NRA’s La Pierre and Infowars’ Blatant Abuse of Data

One of the most important lessons to learn about observation of the political arena is the reality people can extract whatever info they want from given data to push their point and completely ignore other aspects that would make them look like fools.  This was painfully apparent in recent dispatches from the right wing of American politics.

The first I noticed in a statement made by current head of the NRA, Wayne La Pierre.  While backing his controversial stance on armed personnel in schools, he reinforced his position and made the following statement:

He added that in Friday’s news conference, “I said what I honestly thought and what millions, and hundreds of millions, of people all over this country believe will actually make a difference.”

“Hundreds of millions” of people back his position?  In other words, at least 200 millions Americans?  Quite the claim.  Just one problem: the lack of any actual scientific polling data even remotely backing this claim.

Why does this continue to happen?

The current population of the United States is slightly over 310 million people.  This would mean any polls addressing this question or ones like it should show more than 66% in favor of armed guards, police, principals, teachers, etc. in schools.  (This is, of course, completely ignoring the fact that %23.7 of the population is under the age of 18 and would be unlikely to take part in these polls.  Subtracting the roughly 70 million minors from the polled population would mean over %83 would have to favor La Pierre’s position to hit the 200 million mark.  But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and completely ignore these facts just to be nice and just as he obviously has.)

So, do the polls show enough support of the idea to support the NRA head’s claim?  Doesn’t appear that way.

According to this WSJ poll, a little over 42% support the position.  This poll has it at just below %42.  This one comes in at a little over %45.  This NPR poll came in higher at a little above %57 but the wording of the question should be noted and could be the reason for the increase.  The Pew Research Center did some of their more scientific polling but failed to asked a question specifically regarding armed personnel in schools.  However, one question was asked that is directly relevant to this issue.  Respondents were asked, “does gun ownership do more to protect people from crime or put people’s safety at risk?”  Pierre’s idea is to put guns in schools as a means of protection so this question is basically asking the same thing in a different way.  %48 agreed it protects people from crime which is still well below the %66 La Pierre would need to support his claim.  All of this is coupled with the reality some prominent Republicans, such as former RNC head Michael Steele and former presidential hopeful and NJ Governor Chris Christie, criticized his argument as misguided at best.

So, La Pierre’s claim has seemingly no real data to back it up and there was an apparent gap in information that needed to be filled.  Enter hard right-wing website Infowars.  An article was posted making a claim that would appear to give credence to the NRA head’s statement and used the following headline:

Gallup poll: 64 percent of Americans want school officials armed to protect children.

Now this is an impressive headline and is even allegedly coming from a legit polling source in Gallup.  Just one hangup the author probably should have noted before even writing the body of the article: the title is not factual.

The headline suggests Americans want this action taken and support the measure.  That’s not what they were asked, however.  The question (polling data from Gallup here) asked was not “do you support this” but “do you think this is effective.”  Respondents were essentially given three choices, two of which can be seen as supporting the issue.  In the case of armed personnel in schools, %34 thought it is “very effective” and %30 said “somewhat effective”, giving the Infowars author the %64 figure.  If we look at what people would consider “very effective” methods to combat this type of violence, a school official carrying a gun came in 5th out of 6 choices.  Not as impressive in terms of support when stated that way but don’t tell the author or anyone believing his work that.

It should also be pointed out that, just because we view something as “effective”, doesn’t mean we would support its implementation.  Take, for example, the castration of all sex offenders regardless of crime.  Effective in terms of stopping these offenders from committing more sex crimes but obviously not supported as a means to solve the problem.  Herein lies the importance of recognizing Gallup’s wording in this poll.

But that isn’t the only element that should be noted from this piece of propaganda.  If you read the article closely and read the results from Gallup, you might notice something is missing from the Infowars article.  The author cleverly left out the fact that, in terms of what people see as a “very effective” way to combat school shootings, banning the sale of assault and semi-automatic guns beat out armed school officials, %42 to %34.  The author mentions many of the other results but completely omits that one.  Gee, I wonder why?  (I’m not really wondering why, by the way.)  Even if we combine the results, they are nearly identical at %64 and %63.  Considering this is within the margin of error, banning assault and semi-automatic weapons probably deserves its own article on Infowars yet isn’t even mentioned in the one posted.

Taking all of this into consideration, there is no real evidence backing the outlandish claim of La Pierre that his position has the support of “hundreds of millions” of Americans.  And no matter how hard right-wing propaganda sites like Infowars try to sell their positions, we shouldn’t be tricked into believing them when the data does not add up.  The ultimate truth is these claims from the NRA and Infowars have one critical element in common: they are both lacking in an important little thing called facts.