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Gun Rhetoric Vs. Gun Facts

Society & Culture  (tags: americans, children, crime, culture, education, ethics, Facts, family, freedoms, government, gun violence, interesting, law, media, politics, rights, safety, society, violence )

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The mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., has reignited a national debate on gun control. As elected leaders begin the dialogue, some facts are clear -- there has been a massive increase in gun sales. Some things are not so clear -- such as whether -->

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Kit B (276)
Friday January 18, 2013, 12:36 pm
Poster Credit: Fact

Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts

We offer facts and context as a national gun-control debate intensifies.


The mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., has reignited a national debate on gun control. As elected leaders begin the dialogue, some facts are clear — there has been a massive increase in gun sales. Some things are not so clear — such as whether there is causation between more guns and more violent crimes. And some are contrary to the general impression — for example, the rate of gun murders is down, not up.

We have decided to look at some of the rhetoric and how it squares with the facts, while offering some broader context to inform the debate.

* Rep. Louie Gohmert said that “every time … conceal-carry [gun laws] have been allowed the crime rate has gone down.” But that is far from a settled issue in academia.

* Dan Gross, head of the Brady Campaign used the number of daily gun murders as proof that “gun violence rates are not” going down. But the rate of gun murder is at its lowest point since at least 1981: 3.6 per 100,000 people in 2010. The high point was 7 in 1993. However, non-fatal gun injuries from assaults increased last year for the third straight year, and that rate is the highest since 2008.

Federal data also show violent crimes committed with guns — including murders, aggravated assaults and robberies — have declined for three straight years.

* Rep. Donna Edwards said that “since Columbine, there have been 181 of these school shootings.” That’s an inflated figure. She used a list of “major school shootings” supplied by the Brady Campaign that included incidents that were neither shootings nor at schools. By our count, the list shows 130 school shootings since Columbine that resulted in at least one student or school official being killed or injured — still unacceptably high, but about a quarter fewer than claimed.

Here are some other facts. The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world — by far. And it has the highest rate of homicides among advanced countries. And yet, gun crime has been declining in the U.S. Firearm murders are down, as is overall gun violence – even as gun ownership increases. Read our Analysis for more insight on what these statistics mean.


On Dec. 14, on the afternoon of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and after a spate of public mass shootings, President Obama said that “we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” He didn’t say “gun control,” but there was little doubt that’s what he meant.

Five days later, Obama announced in a press conference that he had tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead a team to “come up with a set of concrete proposals” to “reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country.” Obama talked about the need to make it easier to access mental health care as well as the need to “look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence.” But Obama also talked about polls that show majority support for “banning the sale of military-style assault weapons,” “banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips” and “laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases.”

On cable news and other media outlets, gun rights advocates have begun to push back. Both sides offer statistics that appear to back their arguments, and so we have attempted to add some factual accuracy to the debate.

Do Concealed-Carry Laws Reduce Violent Crime?

Few gun rights advocates in Congress initially were willing to speak publicly in the wake of the mass shootings in Newtown, but Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas bucked that trend on Fox News, providing an against-the-tide opinion that the answer to tragedies like that was not fewer guns, but more guns. Had the principal been armed, he said, she might have killed shooter Adam Lanza before the rampage developed.

Gohmert, Dec. 16: Hearing the heroic stories of the principal, lunging, trying to protect … I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.

While some politicians talked about the need for tighter gun control, Gohmert argued that violence is lower in places more permissive of concealed weapons.

Gohmert, Dec. 16: The facts are that every time guns have been allowed — conceal-carry (gun laws) have been allowed — the crime rate has gone down.

We read a bit of the large body of academic research on the issue and spoke to some of the leading academic voices about the accuracy of Gohmert’s claim.

A sample:

“The answer is, the Congressman is factually correct,” said Carlisle Moody, economics professor at William & Mary.

“That [Gohmert's comment] is just completely wrong,” said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

Suffice to say there is academic disagreement on this issue.

