Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Let's talk about guns, baby: Part 1

In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, there has been an outcry to either talk about gun control or to bash people who are trying to “politicize” the tragedy.  I have been critical in the past of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun rights lobbies.  I will try not to be unfairly critical of the organization, Wayne LaPierre, other gun rights lobbies, or guns rights members of Congress.  At the same time, I will try not to be overly critical of gun control activists, the Brady campaign, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Joe Biden, and others.  But we need to have a discussion about guns, gun control, gun rights, among other subjects.  After the shooting, I have become more obsessed with finding out as much information as humanly possible on guns.  I like to distinguish myself from others discussing the issue by allowing the facts to inform my overall conclusion.  If you disagree with me, please be as courteous as I am going to be and cite your reasons for doing so.  I will break this discussion down into several sections.  So, let’s talk about guns, baby.
I. Studies
When gun control activists or writers bring up the idea about gun control, gun rights proponents are quick to point out various studies or statistics as proof that gun control does not actually reduce gun violence.  These studies are presented as evidence that gun control does not work.  Gun rights proponents tend to point out these studies or other bits of evidence followed by the statement that criminals will always be able to get their hands on guns.  We’ll spend most of our time looking at studies and other bits of evidence to see what they actually show.  The second claim about criminals will be dealt with at a later time.
Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert went on Fox News on December 16 and stated “The facts are that every time guns have been allowed — conceal-carry (gun laws) have been allowed — the crime rate has gone down.”

FactCheck checked in with experts to see if that was, in fact, true.  They found that experts were, essentially, split.  One academic expert, Carlisle Moody, stated that Gohmert was factually correct.  Crimes were, in fact, down.  But, if the question is does conceal-carry gun laws cause the crime rates to be lower, Moody warned that the answer is not so simple.  The fact of the matter, is that crime rates with conceal-carry laws are down.  But so are states that did not enact these conceal-carry laws.
Gohmert’s claim is based on the work of John Lott.  Lott’s work is heavily cited by guns rights activists, in large part, due to his conclusions.  His book More Guns Less Crime, the latest edition of which came out in 2010, supported these claims.  He concluded that “[w]hen state concealed-handgun laws went into effect in a county, murders fell by about 8 percent, rapes fell by 5 percent, and aggravated assaults fell by 7 percent (page 59).”  These are not trivial numbers.  Lott co-wrote a study in 1999 that found “Deaths and injuries from mass public shootings fall dramatically after right-to-carry concealed handgun laws are enacted. Between 1977 and 1995, the average death rate from mass shootings plummeted by up to 91 percent after such laws went into effect, and injuries dropped by over 80 percent.”  Certainly, Lott’s findings are relevant.  But, Lott has his detractors, as well.
The National Research Council of the National Academies took issue with his findings and conclusions.  Most notably, they stated that “it is impossible to draw strong conclusions from the existing literature on the causal impact of these laws.”  They also found that when the model was expanded to new data, it does not show evidence that it reduces crime.  In their scathing review, they found “no link between right-to-carry laws and changes in crime is apparent in the raw data, even in the initial sample; it is only once numerous covariates are included that the negative results in the early data emerge.”  Another notable detractor is Stanford Law Professor John J. Donohue III.  He co-wrote a study “Shooting Down the More Guns, Less Crime.”    The article finds “…that the statistical evidence that these laws have reduced crime is limited, sporadic, and extraordinarily fragile.”  You can also find the following conclusion in their article.  “T]heir results have not withstood the test of time. When we added five years of county data and seven years of state data, allowing us to test an additional fourteen jurisdictions that adopted shall-issue laws, the previous Lott and Mustard findings proved not to be robust. Importantly, we showed that the Lott and Mustard results collapse when the more complete county data is subjected to less-constrained jurisdiction-specific specifications or when the more-complete state data is tweaked in plausible ways. No longer can any plausible case be made on statistical grounds that shall-issue laws are likely to reduce crime for all or even most states.”

Donohue has also co-authored a report that came out in 2012 that found that aggravated assault cases have risen when conceal-carry laws are enacted but for every other crime category there is no indication of an impact from conceal-carry laws.  In 2008, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center did a study on conceal-carry law changes.  They found “the changes have neither been highly beneficial nor highly detrimental.”  University of Pennsylvania professor Susan B. Sorenson argues that the Lott research is weak because, for example, if you take the outlier Florida out of the study, the conclusions change “remarkably.”

Part 2 later

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