Tomorrow’s Washington Post indulges in a little pre-game “myth busting.” Scribes Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig are getting in some licks before the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated McDonald decision, widely expected to strike down Chicago’s handgun ban and set the stage for pro-gun challenges across the length and breadth of America. The dynamic duo set ’em up: trotting out a carefully selected group of five “myths about gun control.” And knock ’em down: explaining why these shibboleths are, like, so stupid. Number one with a bullet: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Or to quote the world’s greatest criminologist Ozzie Osbourne (as the Post does), “If that’s the case, why do we give people guns when they go to war? Why not just send the people?” Allow me to explain . . .
People with guns don’t always kill people. But people with guns can kill people. So yes, soldiers with guns can kill people, and do it more efficiently than soldiers without guns (provided we exclude rockets, missiles and bombs). No one is suggesting otherwise.
By the same token and more to the point, bad guys with guns can kill people. too. And good guys with guns can kill the bad guys who may or may not have a gun. But however you slice it, don’t blame the guns. Guns without people don’t kill people. Blame the people. Clear?
While I’m no great fan of the GDKP, PKP bumper sticker koan, Cook, Ludwig and Osbourne all know what its proponents are trying to say: reducing civilian gun ownership doesn’t reduce gun crime. It’s no myth. It’s the truth. The Post’s myth-busters’ “deconstruction” of that assertion is no more sensible than mine. Less, as it relies on one discredited study from . . . wait for it . . . 1967.
Cook and Ludwig act as if John Lott never wrote More Guns, Less Crime; which offers exhaustive (not to say exhausting) proof that gun control is an abject failure at reducing crime (and the obverse). The writers also ignore the lessons from recent European spree killings, inflicted on defenseless civilians in countries whose gun control laws are the dictionary definition of Draconian. And the recent Chinese knife massacres, where school children fell prey to blade-wielding madmen.
As for Osbourne’s willful misinterpretation, I agree that gun owners should acknowledge their weapon’s inherent dangers. But Pandora’s box has been opened. All that was left inside was hope. We could hope that disarmament would reduce the murder rate, but experience teaches us otherwise. More generally, hope works as 50 percent of a campaign slogan (apparently), but it is not a sound basis for public policy.
Speaking of which, I was hoping the WaPo was going to trot out my favorite gun-related mantra: If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. They did and they didn’t; replacing that catchy slogan with myth two: “Gun laws affect only law-abiding citizens.”
Records on gun transactions can help solve crimes and track potentially dangerous individuals. Illinois law requires that all gun owners have a state ID card and that transactions be recorded, allowing police to potentially link a gun used in a crime to its owner.
Notice the authors’ po-faced prevarication: “can” and “potentially.” Clearly the authors know they’re full of shit. Hence the rhetorical strategy: head feint towards some relevant hard data, then swoop in with [alleged] common sense and forget the whole statistical justification deal. In other words, fake it. It gets better/worse, starting with some classic misdirection.
Data from 2008 in Chicago show that 81 percent of homicides were committed with guns and that 91 percent of homicide offenders had a prior arrest record. But the gun laws provide police with a tool to keep these high-risk people from carrying guns; without these laws, the number of people with prior records who commit homicides could be even higher.
The stats cited are the famous “indoor / outdoor” murder analysis recently offered by The Chicago Police, upon which they declared that they couldn’t do much to prevent “indoor” homicides (I kid you not). It’s also worth noting that the FBI refuses to accept Chicago’s crime stats because the city does not follow approved reporting protocols.
Not that any of that matters (much). The argument here is the same one used by the Obama administration to justify the stimulus package: it may not look like it worked, but it did, ’cause think how much worse it would have been if we hadn’t done it. Trying to disprove a fantasy negative proposition is, shall we say, challenging. Which is why it appears here.
Myth three: “When more households have guns for self-defense, crime goes down.”
The key question is whether the self-defense benefits of owning a gun outweigh the costs of having more guns in circulation. And the costs can be high: more and cheaper guns available to criminals in the “secondary market” — including gun shows and online sales — which is almost totally unregulated under federal laws, and increased risk of a child or a spouse misusing a gun at home. Our research suggests that as many as 500,000 guns are stolen each year in the United States, going directly into the hands of people who are, by definition, criminals.
