Of Course Hillary Wants To Make All Women Defenseless. That’s What happens When You Take Away The Guns.

Our good friend Tim Johnson, from Media Matters, has just released a story about the latest NRA advertising blitz which is a what-else-is-new argument about how HRC is going to take away all the guns. In this case the ad is specifically directed at women and starts off with a little spiel from a woman in Indianapolis who shot some guy after he attacked her with a knife. Now she’s a poster-person for Gun-nut Nation because, as she says, women have the ‘right’ to defend themselves with a gun.

hillary3            That’s right Kristi (she’s the lady in the ad) you certainly do have the ‘right’ to defend yourself with a gun.  You also have the right to defend yourself by calling 911, running away from the scene, using your fists or just using your mouth.  And while Gun-nut Nation wants you to believe that guns are a much more effective, in fact the only effective way to protect yourself from crime, the truth is that guns don’t, in fact, provide an extra measure of safety against crime.

Now of course Gun-nut Nation members who are reading this column will immediately jump up and say that any such study was no doubt put together by some gun-grabbing group, so it shouldn’t be taken as meaning anything at all.  But in fact, the study which shows that guns don’t provide an extra measure of protection is doesn’t come from the gun-grabbing cabal, it was conducted and published, in fact, by none other than Gary Kleck, whose 1995 study which estimated that gun-carrying civilians prevented 2 ½ million crimes from being committed every year. And this estimate, which has been debunked by just about every serious scholar who has ever bothered to review Kleck’s work, remains the non plus ultra argument within Gun-nut Nation for concealed-carry up to the present day.

Kleck’s study on how victims resist crime compared various self-protection (SP) strategies, including using guns or other weapons, running away, yelling or calling attention to the problem, calling the police or hiding away.  And with many caveats about the difficulty of analyzing this kind of data, Kleck’s conclusion is this: Using a gun to defend against a violent crime appears to be somewhat more useful in preventing injury, but the difference wasn’t “statistically significant.” And complicating the analysis even further was the fact, according to Kleck, that the very limited number of defensive gun uses made it difficult to determine the value of using a gun as a protective strategy at all.

Hey – wait a minute.  I thought that Kleck said there were millions of defensive gun uses every year. And didn’t Mr. Trump say that if someone had brought a gun into the Pulse that the horrible shooting in Orlando wouldn’t have taken place?  Now you would think that when the Grand Master of all defensive gun uses says that he really can’t prove that guns make any real difference in providing protection from crime that maybe, just maybe, Gun-nut Nation would pull back a bit, reconsider one of its most cherished ideas and perhaps, God forbid, admit that their attempt to get everyone to go out and buy a gun is based on nothing other than what they want rather than what really is.

But let’s go back to the issue that provoked this column, namely, Tim Johnson’s report on the new HRC attack ad being mounted by the NRA.  Their main man, Donald Shlump-o, is beginning to fall behind in PA.  All of sudden the great surge in Ohio appears to have come to an end.  The Florida polls don’t look all that great.  These are three big gun states and these are states which if they don’t go red, the main actor in the Fox News reality show known as the Republican Presidential campaign is toast.  So why not push an argument about defensive gun use that has no basis in truth?  Hasn’t this been the Trump-o strategy from Day One?



Crime Rates Go Down And Of Course It’s Because Of All Those Guns.

Ever since the gun industry realized back in the 1990s that hunting was becoming a relic of the past, we have been inundated with the message that guns are necessary because they protect us from crime.  The ‘research’ which allegedly showed this to be the case was published in 1995 by Gary Kleck, who used telephone interviews with 213 respondents to argue that people walking around with guns were preventing two to three million crimes from being committed every year.

conference program pic              Kleck has recently admitted that even though his estimate of defensive gun use (DGU) may be too high, nobody else has come up with better numbers, so we might as well accept his numbers anyway.  In fact, David Hemenway and Sara Solnick have come up with better numbers because their research was based on 90,000 interviews, and what they found was that DGUs accounted for less than 1% of all victims protecting themselves from crimes, on the order of perhaps 70,000 instances every year. But Hemenway, like Obama, is from Harvard, so we know what he’s saying can’t be true.

