Does Either Side In The Gun Violence Debate Know Anything About Guns?

Nothing has been as joyfully received by Gun-nut Nation than the surge of gun-control activism following the Parkland massacre event. Because there’s nothing like a healthy and noisy opposition to get people interested again in buying guns. I’m willing to bet that gun sales, which have been in the toilet since Draft Dodger Don took the oath, will probably start moving back up. And DDD has now agreed to show up at the NRA, which will provoke more outrage from the other side, leading to more interest in guns.

NRA show             Yesterday our friends at The Trace sent out their daily newsletter with a story about a pro-gun rally in Minnesota which may have drawn as many as 2,000 hardy souls, along with another rally of red-blooded patriots which ‘packed’ the Pennsylvania State House to celebrate the annual rally to ‘Protect Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms.’ These two events probably brought 5,000 freedom-loving Americans together to celebrate their ‘God-given gun rights’ but I doubt if these events would have drawn a fraction of those numbers were it not for the Parkland kids.

What I find most interesting in the increased attention being paid to gun violence is the degree to which both sides find it convenient to wrap their strategies and beliefs around ideas which have absolutely no basis in truth. Gun Nuts are an easy target in this respect, because some of them, particularly the ones who troll my Facebook page, really believe that owning a gun is a God-given ‘right.’ Now the fact that our legal system is based on a secular document drawn up by a bunch of lawyers who spent a hot summer in Philadelphia, doesn’t mean that what these proponents of gun ‘rights’ either say or believe should ever be tested against what happens to be true.

But when it comes to arguing about guns, don’t make the mistake of thinking that stupidity only comes from the pro-gun crowd. Because there’s plenty of stupidity and dumbness on the gun violence prevention (GVP) side as well, a recent column on the Vox website easily making the grade. The Vox piece cites an article which recently appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in which the first sentence says, “Despite the high rates of unintentional firearm injuries…” and then cites three articles which don’t say anything about whether gun accident rates are high or not. The articles just say that gun injuries occur in homes which contain guns. Wow! What a remarkable finding; i.e., you need to own a gun in order to get injured when it goes off.

The NEJM article which found a reduction in gun accidents during NRA shows went all through the GVP media mélange like a horse let out to eat in a field where the grass was just cut. I mean, it tore through the GVP world and now is tearing through it again because the NRA show is coming right up.

The authors claim they used a “beneficiary-level multivariable linear regression of firearm injury,” which is short-hand for telling all you boobs out there that this is really an evidence-based piece of work.  It is so evidence-based that the authors didn’t even stop to ask why the NRA show happens to be scheduled every year at roughly the same time, and how this scheduling might play a role in how and when gun accidents occur.

The NRA show, which is usually but not always located in a Southern state, and draws most of its attendees from the South, just happens to be scheduled when hunting seasons in all Southern states have come to an end and just before folks start thinking about the beach. Guns don’t compete with the beach. And hunting accidents always go down just before and after hunting season comes to an end.

For all their hifalutin jargon, these public health researchers concocted a study examining a certain type of behavior about which they know nothing, not the slightest bit. But that didn’t stop Vox from taking this nonsense and making it a ‘must read’ for the gun-control side.  After all, why let facts get in the way of opinions, right?

4 thoughts on “Does Either Side In The Gun Violence Debate Know Anything About Guns?

  1. I know your article is meant to be lighthearted and humorous–and don’t worry, I’m not going to be a stick-in-the-mud who says “How dare you joke about something like this!” because I do enjoy your sense of humor–but I think you do mean to make a serious point as well, so I wanted to say that I don’t think you’re fairly characterizing the NEJM article. The article did control for the issue you mention by looking at states other than the state where the convention was held (based on the presumption that there would be higher attendance by in-state members). Presumably hunting season wouldn’t end at that time just in the state where the convention was held.

    But, more to the point of your hypothesis, I looked to see whether these conventions actually were held just after hunting season ended, as you suggested. I looked at the dates of the NRA conventions the researchers investigated (this is listed in the article’s supplementary appendix) and then I did an internet search to look up the hunting seasons for those states in the relevant years for some of the conventions they investigated (I could find the relevant information for only the most recent conventions they looked at). The conventions were in April or May, and so obviously were well after then end of the previous deer season and long before the beginning of the next, and the same held for small game seasons (except for frogs, which I doubt would explain much regarding gun accidents!); and the conventions were held DURING the early part of spring turkey season.

    Additionally, if the explanation of the drop were just that hunting season had ended and beach season was beginning, why do gun accidents rise again the week after the convention? So I’m not sure your explanation for the effect stands up.

    Also, your characterization of the three articles cited isn’t very accurate either (it’s funny, but it’s not accurate). For instance, one article’s purpose is to examine the relative frequency with which guns are involved in self-defense compared to the number of times they’re involved in accidental injury, suicide, and criminal injury or homicide; another article’s purpose is to see how gun-storage practices affect unintentional and self-inflicted firearm injury rates. Those articles clearly are trying to say more than “You need a gun in order to be injured when it goes off.”

    • That NEJM article ignores some serious questions of mechanism. The 2016 NRA Louisville convention attracted some 80,000 members in a nation of roughly 100 million gun owners and I imagine the TX convention will attract a similar number. That is roughly 0.1% of the gun owning public attending and we see a 20% reduction? Are the authors serious?? Plus, if that were the case, perhaps we need nonstop gun conventions all year in as many places as possible. Bring on more gun shows!

      The final paragraph in that NEJM article is a classic case of question-begging.

      A lot of so called gun violence prevention research comes up with spurious correlations and looks no further as long as the job of confirmation bias is done sufficiently well to please the authors and uncritical reviewers. Mike’s “Donohoe v Lott” paper (not the actual title), which is a good read, is a good start on explaining the problems behind this lack of rigor. Just seeing a correlation is a start. Proving that a correlation means more than statistical self-indulgence is another thing. Also, I wonder what would happen if rather than cherry-picking the short time interval, we looked at gun accident rates over all 52 weeks of the year. Given the small sample statistics of gun accidents, I wonder if their 20% number is well within the noise. Look at Figure 1.

      During my Ph.D. defense, one of the committee members saw a correlation in one of my diagrams and asked why I didn’t use it to draw a conclusion he wanted to hear. I replied that there was no reason to suspect that the correlation in question proved his hypothesis and in fact was a correlation created by a process that would create a correlation if I had collected rocks from different parts of the country, i.e., the correlation was a general one affecting the evolution of more silicic rocks. You need a viable hypothesis to test. Oh, and he voted to pass me.

      America’s love affair with guns means a lot of guns go off when they are not supposed to. That is the big picture. Trying to get out a meaningless publication, mindlessly parroted by the uncritical press, in order to get one’s name in a journal, doesn’t do crap to solve the big picture problem.

      Sorry to get so serious.

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