The data show that a net increase in household gun ownership would mean more homicides and perhaps more burglaries as well. Guns can be sold quickly, and at good prices, on the underground market.
What research? If these guys can’t even cite their own work, what credibility should we afford them? Truth be told they don’t answer their own question about the relative benefits of reducing or increasing gun control. Again, we know someone who does and he’s going to be seriously pissed-off at this lackadaisical effort to subvert his thoroughly vetted, endlessly documented research. And it’s main conclusions.
Myth four: “In high-crime urban neighborhoods, guns are as easy to get as fast food.” The authors forward this rhetorical flourish based on this quote:
Opponents of gun control cite the sentiment of one Chicago gang member, who said in a 1992 newspaper interview that buying a gun is “like going through the drive-through window. Give me some fries, a Coke and a 9-millimeter.”
Ba-doom-BOOM! But seriously folks, the authors would like you to know that criminals have a hard time getting illegal guns because they’re so expensive. And they’re so expensive because gun control laws work. Ish. In any case, getting rid of gun control laws would make guns more available. And, thus, cheaper. And so more likely to be used by criminals. So how expensive is expensive? More than, say, a week’s worth of crack? Uh, no.
Handguns that can be bought legally for around $100 sell on the street in Chicago for $250 to $400. Surveys of people who have been arrested find that a majority of those who didn’t own a gun at the time of their arrest, but who would want one, say it would take more than a week to get one. Some people who can’t find a gun on the street hire a broker in the underground market to help them get one. It costs more and takes more time to get guns in the underground market — evidence that gun regulations do make some difference.
Note: the argument is based on a survey of criminals who didn’t own guns. But would want one. Apparently. Talking to? Define “more and more.” “Some difference”? Oh brother. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is the worst rubbish science I’ve ever encountered without the word “alien craft” appearing somewhere in the summary.
Myth five: “Repealing Chicago’s handgun ban will dramatically increase gun crimes.” Huh? How is that an anti-gun control myth? Anti-gun control advocates believe the exact opposite: repealing the Windy City’s handgun ban will REDUCE gun crime. Oh wait; the authors have switched sides! They’ve thrown in the towel and provide an anti-myth myth to hearten gun control supporters. I know, my head hurts too.
Many legal analysts predict that Chicago’s handgun ban is done for. While proponents of gun control may feel discouraged, the actual impact could be minimal, depending on what regulations the court allows Chicago to put on the books instead. New York City, for example, makes it quite difficult for private citizens to obtain handguns through an expensive and drawn-out permitting process that falls short of an outright ban.
Oh joy! If we cant beat them fair and square we’ll just nickel and dime them to death. Here’s a myth for you: liberals are smarter, more intellectually honest and caring than conservatives. Busted!
And it's all a red herring. All of it. The right to keep and bear arms is not about crime control. It's not about deer hunting. It's about the difference between a citizen and a subject.
In all of the above argument is the implied assertion that the effectiveness of crime control is paramount. If, in some other study, it's proven conclusively that gun control does reduce crime, then where do we stand? We suddenly say "all right, then"? Or do we still believe in the right to keep and bear arms even if it means slightly higher crime stats?
Obviously there's some value in destroying their arguments one at a time, but don't allow for the fact that crime control, if proven, thwarts gun ownership rights.
I just finished reading Cook and Ludwig’s paper in the Journal of Public Economics called “The social costs of gun ownership.” I’m assuming this is the study they are referring to when they say, “The data show that a net increase in household gun ownership would mean more homicides and perhaps more burglaries as well.”
Their paper basically tries to correlate the % of suicides by gun (their proxy for gun ownership) to homicide rates. A layman’s summary of their conclusion is for every 10,000 additional handgun-owning households there will be 0.3-4 additional homicides per year. (That is massively oversimplified, so don’t go quoting that.) This would be net of any decrease in murders caused by self-defence.
Have you read this study? Are you aware of any academic criticisms of it? I’m not enough of an expert to point to any definitive problems or to say there are none.