New York Times Resurrects a Flawed Study

New York Times gun research

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)

By NRA-ILA

Bad anti-gun research, and the sensationalist journalism that often accompanies it, provide unending opportunities for the most used (overused?) of all firearm themes: Zombies. Just when you think the thing is gone for good, it appears again.

Such was the case with a study we deconstructed last summer, “The Association of Firearm Caliber With Likelihood of Death From Gunshot Injury in Criminal Assaults.” Coverage of the research was revived by the New York Times in an article published on March 27, 2019. In the Times piece, writers Margot Sanger-Katz and Quoctrung Bui recounted the inquiry by Profs. Anthony Braga and Phillip Cook (Northeastern University and Duke University, respectively):

In Boston from 2010 to 2015, there were 221 gun homicides.

Research suggests that one change could have lowered that number by 40 percent: smaller bullets.

A study last year, published in JAMA Network Open, examined the type of weapon used in every fatal and nonfatal shooting in the city. It found that — regardless of the time of day, the number of wounds or the circumstances of the crime — the size of the bullet affected which gunshot victims lived and which ones died.

The research was better summarized, however, by NRA-ILA’s August 2018 headline: “Government-funded Researchers Discover Basic Ballistics.”

That’s right, larger-caliber firearms generally deliver a more powerful payload. Hard to imagine, but somehow the study’s authors – echoed by the Times – made the leap from that fact, confirmed by statistical analysis of shooting incidents in Boston (the study’s geographic focus), to the conclusion that prohibiting the technology- and market-based diffusion of larger-caliber semiautomatic handguns in the 1990s would have resulted in fewer deaths by shooting. Braga and Cook (2018, p. 7) stated, “the implication is that if the medium- and large-caliber guns had been replaced with small caliber (assuming everything else unchanged), the result would have been a 39.5% reduction in gun homicides.”

And, continuing to an ad absurdum conclusion, the authors hypothesized, “it is plausible that larger reductions would be associated with replacing all types of guns with knives or clubs” (emphasis added). So much for advocating for “reasonable restrictions” on guns.

The authors, of course, quickly dismiss that it is gun control measures on “Saturday Night Specials” (small, usually low caliber handguns) that likely led to an increase in the number larger caliber handguns used in crime. It’s inconvenient when your “study” that is supposed to advocate for gun control reveals the flaws of past gun control measures.

When studying firearm lethality, it helps to have even a passing knowledge of the things you claim to be studying. Authors who claim to study the relationship between handgun caliber and shooting fatality should have known better than to include in their analysis a case in which the victim was shot with a 7.62 x 39mm round.

And, even the most novice gun owners understand that caliber (and really cartridge) selection is a matter of trade-offs. All else being equal, larger caliber firearms usually result in greater recoil and less capacity. Braga and Cook should probably tell the most data-driven federal law enforcement agency that its decision to reduce the caliber of its standard service pistol is going to make its agents less effective gunfighters.

Lack of basic firearms knowledge aside, there is potentially a more fundamental weakness with the analysis. First, a summary:

Braga and Cook (2018) assessed the relationship between characteristics of the victim (e.g., demographics, prior arraignments), circumstances of the crime (e.g., indoor vs. outdoor), and caliber used. The intent of this portion of the research was to determine whether caliber was a random variable – i.e., independent of other characteristics of the shooting – or whether it was related systematically to those characteristics. (For example, one hypothesized relationship might be that gang-related shootings consistently involved the use of large-caliber firearms.) Findings indicated no statistically significant relationships between those measured situational variables and firearm caliber, lending support to the idea that shooters’ choice of round size was independent of any characteristics of the crime or the criminal.

The key analysis was a regression to test the effect of gun caliber – not cartridge, bullet weight, projectile design, or other theoretically relevant elements – on whether or not a victim lived or died. Results showed that, “relative to shootings involving small-caliber firearms … the odds of death if the gun was a large caliber were 4.5 times higher and, if medium caliber, 2.3 times higher” (Braga & Cook, 2018, p. 6). Covariates (i.e., control variables) including victim gender, race, age, and prior arraignments all lacked statistical significance. (As mentioned earlier, indoor location did significantly boost the odds of a fatality.)

That all makes sense. As we observed in our prior critique of the study, those are “findings obvious to any middle school physics student.” But the potential weakness teased above involves control variables that the researchers did not include in the test between caliber and likelihood of fatality: the number of wounds and their location. Intuitively, one would suppose that more bullet wounds, and in more serious locations, would generally increase the potential for a fatality. And, as discussed, the researchers noted significant relationships between those variables and fatalities.

So, why didn’t the researchers attempt to control for the number of wounds and their location while measuring the association between caliber and fatality? Why did the Times writers misstate the study conclusions in this regard?

We don’t know, and we also don’t know for certain whether those factors would have mitigated the significance of the caliber-fatality connection. What we do know, however, is that you can’t answer questions that aren’t asked. And, if someone aimed to demonstrate that replacing large-caliber guns with smaller calibers would result in fewer fatalities – which the Braga and Cook (2018) model did do – including covariates that might mitigate the association probably would not be the best thing.

