Sunday, April 5, 2009

Everything You've Heard About Gun Control is Wrong - From Both Sides!

There is one thing that I have learned researching gun-rights issues: one must be very careful believing "facts" reported by partisans of both sides. And, if there are two groups whose claims I am automatically skeptical of, they would be the National Rifle Association, and the Violence Policy Center.

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.


Gary Baumgarten said...

We'll be discussing this issue of gun control on News Talk Online on Monday April 6 at 5 PM New York time.

Please go to my blog, and click on the link to the chatroom to join in the conversation and sound off.



Collin said...

I very much appreciate this post since I very much agree with the assertion that groups on both sides of the issue have a particular agenda and their statistics and information needs to be heavily scrutinized.

I think one of the biggest problems related to the issue of gun control has to do with the slippery slope arguments presented by both sides of the topic. The NRA is famous for using the slippery slope. They seem to contend or imply that if any gun legislation is enacted not matter how benign in appearance, it will only be a matter of time before all of our guns have been taken away from us by the evil government empire and soon we will be slaves in a U.S. government gulag. Likewise, more liberal leaning anti-gun groups will also espouse that if guns are not much more stringently regulated that chaos will reign and none of us will be safe from marauding bands of criminals.

Unfortunately, recent events (multiple police officers and innocent civilians being killed by deranged people) only gives much more fodder and ammunition (pardon the pun) to gun control advocates who may have enough political capital to go overboard with their requests.

The information this post presented was a coherent and rational assessment of the of the current gun climate.

Thank you for sharing your insights.

LeftCoastConservative said...


Thanks for your comment.

One place I may be going with this is that the Heller decision, if it gets incorporated to state law, may serve as the foundation of a great compromise on gun control in this country. With Heller, unless a future Supreme Court overturn it, outright bans are off the table. This means that some registration scheme might become acceptable, even though it may be irritating to law abiding gun owners. But incorporation must happen first.

What such a new law might look like I do not know. H.R. 45 currently proposed in the House seems like too intrusive to me, but most of it would likely pass constitutional muster.

I am also not convinced at all that such a law would be effective against crime. I live in California, which the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence credits as having the strongest gun laws in the United States, but those laws did not stop a convicted violent felon, Lovelle Mixon, from getting multiple weapons, which he recently used to killed four Oakland P.D. officers.

Gun control failed in that case, and I am unsure if it could ever actually succeed. Given that uncertainty, I am very unwilling to go along with more gun control laws that might impact my rights to be armed, especially with people like Mixon in society.

I do not know the answers, but I am hoping that I can help people to start asking the right questions.

Collin said...


Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful response to my post. I think you are correct that if some of the current gun legislation in the 111th passes, it would be an annoyance, and an added/unnecessary expense to responsible gun owners, but you are likely correct in that it would pass Constitutional muster. I read the act, and while I would find it annoying to have to go through the hoops proposed, it doesn't seem to be all that intrusive, and may have some minor benefit with regards to the ATF, FBI, and other agencies being able to track guns more efficiently. I know several police officers, and one of their biggest complaints is that there is no good system in place that allows them to track guns, which is a major headache when a crime is committed, peoples guns are stolen from their homes, cars, etc. It may not have a significant impact, but it would reduce the number of illegal guns in circulation and may be beneficial in aiding police agencies with unsolved crimes.

I do like the legislation that would standardize and nationalize the CCP process and reciprocity. I am a CCP holder and there is nothing more annoying than having to deal with all of the different laws and regulations that each state has with regard to CCP holders.

Even though I like the ability to go to a gun show and buy a gun with little oversight/no oversight, I really feel that one of the most beneficial things that could be done to reduce the number of illegal guns would be to close the gun show loophole. I recognize that doing that would be really annoying and cumbersome for individuals who want to sell their guns, but I do feel it would go a long way in preventing some guns from getting into the wrong hands.

I think that you correctly asses the situation since you are living in a state with some of the most stringent gun laws, and the Brady legislation likely has done little to prevent gun violence. There are probably better ways to reduce the number of gun related murders and accidents than an outright ban on assault weapons, some of which, I have discussed. Some legislation would be annoying to law abiding citizens, but in the end, I think some gun control reform is needed given our society today.

Thanks again, it is refreshing to be able to find content (your blog) that is rational and coherent and not knee jerk reactionary like I find so prevalent today, particularly with regard to Obama's election. The worst part about this irrational reactionary behaviour is that it is making gun ownership more expensive since the demand for all types of guns has gone through the roof! I was hoping that I would be able to afford an AR-15 in the near future, but the prices and availability has made it impossible for me go get and afford one. Hopefully things will simmer down and get back to normal.

ira said...

thank you for a very cogent and comprehensive review. the tone was
enlightening and refreshing. not divisive inflammatory, accusatory or hysterical. no matter how thin you slice it, there are always 2 sides.
remove the emotion, add some factual data and both sides will benefit.
most responsible gun owners seek, appreciate and value good training, proficient skills and moral character.
they just realize that the police have no obligation to protect them
individually, don't want to be legislated into criminality, and want to avoid being a victim.
respectful dialogue can go a long way toward reaching a mutually beneficial solutions.