Piers Morgan calls the GOA Executive Director’s claim an “absolute lie.” Is it?
January 10, 2013
Last night, Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America appeared on Piers Morgan Tonight for a debate with the host. Morgan is a British “citizen” (“subject”?) who has recently been using his platform on CNN to promote the idea that the U.S. Constitution is “inherently flawed” and to advocate stricter, more British-style gun control policies in the U.S. This was Pratt’s second appearance on the show in the past month, having previously appeared in the wake of the Sandy Hook event.
At one point in the exchange (around 11:24 in this video), Morgan says that he “actually dug out the official figures… the homicide figures from guns in England and Wales by comparison to the United States of America going back to 2003,” and proceeds to read off numbers showing that the U.S. has a much higher gun murder rate. Morgan then claims that the lower numbers in England and Wales are “the result” of the “responsible action” taken in “respon[se]” to the 1996 school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland — namely a “handgun and assault weapon ban.”
To begin with, More Guns, Less Crime author John Lott has recently explained that this is a misleading representation of the statistics: Yes, the gun murder rate is relatively low in England and Wales, but it was already low before the ban, and the stats do not show a decrease in murders committed with guns (nor overall murders) since the ban was instituted, as Morgan implies. “There is a difference between levels and changes,” Lott notes. Meanwhile, The Telegraph reported in 2009 that gun crime had “almost doubled in the last decade.”
But let’s look at the discussion that ensued after Morgan’s remarks. (Despite the fact that Morgan had just spoken for 1 minute and 39 seconds straight, he interrupts Pratt after only 18 seconds.)
PRATT: Well first of all, according to your investigator of your constabulary, the data that you’re using for the murder rate in England is a sham. There’s a monumental misreporting of what constitutes murder. If three people are murdered, it’s likely to be counted as one event. And…
MORGAN: What an absolute, absolute LIE! That is an ABSOLUTE–
PRATT: Well, that’s what you say when you don’t know what you’re talking about…
MORGAN: No, you see, Mr. Pratt. No, Mr Pratt. Let me tell you, it doesn’t take very long….
PRATT: But I was just looking at a 2000 report. And these are your own government’s data.
MORGAN: Mr. Pratt, it doesn’t take very long to count 50 gun murders.
As it turns out, what Pratt said does not appear to have been a “lie” at all, let alone an “absolute, absolute LIE!” Quite the opposite.
In this article, the authors explained that “the violent crime rate has risen dramatically and steadily since gun bans have been instituted,” and that Britain had accordingly lost its reputation as an “unusually safe and crime-free nation.”
To the great consternation of British authorities concerned about tourism revenue, a June CBS News report proclaimed Great Britain “one of the most violent urban societies in the Western world.” Declared Dan Rather: “This summer, thousands of Americans will travel to Britain expecting a civilized island free from crime and ugliness … [but now] the U.K. has a crime problem … worse than ours.”
They then begin to explain that this increase in violent crime — “a trend seen wherever strict gun control laws have been implemented” — is something that British officials have tried to keep “under wraps” by manipulating the statistics:
A headline in the London Daily Telegraph back on April 1, 1996, said it all: “Crime Figures a Sham, Say Police.” The story noted that “pressure to convince the public that police were winning the fight against crime had resulted in a long list of ruses to ‘massage’ statistics,” and “the recorded crime level bore no resemblance to the actual amount of crime being committed.”
For example, where a series of homes were burgled, they were regularly recorded as one crime. If a burglar hit 15 or 20 flats, only one crime was added to the statistics.
The authors then say (and this is the part Pratt was most specifically referencing – emphasis added):
More recently, a 2000 report from the Inspectorate of Constabulary charges Britain’s 43 police departments with systemic under-classification of crime – for example, by recording burglary as “vandalism.” The report lays much of the blame on the police’s desire to avoid the extra paperwork associated with more serious crimes.
Britain’s justice officials have also kept crime totals down by being careful about what to count.
“American homicide rates are based on initial data, but British homicide rates are based on the final disposition.” Suppose that three men kill a woman during an argument outside a bar. They are arrested for murder, but because of problems with identification (the main witness is dead), charges are eventually dropped. In American crime statistics, the event counts as a three-person homicide, but in British statistics it counts as nothing at all. “With such differences in reporting criteria, comparisons of U.S. homicide rates with British homicide rates is a sham,” the report concludes.
Is there any corroboration for this charge? Yes. In an article published years ago, which is still online at their website, Larry Pratt’s organization, Gun Owners of America, not only references the above-quoted article, but also numerous articles published by the Telegraph between 1996 and 2000 with headlines such as:
- “Police figures under-record offences by 20 percent”
- “Police are accused of fiddling crime data”
Quoting from these articles, They noted the following:
- Sgt. Mike Bennett says officers have become increasingly frustrated with the practice of manipulating statistics. “The crime figures are meaningless,” he said. “Police everywhere know exactly what is going on.”
- “Officers said the recorded level of crime bore no resemblance to the actual amount of crime being committed.”
See also: “Police fail to report 1.4m crimes”, Jason Bennetto, The Independent, 1 Aug 2000
But that’s only through 2000. Has this problem gone away in recent years? No. An article published by The Telegraph in 2008 explained how “the true level of gun crime” is (still) “far higher than the Government admits in official statistics”:
Figures to be published by the Home Office this week will massively understate the scale of the problem.
Data provided to The Sunday Telegraph by nearly every police force in England and Wales, under freedom of information laws, show that the number of firearms incidents dealt with by officers annually is 60 per cent higher than figures stated by the Home Office.
Last year 5,600 firearms offences were excluded from the official figures. It means that, whereas the Home Office said there were only 9,800 offences in 2007/8, the real total was around 15,400. The latest quarterly figures, due to be released on Thursday, will again exclude a significant number of incidents.