The good news for the gun industry is that coincident with the idea that more guns equals less crime, beginning in the mid-90s, violent crime rates began to fall.  And they fell so dramatically that the national crime rate today is roughly half of what it was back in 1994.  Meanwhile, over the same twenty years, the size of the civilian gun arsenal has increased by somewhere around 50 percent.  And leave it to another pro-gun mouthpiece posing as a scholar – John Lott – to ‘prove’ that as gun ownership and concealed-carry go up, crime rates go down.

Everything else being equal, whenever I substitute a salad for a banana split at the dinner table, my weight goes down. But that’s because there is a proven connection between the number of calories I ingest each day and what then happens when I step on a scale.  There has never been any such connection ever demonstrated between crime rates and the legal ownership of guns.  But that doesn’t stop the gun industry from pretending otherwise, even if they have to misstate the data they use to support their case.

My father used to say that figures don’t lie but liars sure can figure, and here’s the latest example of that adage direct from the NRA. According to the FBI, violent crime in 2014 dropped another 0.9%.  This included a 1% decrease in murder and a 6% decline in robbery, the two of four violent crime categories in which guns are “more likely to be used.”   Assault increased 1.3%, but guns are less likely to be used in assaults, according to the NRA.  And not only are murders down, but the percentage of murders committed with guns also fell by 1.6%.

Actually, not only did aggravated assault go up, but so did the percentage of assaults committed with guns.  And the real reason that murder went down is because trauma centers are increasingly adept at saving the lives of gun-shot victims who previously would have ended up dead.  If the percentage of aggravated assault and the percentage of aggravated assaults with guns both go up, which they did, then the way in which trauma teams deal with gunshots is a much more compelling way to explain why gun murders go down.

The NRA and the NSSF can celebrate the alleged link between decreases in crime decline and increases in gun ownership all they like, but the real truth is that 95% of the drop in violent crime occurred between 1994 and 2003.  Since that time there has been a slight continuing downward trend, but it is also over the past decade that gun sales have soared.  Which means there may not be any necessary connection between gun ownership and protection from crime. But why let facts get in the way of a story that continues to sell?




Oops – Jon Lott Does It Again. He Just Can’t Stop Using Real Or Imagined Women To Advance His Views On Guns.

Everyone on both sides of the gun debate knows John Lott.  He’s been a leading promoter of the armed citizen nonsense since he published a book which claimed to find a connection between an increase in CCW and a decrease in crime.  The fact that a review committee of the National Academy of Sciences was unable to replicate his findings using his own data was a minor stumble in what has become a full-blown career promoting the idea that carrying guns around protects us all from crime.

In 1997 Lott appeared before a committee of the Nebraska legislature and stated that he had conducted a national survey which showed that nearly all DGUs (defensive gun uses) involved brandishing but not actually firing a gun.  When his survey results were challenged, Lott was unable to produce any data, claiming that it was lost when his hard drive crashed.

John Lott

John Lott

I’m not all that upset about the degree to which Lott has or hasn’t faked information about CCW, DGUs or anything else.  The truth is that once the gun nuts found a willing sycophant who would cloak his pro-gun advocacy in some kind of  ‘scientific’ or ‘academic’ approach, it didn’t really matter whether scholars on the other side of the debate agreed with him or not.  In fact, the more that scholars like Harvard’s David Hemenway and Stanford’s John Donohue call Lott to account, the more the red-meat noise machine comes to his defense.   And what the hell, a guy has to earn a living, doesn’t he?

But I’m beginning to think that Lott may have now gotten involved in a situation that even his most ardent friends and supporters may find it difficult to come to his defense. I’m referring to a story that appeared in Media Matters, regarding what appears to have been an effort by Lott to publish an article supporting  guns on campus that was actually written not by him but by a Brown University student named Taylor Woolrich.  In what can only be described as an act of journalistic identity theft,  Lott got this op-ed piece published on Fox News.com, complete with a headline that read: “Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun.”  The piece was originally sent to Fox under both their names but was rejected, then Fox changed its mind and was willing to run the op-ed under Taylor’s name but she declined but gave Lott permission to send in the piece using her name.  Except she didn’t give him permission to rewrite the entire piece, in particular the conclusion that starts with the following sentence: “Having a gun is by far the most effective way for victims to stop crime.”  What Woolrich thought was going to be a story about the trauma of stalking turned into a Lott-inspired paean to the value of citizens carrying concealed guns.

