An object lesson in the malleability of "facts" on this issue was played out in the main stream media aver the last few weeks. The Violence Policy Center published Iron River: Gun Violence and Illegal Firearms Trafficking on the U.S. - Mexico Border in which the following "fact" was stated:
U.S. and Mexican officials report that, based on ATF tracing data, the cartels obtain 90 percent or more of their firearms from the United States.The mainstream media took this and ran like Hell with it, but it was later shown to be the worst type of lie: the half-truth. As reported in this story FoxNews revealed that the truth is that 90 percent of the arms that Mexico requested the U.S. to trace came from the U.S., but those weapons were only a fraction of the total seized from drug cartels. The percentage of total weapons originating from the U.S. is closer to 17 percent, not 90 percent.
The NRA is not above such shenanigans, either. Check out this fact sheet, More Guns, Less Crime (Again) in 2007 published by the NRA. In the three paragraphs they cite separate statistics on relaxed gun control laws, increased gun ownership, and reduced crime in the U.S. The implication that the reader is supposed to take away is that increased availability to guns has reduced crime and made the U.S. safer.
In fact violent crime has been going down in the U.S. for decades, in both areas with lax gun laws, and in areas with strict gun laws, as shown by FBI Uniform Crime Report, 2007.
Part of the problem is that both of these organizations are political pressure groups with agendas to advance. Another is the lack of definitive, conclusive research on the links between gun laws and gun violence. Most "facts" on both sides of the issue come from research studies, but many, if not all of these studies may be flawed. The Centers for Disease Control conducted a study of the studies published on the issue of gun control to determine the effectiveness of gun laws. Their results, summarized in First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws, can be summed up in one sentence:
Evidence was insufficient to determine the effectiveness of any of these laws for the following reasons.The CDC goes on to explain why all types of gun bans, waiting periods, liberalized concealed carry laws, etc. all cannot be shown to have the effects on violence claimed by their proponents. The reason is that pretty much all previous studies are based on faulty methods, or on incomplete data.
Other studies have shown similar deficiencies in methods and data, undermining the positions of both sides of the issue. The National Academies concurred that research in this area is weak and needs much improvement. In their study Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review, they reach the following conclusion, deflating the claims of both gun-rights and gun control groups:
For example, despite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime, and there is almost no empirical evidence that the more than 80 prevention programs focused on gun-related violence have had any effect on children’s behavior, knowledge, attitudes, or beliefs about firearms. The committee found that the data available on these questions are too weak to support unambiguous conclusions or strong policy statements.
Is there ANY solid ground to stand upon? I think so, but I must approach it from both a logical position, and a values position.
My logical argument starts by saying that there are more guns in the U.S. than ever, and yet violent crime is down, and in fact has been decreasing for decades. More guns does NOT cause more crime. In states that have shall-issue concealed carry laws, violent crime has likewise been decreasing, so that while we cannot prove, or credibly claim, that shall-issue laws reduce violent crime, it seems pretty certain they have not increased it either. I think these are the only valid statistical conclusions I can reach about guns and violence in U.S. society.
This leads into my values-based argument: in many individual cases, guns have been used to defend lives from violent criminals. In these cases, and for those individuals, the right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes far outweighed any nebulous claims of gun control advocates of the harm gun pose to society at large. Because they were armed, the self-defenders survived to go home to their families.
Unless and until better research comes to light about the effectiveness of gun control laws, I am going to support the right to keep and bear arms, because on one terrible day, it might be mine, or my wife's life I will have to defend, and a gun is the most effective means of self-defense.