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.

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Why Do Gun Owners Love Their Guns? Not Because They Protect Us From Anything.

One thing about the gun debate I find interesting is how quickly and easily gun owners get riled up when politicians, or anyone else for that matter, begin talking about taking away their guns.  From the way they talk, you’d think the world was about to come to an end.  What was Heston’s famous line?  “From my cold, dead hands.”  Here’s a guy who made more forgettable movies than anyone could ever remember, but five words uttered at the NRA convention and he’s immortalized forevermore.

I see the same intensity of feelings in comments on my blog.  “You’re a traitor,” is one of the less-angry ones; “Mike the Gun Guy is Enemy #1,” crops up from time to time.  I have never once advocated any legislative or legal response to gun violence, but God forbid I say that maybe some of what the NRA claims to be true isn’t so true and you’d think I was calling for the confiscation of every, single gun.

heston                Maybe  I just don’t appreciate how gun owners think about their guns. So yesterday I decided to get a better understanding of the average gun owner by conducting a survey on how frequently gun guys (and gals) actually walk around with a gun.  After all, if you listen to the NRA, you quickly learn that nobody understands the problems faced by gun owners like they do, and nothing is more important to gun owners than being able to protect themselves and their loved ones by walking around with a gun.

So yesterday I sat down and sent an email to 650 people who took the required safety course from me that my state requires for issuance of the LTC.  And if they had, in fact, received the LTC, I asked them to tell me how often they carried a concealed weapon with the choices being: always, usually, sometimes, frequently or never at all.  Obviously, the folks who said they always or usually carried a concealed weapon were embodying Wayne LaPierre’s “good guys” dictum; the rest were pussies or worse.

Within 24 hours I received back more than 130 responses, of whom 102 stated they had received their LTC.  And how did the NRA do in convincing MR or MS gun-owner that they would be fulfilling a sacred trust by walking around with a gun?  Not very well, I’m afraid.  Only 29 of 97 LTC-holders reported that they ‘always’ or ‘usually’ carried a gun, of whom 22 were guys and 6 were gals.  The rest just weren’t convinced that they needed to carry a gun, and 53 of the respondents, 39 men and 10 women reported that they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ carried a concealed weapon at all.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The latest numbers indicate that there are roughly 8 million active concealed-carry permits in the United States, so if the results of my poll are representative, that means there may be about 2 million people walking the highways and byways of our beloved country ready at any moment to yank out and use their guns.  But 2 million doesn’t even represent 1% of the country’s population so it’s not like there’s some huge, gun-toting army out there just waiting to protect the rest of us from the criminal hordes.

On the other hand, a couple of million people who believe that something’s about to happen in DC that will directly affect them can make a lot of noise.  They can contact their Representatives, or make a telephone call, or send a nasty email to me.  I have never done any of those things because I can’t recall that Congress ever debated a law which would have any direct impact on me.  But the NRA, to their credit, has managed to make its membership feel that any discussion about gun control is a discussion about them.  Why pass up the opportunity to let everyone know what is the most important thing to you?  I wouldn’t, that’s for damn sure.

A Gun Control Activist Reflects On His Battles With The NRA

The Wall Street Journal carried an interesting interview this morning with Mark Glaze who, until Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts combined to form Everytown, was the Executive Director of Bloomberg’s first gun-control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.  I’m not sure whether this group ever had a clear objective for what it wanted to do; some of its research efforts were outstanding, some were duds, there didn’t seem to be any attempt to forge a unified and active voice among the city mayors who comprised the membership, and their lobbying efforts in Washington certainly never paid off.  But that’s all history now as Everytown seems to be ramping up for the next round, meanwhile Mr. Glaze sat down with a WSJ reporter to reflect on what he had and hadn’t done.

What I found most interesting in his comments was an attempt to tie the failure of gun control in Washington to other issues that have nothing to do with guns.  In particular, Glaze focused on the controversy about NSA spying that emerged in the flight and prosecution of Anthony Snowden, as well as the botched roll-out of the website that prevented people from signing on to the ACA.  To quote Glaze: “There’s an almost perfect overlap, I think, between the people who are the most active and radicalized gun voters and people who just don’t like and trust the government very much.”

acaThe fact that both the website mess and Snowden’s revelations occurred long after the post-Sandy Hook gun control bill was dead and buried doesn’t really negate his general point of view.  The NRA has been attacking the Federal government’s alleged whittling away of gun rights for the last twenty years, in particular whenever a Democratic administration tries to enact even the most mild gun reforms.  In fact, the gun bill that was ultimately voted down in 2013 was a much less draconian measure – in terms of the scope of government regulation – than what Clinton got through the Congress in the form of the Brady Bill in 1993 and the assault weapons ban in 1994.

Glaze shouldn’t be faulted for seeing only the tip of the iceberg because his vantage-point for understanding the behavior of the NRA is, by definition, the very narrow perspective that surrounds anyone who’s work ties them to hanging around DC. The truth is that what makes the NRA so formidable is not the care and attention they lavish on elected officials in Washington (what they hand out for political campaigns is a tiny fraction of what other industries like banking and lawyers shell out every two years) but their efforts at the state level to promote issues like LTC.

In 1994, following passage of Brady, less than half the states operated under laws that made it relatively easy to qualify for concealed-carry permits, a number which has swelled to include just about every state, even though the Supreme Court explicitly stated that the 2nd Amendment did not cover carrying a gun outside the home for self defense when they ruled for Heller in 2008.  And while there are still a few jurisdictions, particularly large cities like Washington, New York and Chicago where LTC is basically not issued, probably 90% of all Americans, particularly in areas where everyone owns a gun, can qualify to carry a gun on their person with about as much difficulty as they would encounter in acquiring a license to operate a small boat.

If the NRA has been the main voice preventing more gun control in Washington, it’s because out in the hinterlands most of us can walk around with a gun in our pocket and pretend that we are the “good guys” who are on the lookout to protect everyone else from the “bad guys” with guns.  The fact that gun violence rates have stabilized or increased slightly in the years since LTC became the law of the land is one of those inconvenient facts that the NRA simply chooses to ignore.  But nobody ever said that a successful advocacy campaign requires having the facts on your side.  What the NRA knows how to do is reach gun owners in ways that really count, a strategy that the gun control folks still need to figure out.