Urgent warnings -- from SCIENCE!

Because the point is often made that guns cause murder and other crime, I thought I'd take a look at some statistics in the hope of drawing some serious scientific conclusions.

I'll start with some statistics I found in a 1999 study, "An Analysis of Variables Affecting the Clearance of Homicides: A Multistate Study" by Charles Wellford and James Cronin.

People who believe that correlation equals causation (especially those who already hate handguns) will be delighted to see that handguns indeed appear very, very guilty:

Table 3 lists the primary cause of death for all homicides, closed homicides, and open homicides. The majority of homicides involved being shot by a handgun (65.7%). This was distantly followed by being stabbed with a knife or other instrument (11.0%), being shot with other than a handgun (9.5%), and other causes of death (13.7%).

Looks pretty damning, doesn't it? Handguns are clearly the cause of the overwhelming majority of murders, so obviously, the question becomes, what are we to do about handguns?

But this is true only if we look at the guns as the culprit. Suppose we take a look at the race and sex of the shooters in the same study.

Table 7 displays the offenders' age, sex, and race. The offenders were 24 years old or younger in 53.7% of the cases. In 93.5% of the cases the offender was a male and in 74.8% of the cases the offender was an African American.
Readers can see Table 3 and Table 7 below.

So, if 65% of the murders were "caused" by guns, why isn't it equally valid to say that 74% were "caused" by race? Or that 93% were "caused" by sex? Because that would be manifestly unreasonable. And why? Because we are supposed to be a fairminded people living in a country which does not judge people by statistical correlations. Each person is theoretically held responsible for his actions, and we know that race no more causes murder than does sex.

So why do so many people single out guns?

One of the authors of the above study (Charles Wellford) was featured in an article in today's New York Times. Mr. Wellford is the Chairman of the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council which has released a report blaming the NRA for the lack of what he calls a "science base":

The National Rifle Association and its supporters in Congress have long opposed collecting information on gun ownership and sharing the bureau's gun-tracing data, describing such steps as an invasion of privacy.

Charles F. Wellford, chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said that among the major questions that need answers are whether gun violence could be better controlled if there were more restrictions on who can buy firearms, whether customers should be limited to buying one gun at a time and whether safety locks work.

"These and many related policy questions cannot be answered definitively because of large gaps in the existing science base," said Mr. Wellford, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Maryland.

Such "scientific" data are needed to explore such questions as whether "owning a gun increases the risk of a gun injury."

Again, is correlation causation?

Am I allowed to ask exactly what it is that passes for "science" these days?

Unless one merely makes an argument based on correlation (and I believe I've shown how stupid that is) how could such a "risk" ever be accurately assessed?

Does owning an automobile increase the risk of a car injury? Well, if you drive the car, it obviously does. However, the mere ownership of a firearm (or a car) in and of themselves cannot increase "risk", because firearms and cars are inanimate objects.

I have to assume that the term "ownership" includes possession. But does possession include ownership? If someone owns a gun and uses it to commit suicide, how can it be shown that the gun contributed to the "risk" of the suicide? The only way you should show a connection between the gun and the suicide would be if you could demonstrate that the presence of the gun made the owner want to commit suicide – and only with the gun, and not by any other means. There's no way to do that.

As to children, I suppose it could be argued that a gun increases the risk of a child finding it, because if there were no gun then how could it be found?

But can't that be said about cars?

Children Driving Cars
A nine year-old girl, with a 4 year-old boy accomplice, took the keys to her parents' Mistubishi Montero and managed to drive it a mile from Little Ferry, NJ to Hackensack, before crashing into cars and hitting an 84 year-old man.
Of course, that was an SUV…. Had it been a normal car, it never would have "caused" the child to drive it.

Besides, according to this survey the mere presence of children in cars makes cars more dangerous:

Parents are stressed, tearful, frustrated, and unable to concentrate on the road when they have young children in the car, a survey says.

The pregnancy health charity Tommy's Campaign quizzed members of the Huggies Mother and Baby club about their feelings on driving their children.

The charity says an "astounding" 59% admitted to feeling stressed, angry, tearful, or unable to concentrate on some journeys.

In fact, using the same logic, can it not be said that it is the presence of the child that increases the risk both of child gun violence as well as child SUV violence?

And what about the "risk" that owning a gun will make it more likely that someone will use your gun against you? Again, can't that be said about cars? I mean, if you don't own a car, how can a bad guy ever take your car away from you and use it against you?

In fact, I am so sure that my "science" is correct that I am willing to stick my neck out here and now and declare that people who own cars are far more likely to have their cars used against them than people who don't own cars! With SUVs, the risk increases dramatically, of course, because they are bigger and more deadly.

As to suicides, cars are used regularly as a method -- both by carbon monoxide poisoning and by deliberate suicidal driving. It is just as reasonable to blame the cars for these deaths as it is to blame guns for suicidal shootings. So why isn't the National Safety Council issuing warnings about car suicides?

