Debunking the “Pro-Gun Myth” Debunker — Part Deux

When we left Walker Bragman and his Debunking 18 Pro-Gun Myths, I had just spent some 3,000 words dissecting his first myth alone. I will, cross-my-heart-and-pinkie-swear, try for a little more brevity on this go ‘round, but it’s hard when the opposition piles the organic fertilizer that high and I get on a roll. So, for those with short memories (or who are too lazy to click over), what’s Walker’s second myth? . . .

“The UK has the highest violent crime rate in the world!”

Based on statistics, the UK’s violent crime rate is the highest in Europe and is higher than that of the US. However, gun violence in the UK is substantially lower than in the US.

At least Walker admits that the UK’s violent crime rate isn’t a myth. Maybe he should have titled his piece Debunking 17 Pro-Gun Myths and Substantiating One Pro-Gun Fact but I’ll admit that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so trippingly.

As for the lack of gun violence in the UK, I guess being raped at knife-point is somehow preferable to getting raped at gun-point even if it happens almost 6 ½ times as often? You read that correctly; in 2011 in the U.S., the forcible rape rate was 26.8/100,000 while the England and Wales rate was 172.9/100,000. Of course England and Wales don’t hold a candle to Scotland, where the rape, attempted rape and sexual assault rates are almost thirty times the US rate. So in lovely gun free Scotland, 796.5 out of 100,000 people were raped last year.

Or maybe Walker thinks that getting glassed and robbed is preferable to a straight-up stick-up?

There are several potential reasons for the high violent crime including the rise and fall of lead-based paint and leaded petrol. Researchers have linked lead to violent behavior. Another factor could be the UK’s judicial system. Many repeat offenders serve shorter prison terms and find themselves back on the streets. There is no evidence however, to suggest that the high violent crime rate in the UK is due to the lack of guns.

Seriously Walker, you want to go with the brain damage excuse? How about the Twinkie defense? Wait, they don’t make those any more. I have to admit, though, that Walker may be correct when he says that there is no evidence that lack of guns leads to crime. No evidence, that is, as long as you are willing to completely ignore Dr. Lott’s work and the 18 peer reviewed studies that supported his thesis that more guns lead to less crime, Drs. Kleck and Gertz’s work showing that a firearm is the safest, most effective self-defense tool in existence and Drs. Cook and Ludwig’s study for the Clinton DoJ which showed an estimated 1.46 million defensive gun uses a year in this country. Yeah, sweep all of that under the rug and you can blithely state that the UK’s horrific violent crime rates are because of a crappy judiciary and lead in their paint.

On to Australia!

“Australia’s gun control caused its murder rate to increase!”

This claim is false. Murder rates in Australia reached record lows in 2009.

Nice punt, there Walker! The confiscation of 20% of the guns in circulation in Australia occurred in 1998, not 2008. As pointed out in GunFacts ver. 6.1:

From the inception of firearm confiscation to March 27, 2000, the numbers are:

  • Firearm-related murders were up 19%
  • Armed robberies were up 69%
  • Home invasions were up 21%

If you look at the graphic below (again from GunFacts) you can see that indeed over the long run the homicide rate in Oz dropped, but you can also see that in demographically similar New Zealand which did not pass confiscatory gun laws, the rates dropped faster during that time, and have since returned to the rough parity they shared before and after Australia’s confiscations.


And here comes one of my favorites:

“But Chicago is more violent than Houston!”

In the US gun laws are not uniform between or even within states. Chicago has tight gun laws, but the rest of Illinois does not and neither does Indiana. It was found that many of Chicago’s guns come from surrounding areas in the state or Indiana. Firearms travel from areas with loose gun laws to those with tight laws.

OK, let’s say this is true; the $64,000 question then becomes why aren’t the places with the loose gun laws violent? In other words why do criminals go to the trouble, risk and expense of transporting guns from, say, Houston, to Chicago? Why don’t they stay in Houston and commit their crimes there (the weather is certainly nicer 8 months out of the year)? Could it have something to do with the much higher risk of being shot by an armed homeowner in Houston?

In addition, despite Walker’s implication, it’s very rare for guns to be bought in a “loose” state with the intent of immediately moving them to a restrictive law state. Looking at the ATF’s trace data from Illinois, 79.2% of traced guns had a “time-to-crime” of more than 3 years. That’s the amount of time between a weapon’s purchase and its recovery at a crime scene. The ATF considers a TtC of 2 years or less to be strongly indicative that a firearm was trafficked.

In fact, Illinois’ 2010 average TtC was 21.3% higher than the national average which indicates that fewer guns were trafficked to Illinois than other states. So what’s to blame for Chicago’s violence again, Walker?

Weak national regulations undermine attempts at gun control everywhere. The number of illegal firearms in circulation is a testament to the inadequacy of national gun laws. Most gun violence occurs with such weapons. There are also other factors that determine gun violence, but the guns themselves cannot be excused.

Hmm, who would have thought that criminals would use illegal guns to commit their crimes? And didn’t the so-called Lott-debunking Harvard studies Walker cited in Myth #1 present “gun availability” as the sole causative factor in “gun violence”? Most antis are content with trying to have it two (or more) different ways on a weekly basis, but Walker can’t even finish a single article without shooting himself in the foot. So to speak.

“But I need my gun for defense! Gun restrictions hurt law abiding citizens!”

John Lott Jr. and professor Gary Kleck, a criminologist, argue that guns are frequently used for self defense. These claims have also been debunked by peer review. A study by Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig titled “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” found that Kleck’s defensive gun use numbers are “far too high” to the point of suggesting bias, as are numbers by similar studies. The National Institute of Justice found that there is even an overestimation in Cook and Ludwig’s study.