Crime is down dramatically right now — even in states that have not passed such laws. To prove causation, which Gohmert’s statement implies, would require that those doing the study discern what would have happened if not for the law, and that is almost impossible to model.

According to Gohmert’s office, the congressman bases his claim largely on the controversial and hotly contested research of economist John Lott.

In the most recent 2010 edition of Lott’s book, “More Guns Less Crime,” Lott concludes that “[a]llowing citizens to carry concealed handguns reduces violent crimes, and the reductions coincide very closely with the number of concealed-handgun permits issued.” (p. 20) Lott writes that the result of his research “clearly imply that nondiscretionary [concealed carry] laws coincide with fewer murders, aggravated assaults, and rapes” (p. 57). He contends that “[w]hen state concealed-handgun laws went into effect in a county, murders fell by about 8 percent, rapes fell by 5 percent, and aggravated assaults fell by 7 percent” (p. 59).

More directly related to the Newtown incident, Lott co-wrote a 1999 study that concluded, “Deaths and injuries from mass public shootings fall dramatically after right-to-carry concealed handgun laws are enacted. Between 1977 and 1995, the average death rate from mass shootings plummeted by up to 91 percent after such laws went into effect, and injuries dropped by over 80 percent.”

While Lott’s work is often cited by gun rights advocates, his findings are strongly disputed by numerous academics. Most notably, in 2004 a committee of the National Research Council of the National Academies analyzed Lott’s research and took issue with his findings, concluding that “it is impossible to draw strong conclusions from the existing literature on the causal impact of these laws” (See Chapter 6).

National Research Council, 2004: The initial model specification, when extended to new data, does not show evidence that passage of right-to-carry laws reduces crime. The estimated effects are highly sensitive to seemingly minor changes in the model specification and control variables. No link between right-to-carry laws and changes in crime is apparent in the raw data, even in the initial sample; it is only once numerous covariates are included that the negative results in the early data emerge. While the trend models show a reduction in the crime growth rate following the adoption of right-to-carry laws, these trend reductions occur long after law adoption, casting serious doubt on the proposition that the trend models estimated in the literature reflect effects of the law change. Finally, some of the point estimates are imprecise. Thus, the committee concludes that with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates.

Lott adamantly defended his conclusions in a phone interview with, and noted that there was one notable dissenter from 17 others on the committee, the late James Q. Wilson. Wilson argued (Appendix A) that he found Lott’s analysis supported the conclusion that concealed-carry laws reduced the murder rate.

However, critics of Lott’s work are many, perhaps none more vigorous than Stanford Law Professor John J. Donohue III. Together with Ian Ayres of Yale Law School, in 2003 the two authored a spirited rebuttal of Lott’s work titled, “Shooting Down the More Guns, Less Crime.”

Donohue and Ayres, 2003: We conclude that Lott and Mustard have made an important scholarly contribution in establishing that these laws have not led to the massive bloodbath of death and injury that some of their opponents feared. On the other hand, we find that the statistical evidence that these laws have reduced crime is limited, sporadic, and extraordinarily fragile.

… [T]heir results have not withstood the test of time. When we added five years of county data and seven years of state data, allowing us to test an additional fourteen jurisdictions that adopted shall-issue laws, the previous Lott and Mustard findings proved not to be robust. Importantly, we showed that the Lott and Mustard results collapse when the more complete county data is subjected to less-constrained jurisdiction-specific specifications or when the more-complete state data is tweaked in plausible ways. No longer can any plausible case be made on statistical grounds that shall-issue laws are likely to reduce crime for all or even most states.

More recently, Donohue co-authored a paper in 2012 that concluded “aggravated assault rises when RTC (right to carry) laws are adopted. For every other crime category, there is little or no indication of any consistent RTC impact on crime.”

Indeed, a cottage industry of sorts has emerged to debate the issue. Some have found some benefit to concealed-carry laws, and other no benefit at all.

Gohmert’s comment — that “every time … conceal-carry (gun laws) have been allowed, the crime rate has gone down” — is somewhat a matter of semantics, said Moody, at William & Mary.

