Half Not True


A headline in yesterday's New York Times summed up the results of a new gun study this way: "50% of Dealers Willing to Sell Handguns Illegally." But as the article explained, what actually happened was this:

Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles, posing as potential buyers, called 120 dealers in 20 cities, giving different [reasons] for wanting to buy guns. The researchers found that when they said they wanted to buy guns for a boyfriend or girlfriend who "needs it," 52.5 percent of dealers were willing to make the sales.

As "industry officials" pointed out, there's nothing sinister about that, since "the questioning was so ambiguous that it could fall under an exemption that allows a buyer to buy a gun as a gift for someone who is not banned from owning one."

The question of an illegal straw purchase was broached with a different, much smaller sample:

The researchers also made 20 follow-up calls to randomly chosen dealers and said they needed to buy guns for girlfriends or boyfriends because they were not "allowed to."

In 16 of those cases, or 80 percent, the dealers responded with unequivocal "nos," indicating that the purchases would clearly be illegal. In the remaining four cases, the dealers agreed to sell the guns, even though they indicated that they knew that would be illegal, the researchers said.

In other words, the percentage in the headline for "Dealers Willing to Sell Handguns Illegally" was off by a factor of two and a half, and that's assuming the sample of 20 dealers adequately represented gun retailers nationwide.