Here at TTAG, we’re doing our best to present all points of view. [ED: We never knowingly not publish ANY article on gun control, except those that fail a basic literacy test.] Taking that one step further, I’ve extended this attitude into my personal life. Yep. It’s true. I’m dating someone who is about as anti-gun as you can find. Lemme tell you, it makes for some interesting conversations and debates (which only occasionally devolve into arguments). Yesterday, we had one such dialogue regarding a piece I’d penned previously, talking about the issue of conceal carry. She brought up what I thought were some very interesting, salient points. Points that I’d like to address here.
According to Mark Twain, Benjamin DIsraeli once opined that “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.” He (or whoever first said it) is right.
Despite an understandable tendency to rely on dramatic, anecdotal evidence, the debate surrounding gun control often boils down to “the facts” of the matter. Do concealed carry permits increase, decrease or have no effect on crime rates? How many people who commit suicide wouldn’t have succeeded if they didn’t have access to a firearm? Do concealed carry license holders commit more, less or the same amount of violent crime than non-conceal carry license holders?
There is data on a wide variety of gun-related behaviors. But any rational person has to consider these variables (as well as all the other variable):
- What are the sources for the data?
- Are the data sources reliable and accurate?
- Who compiles the data?
- What methodology is used to interpret the data?
- Who’s doing the interpreting?
- What skin does the interpreter have in the game?
- Who’s reporting on the interpretation?
- What’s the bias (implicit or explicit) of the reporters?
You can see how this can get to be a bit, well, sticky. But it’s absolutely crucial for anyone contemplating the “truth” about guns to consider the integrity of the data. As Lyndon Johnson once said, a decision is only as good as the information its based on. The same applies to opinions. As RF pointed out in his post about MSNBC’s concealed carry article, presenting opinions without examining the underlying facts simply perpetuates ignorance and polarizes opinions.
The mainstream media is notorious in this regard. And the wonderful world of blogging has opened up a whole ‘nother can o’ worms in that regard.
What made people trust in journalism (both print and broadcast) for so long? The public perceived that journalists had an ethical code that kept them on the straight and narrow. After all, it was icon of the crusading journalist that exposed stories like the filth and degradation of the meat packing industry (Upton Sinclair), the lies and cover-ups surrounding Watergate (Woodward & Bernstein) and George W.’s Texas National Guard bogus record (Dan Rather).
Whoops. I forgot. Rather fell from grace because of sloppy reporting and a willingness to take the word of less-than-credible witnesses at face value, rather than doubting their stories. And therein lies the problem. If a reporter isn’t willing to dig—to present both sides of the story in a credible manner,—how can you trust that what they report doesn’t favor bias over facts?
In the Blogosphere (Not to be confused with that noted anti-gun crusader, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich), it’s easy to find articles that are written with the flimsiest and most tenuous connections to facts, research, and stats. Problem is, most bloggers don’t have a team of researchers, researching away in their lonely researcher’s garret. Nope. We pretty much fly solo, most of the time.
And even when you’re a conscientious journalist, research can be a tough row to hoe. You see, it’s easy to find stats and data online. It’s not so easy, however, to find the source of the data. Often, you’ll find several sources for reports of the data, only to learn that they are all citing (or not citing, as the case may be) the same root source of the numbers. And that source may—or may not—be suspect.
Then we get into bias through interpretation; another jungle to traverse in our goal to bring you accurate reportage (As bilious Bill O’Reilly is fond of saying).
Take, for example, my recent assertion that gun crimes have decreased in states with shall-carry gun laws, while violent crime rates have increased in states with strict, no-carry gun laws. Those are facts. You can look ’em up. (I did.) But I went on to opine that the obvious conclusion was that the shall-carry CHL regs were the reason that crime in shall-carry states is down, and that crime is up in no-carry states.
Not so fast, my date says. And she’s right. There is no way to absolutely, positively prove that a reduction in gun crime is attributable to CHL laws. On the other hand, all things being equal, it’s hard NOT to.
I pointed out that, at this level of discussion, everything is a theory. There is no way anybody can accurately ascribe a cause-and-effect relationship to anything, without getting inside the heads of all those involved in conceal carry, criminals, wanna-be criminals, et cetera. (This is why I believe all “Hate Crime” laws are ridiculous and should be abolished. There’s no way to know what’s in someone’s head or heart when they commit a crime.)
In this instance, we know that crime rates have fallen in states that have CHL laws, and risen in states with anti-gun laws. Fair enough. But, as my significant other points out, what about external factors? In NYC and Chi-town, the government argues that crime would be much, much worse, if they allowed the average citizen to own a gun. States like Texas and Florida argue that gun ownership and the ability of the average Joe to conceal carry is a huge deterrent to crime.
Their argument comes down to asking a criminal, “would you rather rob a house in a neighborhood where you KNEW they won’t have a gun to defend themselves, or would you rather hit a place where the odds are good that they will have a gun or two and the ability to put a cap in your ass?” Even the stupidest thug, I think, would opt for scenario “A,” where they can be assured of a lack of armed resistance.
I will freely admit that there’s no way to prove that conceal carry laws have directly caused a drop in crime within the states that have passed them. I will also state, emphatically, that I believe this to be the case, because the evidence suggests a one-to-one correlation. (And if you’re gonna insist on proof, let’s go create a new site for TheTruthAboutEvolution.com and discuss both sides of Darwin’s theory.)
Theories are just that theories. There is no way to prove them. They are useful, only in that you can attempt to understand the world in which we live a little better, by postulating them, and attempting to prove them. Once proven, they are no longer theory, but cold, hard fact.
But my conversation with my date has brought up some interesting points on research. I mean, if I don’t trust our government (and I don’t), do I really want to put a lot of credence in the stats and figures they release?
I’m not sure. Where else would I get the data? And without accurate data, we’re back to “gut feelings” and suppositions. Frankly, I’m gonna have to think about that one. And I pledge to do my best to present my sources for any data I cite, so you can make up your own mind as to it’s veracity. And mine, for that matter.
Bottom line, here at TTAG, we’re doing our best to provide you with facts, figures, and both sides of the argument. We’re clearly labeling opinion pieces “Editorial” when we present opinions. Any time you feel as if we’re not, we invite you to comment, and call us on anything you take objection to.
We’ll continue to do our best to present all sides of the discussion, so you can make up your own mind on gun control. Because we’re all interested in finding—and sharing—the truth about guns.