That’s odd; although he mentions it in his heading, Walker doesn’t bother to address the question fact that gun laws hurt the law abiding. Just ask the Carpenter family (those who remain, that is), or ask David Olofson, or the few surviving Mount Carmel Branch Davidians, or the Reese family, or the survivors of the Weaver family, or any of the numerous other victims of the ATF’s arbitrary, capricious and sometimes downright vindictive policies and actions.

And there is something else a little odd here, too. Throughout his piece, Walker has been fairly good about providing links to the various stories and studies that he references. But for some reason, the link he provides for the Cook-Ludwig study is to a crappy text file with practically no formatting and all the tables left out, instead of the .pdf version of the study located on the very same website.

I’m sure this was a simple oversight on his part, as was his failure to mention the DGU figure found by the C-L study. These two stalwarts of gun control, Drs. Cook and Ludwig, determined that there were 1.5 million DGUs annually, which falls quite neatly into the K-G range of 830,000 to 2.5 million DGUs annually.

I imagine that some may find all these numbers dubious, probably preferring to rely on the numbers from the National Crime Victimization Surveys which show between 65,000 and 106,000 DGUs per year. Unfortunately for those hopeful doubters, the way the NCVS is structured means it seriously undercounts the number of DGUs. I’ll let Dr. Tom Smith, Senior Fellow and Director of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago explain:

First, it appears that the estimates of the NCVSs are too low. There are two chief reasons for this. First, only DGUs that are reported as part of a victim’s response to a specified crime are potentially covered. While most major felonies are covered by the NCVSs, a number of crimes such as trespassing, vandalism, and malicious mischief are not. DGUs in response to these and other events beyond the scope of the NCVSs are missed.

Second, the NCVSs do not directly inquire about DGUs. After a covered crime has been reported, the victim is asked if he or she “did or tried to do [anything] about the incident while it was going on.” Indirect questions that rely on a respondent volunteering a specific element as part of a broad and unfocused inquiry uniformly lead to undercounts of the particular of interest.

There’s another problem with the failure to directly inquire about DGUs: the DGU question is only triggered by someone saying they were the victim of a crime. If someone came towards me with a knife saying “Gimme your wallet,” and I put my hand on my weapon and replied “I don’t think so, Skippy,” causing the assailant to retreat, was I actually the victim of a crime?

Before I started researching these issues I would have told the NCVS interviewer that no, I hadn’t been the victim of a crime so they never would have learned of my DGU.

Now there are some problems with this number and their methodology. First their sample size was only 52% of the K-G study, second they only had 19 (or 0.8%) reported DGUs which met the criteria used in the K-G study. Thus a change of 1 reported DGU would change the final estimate by almost 79,000 DGUs. Third, on the subject of “academic” studies on guns, I am quite sure that Drs. Cook and Ludwig are very familiar with the phenomenon of bias[4]. Finally, since Walker’s link to the NIJ report on the Cook-Ludwig study goes right back to that crap-ass .txt file of the Cook-Ludwig study I can’t really address that accusation.

Back to Walker:

Another study by the Berkley Media Studies Group found similar discrepancies with Kleck’s and Lott’s defensive gun use claims. According to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center a gun in the home is more likely to be used to commit suicide or to threaten or kill an intimate than used to deter an attacker. The Stanford Law Review found More Guns, Less Crime to be lacking in statistical support. Lott has also come under scrutiny for ethics violations regarding his research. There has been doubt cast on whether or not Lott actually conducted his study at all.

A non-peer-reviewed publication study by the Berkley Media Studies Group may well have found that the moon is made of green cheese, but that doesn’t make it so. As for the Stanford Law review article by Ayres and Donohue, it was followed shortly by a slightly different article (available for download here) by economists Florenz Plassmann & John Whitley with Dr. Lott. From the abstract:

Unlike previous authors, Ian Ayres and John Donohue claim to have found significant evidence that right-to-carry laws increased crime. However, they have misread their own results. The most detailed results they report – following the change in crime rates on a year-by-year basis before and after right-to-carry laws were adopted – clearly show large drops in violent crime that occur immediately after the laws were adopted.

In addition, as Dr. Lott points out in this LTE:

Among peer-reviewed national studies by criminologists and economists, 18 find that right-to-carry laws reduce violent crime, 10 claim no effect, and just one claims one type of crime temporarily increases slightly.

As for the HICRC reference, the link actually sends you to a .pdf of a photocopy of a David Hemenway article pointing out issues with the Kleck-Gertz study (at least issues with their high-end number; he doesn’t seem to realize that they offered a range), so again, I can’t address claims that I can’t see. I can tell you that the study by Dr. Kellerman published in the October 1993 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (which purported to show that a gun in the home makes it 2.7 times more likely that a family member will be murdered) has been thoroughly debunked.

Dr. Lott did indeed come under some fire for an off-the-cuff remark about how often guns were fired in DGUs that he made ten years ago and then (possibly) lied about a study he had conducted 5 years before that. I say possibly because a Twin Cities (MN) former prosecutor has stated that he participated in the study. That (possible) stupidity, however, in no way affects the validity of his More Guns, Less Crime study. A study whose results, let me again remind you, have been corroborated by 18 peer-reviewed studies. A study whose entire dataset has been made available by the author to whoever requested it and whose results have been substantiated by dozens of different (unbiased) university researchers.

So that’s 5 down and 13 to go on Debunking the “Pro-Gun Myth” Debunker. Stay tuned for more. Same bat channel.