An Important Study On The Risks Of Guns.


One of the longest-running arguments in the gun world is the issue of risks versus benefits of guns. The argument erupted in the late 1980s when the gun industry shifted its marketing from hunting and sport shooting to using a gun for self-defense. Chickens then came home to roost first with a survey published by Gary Kleck in 1995 and then a book published by John Lott in 1998.  The Kleck survey claimed that as many as 2 million violent crimes were prevented each year because the alleged victims were able to defend themselves with a gun. Lott took this idea one step further, claiming that in jurisdictions which began to issue concealed-carry licenses, homicides went down.  An entire academic cottage industry now exists which argues both for and against, an argument amplified by a lengthy and very detailed paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER.)  You can download the paper from my website here.

traffic             The lead scholar, John Donohue, has been chasing John Lott for at least 15 years, and has published (according to his Stanford University bibliography) at least 15 articles, op-eds and other comments about what he considers to be the methodological flaws and mistaken conclusions in Lott’s work. The NBER paper is the latest salvo coming from Donahue’s arsenal, and while my friend John Lott seems to be busy hopping from one alt-right radio show to the next, I suspect he’ll sooner or later post a response to what Donahue and his colleagues have said.

What they have said is that they extended Lott’s time-period from 2000 to 2014, and compared changes in violent crime rates between states which passed ‘right-to carry’ (RTC) laws and state that did not.  In the 9 states which never adopted RTC laws, violent crime declined by more than 40%, but in the 37 states which adopted RTC laws during the same period, violent crime declined by less than 10%.  In other words, people living in ‘shall-issue’ concealed-carry states are far less safe from violent crime than people that live in states where CCW is given out only with cause.

The NBER paper contains additional data which clearly undercuts Gun-nut Nation’s belief that, in and of themselves, right-to-carry laws reduce crime. But I have a much bigger issue with Lott’s ‘more guns = less crime’ approach that has nothing to do with statistics or data at all. Ultimately, Lott’s approach rests upon an assumption about the behavior of a certain class of human beings – criminals – that has absolutely no basis in truth or fact. And the assumption is that criminals who are thinking of committing a face-to-face crime (murder, assault) will decide instead to commit an anonymous crime if they believe that the victim whom they are thinking of attacking might be carrying a gun. He states this specifically on Page 6 of the 3rd edition of his book: “the criminals in states with high civilian gun ownership were the most worried about encountering armed victims.”

The idea that the unplanned, spontaneous and impulsive behavior resulting in homicide will be influenced or changed by some sort of rational, objective and planned decision simply flies in the face of reality and what we know to be the circumstances in which homicide and other violent crimes occur. Lott’s hardly an expert on homicide but Lester Adelson certainly is: “With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

The response to Lott by scholars like Donahue may clarify both the validity of relevant data and how it is used, but no matter how sophisticated the statistical method brought to bear, regression analysis can ‘associate’ different trends, the exact causal connection between, say, gun homicides and issuance or non-issuance of concealed-carry licenses remains vague at best.

Legitimate scholars like John Donahue are motivated by the hopes that their research will provide evidence which can be used to fashion workable public policies to deal with the injuries caused by guns. I have a policy suggestion that doesn’t need any scholarly validation at all: get rid of the damn things.  That’s all you have to do.

A New Study Reveals How And When All Those Bad Guys Get Their Hands On Guns.

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You may believe that the reason the NRA is so powerful is because of all the money they spread around Congress to block any sensible gun reforms. But that’s actually putting the cart before the horse, because what really makes them effective is the fact that a majority of shootings are classified as crimes, and Gun Nation has been very successful convincing everyone that they need to be concerned about crime and not about guns.

conference-program-pic              It’s a hard argument to refute when the numbers are on their side. In 2013, the last year for numbers in every gun violence category, there were 117,613 killed or wounded with guns.  Of this total, just short of 80,000 were homicides or aggravated assaults, another 21,000 were suicides and the remainder, roughly 17,000, were accidents of whom more than 97% lived. The bottom line is that when we talk about gun violence, like it or not, we are talking about crime.

And the NRA never misses an opportunity to remind us that guns aren’t the problem, it’s the bad guys, the criminals who are the problem. And since everybody knows that criminals by definition don’t obey laws, why pass more gun laws, particularly when all you end up doing is making it more difficult for all those law-abiding gun owners to enjoy playing around with their guns?

Ever since Gun Nation discovered that hunting was on the wane, some new rationale had to be advanced to promote the ownership of guns.  And what better use for a gun than to keep it around just in case one of those bad guys comes crashing through a window or the back door? And if you then produce studies which shows that law-abiding Americans use guns several million times each year to protect themselves from all those bad guys, how can you go wrong?

You can go wrong if what you are saying has little, if anything, to do with the truth.  And in that regard the National Bureau of Economic Research has just published a study on teen-age criminality that should be required reading for everyone concerned about GVP. The NBER is an independent economic think-tank that, among other things, is mandated by Congress to tell us when recessions begin and when they end. NBER also looks at a wide variety of issues that affect American society, and one of the issues that obviously impacts our society is the issue of crime.  This particular study examined the various factors which lead teen-age boys to form what the authors refer to as criminal ‘partnerships’ which result in the commission of crimes.  These partnerships or networks appear to develop around age 14, and they result in much higher levels of criminal activity than what is committed by kids acting on their own.

Couple this information with studies on adolescent gun access and a very interesting picture begins to emerge.  Alan Lizotte found that boys start carrying guns around age 14 and “the amount of serious violent crime the boys committed during periods of active gun carrying was more than five times the amount they committed when they did not carry guns.”  And where do these two groups – gun carriers and crime partnerships – intersect?  Not so much in the neighborhood, not so much in the street corner, but in school.  The NBER found that of all the factors involving personal contact which then leads to crime, it is the degree to which these adolescent boys first connect with one another in the same classrooms to which they are assigned.

The NRA promotes gun safety education in schools so maybe we should take them at their word.  But instead of telling kids how to behave safely with guns, how about the NRA saying that they shouldn’t own a gun at all?  If school-age kids don’t start carrying around guns, they can’t turn into bad guys and without all those bad guys, the rest of us wouldn’t need guns. Simple, isn’t it?


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