Is it easier for teens to get guns than books? Obama thinks so.

'We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer, or even a book,' the president said during an interfaith memorial service Tuesday for five Dallas police officers.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
US President Barack Obama speaks during a memorial service following the multiple police shootings in Dallas, Texas, July 12, 2016.

Is it easier for teens in some communities to get guns than it is to get books? President Obama seems to think so.

He claimed as much during an interfaith memorial service Tuesday for five Dallas police officers killed by a sniper last week.

“We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer, or even a book,” Mr. Obama said.

Likely meant to shine a light on the lack of access to educational resources and the relatively easy access to guns in urban communities, the extraordinary claim was the most covered and criticized moment of the memorial.

Is what Obama said true? Obviously not. The Washington Post's Fact checker gave him three pinocchios. The Washington Examiner claimed it is 41,000 percent easier for teens to get their hands on books than on a Glock.

Legally speaking, it's against federal law for licensed dealers to sell a handgun, like a Glock, to people under 21. With few exceptions, it's also against the law for people below 18 to own handguns. To acquire a handgun legally, gun owners must go through background checks, mandatory courses, and permitting.

And Glocks aren't cheap. They sell for $500 legally, as low as $250 used, and as high as $1,500 to $2,000 on the black market.

Books and computers? No age limits, relatively easy access, and free, at a local library.

On the face of it, Obama's comments are absurd.

But take a closer look at the context:

"...[W]e ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves," he said. "As a society, we choose to under-invest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental-health programs. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.

"And then we tell the police, ‘You’re a social worker; you’re the parent; you’re the teacher; you’re the drug counselor.'"

"The implication underlying Obama’s comments is of course that he’s talking specifically about urban communities and other areas where gun violence is an epidemic," writes Mediaite. "[I]t is tragically more difficult for those in low-income areas to finds bookstores, libraries, and computer stores."

"It’s easier to buy a gun than a book? Not if you’re buying legally," adds Hot Air's Allahpundit. "What Obama means, I assume, is that in poor neighborhoods with higher crime, illegal guns may be easier to come by than books. He’s trying to make a point, I think, about the murder rates in places like his hometown of Chicago, not an overarching statement about the general availability of guns everywhere...."

In other words, in some communities it is far easier than it should be to get a gun, and far more difficult than it should be to get a book or access to a computer.

That much, at least, is backed up by a recent study that identified "book deserts" in poor neighborhoods of Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. The 2016 New York University study found that there were fewer bookstores in high-poverty areas where families can buy children's books. 

In fact, in a middle-income community, thanks to plentiful bookstores, 13 books for each child were available, according to the study. In contrast, there was only one age-appropriate book for every 300 children in a community of concentrated poverty.

Is it easier for teens to get a Glock than a book? Not even close. Obama's claim is patently false. But we may be remiss in entirely dismissing it because the underlying message is important: In some communities, it's far too easy for teens to come by illegal guns – and far too difficult to come by a good book.

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