Do Gun Owners Carrying Around A Gun Represent A Threat?

              One of Gun-control Nation’s most respected researchers, John Donahue,  has just published a new and very detailed study which allegedly proves that the more people who walk around with legally-accessed guns, i.e., folks with the legal right to carry (RTC) a gun on their person, the result is more violent crime. Donahue has made his reputation in the gun-control debate by being a no-nonsense opponent of John Lott and the Lott ‘more guns equals less crime’ thesis, as well as by analyzing public-access data from the CDC within a new regression methodology known as synthetic controls.

              Before we get to the substance of Donahue’s argument, a brief comment about whether regression analysis of open-source data is a sufficient method to explain how and why gun violence occurs at different rates in different places and at different times. In defense of this methodology, Donahue and his co-authors state that “synthetic control approach uniformly supports the conclusion that RTC laws lead to substantial increases in violent crime.” But when the authors attempt to make a cause-and-effect connection between crime rates and RTC, they always fall back on a vague reference of one trend being ‘associated’ with the other, which basically is a polite way of admitting that there’s no substantive cause-and-effect connection at all.

              I wouldn’t even consider this article to merit any attention on my part if it were simply an argument based on an analysis of data, whether the data is used or abused. But the larger part of the article doesn’t focus on data analysis. Instead, it’s a discussion of how and why  RTC-holders constitute a threat to public safety based on numerous examples of guys with RTC who committed violent crimes, usually gun assaults, by using their legally-owned guns. 

              The fact that out of 125,000+ gun injuries each year that less than one-tenth of one percent involve RTC-holders says nothing about the risks of RTC. Worse, the assumption made by Donahue about RTC behavior on which this entire article is based, is so far away from reality that I simply don’t understand how such shabby research gets published at all. The assumption proceeds from an article published by two psychologists in 2016 which found that gun owners tended to overestimate their ability to use a gun safely, thus leading to criminal misconduct, accidents, and lost or stolen guns. Donahue and his co-authors then go on to place the onus for more gun violence in RTC states on the assumption that the more people who have an RTC license, the more guns are being carried around. Do they have one, single bit of evidence to determine whether RTC actually results in more legally-owned guns are being carried by owners who don’t know how to use their guns?  No. Not any evidence at all.

              But these researchers don’t need data to say whatever they want to say. They can just take one trend, tie it to another trend and A must certainly explain B.  So, for example, they note a study which found that guns were stolen from roughly 1 percent of gun owners, and if there are now 16 million RTC holders, this amounts to more than 100,000 guns entering the illegal market each year. But the cited study did not differentiate between people who owned guns and gun-owners who also had RTC. Did it ever occur to Donahue and his colleagues that maybe RTC-holders might be a little more careful with how they stored and protected their guns?  Why bother to question their own totally-flawed assumption? After all, they got the answer they wanted to get.

              This research simply cannot stand against an even cursory analysis of its content, argument or scope. So how does it get published in a major academic journal and then ballyhooed all over the place? Because sad to say, some gun-violence researchers do not understand the difference between research and advocacy; they pretend to be engaged in the former but they really just practice the latter. And they want the CDC to pony up $50 million for their ‘research?’  Give me a break.

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3 thoughts on “Do Gun Owners Carrying Around A Gun Represent A Threat?

  1. I think the peer review on this stuff is probably pretty weak and engages in a bit of question-begging.

    During my own dissertation defense one of the people on my committee aggressively asked why I didn’t try to relate a bunch of rocks from my field area based on a trace element diagram that showed a nice correlation. I replied that I could plot up several dozen rocks from anywhere on earth that would form a similar correlation.The question was not whether there was a correlation, but whether there was a way to independently test the hypothesis that would relate those samples. It was more important to falsify the hypothesis than attempt to “assert” one by merely running a line through some data.

    Like Mike, I want to see some quantifiable evidence as to how RTC folks are contributing to gun violence. If there is no quantifiable evidence of this, then why play with numbers except to give the appearance of authority? What we often see is a bunch of arm waving and “association” arguments. Remember the joke about the correlation between numbers of churches and numbers of bars in Scottish towns?

  2. True Mike. The figures I’ve seen for how RTC causes an increase in violence don’t pass the sniff test.
    Unless having a sidearm results in some confrontations that would otherwise be just fist fights becoming pistol-whippings – and they’re then counting pistol-whippings as gun crimes.

  3. I’ve read his original paper twice and it seems to me that he published 10,000 statistically insignificant results and then wrote a misleading sentence referring just to the significant ones. Here’s how his conclusions should sound like:

    “My study shows no statistical association between RTC laws & the rates of homicides, gun homicides, or other violent crime, including gun-related assaults. Based on my data, policy efforts aimed at gun violence should investigate other targets for potential intervention.”

    Btw, this is exactly what Hamill et al. wrote: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S107275151832074X

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