As even casual consumers of undead cinema know, shot placement, not caliber, is king.

 

This article originally appeared at nraila.org and is reprinted here with permission. 

comments

  1. avatar Gordon in MO says:

    New York Times = flawed report on flawed study by flawed liberal professors, but I repeat myself.

    1. avatar Springdale says:

      It’s a pretty cool study. You’re twice as likely to die from a .44 than a .22. And a .50 BMG will kill you twice as fast as a .25 auto. And there will be half of you left when you get hit with a 20mm cannon compared to a 10mm auto.

      It’s basic math really. What’s the problem?

  2. avatar WI Patriot says:

    “New York Times Resurrects a Flawed Study”

    Of course they do, they’re the NYT afterall…this is exactly what the liberal media does, hash and rehash lies, deceit and cherry picked data to further their agenda and/or narrative…

  3. avatar The Dude Abides says:

    Even the new york times knows that .45 kills not just the body, but the soul.

    1. avatar Rad Man says:

      Yeah, well, that’s just like, your opinion, man.

      1. avatar Julio says:

        🤣“This aggression will not stand, Man!”

    2. avatar barnbwt says:

      A 10mm kills the soul, then drags the soul back screaming from hell (after beating Death at Battleship) so it can kill again.

      1. avatar Rad Man says:

        I love the 10 but you need a long ass barrel to generate the velocity it demands.

        1. avatar pwrserge says:

          That’s a feature.

        2. avatar barnbwt says:

          “S’cuse me, while ah whip dis out.”

          Even from my converted USP, it knocks plates back noticeably harder. Granted, most of the added recoil is from powder gas & not bullet inertia, but the same can be said for the host of <10" 357 magnums out there.

    3. avatar George Washington says:

      +1

  4. avatar ROBERT Powell says:

    listening to these fools is like taking a theory of mathematics class given by the village idiot..

  5. avatar Hannibal says:

    The same NY Times will tell you that you should only be able to have 10 rounds magazines… if that. Funny story, if you artificially set an arbitrary limit on the amount of cartridges someone can load in their gun they’re going to pick the most effective ones they can. When you’re talking about propelling a piece of metal at supersonic speeds into a person’s body to stop them from doing what they’re doing, most effective is correlated with death.

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “Funny story, if you artificially set an arbitrary limit on the amount of cartridges someone can load in their gun they’re going to pick the most effective ones they can.”

      Like the 10-round limit imposed by the ’94 Clinton AWB.

      Glock responded by making the mini-Glocks in 9mm and .40 cal.

      A gun substantially smaller and easier to conceal by someone, so they could go on a killing spree easier…

    2. avatar Occam says:

      NYTimes’ position is not 10 round mags (11 rounds net), they were major advocate for the 7-round limit.

  6. avatar barnbwt says:

    Let me guess…they somehow neglected to mention the 5.7×28 they’re always trying to get banned?

    1. avatar edward kenway's ghost says:

      5.7×28 was a purposely designed SMG round for CQB and penetration of soft body armor. This is supposedly a big bugaboo but consider NYPD was issuing 9mm pistols with hardball rounds and atrocious trigger pulls to reduce accidental discharges and liabilities with hollow points.
      You can’t fix stupid.

      1. avatar barnbwt says:

        Then why does that fool in NJ keep trying to ban the pistol by name? Fort Hood shooting, that’s why (and it didn’t involve the specialty rounds or anything more interesting than the down-loaded 40gr HP bullet). And again, you’d think an article about Deadly Deadly Pistols would bother to mention the round/pistol they have such a hard-on for…except that it totally refutes their point about larger calibers being uber-deadlier, or whatever.

        22mag is probably safe despite similar-ish-ish ballistics –the dummies probably don’t know it’s different from 22LR, so besides mag-capacity limits it’s off their radar.

    2. avatar Hannibal says:

      Different reason for banning. Don’t worry, they’ll find a reason to ban everything. Gotta ban .22 because it’s too cheap. Gotta ban .38spl because it’s too easy to control when firing (bad guys will be able to hit their targets!). Gotta ban 9mm because it’s the military round- obviously we can’t use a weapon of war! .40 will be okay because no one is using it anyway.

  7. avatar GunnyGene says:

    A .22short in the back of the head at that soft spot, will kill you deader quicker than a .45 to the gut. No need for studies or stats needed for that conclusion. Y’all are welcome. 🙂

    1. avatar Bob Jones says:

      The .22 rimfire is actually the worst round to face. A hit in the front of the brain will likely cause severe brain damage but not kill. The victim may require expensive 24/7 care and spend a long life as a zombie. I’d rather be dead and done with.

  8. avatar James W Crawford says:

    Here is the essential quote:

    “The final sample of 511 gunshot victims and survivors (n = 220 fatal; n = 291 nonfatal) was predominantly male (n = 470 [92.2%]), black (n = 413 [80.8%]) or Hispanic (n = 69 [13.5%]), and young (mean [SD] age, 26.8 [9.4] years)”

    The FBI’s SHRs confirm that almost all homiides by firearm are intraracial so from this statement we can deduce that the shooters were:

    92% male
    81% Black
    13.5% Hispanic

    Less than 5.5% non hispanic white.

