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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Feb. 12-18

This week, readers sent us letters about health care costs, gun bans and a national gun registry.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the email we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.


The Slowing of Health Care Costs

In this article [“FactChecking Obama’s SOTU,” Feb. 13], you list several things that [President] Obama said which were misleading or wrong. However, one of them is:

Obama said the Affordable Care Act “is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.” It may be helping, but the slower growth for health care spending began in 2009, before the law was enacted, and is due at least partly to the down economy.

Reading the full article, your conclusion is:

So the health care law gets some credit. It’s “helping” to slow the growth of costs, as Obama said.

I’m a little confused what you are trying to say here. Obama says “X” does “Y” and you agree. Yet, you include it in a list of things Obama supposedly got wrong. If a politician had a list of things their opponent said that were wrong, and included a correct statement, you would fact check them. Perhaps you should hold yourself to your own standards?

To be 100 percent clear, I am under no delusion that Obama (or anyone) never misleads anyone, or that “ObamaCare” is perfect. Also, I love FactCheck. I’m a donor (and not an inconsiderable sum, at least to me). But sometimes it seems like you are trying too hard to be fair or evenhanded or something.

Of course there are other reasons for the slowing of growth in health care costs. If there were not, Obama would not have said the Affordable Care Act was “helping.” He would have crowed from the rooftops that it was the sole and only cause. So, when a politician makes a factually correct, not even slightly misleading statement, why would you include it in a list of false and misleading statements?

All that said, on balance, you still do an outstanding job, which is why I donate – so you can keep up the good work!

Patrick Gilmore
Milton, Mass.

FactCheck.org responds: Thanks, Patrick, for your kind words and financial support. Just to be clear, our article did not say that President Obama’s statement about the Affordable Care Act was wrong or misleading. We did, however, say the president “put a rosy spin on several accomplishments of his administration,” including the impact of the Affordable Care Act on health care costs.


Gun Bans and Increasing Violence

Below is a clip from your web page [“FactChecking GOP Response to Obama Gun Plan,” Jan. 24]:

Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas claimed, “Gun bans and anti-gun laws have always led to one thing — more gun violence.” But the majority of academic research on the effect of the federal assault weapons ban, as well as restrictive gun laws in several major cities, has found no such causal link.

While I don’t remember any studies making the claim of a “causal link,” several have mapped the effects of rising crime after gun bans. I think you’re playing a word game here, and not informing your audience, which is what a “fact” site should be about.

The representative here also doesn’t appear to make the causal claim either — just reporting what some studies have shown, a rise in violent and gun crimes after stricter laws have been put into place.

Try to keep your agenda down.

Martin Quam
Minneapolis, Minn.

FactCheck.org responds: While we maintain that Stockman’s implication — that the laws caused an increase in crime — is clear, our article went on to say: “But even if we set aside causation, he’s still wrong to say that gun bans have ‘always’ led to more violence.” We then cited two academic studies that found a decrease in gun violence after gun bans were passed.


Background Checks and Gun Registries

Your [“NRA Misfires on Federal Gun Registry,” Jan. 25] piece is a classic example of using truth to deceive.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre warns that a requirement for universal background checks will likely result in massive, if not universal, gun registration. You counter by pointing out, correctly, that CURRENT federal law prohibits keeping records of those who pass background checks. You then state that “nothing in the president’s plan would change that.” The president’s “plan” is so vaguely stated that I doubt anyone, including the president, knows what will be in it when it is finally presented to Congress for a vote. (The phrase “we have to pass it to find out what’s in it” springs to mind.) Your willingness to make such a definitive statement on something essentially unknowable casts your competence to “fact check” anything.

You also equate a prohibition on keeping records of background checks with a prohibition on gun registry, which it clearly is not. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System included a prohibition on keeping records of those who passed checks to ensure that the system did not become a defacto firearms registry, but a requirement to register firearms could be implemented by separate legislation without violating the act. And how, exactly, can a requirement for “universal” background checks — including sales/transfers between private individuals — possibly be enforced without registration? By what means could an enforcement agency know if a transfer is conducted without a background check?

Even if the Brady Act or other law prohibited any form of registration, legislation mandating universal background checks could easily amend or negate existing statute. Any legislation mandating universal background checks will be unenforceable unless it also mandates universal registration, which is, and should be, offensive to a free people.

Misleading with the truth is a trait ascribed by theologians to Satan and his demons, and by the rest of us to used car salesmen, real estate agents, and politicians. It should not be the habit of those who style themselves as “fact-checkers.”

Neil Hansen
Darrington, Wash.

FactCheck.org responds: The reader, of course, is entitled to his views, but he’s speculating on what could happen (such as claiming “a requirement to register firearms could be implemented by separate legislation”). Our story addressed current law and what the president’s plan would or would not do to change it. As we wrote, “section 103(i) of the Brady Act specifically bars federal agencies from retaining ‘any record or portion thereof generated by the [NICS] system,’ and it prohibits the ‘registration of firearms, firearm owners, or firearm transactions’ of those who pass the background check.” Nothing in the president’s plan as outlined would change that, and the White House says the president has no other plans to do so.