This episode wouldn’t be so interesting were it not for the fact that John Lott seems to have an interesting history when it comes to using or inventing female identities to advance and defend his own career. In various web postings, particularly websites that were critical of Lott’s work, a former PhD candidate at Wharton named Mary Rosh defended Lott, calling him the “best professor I ever had.” There was only one little problem – Mary Rosh was actually John Lott and he has never adequately explained how or why this case of false identity came about.

There’s been a lot of chatter over the years, much of it harmless or aimless, about the alleged link between sexual inadequacy and gun ownership, the idea being that guys who feel impotent in the bedroom can compensate to their heart’s content when they pull out their AR and head to the range.  In the case of John Lott, we have a major pro-gun personality who keeps using women, real or imagined, in ways that must leave him feeling embarrassed if not ashamed.  And the saddest thing about it is that he always seems to get caught.

cover3 Available on Amazon.

Here’s A New Chapter In The Great DGU War.

The latest salvo in the DGU War has been shot off, and this barrage may go a long way to permanently cripple the argument that guns are used several million times each year (ergo, Defensive Gun Use)to prevent crimes.  DGU has been the rallying-cry of the ‘armed citizen’ and concealed-carry movements since the gun industry decided that personal protection would replace hunting as a way to sell guns.  And any time a politician wants to pander to a right-wing base (and there’s going to be lots of such pandering over the next 16 months), he can always prove his love of the 2nd Amendment by  insisting that gun ownership protects property and saves lives.

conference program pic                The idea that guns are used each year to prevent millions of crimes was invented by a criminologist, Gary Kleck, who published a survey in 1995 of 225 respondents that was immediately promoted by the pro-gun community and still remains the so-called proof that a gun in hand every day keeps the criminal away.  I say ‘invented’ not because of the significant analytical lapses that have been pointed out again and again, but for the very simple reason that he did not ask the respondents to describe in any way, shape or form the actual crime for which their access to a gun kept from taking place.  What Kleck only learned is that some 220 people thought they were going to be the victims of a crime, not that any crime could or did take place.

Now you would think that testing the ability of people who randomly answered their telephone to create a make-believe scenario about something that may or may not have happened would be dismissed out of hand as just so much intellectual junk.  But I don’t remember the last time pro-gun folks argued for an extension of concealed-carry onto college campuses or other public venues without citing Kleck or other proponents of DGU.

A long-time critic of Kleck has just published a new DGU study that uses as its inclusion criteria an admission by the survey respondent that an attempted or completed crime actually occurred.  And the survey data, drawn from the National Crime Victimization Survey, goes to great lengths to validate that what the respondent says about the criminal incident can more or less assumed to be true.  And this survey, based on interviews covering 14,000 criminal events, is that defensive gun use before or during the commission of a real crime is a pretty rare event.  Not only did a DGU occur in less than 1% of the total crimes (127 events) but the result when the victim used any kind of defensive action was basically the same as when the victim defended himself or herself with a gun.

You can get details of the study in today’s article in The Trace, written by the Armed With Reason duo, DeFilippis and Hughes, who tangled with Kleck earlier this year. They make a persuasive case for the strength of the analysis in this new piece, but I suspect that the pro-gun noise machine will reject their arguments, as well as defend Kleck’s DGU nonsense on the following grounds.  First, they will argue that since Kleck asked respondents about whether they used a gun to stop a crime before it occurred, comparing such behavior to situations when a gun was used after the crime began to take place is to make a comparison that simply isn’t fair.

The second and to me much more important reason why pro-gun and DGU proponents will dismiss this new work is that, when all is said and done, these folks have no interest in any discussion about guns that is rooted in evidence-based facts.  I don’t know what Kleck was thinking when he devised (and still defends) a survey which made no attempt whatsoever to validate what people said, but his work comes in handy when it comes to selling guns.

Is Gun Ownership A Risk Or A Benefit? The VPC Report Says It’s Definitely A Risk.

If there is one issue which continues to define the gun debate, it’s whether the 30,000+ gun deaths and 60,000+ gun injuries that occur each year can be justified because guns also protect us from crime. Not surprisingly, the pro-gun community led by the NRA has not only embraced the notion that armed citizens protect us from crime, but use this notion to explain the decline in violent crime over the past twenty years.