Gohmert is “factually correct,” Moody said, because crime has indeed gone down in states with conceal-carry laws. “On the other hand, if you are implying — and I think he is — that concealed carry laws reduce crime, that’s a more complicated question.”

In fact, crime is down in states that have not passed concealed-carry laws. The impact of such legislation is debatable.

“My personal opinion is that it probably does cause crime to decline somewhat,” Moody said. “Almost certainly, it does not harm on a net basis.”

In 2008, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center reviewed the reams of scientific research on concealed gun-carrying laws and broadly concluded “the changes have neither been highly beneficial nor highly detrimental.”

There are two reasons why the effects of CCW laws on crime are likely to be negligible, the authors wrote. First, only a tiny percentage of the population seeks to obtain a concealed weapon permit. And those who do tend to be from groups who are at relatively low risk for either crime perpetration or victimization. They are generally older, higher-income, rural whites.

Both sides accuse the other of personal bias on the issue. Indeed, there are two underlying schools of thought about concealed-carry laws. The first is that if there are more people carrying concealed weapons, criminals are less likely to commit crimes, because they fear someone may defend themselves with a gun. National Rifle Association CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre sums up the philosophy this way: “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The second is that more concealed guns mean more disputes resolved with guns, and that it leads to more violent crime.

Susan B. Sorenson, a professor of Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, is convinced the Lott data is weak (for example, she said, if you take the outlier Florida out of the mix, the results change remarkably). But more important, she said, is that there is simply a dearth of good data.

“We really don’t have answers to a lot of the questions that we should have answers to,” Sorenson.

In part, she said, that’s because the gold standard for scientists — a randomly assigned study in which you gave one group of people guns, and another none — is simply not possible.

There is work the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could and should be doing, she said, but has not since the late 1990s. CDC has been wary of studying gun issues after NRA lobbyists convinced Congress to cut into its funding after a series of studies in the mid-1990s were viewed by the NRA as advocating for gun control.

What kind of study is CDC not doing? “The kind of information we need at the policy-making tables,” Sorenson said.

The bottom line on Gohmert’s statement is that the issue is much too unsettled for such a definitive claim.

There is, of course, a larger implication to Gohmert’s statement: that more guns equals less crime. That is a different issue than simply concealed weapons laws.

More Guns = More Gun Homicides, Statistically Speaking

In 2008, we explored the issue of whether more gun ownership meant more or less gun violence. What we found, and it still holds true, was that some studies had shown a statistical relationship between those factors — areas with a higher prevalence of guns had higher prevalence of gun homicides and homicides in general. But studies haven’t been able to show a causal relationship — that the mere presence of guns, as opposed to other factors, caused the higher rates of gun violence. It’s doubtful, however, that a study could ever beyond-a-doubt prove a causal relationship.

As Sorenson explained, scientists can’t conduct a random experiment. So, instead, researchers are left with statistical models, which are “very fragile,” says Charles F. Wellford, who was chair of the committees that authored a lengthy 2004 report on this topic by the National Research Council of the National Academies. These models are subject to what control variables researchers use. “Everyone knows there’s other things than guns that cause crime,” says Wellford, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland. So these models become very complex and slight changes can cause very different results, he says.

The National Research Council review of the available research on guns and crime found that studies comparing similar geographic areas, such as urban areas to urban areas, known as “case-control studies,” showed that “violence is positively associated with firearms ownership.” But when looking at larger areas, such as countries, the National Research Council report found “contradictory evidence.” Both types of studies, said the report, failed to address factors involved in buying a gun — it’s not a random decision. And gun ownership data itself is lacking — it comes only from public opinion surveys.

Eighteen experts participated in the NRC report, including those in criminology, sociology, psychology, economics, public health and statistics. The NRC’s conclusion: “In summary, the committee concludes that existing research studies and data include a wealth of descriptive information on homicide, suicide, and firearms, but, because of the limitations of existing data and methods, do not credibly demonstrate a causal relationship between the ownership of firearms and the causes or prevention of criminal violence or suicide.”