    1. avatar Hannibal says:

      We don’t pay attention to those statistics. But let me tell you about the statistics involving black guns…

  9. avatar Bill says:

    “But the potential weakness teased above involves control variables that the researchers did not include in the test between caliber and likelihood of fatality: the number of wounds and their location. Intuitively, one would suppose that more bullet wounds, and in more serious locations, would generally increase the potential for a fatality. And, as discussed, the researchers noted significant relationships between those variables and fatalities.”

    The paper explains this. There was no significant difference between calibers with regard to shot placement or number of hits.

    There’s plenty wrong with the study (mostly its conclusions derived from the data), but this isn’t one of them.

  10. avatar Southern Cross says:

    An urban entrepreneur (aka drug dealer) who can profit hundreds to thousands of dollars per day is not going to use a .32 Jennings to protect themselves.

    The more likely choice is a 9mm or .40 Glock.

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “An urban entrepreneur (aka drug dealer) …”

      “Undocumented Pharmacist (Chemist)” is more polite… 😉

    2. avatar Hannibal says:

      Most drug dealers that are going to be shooting people aren’t making that kind of cash in a day. That’s what their bosses make. The ones who do the shooting usually use whatever they can find. If gangbangers actually knew about firearms the homicide numbers would be worse than they are in places like Chicago and Charm City, because a lot of them end up jamming their guns or putting the wrong ammo in there (medical training has also done a huge amount to reduce homicide numbers). That said, hi-point has done a good job of bringing reliable but cheap handguns a long way.

    3. avatar barnbwt says:

      Is that why cops arrest guys with clapped-out 45SAAs, loaded with a random assortment of; 9mm, 38spl, and 44mag shoved into it, with electrical tape wrapped around the cases so they will “fit?”

      The drug buyers are cattle, dealers are subsistence farmers, neighborhood captains are knights, local politicians the nobles organizing the knights’ extortion, and regional/city politicians the lords of the fief.

  11. avatar Timothy Toroian says:

    They can’t afford anything else.

  12. avatar Unrepentant Libertarian says:

    .380, 9mm,38 Spl.,357 all have a bullet that is .002 mm size difference, but have vastly different velocities. Same for 10mm vs .40 cal. and let us not forget 44 spl. vw 44 mag. How do these variables factor into the studies results?

  13. avatar pg2 says:

    NYT is synonymous with lying. This article is redundant.

  14. avatar James W Crawford says:

    One amusing aspect of this “study” is that they classified the 7.62mm x 39mm round that most AK-47 style “assault rifles” are chambered for as “large caliber” even though the projectile diameter is smaller than that thr projectile of a .32 caliber pistol which is classified as “small caliber.”

    Since the authors decided to include the 7.62mm x 39mm rifle cartridge in their study, I decided to check how many homicides might have been committed with rifles in Boston during the 2010-2015 study period. Since I dont have copies of the FBI Supplemenatary Homicide Reports for Boston, I just perused the easily available statistics for the State of Massachusetts.

    The link for 2015 is here:

    https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015/tables/table-20

    From 2010 through 2015 the entire state had grand total of 3 homicides committed with rifles of any caliber. Even if we assume that all three of these rifle homicides occurred in Boston and all three of the rifles were chambered for the 7.32 x 39 cartridge, a whopping total of three homicides over 5 years is not a statistically significant sample.

    1. avatar barnbwt says:

      But the “Draco” is statistically prominent in hip-hop lyrics!

  15. avatar NightFox says:

    To be used to lay the groundwork to ban large caliber handguns. Or at least pollute the jury pool that DGUs with .45s et al are indicative of someone *wanting* to kill someone.

  16. avatar George Washington says:

    As stated/eluded to above….. This study was informational for me…
    It reinforces my idea that I’m doing the right thing by carrying my .45 USP full size…
    Thanks JYT!!!

  17. avatar Derringer Dave says:

    What, no mention of 6.5 Creedmoor? Okay, I’ll have to fix that situation!

    If this were a newer study, instead of a rehashed older study, they’d find that 6.5 Creedmoor makes any BG double-plus-ultra-super-dead.
    It’s just a little hard to fit 6.5 Creedmoor in your pistol, but since the NY Times managed to find pistols (not rifles, PISTOLS) chambered in 7.62 x 39 being used in NY City, anything is possible!

    1. avatar Derringer Dave says:

      Correction, it was Boston, not NY City.
      The NY Times somehow found pistols chambered in 7.62 x 39 in Boston.

  18. avatar Sian says:

    All that study proves is that bans against so-called “Saturday Night Specials” makes criminals more lethal, as instead of getting cheap junk mouseguns they will just get better quality, higher caliber guns.

  19. avatar Kenneth says:

    That’s the media for ya. It’s why they call it “yellow” journalism. Cause it’s piss. 🙂
    “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” -William Randolph Hearst
    https://www.azquotes.com/author/22157-William_Randolph_Hearst

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