While nobody would argue with the idea that a gun can be used as a protective device, the problem is trying to figure out just exactly how often what is called a Defensive Gun Use, or DGU, actually takes place.  Most of the DGU evidence is purely hypothetical, based on anecdotal accounts which total less than 100 DGU events per year.  For that matter, the DGU survey conducted by Gary Kleck, which claimed that DGU events totaled more than 2 million per year, was based on interviews with 213 respondents, at a time when, according to Kleck, most people with access to a gun that could be used defensively didn’t necessarily have the legal right to own a gun at all.  So if you’re trying to gauge how people behave with an object that they can’t necessarily tell you they actually possess, you have something of a problem validating anything they might say.

conference program pic                The issue of how often guns are used in self-defense is the point of a new study released by the Violence Policy Center, which studied data on DGUs for the period 2007 – 2012.  THE VPC study uses data from two sources to get at the number of DGUs that happen each year.  The first source is the FBI, which tabulates justifiable homicides, defined as “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.”  In 2012 there were 259 justifiable homicides committed with a gun, and over the five-year period beginning in 2008, the yearly average was 221.

The other source for DGUs is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) conducted each year by the Department of Justice, which shows an average of 47,140 DGUs each year.  The NCVS data doesn’t indicate whether a gun that was used in self-defense against a criminal was actually fired, but it does disclose that of all methods used by victims of violent crimes to defend themselves before or during the attack, a gun was the preferred method of defense less than 1% of the time.  What was the most frequent way in which crime victims defended themselves?  What you would expect, namely, by using their mouths to yell, scream or otherwise alerting either their attacker or others that something dangerous was going on.

Not surprisingly, pro-gun advocates have been taking pot-shots at the NVCS and other surveys which show minimal DGUs with guns.  Gary Kleck recently re-surfaced in Politico where he defended his 1994 estimate of 2.5 million yearly gun DGUs without advancing any new data, even though the extension of CCW to all 50 states has rendered his basic thesis (that most people could not admit to carrying a gun outside the home) basically invalid.

I buy the NVCS data about DGUs for one simple reason, namely, that the survey covers a large number of respondents – more than 90,000 households – and is conducted yearly so that trends can be developed and verified over time.  I also buy the FBI data because, when all is said and done, justifiable homicide is an objective definition for DGUs, rather than a subjective opinion about a criminal event that may or may not have taken place. In that regard, by comparing the scant number of gun DGUs to the 90,000+ gun mortalities and morbidities that occur each year, the VPC report represents a positive contribution to the gun debate.  And if the pro-gun folks don’t feel comfortable engaging in a debate using evidence-based data, so what else is new?

Does A Gun Protect You From Crime? A New Study Says You Should Just Run Away.

If there is one issue more than any other which divides the two sides in the great gun argument, it’s whether guns are an effective deterrent against crime.  The controversy has been raging since advocacy for and against gun ownership escalated during the debate over the 1994 Brady bill and again when Clinton pushed through his omnibus bill on crime.  Basically the argument came down to what I call the social utility of gun ownership; i.e., do the risks of guns outweigh the benefits or is it the other way around?

The latest entry in this field is a study that analyzes more than 14,000 ‘personal contact’ crimes between 2007 and 2011, meaning that the victim and the perpetrator had some degree of contact during the crime incident itself.  The good news about this study is that it covers a very large number of criminal incidents; the bad news is that like all studies based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, it is based solely on the testimonies of the victims themselves. Which means that the information cannot be corroborated by another source, but at least the respondent is asked to provide a great deal of specific information about what actually took place.

gun crimes                The researchers, David Hemenway and Sara Solnick, have utilized the NCVS data to create what they call an ‘epidemiology’ of gun use, with the intention of trying to figure out the degree to which people used guns to protect themselves from crimes.  This issue of frequency has been the hot-button question in the gun argument over the past twenty years, spurred largely by Gary Kleck’s 1994 defensive gun use (DGU) study which claimed that Americans used guns to thwart crimes upwards of several million times each year. Kleck’s study was based on complete interviews with less than 125 respondents, none of whom were asked to define or describe the alleged criminal event which a gun helped them to forestall.  There was also no attempt to compare the outcome of using a gun to prevent a crime as opposed to other methods that individuals might use to make themselves safe from criminal attack.