Wellford says the new literature that has emerged since that 2004 review “doesn’t change in any way the conclusions from our report.”

Why can’t a statistical relationship prove a causal one? There are many other factors besides the presence of guns. Adam Lanza, the shooter in the elementary school killings in Newtown, “had lots of things going on in his life and one of them was access to multiple weapons,” says Wellford, himself a gun owner. “It’s hard to parse out what the effect is of having the gun, but there’s no question there’s some effect.” But is it 2 percent, 10 percent, 100 percent of the causal model? “We don’t know.”

Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, says he would “bet a lot of money” that the prevalence of guns increases homicide, all other things being equal. “I think the evidence is very consistent with the notion that more guns have made us less safe.” But it’s “almost impossible” to prove a causal relationship. “All the data are consistent with a causal relationship, but it’s very hard to say anything is causal,” he says.

Hemenway and coauthor Lisa M. Hepburn reviewed research from peer-reviewed journals and found that the evidence from studies of U.S. cities, states and regions “is quite consistent … where there are higher levels of gun prevalence, homicide rates are substantially higher, primarily due to higher firearm homicide rates.” But, again, the 2004 report said: “None of the studies can prove causation. They merely examine the statistical association between gun availability and homicide.”

There’s also a chicken-and-egg question when it comes to gun violence. Did the violence come first, and then the guns followed, or the other way around?

“I don’t think any of us believe the arrow points in one direction,” says Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California-Davis and an emergency room doctor. It’s “probably true that rising crime leads to a perception of increased threat and, therefore, an increase in the prevalence of gun ownership.” And it’s “also the case that making firearms more available is followed by an increase in firearm crime.”

A study by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence found that seven of the 10 states with the strongest gun laws — by its own definition — also had the lowest gun death rates. Of course, there’s a chicken-and-egg issue with gun control laws, too — it’s easier to pass gun control laws in areas that already had low gun ownership, and harder to pass them in areas with more gun owners.

One thing that is clear: Guns are effective lethal weapons. “If there were no guns, the lethality of crimes would be less,” says Wellford. “You can’t have a drive-by knifing.”

In all cases of injury prevention, says Hemenway, the agent, or method, involved makes a difference. On Dec. 14, the day of the shooting in Newtown, another attack occurred at an elementary school in China. The attacker there had a knife, and injured 22 kids and one adult. But no one was killed. Why the stark difference in fatalities? “The answer is the type of weapon they had,” Hemenway says.

The NRC report, like Sorenson, said that more research was needed. “The federal government has to invest some money in doing research on what role guns play in violence,” Wellford says.

When we spoke with Wellford in 2008, he cautioned against drawing conclusions from statistics that didn’t prove causation. “Work that knowingly reports findings that do not meet a causal test knowing they will be used as if they do can only produce confusion especially in such contentious issues,” he said.

Gun Ownership in the U.S.

Moody, of William & Mary, makes a more general argument in favor of more guns tempering crime.

“We are awash in guns in the United States,” Moody said. “There are more every year and yet crime seems to be going down and down and down and down.”

It’s true that gun ownership is up. The Small Arms Survey, a project of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, estimated in 2007 that there were 270 million civilian-owned firearms in the U.S. In 2001, there were an estimated 230 million. So there are more guns, but are there more gun owners?

Nobody knows for sure, Hemenway said. Gun owners do not need to register simply to purchase a gun. And so, researchers are left to rely on surveys. According to yearly data from the General Social Survey, the number of households with guns is declining.

***PLEASE continue reading full article with sources at VISIT SITE, these facts and research information give us the opportunity to speak to this issue from fact based knowledge, rather from just emotional reactions.***
Charts and graphs are also on the home page.

****Correction, Dec. 21: This article has been changed to say there have been 130 school shootings since Columbine that resulted in the death or injury of at least one student or school staffer — not including suicides — about a quarter fewer than claimed by Rep. Donna Edwards. The original story in some places contained a higher percentage and failed to note that the school shooting figures included those with gun injuries.

