Gun Control

Clinton Uses Ridiculous Number to Blame Sanders' State for Gun Violence in Hers

She says Vermont "has the highest per capita number" of New York crime guns bought in other states.

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Reuters video

Yesterday Hillary Clinton went public with her previously private complaint about Vermont's supposedly outsized role in New York gun crimes, which she explicitly linked to the supposedly lax gun control views of her opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination. Here is what Clinton said about Bernie Sanders and the state he represents in the Senate during a panel discussion on gun violence in Port Washington, New York: 

When challenged on his gun stances, he frequently says, "You know, I represent Vermont. It's a small rural state. We have no gun laws." 

Here's what I want you to know: Most of the guns that are used in crimes and violence and killings in New York come from out of state. And the state that has the highest per capita number of those guns that end up committing crimes in New York come from Vermont. 

In 2014, as I noted last week, just 55 crime guns seized in New York were traced to dealers in Vermont, according to data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. That represented 1.2 percent of the 4,585 gun traces in which the location of the original sale could be identified. Vermont ranked 15th among the states where the crime guns were sold, far behind New York (1,397), Virginia (395), Georgia (386), Pennsylvania (371), and Florida (292). Clinton tries to make Vermont's tiny gun numbers seem bigger by comparing them to the population of that "small rural state," which has about 626,000 residents—97 percent fewer than New York, 92 percent fewer than Virginia, 94 percent fewer than Georgia, 95 percent fewer than Pennsylvania, and 97 percent fewer than Florida.

Clinton is right that 55 divided by 626,000 is bigger than 1,397 divided by 19.7 million, 395 divided by 8.3 million, 386 divided by 10.1 million, 371 divided by 12.8 million, or 292 divided by 19.9 million. But is that comparison meaningful?

Washington Post fact checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee observes that "the number of people in the source state is a problematic denominator, because gun trafficking deals with the behavior of gun dealers and the type and enforcement of state laws." She quotes John Roman, an Urban Institute senior fellow who studies gun control: "It doesn't matter how many people live there. The issue is, how many gun dealers are there that are contributing to violence in New York?" Roman, who has worked with New York officials on gun issues, says, "I literally have never heard of Vermont coming up in this conversation." Lee gives Clinton's claim about Vermont guns "three Pinnochios," a rating category that includes "statements which are technically correct…but are so taken out of context as to be very misleading." 

Clinton's broader point about Sanders is just as bogus as her gun numbers. The Vermont senator brags about his low ratings from the NRA, and his gun control positions are very similar to Clinton's, except that he is more skeptical of holding gun manufacturers and dealers liable for the criminal actions of their customers.