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The 40 Percent Lie

The 40 Percent Lie

“There’s a loophole where you can sell guns without a background check … 40 percent of guns are sold that way …” – Michael Bloomberg, July 22, 2012 

“Congress should pass the Fix Gun Checks Act, which would close the ‘private sale loophole’ that allows more than 40 percent of gun sales to go through without a background check.” – Michael Bloomberg, Dec. 17, 2012 But the major propagators of the “40 percent” lie—Michael Bloomberg, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the Brady Campaign—are perfectly aware that it’s a false figure. They just don’t care. 

“The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.” – Barack Obama, Jan. 16, 2013

 “… the consensus is about 40 percent of the people who buy guns today do so outside the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check] system, outside the background check system.” – Joe Biden, Jan. 17, 2013

“Today, about 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check.” – Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Jan. 24, 2013 

“More than 40 percent of sales nationally are made without background checks.” – Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., Jan. 26, 2013

“Why wouldn’t we want to close the loophole that allows as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases to take place without a background check?” – Barack Obama, March 28, 2013

“It’s estimated that 40 percent of all the guns that are sold in the United States occur with no background records check.” – Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., April 16, 2015

“We sell 40 percent of our guns without a background check.” – Anti-gun activist Mark Kelly, Oct. 4, 2015

“Forty percent of guns are sold at gun shows, online sales.” – Hillary Clinton, Oct. 5, 2015

There’s a quote, variously attributed to Joseph Goebbels, V.I. Lenin and others: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” William James, the great American philosopher and psychologist, reportedly said that, “There is nothing so absurd that it cannot be believed as truth if repeated often enough.” Such reasoning would appear to be the motivation of pundits and politicians who keep fueling the “40 percent” fire. It flared up in 2013, burned bright and finally died back down—only to flicker back to life this year as the nation prepares for the 2016 presidential election.They keep repeating it because they’re hoping you’ll believe it; they’re banking on the assumption that you’re stupid.

Despite repeated debunking by the Washington Post and Politifact—two outlets well outside the pro-gun media sphere—as well as by the National Review and NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, the lie keeps on coming back. It is based on research that is not only over 20 years old, but was also flawed in myriad ways. The links in this paragraph explain why in great detail and are highly recommended. We could go over the highlights here, but why do we have to keep retreading the same ground? 

Debunking false claims is productive when most people in the conversation are interested in arriving at the truth. But the major propagators of the “40 percent” lie—Michael Bloomberg, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the Brady Campaign—are perfectly aware that it’s a false figure. They just don’t care. They keep repeating it because they’re hoping you’ll believe it; they’re banking on the assumption that you’re stupid. 

This point cannot be overemphasized. Often journalists are just lazy, but national-level politicians have staff to research and fact-check their claims. Whenever you hear one of them selling the “40 percent” narrative, you can be sure it is because THEY THINK YOU ARE STUPID. They’re subscribing to the philosophy of power followed by demagogues and tyrants throughout history: Lie to the people often enough, and enough of them will believe.

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