– by Robert Farley, Lori Robertson and Eugene Kiely | Fact | The Annenberg Foundation |

Angelika R (143)
Friday January 18, 2013, 2:13 pm
"One thing that is clear: Guns are effective lethal weapons. “If there were no guns, the lethality of crimes would be less,” says Wellford. “You can’t have a drive-by knifing.” Darn right!
It is clear there needs be a complete registration of EVERY gun owner.

Terry King (113)
Friday January 18, 2013, 2:50 pm
the NRA administration doesn't give a damn about facts. They only care about promoting gun sales!

Kit B (276)
Friday January 18, 2013, 2:56 pm

True Terry but we should. People should know and understand that the NRA is not some benign group for gun owners but a strong functioning lobby that has and will continue to create false fears in Americans for the sole purpose of increasing gun sales for manufacturers of guns.

Mike S (86)
Friday January 18, 2013, 5:09 pm
Noted, shared, and thank you Kit. A prime example of greed taking precedence over human life. Sadly, it's what I have come to expect from from right wing ideologies.

pam w (139)
Friday January 18, 2013, 5:12 pm
"majority support for “banning the sale of military-style assault weapons,” “banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips” and “laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases.”

+++++++++++++++ How can ANY rational person disagree with this?

Kit B (276)
Friday January 18, 2013, 5:14 pm

No one said they were rational. Obstinate, yes, rational? Not so much.

marie C (163)
Friday January 18, 2013, 5:38 pm

John C (75)
Friday January 18, 2013, 9:55 pm
Kit, you're patience more patience.
Two months after Bonnie and Clyde were killed Congress passed a bill that would not limit the 2nd amendment. They decreed that it was OK to own them, (We are talking about machine guns here), But henceforth you had to have you';re fingerprints taken, and pay a hefty tax. Mc Arthur disarmed a post war Japan is the same way. He was military governor for 5 years

Here is the other side of the coin. This is the fear that no one who speaks of. It is the fear of my Granddaughter . She swims in a public pool.(Go ahead and let you're imagination run)
Should I shoot him even though she is wearing 7 pairs of overalls) All fathers fear this moment. She must confront it too. Here comes the place where the twist of fate can change a life. Accept it or not. It is always our choice.

Lisa Sears (150)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 6:58 am
Very good article, and aptly named... Facts vs Rhetoric. Thanks for sharing.

Ro H (0)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 7:02 am

Jaime Alves (52)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 7:05 am

Diane Lewis (0)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 9:06 am
thank you for the great article. i get from it that we don't have and it may be impossible to have, good scientific evidence of cause and effect with respect to guns. "with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates." i think we still have to try to decrease these mass murders that are so tragic, and to educate the public about guns and the long term effects of murder, suicide to a victim's family and friends.

Mary Donnelly (47)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 12:54 pm
Thanks Kit--great post.

M B (62)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 1:34 pm
The NRA is a sick lobby, we have to fight it. Get that cancer out of our chest ! Feel free without guns; don't listen to NRA, who's trying to brainwash / manipulate us with the "Second Amendment [Right to Bear Arms".
That has nothing to do with "freedom".

Kenneth L (314)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 5:54 pm
Someone somewhere else tried to use Switzerland as an example for promoting guns. "Almost everyone in Switzerland has a gun and there is little crime, so therefore more guns equals less crime". But correlation does not mean causation necessarily. In fact the exact opposite could also be true too that if NOBODY had any guns in Switzerland there also might be little crime! And in Japan for example, that is indeed the case.
Simplistic or incorrect reasoning can create poor conclusions.


Scott haakon (4)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 7:15 pm
The entire methodology is incorrect. Death is not the only item. Having seen what non gun injuries can do to a person death is not to be feared. What is is to have a crippled life. To live in pain. to be an object of disgust. Death is the circle of life. We all will die and none of us knows when or how. More kids die from car accidents.
me I rather have a choice when confronted by criminals. Unarmed populations are easily abused. Now it is true that gun owning areas without restrictive regulations have a lot less gun violence. Why because from early days the person is conditioned when and how to use a gun. Responsibility is taught from day one.

reft h (66)
Sunday January 20, 2013, 1:29 am
Quite true, Kenneth L. Switzerland is not a gun-toting utopia. They do things differently there, and many of the firearms in the homes are tied to being in the military. I often hear the pro-gun people bring up Switzerland as an example, but it is like comparing apples with oranges - both fruit perhaps, but quite different.

