Greg Ridgeway is a statistician turned criminologist who was Associate Director of the National Institute of Justice from 2013 to 2014. During his tenure he authored what has become something of a cult piece for the pro-gun community, namely, a memo called Summary of Select Firearm Violence Prevention Strategies, which keeps turning up in various pro-gun commentaries as a basic ‘proof’ that gun-control programs don’t work. The latest broadside to cite Ridgeway’s document in approving fashion is a report by David Kopel published by the Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank that has been promoting the pro-gun agenda for years.
I was going to respond to Kopel’s propaganda until I realized that Ridgeway’s little missive deserves some attention all its own. Because, when all is said and done, we know that Kopel is going to dismiss any and all GVP programs because as a researcher for Cato, that’s what he is paid to do. On the other hand, Ridgeway’s memo was written while he was employed by the National Institute of Justice, which happens to be the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, which happens to be responsible for enforcing all those gun regulations that people like Kopel tell us shouldn’t exist, never mind enforced. So if the DOJ is sending out a memo on gun control strategies that is acceptable to pro-gun schmucks like Kopel, this is something that needs to be investigated and better understood.
In his section on why extending background checks is a bad idea, Kopel says that, according to Ridgeway, “a system requiring background checks for gun sales by non-FFLs is utterly unenforceable without a system of universal gun registration.” To begin, there is no such statement anywhere in Ridgeway’s memo. Kopel’s entire argument about the efficacy of background checks is predicated on an alleged statement by Ridgeway that does not exist. What Ridgeway does say is that recovering guns from individuals who purchased them legally but then commit behaviors that disqualify them from gun ownership (e.g., involuntary commitment, domestic abuse), is more difficult without knowing whether such individuals own guns. That doesn’t support Kopel’s anti-registration argument at all.
I opened up Ridgeway’s memo expecting to find a document that would support most, if not all the pro-gun arguments made by gun fantasists like Kopel. I refer to Kopel as a ‘fanstasist’ because his basic argument for gun ownership is based on a fantasy that has nothing to do with reality at all. And the fantasy is that guns are a positive social factor in our lives because they protect us from crime. In fact, the conclusion of Kopel’s entire essay says that “the most effective paths to preventing mass shootings are improving access to mental care and removing impediments to lawful self-defense and defense of others.” Here we go again – Donald Trump telling us that shooters are crazy and we should all follow his example and walk around with a gun.
But you won’t find any of that crap in Ridgeway’s memo; indeed, it’s a very balanced piece of work. For example, the memo claims that gun buybacks don’t work. But the buybacks discussed in the memo only involved national, country-wide efforts, whereas buybacks conducted in targeted venues have, as might be expected, varying degrees of success. Another sacred cow of the pro-gun community, hi-capacity magazines, is also treated honestly and in balanced fashion by Ridgeway who says that a hi-cap ban could only be effective when or if extant hi-caps disappeared, but he also notes that “there is reason to believe that reducing the availability of large capacity magazines could have an effect on the total number of homicides.”
When the DOJ or any government agency issues a statement about guns, the GVP community needs to evaluate it not on the basis of whether it says what we want it to say, but whether it is based on reason and facts. We certainly won’t get either from Cato or David Kopel.