Debunking the “Pro-Gun Myth” Debunker, Part 1

Walker Bragman (right, courtesy skidmorenews.com)

Walker Bragman [above right] is back. Just a few days ago I tromped all over his The Culture of Guns and Misinformation. Now he’s back spewing more dis- and mis-information in Debunking 18 Pro-Gun Myths. My regular readers are familiar with the phrase undulating lies. For those who aren’t, an undulating lie is when someone tells you something that is factually true, but so misleading as to constitute a lie. I heard a perfect example of the undulating lie the other day from an anti who testified at the Minnesota legislature . . .

He was supporting “universal background checks” because a DoJ study showed that almost 80% of criminals got their guns from private transfers. The strong implication was that, if only private sales had to go through NICS checks, these “transfers” wouldn’t happen.

What makes that an undulating lie is the fact that, as shown in this study, almost 40% of felons get their guns from family or a friend while another almost 40% got them from what is euphemistically described as “street/illegal source.” Who here thinks that Frankie Felon would take his brother Phineas to the store for a NICS check before loaning him a pistol?

So does Walker have anything new to contribute this time around?

In my discussions with pro-gun advocates from the conservative right, I have repeatedly come across similar arguments supported by misrepresentations of fact. Although I addressed some of these in my last article on guns, I will readdress and enumerate those assertions, one-by-one, with supporting facts that should be considered.

Yippee! Facts! I like facts. So what’s Walkie’s first myth?

“More guns equal less crime!”

John Lott Jr. wrote a controversial book titled More Guns, Less Crime that has been debunked by peer review. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center discovered a positive correlation between gun ownership and violence. Since the 1970′s crime has been declining with gun ownership in the United States.

It’s amazing that people like Walker can keep a straight face when making statements like that. One of the most “controversial” things about Dr. Lott’s work when it came out was the idea of correlation and causation. Here are some of the variables Dr. Lott’s book took into account:

  1. Population
  2. Arrest rate by type of crime
  3. Unemployment rate
  4. Percentage of families headed by females
  5. Family poverty rate
  6. Median family income
  7. Per capita income
  8. Percentage of the population living below the poverty line
  9. Percentage of the population that is white
  10. Percentage of the population that is black
  11. Percentage of the population that is Hispanic
  12. Percentage that is female
  13. Percentage that is less than 5 years of age
  14. Percentage that is between 5 and 17
  15. Percentage that is between 18 and 25
  16. Percentage that is between 26 and 64
  17. Percentage that is 65 and older
  18. Median population age
  19. Percentage that is over 25 with a high school diploma
  20. Percentage that is over 25 with a college degree
  21. Other gun laws (waiting periods, background checks and additional penalties for using a gun in the commission of a crime
  22. Arrest rates for different crimes
  23. Conviction rates for different crimes
  24. Median sentences imposed for different crimes
  25. Median sentences served for different crimes
  26. Police hiring practices
  27. Policing practices (community policing, ‘broken-window’ policies, etc.)
  28. Number of police per capita
  29. Number of police on the streets
  30. Average time each officer spends on the street
  31. Price of marijuana in the community
  32. Price of cocaine in the community
  33. Etc. . . .

Again, these are some of the factors Dr. Lott took into account when making his calculations. And yet a common complaint made by the antis was that he “obviously” couldn’t have taken all the necessary variables into account. Yet the Harvard studies Walker links to look at homicide rates and gun availability. Period.

As for the peer-reviewed “debunking” of Lott’s work, since its publication there have been 29 peer-reviewed national studies by criminologists and economists on the topic. Eighteen of those supported his conclusions, ten found that shall-issue laws had no effect on violent crime and only one claimed an increase; a temporary increase of one single type of crime.

In addition Dr. Lott has made his entire dataset available to anyone who has asked; more than 45 different universities have taken advantage of this and not one unbiased & non-agendized academic group refuted Dr. Lott’s conclusions.

However, recently gun ownership has been increasing and not surprisingly, violent crime.

First of all let me point out that the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility.

Second, Walker again presents us with a supposed correlation between guns and crime while completely and utterly ignoring all of the other factors which can have a bearing upon those crime numbers. Third, as the inimitable Sportin’ Life so eloquently put it: It ain’t necessarily so.