Kenneth L (314)
Sunday January 20, 2013, 4:46 am
If that ain't the truth June. It's ludicrous to equate the U.S. and it's particular long standing brand of gun mentality culture with any other country's culture. For all the U.S.' s paranoia about the gov't. taking the people over, the Swiss gov't. MANDATES a people's militia and GIVES them guns in lieu of even having a regular gov't. Army.

@Scott: 'unarmed populations are easily abused' That's an opinion and a generality. How 'unarmed'? Completely? Slightly? Define 'easily abused'. You have a whole lot of qualifying to do about that generality. And let's see the CAUSATION PROVED instead of just a correlation too..

@Scott " it is true that gun owning areas without restrictive regulations have a lot less gun violence".
Well that's a sweeping statement. What kind of 'gun violence'? Are you talking about the U.S. only? 'Restrictive regulations'? Where on earth in any democratic nation aren't there restrictive regulations regarding guns of one kind or another?.

Past Member (0)
Sunday January 20, 2013, 5:03 am

Stephen Brian (23)
Monday January 21, 2013, 12:09 pm
Outstanding article. Thank you, Kit. :)

There is, however, an important set of numbers not considered: What is the effect of gun-ownership on non-gun-crime? The standard argument in favour of gun-proliferation is not that letting law-abiding people carry guns would reduce shootings, but that it would deter violence in general, especially when assailants would otherwise use weapons other than guns. It's not only the gun-assault-rate that we need to consider, but overall assault-rates.

There are also some confounding factors not considered, probably because the appropriate data has not been compiled. How private gun-ownership rates affect crime rates may vary dramatically by police response-times. In places where the police cannot be expected to arrive in time to do anything at all, private gun-ownership-rates may reduce crime-rates far more than in places with lower response-times. Accident-rates may be affected by training-rates: How much time does the average owner spend at the range, or what proportion of gun-owners goes less than some threshold, like once per year, and how does that average, or number below the threshold correlate with accident-rates per gun-owning household?

Stephen Brian (23)
Monday January 21, 2013, 12:38 pm
Hi Kenneth :)

It is very difficult to prove causation regarding how well-armed a population must be to resist tyranny, but there is always the classic example. Modern democracy got its first foothold, really, in England. It may not be a coincidence that the Act of Settlement, with the first Prime Minister, arose very shortly after the population was rearmed under the Bill of Rights of 1689. The absolute rule of law started there, though only with non-serfs, with the Magna Carta, perhaps not coincidentally just before longbows, which could be produced by many Welsh farmers, came to dominate the weapons of its armed forces. We may well have to thank the wood of the area and the fact that effective longbows could be made from it for that early step towards democracy. Again, this is correlation and not causation, but it is a pretty exceptional case in both respects. For better statistics, look at the maps on the top-rights of each of these pages: (though this counts total, not private)
Then again, that may just mean that guns can be expensive, and this:

Hi Terry :)

The NRA cares about more than just gun-sales. First, it is made of people who have other interests, like public safety. They just believe that it can be best achieved by gun-proliferation. Also, as an organiztion, it cares about membership-numbers and enrollment-rates in NRA-run gun-safety and training classes (by which I mean it cares about its sources of income).

Kenneth L (314)
Tuesday January 22, 2013, 7:53 am
You're right Stephan Brian, which is why it does no good when way too many people simply spew out 'generalities as if they're true without having a good deal of proof (as far as possible) that it's true.
That's why this article by of Kit's is quite good. They really have no agenda or bias that I can see. This is shown when they qualify any conclusion they come to regardless of whether it's for or against something. Can't get much more unbiased than that.
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