the Week, a distinction awarded to misleading public debate.
As we listen over the next few weeks to more of the same debate, it is worth taking note of a strong word of caution from the National Research Council, which hit the nail on the head when it comes to some of the facts surrounding gun control.
"Large segments of the population express contradictory opinions and assert contradictory facts when they discuss the role of firearms in violence and especially how to reduce violent injuries and deaths that involve firearms," the NRC concluded.