According to a May 21, 1999 article in the Hartford Courant (citing the ATF) in 1999 there were 228 million guns in “civilian” hands. So if we go to the FBI’s NICS table, from 1999 – 2012 and assume that 80% of these checks resulted in a purchase we can actually get a snapshot of gun ownership over the last 13 years that looks like this:

This graph puts paid to the whole idea that gun ownership is declining. But since the graph Walker links us to only goes back to 1991, I can’t address his claim of declining gun ownership since the 1970s. To say nothing of the fact that, apart from a little bobble right around the time of the Clinton AWB (and why would people be paranoid about reporting gun ownership during that time period?) his graph shows that household gun ownership stayed pretty constant — between about 40 and 45% for the last 15 years or so, only showing a small recent spike.

So what sort of crime rates are we looking at during that time?

Heck, I don’t even see any correlation much less some sort of causation. But maybe Walker was just talking about homicides. What does that rate look like for the last few decades.

And once again we have to say “Sorry, not so much.” So let us look at Walker’s second paragraph of “more guns, less crime” myth busting:

The south is the most violent region in the country, and has the highest prevalence of gun carrying. The Johns Hopkins Center For Gun Policy and Research found that expanding conceal carry laws increases aggravated assaults.

Again, Walker is claiming that more guns equals more crime without looking at any other factors. As for increased concealed carry leading to more aggravated assaults that may be true, but it’s not the concealed carriers doing the assaulting. How do we know this?

The state of Florida has been keeping track of permits and permit-holders since they returned to “shall-issue” in 1987. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (which for some odd reason is the issuing authority for permits to carry in Florida) between October 1, 1987 and June 30, 2013(?) there were 2,325,231 permits issued and 6,543 revoked for criminal activity.

Of those 6,543 revocations, however, only 168 were the result of the criminal use of a firearm. In other words, in almost 25 years only 0.281% of permit holders have had their permit revoked and 0.007% of permit-holders have committed a crime with a firearm.

Finally, I just came across an article by Don Kates and Gary Mauser which was published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? It meticulously and thoroughly discredits this oft-spouted mantra that “more guns = more death.”

The authors break down the argument:

There is a compound assertion that (a) guns are uniquely available in the United States compared with other modern developed nations, which is why (b) the United States has by far the highest murder rate. Though these assertions have been endlessly repeated, statement (b) is, in fact, false and statement (a) is substantially so.

Since at least 1965, the false assertion that the United States has the industrialized world’s highest murder rate has been an artifact of politically motivated Soviet minimization designed to hide the true homicide rates.

Well who would’a thunk it? The USSR lied about crime in their workers’ paradise. In common with many other repressive regimes, however, they had stringent gun laws; handguns were prohibited to civilians and long guns for hunting were strictly controlled. This did not, however, limit their homicide rates:

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the gun‐less Soviet Union’s murder rates paralleled or generally exceeded those of gun‐ridden America. While American rates stabilized and then steeply declined, however, Russian murder increased so drastically that by the early 1990s the Russian rate was three times higher than that of the United States.

But this tendency is not limited to the old Soviet Union. As the authors note:

Stringent gun controls were not adopted in England and Western Europe until after World War I. Consistent with the outcomes of the recent American studies just mentioned, these strict controls did not stem the general trend of ever‐growing violent crime throughout the post‐WWII industrialized world including the United States and Russia. …

In the late 1990s, England moved from stringent controls to a complete ban of all handguns and many types of long guns. Hundreds of thousands of guns were confiscated from those owners law‐abiding enough to turn them in to authorities. Without suggesting this caused violence, the ban’s ineffectiveness was such that by the year 2000 violent crime had so increased that England and Wales had Europe’s highest violent crime rate, far surpassing even the United States.

Note that Kates and Mauser are very careful to avoid the implication that strict gun control causes an increase in crime; unlike so many antis, they don’t confuse correlation with causation. But at the same time, their data show that strict gun control most assuredly does not reduce crime.

The authors also shoot down (sorry, couldn’t resist) the idea that “access to guns” leads average law-abiding citizens to become murderers. As they explain:

One reason the extent of gun ownership in a society does not spur the murder rate is that murderers are not spread evenly throughout the population. Analysis of perpetrator studies shows that violent criminals—especially murderers—“almost uniformly have a long history of involvement in criminal behavior.”

Of course anyone but a VPC bean-counter putting together their “Concealed Carry Killer” list is aware of this fact. A quick look at Florida’s Concealed Weapon or Firearm License Summary Report shows that of the 2,263,281 licenses issued since October of 1987 only 168 have been revoked for license-holders committing a crime with a firearm. For the mathematically disinclined that is fewer than seven revocations a year.

