Theoretically, it might make sense for a news outlet that bills itself as the nation’s “paper of record” to have a daily or weekly column devoted to fact-checking the claims and assertions made by America’s punditariat. Theoretically.
But “Spurious Chart, Data on N.R.A. Spending Mislead in Gun Debate,” from NYT fact-checker Linda Qiu, reaffirmed every right-wing criticism of this practice.
Popular conservative commentator Ben Shapiro and the conspiracy-minded InfoWars journalist Paul Joseph Watson both shared the chart this week and noted that an increase in the number of firearms in the United States hadn’t led to an increase in murders. Pretty simple, irrefutable stuff.
Here is a chart of American gun ownership and American murder rate. Please explain how more guns inevitably means more murder. pic.twitter.com/TVOJZe2BTi— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) October 3, 2017
More guns = more gun homicides? Nope. pic.twitter.com/SlOOnpdYRF— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) October 3, 2017
Instead of affirming this admittedly counterintuitive fact, Qiu deems the two tweets “misleading.” She writes: “The chart’s data on the spike in the number of firearms and the decline in the homicides by firearms are accurate. But there is no proof that these two trends are connected. Crime, whether or not committed with guns, has generally declined over the past two decades. Experts aren’t entirely sure why but do say the drop was is influenced by a host of economic, racial and demographic factors.” Later, Qiu adds, “the homicide rate has remained steady since , suggesting the correlation between the number of guns and number of gun killings does not hold past the turn of the millennium.”
Such an observation would be relevant if either Watson or Shapiro had asserted that an increase in the number of guns in circulation was responsible for the remarkable drop in homicide. Instead, Qiu employs a classic strawman by attacking an argument neither man made. Ironically, there actually are a plethora of data that suggest more guns means lower crime, homicides included. Yet Qiu’s job isn’t to educate, it’s to serve as just another opinion columnist hiding behind the guise of a simple fact-focused researcher.
Moving along, Qiu addresses a popular tweet by Federalist co-founder Sean Davis (although nowhere near as popular as the one he quoted).
A whopping $190,000/year spread out across 400+ races, huh? Planned Parenthood spent $38 million just last year. https://t.co/wnRHFHjOZQ— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) October 3, 2017
Davis is countering the Left’s argument that many Republican lawmakers don’t actually believe their pro–Second Amendment rhetoric. Instead, GOP congressmen talk — and vote — the way they do because of the NRA’s Vulcan financial grip around their necks. It’s an argument many have heard before from various 20-year-old college students who just completed an afternoon of skimming Noam Chomsky–related Wikipedia entries.
“Just follow the money” is the simple refrain of those who resign themselves to a lazy kind of materialism. And in reality, the NRA’s financial contributions are minuscule. As Davis notes, liberal groups such as Planned Parenthood exert more direct financial influence over Congress — although it’s safe to say the candidates they support likely agree with the organization’s extreme pro-choice stance.
Regardless, Qiu once again “fact checks” an argument her target didn’t make: “The N.R.A.’s cumulative spending across three election cycles tops $104 million, more than double than [sic] the $41 million spent by Planned Parenthood during the same time, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the campaign finance watchdog.”
Qiu’s “cumulative spending” combines money actually given to congressional candidates with “outside spending” — money given to independent groups to spend on political ads and other efforts to sway elections. While it’s true that the NRA’s outside spending easily surpasses Planned Parenthood’s, this fact doesn’t refute Davis’s central point that the Left’s obsession with the NRA’s relationship with Congress is divorced from reality.
In her third and final attempt at myth busting, Qiu turns to Hillary Clinton’s grotesque Monday-morning tweets about the proposed bill in Congress that would make it easier for civilians to buy sound suppressors for their firearms.
The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 2, 2017
Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.
Qiu admits the “impact of gun silencers can be overstated,” and accurately reports that even with a suppressor, the shots from Stephen Paddock’s AR-15 would be only 30 decibels quieter — still “as loud as a jackhammer.” Yet that doesn’t stop her from indulging Clinton’s inane speculation that a silenced rifle could have made Paddock harder to locate because of the concert’s “blaring music.” Of course, the music quickly ceased as Jason Aldean and his band exited the stage after the first barrage of shots rang out, and knowing Paddock’s exact location would not have done much good for those caught in the middle of his ambush. Further, law enforcement located Paddock not by tracing his fire, but by the activation of his hotel suite’s smoke alarm.
Qui’s “fact checking” column is just the latest installment of many in the liberal media’s endless effort to delegitimize conservatives’ participation in the nation’s political discourse. The regular use of rhetorical strawmen, however obvious, demonstrates just how easily partisans can co-opt something as innocuous as “fact checking.”
— Joe Simonson is a writer based in New York City.