Amazingly, a new “study” is making headlines, despite the fact that it relies on obviously faulty assumptions, irrational methodology and has not been peer-reviewed.
The authors cite themselves as support for spurious statements like “Surges in firearm purchasing…have been well documented in association with mass shootings and significant political events and are followed by population-level increases in firearm violence.” Crime data for the most recent months isn’t available yet, but we know history proves otherwise.
Sure, Americans tend to buy more of something they think will soon be scarce. Just as there was an increase in toilet paper buying during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, adults are more likely to legally purchase a certain firearm they have been thinking about when there is a political discussion of banning that firearm. Does that mean those purchases are, as the author argues, “excess” firearms?
Any chef will tell you they require different types of knives for different kitchen tasks. Any hunter will tell you they would not rely on the same firearm for self-defense as they would in the field. All guns are not the same and do not meet the same needs for law-abiding citizens that choose to exercise their Constitutional rights to keep and bear arms.
The difference is, although there are more homicides each year committed with knives than with modern sporting rifles, no one seems to argue seriously against owning any knives or for limiting the number that a home may possess because more than one is excessive.
The authors of the study do make the smallest mention of a key fact in their opening; “The pandemic has exacerbated factors that contribute to interpersonal violence, including financial stress, tension, trauma, worry, and a sense of hopelessness.”
If data show an increase in violent crimes over the last 3-6 months, it would not be surprising during this unsettling time of national crisis. However, it does not follow that this is due to more Americans deciding to purchase firearms.
In fact, more individuals are buying guns precisely because they feel unsafe and are seeking to protect themselves, their loved ones and their property. Many of these recent purchases have been made by new gun owners, begging the question of how the study’s authors can argue they are “excess purchases.”
Let’s look at the study’s design. For firearm purchases, the authors use an adjusted number based on the number of checks conducted by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Fine. We’ve been doing that for a long time now and know that makes sense. It’s refreshing to see gun control advocates actually acknowledge that every firearm purchase from a federally licensed retailer must go through a background check.
The data source that is more problematic is the use of the Gun Violence Archive’s collection of media reports as a proxy for actual crime data. It should come as no surprise that the news isn’t always accurate. Particularly when reporting local crimes, the media tends to briefly cover a crime that may or may not have occurred, from a limited perspective with little detail and no follow-up.
There’s a reason for using FBI crime data rather than what a local reporter says in a blog post. When designing a study that purports to argue guns are a problem and too many guns are a bigger problem, it would be great if the authors could at least attempt to use accurate, reliable data sources.
The gymnastics used by the authors to determine what is considered “excess purchases” could alone take an entire study to critique. But picking apart their process would mean accepting that the premise is sound. Which it simply is not. There is no such thing as “excess purchases.” There is supply and there is demand. There are legal, heavily regulated sales. There are law-abiding adults possessing and using firearms in compliance with federal, state and local laws.
To assert that there have been “excess purchases” of over 2 million firearms is a thinly veiled, deeply biased assertion that there is something inherently wrong with the legal purchase of a firearm. With this in mind, the model doesn’t matter. This study comes down to a simple equation: garbage in, garbage out. In fact, the authors recognize that there is no evidence to show these legally purchased firearms have been used in any crimes.
Fortunately, the authors do not claim that there is a causal relationship between the increase in purchases and violent crime. At best they argue there is an “association.” While they can imply more guns causes more crime, even the authors understand there is no evidence to support that, stating, “We cannot infer causality from these observational data.”
Why not consider what happened with crime rates after the 2013 “surge” in firearm purchases? Perhaps because crime rates declined?
Find more statistics at Statista
What is different now are the unique factors the authors point out earlier that tend to be associated with increases in violent crime. In other words, it’s not the guns.
If we see an increase in crime, it is due the socioeconomic factors that have long been correlated with crime spikes, only now magnified by state stay-at-home orders and societal unrest. This is a fact that the authors do note in their limitations section. Describing the fact that their results, “could indicate reverse causation, i.e. that an increase in violence caused an increase in firearm purchasing…”
Unsurprisingly, despite evidence to the contrary, the authors conclude that this study, “lends support to interventions restricting access to firearms.” This is yet another example of a thoroughly biased report aimed only to achieve gun control goals. The report’s predisposition is not surprising. Several of the authors have a long track record of publishing agenda-driven “research” to advance gun control measures.
The firearm and ammunition industry understands the importance of the Second Amendment, but also the importance of the legal, safe and responsible use and possession of guns. We have proven that with our leadership in getting our FixNICS program signed into law in Congress and 16 states, increasing the disqualifying background checks from 1.7 million to 5.3 million since 2012, a 241-percent increase.
It is the firearm industry that leads with Project ChildSafe, passing out over 38 million free gun locks and with manufacturers including a locking device with each new firearm shipped. We’ve led on preventing straw purchases with our Don’t Lie for the Other Guy campaign done in partnership with ATF. It is the industry that has partnered with ATF in Operation Secure Store to reduce the theft of guns from retailers.
And we know that increasing suicide trends is a major issue in the United States today. We are working to reduce these tragedies, which account for about two-thirds of all gun deaths annually, through partnerships with groups like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Department of Veterans Affairs. We know the answer isn’t restrictions on the rights of Americans but is in coming up with Real Solutions for safer communities.
Elizabeth McGuigan is Director of Legislative and Policy Research at the National Shooting Sports Foundation.