Hey, at least Swedes are consistent. Not only do they blame guns for suicide, but here are some Swedish recommendations for suicide proofing of cars:

Ostrom, M. (1996) Carbon monoxide suicide from car exhausts. (Study of 194 victims who committed suicide by CO poisoning from car exhausts during 4-year period. Males dominated (88%), most of them middle aged. Most victims committed suicide in a car outdoors; ETOH was detected in 51% of the victims and other drugs in 7%. Suggest law requiring catalyst exhaust, automatic idling stop, and exhaust pipes incompatible with vacuum cleaner tubes) Sweden

Now, while readers know how much I hate laws against inanimate objects, in the interest of truth I thought I should point out another study contending that cell phone driving is more dangerous than drunk driving!

....the fatality rate for innocent victims of cell phone-talking motorists might be comparable to or even higher than the fatality rate for innocent victims of intoxicated motorists.
According to the same study, sleep is almost as lethal.

My scientific conclusion?

Don't use a gun with your car phone while driving in your sleep!

And finally, in the interest of advancing science, I feel obligated to conclude with an additional paradox involving guns in cars. In a highly provocative piece, Dave Kopel proves that having a gun in the car can be very dangerous (but not for the reason most people think):

Dr. Suzanna Gratia, a cafeteria patron, had a gun in her car, but, in conformity to Texas law, she did not carry the gun; Texas, despite its Wild-West image, has the most severe law in the country against carrying firearms. Carry-reform legislation had almost passed the state legislature, but had been stopped in House Rules Committee by the gun-control lobby.

Gratia later testified that if she had been carrying her gun, she could have shot at Hennard: "I know what a lot of people think, they think, 'Oh, my God, then you would have had a gunfight and then more people would have been killed.' Unhunh, no. I was down on the floor; this guy is standing up; everybody else is down on the floor. I had a perfect shot at him. It would have been clear. I had a place to prop my hand. The guy was not even aware of what we were doing. I'm not saying that I could have saved anybody in there, but I would have had a chance." Hennard reloaded five times, and had to throw away one pistol because it jammed, so there was plenty of opportunity for someone to fire at him.

Even if Gratia hadn't killed or wounded Hennard, he would have had to dodge hostile gunfire, and wouldn't have been able methodically to finish off his victims as they lay wounded on the floor. The hypothetical risks of a stray bullet from Gratia would have been rather small compared with the actual risks of Hennard not facing any resistance. But because of the Texas law, Gratia had left her gun in the car and couldn't take a shot at Hennard. Instead, she watched him murder both her parents. (Emphasis supplied -- to advance science!)

As if we needed more evidence that guns in cars cause murder!

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Please bear in mind that the Wellford study I cited above is based on the authors' selection of four large American cities, and relates more to urban crime than the demographics of the United States as a whole:

This study examined 798 homicides that occurred in four large U.S. cities during 1994 and 1995. These cities were selected to maximize variation on homicide and total index crime clearance rates measured from 1980 through 1993. The cities include one that had relatively low homicide and total index crime clearance rates; another that had high homicide clearance rates and low total clearance rates; a third that had a high total clearance rate, but low homicide; and a fourth that had high total clearance and high homicide crime clearance.
Readers seeking detailed national statistics might start with this analysis at The Smallest Minority, which I found via the ever-reliable SayUncle. The point I am making is that blaming guns makes about as much sense as blaming race. Or sex.

Hmmmm..... Don't some people blame sex?

posted by Eric on 12.17.04 at 08:57 AM










Comments

Excellent facts (not that the 'guns murder' crowd will pay much attention)

If one removes the gangbanger element from the stats, they'd dramatically change. So would the stats about "children" killed by handguns, since those stats are inflated by including 16-17 y/o gangbangers.

And they don't obtain their guns legally.

IIRC there was a story out of Israel where a woman saved uncounted lives when she spotted a Palestinian suicide bomber while shopping and before he could explode, she pulled her handgun from her purse and shot him through the head.

Darleen   ·  December 17, 2004 11:26 AM

Do you know if anyone has a state-by-state breakdown of "gun crimes", with the states identified as to degree of gun control? Someone on talk radio suggested that states with more liberal laws have lower crime rates.

One interesting comparison is with England (where guns are conspicuously absent), where the rate of home burglaries is much higher than here.

Mike   ·  December 17, 2004 4:41 PM

Guns don't kill people. Gun banners kill people*.

(*by denying them their right to self-defense).

Thanks for the link!

Kevin Baker   ·  December 22, 2004 10:34 PM

"state by state comparison" - look at this 2000 report
Note it comes from the Soros organization, so set your expectations accordingly.

John S   ·  December 24, 2004 6:52 PM

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