If I have one problem with my friends in Gun-control Nation who do research on gun violence, it’s that they know next to nothing about guns. Virtually all of their research is based either on medical data from various branches of the CDC which yields a lot of information about who gets shot with guns, but very little about who does the shooting or why the shooting occurs.

            Alongside medical data, the other sources used by gun-control researchers are first-person surveys of gun owners which attempt to explain how gun owners change or don’t change their behavior in response to changes in gun laws.

            In that regard, I’m looking at a paper just published by NBER, which is a study of the effects of right-to-carry laws on crime and policing in various cities. The lead author, John Donohue, has been looking at the intersection of laws and behavior in the gun world for s number of years, and is considered an important scholar in this respect.

His scholarship in the area covered by this paper has become more important in the wake of the recent SCOTUS decision – NYSRPA v. Bruen – which extended the 2008 Heller decision granting 2nd-Amendment protection to handguns in the home to similar Constitutional protection for carrying a concealed handgun outside of the home.

I’m going to leave alone the whole issue of whether regression analyses, particularly synthetic controls, can really explain causal relationships between such dynamically variable factors as robbery and homicide, except to say that using such methodologies demands a very clear understanding of the social contours and circumstances in which events like violent crimes actually occur. Unfortunately, when the violent crimes involve the use of a gun, Donohue and his colleagues demonstrate major gaps in what they know about guns which makes it impossible to accept the validity or relevance of this research for developing effective gun-control policies.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this paper is the assumption that laws covering the carrying of guns has anything to do with the way in which people who use guns for criminal purposes think about using guns. The fact that certain crimes increased coincident with the passage of RTC laws, doesn’t necessarily mean that the behavior of one trend has anything to do with the behavior of the other, unless you set out to prove this to be the case.

Since more violent crimes are committed without guns than with guns, you would think that researchers would want to know what factors go into a decision that someone makes to use a gun to commit a violent crime. In fact, there has not been one, single study which has ever asked criminals who commit gun violence to explain the process which led them to: acquire a gun, acquire ammunition for the gun, load the gun, carry the gun, pull out the gun, point the gun at a potential crime victim, and in the case of an assault or homicide, pull the trigger of the gun.

Whether this sequence occurs over a brief period of time or over many years, if someone does not engage in all seven steps, a gun violence event will not occur. Should we assume that the passage of an RTC law in any way influences the decision-making process that results in someone using a gun against someone else? Sorry, but I’m not impressed with the idea that a regression analysis can give us a definitive answer to that question.

And Donohue isn’t sure either. So, what he does is to assume that RTC leads to more gun violence because of secondary results of RTC laws, namely, that more guns are stolen from individuals who are now walking around with a gun.

For the issue of gun theft, Donohue relies on research published by the Harvard Injury Control group, which estimates that 250,000 guns are stolen every year, and that the rate of theft is higher among gun owners who report carrying a gun as compared to those who leave the gun at home: “We find that owning many guns, owning guns for protection, carrying guns, and storing guns un[1]safely are associated with having guns stolen.”

How did Hemenway’s research team determine which respondents to their survey were carrying guns? They asked the following question: “In the past 30 days, have you carried a loaded handgun on your person?” If a respondent answer with a ‘yes,’ Donohue then assumes in his study that this type of individual was probably more frequently found in jurisdictions where RTC was in effect.

To their credit, Hemenway’s team makes it very clear that their research has significant limitations, up to and including the fact that they have absolutely no idea when guns were stolen, what kinds of guns were stolen, and a number of other limiting factors which gave the team a publishing credit but certainly doesn’t inform us about how guns move from legal to illegal gun-owners at all.

Does Donohue even suggest that perhaps the work on which he relies for his estimates about gun thefts has as many self-admitted holes as the piece of Dorman’s Swiss cheese that I’m going to eat when I finish this piece? Not one bit.

If the team which sent the new Webb telescope into orbit knew as little about outer space as Donohue knows about guns, we would have wasted nearly 10 billion dollars putting the Webb package into orbit last year.

In this respect, unfortunately, scholars like Donohue continue to publish research that are clever exercises in statistics but tell us next to nothing about the individuals who use guns to commit crimes.

That being the case, how can you use this research to design or implement effective laws to prevent people from committing crimes with guns?