This new study, on the other hand, seeks to address the gaps in Kleck’s work and the work of others, and the results, not surprisingly, cast the value of defensive gun use in a very different light. To begin, the number of times that people use guns as opposed to other ways of defending themselves is very slight; less than 1% of the 14,000 respondents used a gun against their attacker, whereas more than 40% defended themselves or their property in some other way. Men were three times more likely to use a gun to defend themselves, they were also more likely than women to get involved in DGUs away from the home, and men used guns more for defense against assaults while women favored using guns to protect their property from being damaged or taken away.

The important finding from the study, it seems to me, is not the relatively low frequency of DGUs as opposed to other self-defense methods, but the degree to which using a gun as a defense against crime reduces the chance of injury to the victim.  Slightly more than 4% of the victims were injured during the criminal incident, the percentage of injuries suffered by victims who used other ways to defend themselves was the same.  The bottom line is that a gun will protect you from crime, but it won’t protect you better than yelling for help, threatening to call police, or just running away.

On the other hand, what public health and other gun-safety advocates need to understand is that even if the data doesn’t support the idea, statistically speaking, that guns can protect us against crime, the fact is that many people believe that a gun is the most effective antidote to their fear of crime, and it’s often what we believe rather than what we know that determines the choices we make.

Do Guns Protect Us From Crime? Here’s A Serious Study That Says No.

Sooner or later someone is going to realize that most of what the NRA claims to be the value of gun ownership simply isn’t true.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love guns, bought my first real gun when I was twelve years old and have owned hundreds ever since.  But to me guns are a hobby, like model trains and toy soldiers, and I recoil in anger and disgust whenever the gun lobby tries to invest some kind of sacred value in their existence or use.  And one of the biggest lies about gun ownership that is spun again and again is the idea that guns are an effective way to protect us against crime.

This nonsense first started making the rounds when a criminologist, Gary Kleck, published a paper in 1994 which claimed that Americans used guns several million times each year to prevent what would otherwise have been crimes. He didn’t say that gun owners shot their guns at would-be criminals; he said that gun owners let a potential criminal know that they were going up against someone with a gun.  In fact, not a single person (less than 240 in a national survey) who claimed that they used a gun in this way could prove that their account of what happened was actually true.  Not a single incident was reported to police or verified by anyone else.  And in more than half the so-called defensive gun uses (DGUs) it turned out that the so-called criminal had neither said nor done anything that indicated criminal intent or any other kind of intent.  How did the gun owner who committed the DGU know that he was preventing a crime from taking place?  He didn’t.

John Lott

John Lott

Kleck’s work was shortly supported by another research hack named John Lott whose data that he used to “prove” that concealed-carry permits resulted in less crime turned out to be data that, to be polite, perhaps didn’t exist at all.  When he was asked to produce his data by the National Academy of Sciences he couldn’t; when he produced what he claimed was “similar” data the National Academy’s analysts couldn’t replicate his findings at all. When other scholars took his substitute data and used a different methodology, the crime rates that Lott said went down actually went up.

Don’t think for one second that the inability of either Kleck or Lott to validate their research to an even minimal degree has stopped the gun lobby from promoting the idea that guns protect us from crime or has prevented the two erstwhile scholars from finding receptive audiences for continued showcasing of their work.  Kleck routinely appears in courtrooms giving depositions and expert testimony on behalf of the NRA; Lott promotes himself endlessly and shamelessly on Fox and various right-wing blogs.

Now along comes a serious scholar named Michael Siegel who continues to provide us with peer-reviewed studies on gun violence which, to put It bluntly, shows the work of Kleck and Lott to be what it really is. In 2013, Siegel and his colleagues published a detailed article which found a significant correlation between gun ownership rates and gun homicides on a state-by-state basis.  Previously, the work of Hemenway and others had demonstrated a possible link between elevated gun homicides and gun ownership on a national level; the research by Siegel and his team, focused on more state-level data, made the connection between guns and gun homicide much more specific and real.

The new study takes the state data on gun ownership and tests the correlation between gun ownership and whether the perpetrator and victim either knew each other or not.  It turns out that gun ownership did not really alter the amount of gun homicides involving people who didn’t know each other, but gun homicides were significantly higher in gun-owning households where the perpetrator and victim did.  Why didn’t the gun homicide rate decline between strangers if guns are such a good way of protecting us from crime?  Because the studies which claim this to be true aren’t studies at all; they are promotional campaigns to sell more guns.