As part of a recent “panel on gun violence,” Hillary Clinton made a surprising statement about presidential opponent Bernie Sanders’s home state of Vermont:
“[Sanders] frequently says, ‘We’re 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. The state that has the highest per capita number of those guns that end up committing crimes in New York come from Vermont.”
Who knew? According to Hillary, the Green Mountain State is a bastion of gun running and the number-one supplier of guns to New York’s unsavory.
If that sounds unlikely, it should. The Washington Post put Hillary’s statement to the Pinocchio Test and dubbed it “significantly misleading” despite its technical truth.
It is true that, per capita, Vermont “supplied” more guns to New York than any other state in 2013 and 2014, according to ATF data that tracks a crime gun’s point of sale.
The problem with Hillary’s claim is that gun trafficking is never calculated on a per-capita basis.
“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,” said John Roman, senior fellow in the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, according to the Post report.
Roman has worked with New York officials on gun violence and gun laws for many years, and he told the Post that concerns over guns trafficked from Vermont were never brought up.
“I literally have never heard of Vermont coming up in this conversation. Literally never,” Roman said. “These conversations are always about law enforcement in places like New York being worried about Southern states with easy access to weaponry.”
Interstate gun trafficking isn’t based on how many people live in that state—it’s based on the number of “bad actors” and the networks that connect them.
The numbers clarify the misleading nature of Hillary’s statement.
Of the 4,585 out-of-state crime guns identified in 2013 and 2014 as originating outside of New York, a grand total of 55 came from Vermont. It’s the highest percentage of guns per 100,000 people, but the raw number pales in comparison to other states like Virginia, Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, which each contributed between 300 and 450 guns.
Gun statistics can be tricky, and Hillary is taking advantage of a technical truth that has no real bearing on reality.
As the Post concludes, “The number of crime guns in New York from Vermont is so small that it could even be attributed to one or two bad actors. Using the per capita measure of trafficked guns originating from Vermont is as pointless as counting guns trafficked per 100,000 head of cattle.”