The explanation for the gulf is that the Government figures only include cases where guns are fired, used to “pistol whip” victims, or brandished as a threat.
Thousands of offences including gun-smuggling and illegal possession of a firearm – which normally carries a minimum five-year jail sentence – are omitted from the Home Office’s headline count, raising questions about the reliability of Government crime data.
Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, said: “These alarming new figures not only highlight the appalling state of gun crime in this country, but also remind us just how poor the Government’s statistics actually are.
“Crime statistics must also be compiled and published independent of the Home Office, and crime mapping rolled out so that people can have confidence in what they are being told about the state of crime in this country.”
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said the figures revealed the extent to which gun crime is a “scar on society”.
“It is shocking that the Home Office is in denial about the extent of gun crime by refusing to include offences where a gun is present but not brandished,” he said.
“This is another strong reason why the Home Office should not be in charge of collecting its own statistics, which should be put directly under the responsibility of the Office for National Statistics.
“Gun crime must be treated with the same seriousness and concern as knife crime. Both are a scar on our society.”
In all, there were at least 5,612 offences excluded from the Home Office’s official gun crime total last year, according to figures supplied by police forces.
The true total number of excluded offences will have been even higher, because two of the 43 forces in England and Wales, Thames Valley and Leicestershire, failed to hand over their data when asked to do so under the Freedom of Information Act, and a large urban force, Greater Manchester, provided incomplete statistics. Scotland records gun crime differently.
When the Home Office publishes its latest quarterly crime figures on Thursday, they will include a section on gun crime injuries and deaths, but the figures will again exclude a significant number of incidents.
The Sunday Telegraph’s figures suggest that the Metropolitan Police’s official tally of 3,300 gun crimes in 2006/7, the most recent available, would have risen to around 5,000 if excluded categories had been counted. In 2007, Met officers dealt with 1,678 firearms incidents which were not included in the official tally. The Met’s figures show that offences of firearms possession in the capital rose from 850 five years ago to 1,400 last year.
After the Met, the second-highest number of offences excluded from the official statistics was recorded by West Midlands Police with 404, taking the force’s true annual total of gun crimes to around 1,400.
Similarly, The Independent has reported on a 2007 study which found that around TWO MILLION (2,000,000) violent crimes are excluded from the yearly British Crime Survey totals due to a “misleading” and “bizarre distortion in the Government’s flagship crime figures.”
According to a study reported on by BBC News, The British Crime Survey also “ignores” or otherwise fails to include:
- “The 60% of offences that go unreported”
- Crimes “committed against corporate victims”
- Crimes committed against “those under 16 and adults not living in so-called ‘normal’ households or private homes”, meaning that “residents of student halls or old people’s homes are among those not included.”
That review was commissioned by former home secretary Charles Clarke amid concerns that “public trust in the crime figures had declined so much that it was not possible to have a proper debate about policies.”
Serious question: Does anyone actually believe that Piers Morgan is oblivious to the fact that the statistics he has been citing relentlessly in recent weeks are a notoriously unreliable “sham”?
(Hint: When propagandizing against gun rights, he also tends to avoid talking about highly relevant issues like Operation Fast and Furious, Obama’s mass murdering of children overseas with drones, or the many stories of law-abiding gun owners successfully protecting themselves and their families, or even crowds of strangers, from criminals.)
Further reading: UK is violent crime capital of Europe, The Telegraph, 2 Jul 2009
UPDATE: On the official blog for Piers Morgan’s show, CNN discusses the Morgan/Pratt debate, and unsurprisingly fails to provide any of the information contained in this article. Instead, they focus on a claim that Pratt made about 970 gun murders in 2011. I welcome any corrections, but as far as I can tell this does seem to be an incorrect claim by Pratt, at least according to the “official” statistics that Morgan is citing. I suspect that Pratt was actually thinking of OVERALL homicides in the UK, as opposed to just those committed with guns in England and Wales.
In fairness to Pratt, in the comment that Morgan originally made which he (Pratt) first responded to with the 970 figure, Morgan did NOT say “gun murders”. He simply said “murders”.
MORGAN: Yeah, don’t be patronizing. 50 murders in 2005. 41, 2009. 39 in 2011. You…
PRATT: No, you had 970. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
MORGAN: This is complete non-sense Mr. Pratt!
PRATT: You’re from another planet, Mr. Morgan…
So, one can see how Pratt could reasonably have been confused. Morgan says “murders” without qualification, and Pratt responds with a figure which seems fairly plausible (i.e., in the ballpark) for overall murders in the UK based on precedent. (The UK had 927 murders in 2007, for example, according to The Telegraph.)
After that Morgan clarifies that he means “gun murders,” and then more specifically “gun murders in England and Wales” (as opposed to the entire UK), and at that point Pratt should have caught on, nailed down exactly what stat Morgan was talking about, and responded accordingly. However, again, British gun crime data is “a sham” anyway. In their blog entry, CNN conveniently fails to provide any links to back up Pratt’s claim to this effect, and instead provides a spreadsheet which they encourage you to use to “crunch the numbers for yourself” — a deceptive thing to do given their failure to explain that Pratt was right (not lying) about the gun crime data being massaged to “massively understate the scale of the problem,” to quote the Telegraph.
Also, again, the overall number of gun murders in Britain being low does not prove that the gun ban worked, considering that the figure was already comparably low BEFORE the ban as well, i.e., the ban did not cause a decrease in gun murders, even according to the official numbers.
Furthermore, as John Lott opined (and I would think most would agree), “I think that total homicides are the most important concern, rather than how a homicide was committed.” Those numbers, according to a chart provided by Lott, show an increasing trend, if anything. Read Lott’s article for much more analysis.