Kates and Mauser also point out that antis frequently (as they put it) ‘ask the wrong question’ by focusing on rates of firearm related homicide or suicide and ignoring the overall rates. To wit:

Epitomizing this theme is a World Health Organization (WHO) report asserting, “The easy availability of firearms has been associated with higher firearm mortality rates.”[7] The authors, in noting that the presence of a gun in a home corresponds to a higher risk of suicide, apparently assume that if denied firearms, potential suicides will decide to live rather than turning to the numerous alternative suicide mechanisms. The evidence, however, indicates that denying one particular means to people who are motivated to commit suicide by social, economic, cultural, or other circumstances simply pushes them to some other means.[8]

Indeed K&M repeatedly point out that social, economic, cultural, or other circumstances are far more relevant to “gun violence” than any sort of easy access to firearms. You can see this especially clearly when looking at suicide rates in Japan versus those in the United States.

The Japanese have extremely strict gun control and a firearm related suicide rate of 0.04 per 100,000 while ours is more than 150 times that at 6.10 per 100,000. But looking at their overall suicide rate we see it is 23.8 per 100,000 which is more than double our 11.8 per 100,000. This is because Japan has very different social and cultural views of suicide, not because of easy access to any particular deadly instrument.

K&M do a further drill-down on demographic, historical and geographic which is far too detailed for me to go into here but their conclusions are unsurprising (at least to us “gun nuts”): There is absolutely no positive correlation between firearm availability and violent crime, murder and suicide. They do raise a very interesting (and quite valid) point in their conclusion:

Nevertheless, the burden of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, especially since they argue public policy ought to be based on that mantra.

I have often heard people say that they have a “right to feel safe.” This is actually sort of true but ultimately misleading. You absolutely have the right to take whatever measures you feel are necessary to provide for your own safety as long as you do not harm others or restrict their right to do the same. Unfortunately, those like Walker who are clamoring the loudest for safety usually want to accomplish it by restricting everyone else’s freedoms.

Check out this doozy:

European countries have strikingly more stringent gun restrictions and less gun violence. Comparatively, 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the past 50 years have occurred in the US.

You know what Walker? This isn’t even an undulating lie; this is actually a flat-out steaming pile of bullshit.

Through a marvelous invention known as The In-Ter-Net and Search En-Jinns I have compiled a list of the 32 worst mass shootings (that I could find…I do not claim omniscience here). I picked 32 deaths as the cut-off because that makes 10 dead the low end. So take off your shoes and break out the abacus Walker, because we’re doing some mathematical-type counting here:

Location Number killed Date
Norway attacks

77

7/22/2011
Sang-Namdo, South Korea

57

Apr-82
Port Aurthur, Australia

35

4/28/1996
VA Tech

33

4/16/2007
Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron Israel

29

2/24/1994
Sandy Hook

28

12/14/2012
Luby’s Cafeteria

24

10/16/1991
San Ysidro McMassacre

22

7/18/1984
Dunblane, Scotland

18

3/13/1996
Erfurt, Germany

18

4/26/2002
Hungerford, UK

17

8/19/1987
Cuers, France

17

Sep-95
Kandahar, Afghanistan

16

3/11/2012
Texas Tower Sniper

16

8/1/1966
Winnenden, Germany

16

3/11/2009
Ecole Polytechnique, Montreal

15

12/6/1989
Columbine High

15

4/20/1999
Edmond, OK

15

8/20/1986
Zug, Switzerland

15

9/27/2001
Aramoana, New Zealand

14

11/13/1990
Binghampton, NY

14

4/3/2009
Luxiol, France

14

Jul-89
Fort Hood

13

11/5/2009
Cumbria, England

13

6/2/2010
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

13

4/7/2011
Aurora, CO

12

7/20/2012
Azerbaijan State Oil Academy

12

4/30/2009
McClendon, AL

10

3/10/2009
Kauhajoki, Finland

10

9/23/2008
GMAC, FL

10

6/18/1990
Red Lake, MN

10

3/21/2005
Adelaide, Australia

10

9/6/1991

A quick perusal by even the most numerically challenged shows that the US doesn’t have fifteen of the top 25 shootings. Heck we don’t even have ten of the top 25, we only have nine. And out of the top 32 we only account for 13 incidents and 35% of the dead.

Wow, only one myth down and already we’re drifting into TLDR (too long, didn’t read) territory. Why don’t we put a cork in it for now and I’ll return to the rest of Walker’s steaming cowplop soon.