/ Maggie Koerth-Baker / 5 am Tue, Feb 26 2013
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  • Science and gun violence: why is the research so weak?

    Science and gun violence: why is the research so weak?

    The state of gun violence research is poor, writes Maggie Koerth-Baker. Right now, whatever your beliefs on guns are, it’s incredibly difficult to back them up with any solid science at all.

    “Our daughter lives about a mile from us, in a rural area. One night, while her son and husband were away, she comes over to visit. She’s over 40 now, but still, when she leaves, I say, ‘give me a call when you get home’.”

    Charles Wellford is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at The University of Maryland. He’s a scientist who studies how social systems work, an expert in the process of homicide investigations. He knows far more about crime than the average American, but that doesn’t stop him from being scared in a very normal, average way.

    On this particular night, Wellford waited the 10 minutes he thought it would take his daughter to get home, but he didn’t hear anything. At first, he figured it was no big deal. He rationalized that she must have gotten delayed. But then 20 minutes, went by and the phone was still silent. At 30 minutes, Wellford tried calling his daughter. Nobody answered. He waited a few minutes and dialed the number a second time. The phone rang. The voicemail picked up. This was the point where Charles Wellford really started to worry.

    “So I went upstairs and I got a revolver and got in my car and drove out there,” he told me. “I pull up, and her car is there and all the lights are on everywhere. Now I’m convinced – somebody was in the house. Someone else was there when she got home. I get the gun and I start walking towards the house. And that’s when my daughter comes out of the barn,” he said.

    “She’d just started doing chores and she’d forgotten to call.”

    This is more than just a story about a jumpy father, worried for his child’s safety. It’s a story that illustrates how complicated and flawed the science on gun use and gun violence is in the United States.

    If you were studying gun use, and you wanted to know how often guns were used in self-defense, how would you categorize Charles Wellford’s experience?

    If you look at real-world research, Wellford said, the answer is far from consistent. Some research papers would classify his story an example of defensive gun use. Others wouldn’t. And that difference in definitions is part of why we don’t have solid answers to the big questions about gun violence, gun ownership, and the effects of gun laws.

    Wellford doesn’t study guns, himself. But in 2004, he served as the chairman on a National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed a huge amount of gun violence research and presented a sort of “state-of-the-field” report summarizing what we know, what we don’t know, and why.

    The results were less than glowing. In the executive summary, the committee wrote that, despite lots of research, it was still impossible to answer some of the most pressing questions surrounding gun violence. The paper does its best to praise researchers for the good work they have produced – this isn’t a situation where we know absolutely nothing about gun use, gun ownership, and the impact of gun laws. But the committee members I spoke with were also critical of the field, and say that the confidence politicians, lobbyists, and activists put in this research is seriously premature. Gun violence research suffers from a lack of consistently recorded data and, for that matter, a lack of data, in general. As John Pepper, associate economics professor at The University of Virginia and the study director on the 2004 report, put it, “The data are just terrible.”

    Worse, critics say the methods used to analyze that data are also deeply flawed in many cases. What you end up with, researchers told me, is a field where key pieces of the puzzle are missing entirely and where multiple scientists are reaching wildly different conclusions from the exact same data sets. For instance, because of those differences in the definition of “defensive gun use” some researchers will tell you that Americans use a gun to defend themselves something like 1.5 million times every year. Others say it happens maybe 200,000 times annually.

    That kind of variability does not create an environment where it is easy to craft evidence-based policy, and the situation has not improved since 2004, Wellford said.

    A couple of months ago, I wrote a short piece here at BoingBoing, briefly addressing these issues. That piece was written quickly, mostly by reading a few review analyses. Because gun violence – and how to deal with it – continues to be a major issue in our society, I wanted to come back to these questions and dig a little deeper. We know that gun violence research is deeply flawed. We know that it cannot currently answer the questions we need it to answer. But why? What, specifically, is missing? What about this field is broken? And how do we fix it?

    According to scientists who do gun research, scientists who were involved in the National Academies review, and scientists who study the way other scientists do research, there are two key problems. First is the issue of missing and poorly matched data. Second, there are also serious problems with the mathematical models scientists use to analyze that data, and with the type of conclusions they attempt to draw from it. In this first of a two-part series, I’m going to focus on the data.

    About 11,000 Americans died at the end of a gun in 2010. We know that because the basic, Clue-esque information on who is killed, where, and with what gets documented by local law enforcement agencies – all of which is, in turn, compiled by the FBI into the Uniform Crime Report. This system has been around since 1930.

    The other primary source of this kind of information is the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System. It’s been around since 2002 and collects more-detailed information than the Uniform Crime Report. For one thing, it includes suicides. When I say that guns killed 11,000 people in 2010, I’m only talking about deaths that were classified as homicides. Another thing the CDC records do is link deaths to other pieces of information – like previous domestic violence calls -- that can help researchers understand what lead up to the death. Unfortunately, only 18 states participate in that system.

    In 1989, the FBI also started collecting more-detailed reports of crimes – including crimes that might involve a gun, but not be homicides – as part of the National Incident Based Reporting System. But that system is still used by only a small minority of law enforcement agencies.

    Taken all together, these reporting systems give scientists a place to start. But it’s just that. A place to start. It’s a nice diagram of your street. It’s not a road map showing you the way to your cousin’s house in Cleveland.

    One of the big problems is something that you’ve already seen here – definitions. How one person collecting data classifies a type of crime can be different from how somebody else does it, and neither of those might really capture the details of specific cases.

    Mark Hoekstra is an associate professor of economics at Texas A&M University. He’s been studying the effects of stand-your-ground laws – legislation that changes the way the law expects people to act when they feel threatened. Historically (and this is dating back to English common law), you were expected to remove yourself from a threatening situation, rather than attacking the person you felt threatened by … unless the situation happened within your own home. Stand-your-ground laws basically expand the places and situations where it’s legally acceptable to go straight to “fight” without first attempting “flight”.

    So what happens when a state institutes a stand-your-ground law? A good way to study this, as you might guess, is to start by looking at the rates of justifiable homicides and the rates of criminal homicides and see how each change after the law takes effect. The good news is that the FBI has a standardized definition of what “justifiable homicide” means.

    The problem: The FBI definition doesn’t necessarily capture the full story of what’s going on. The FBI calls justifiable homicide “the killing of a felon during commission of a felony”, Hoekstra said. There are only about 200-300 of those reported annually in the entire country, he said. But nobody knows whether that is because justifiable homicide is actually rare, or whether it’s more common, but not captured by the reporting system. Remember, what’s happening here is that somebody puts another tick mark under one category or another. The details of how specific shootings happened and why don’t usually make it into the record.

    It’s easy to imagine lots of situations that wouldn’t fit neatly into the FBI definitions. “Like one guy breaks a beer bottle and hits the other guy with it, and the guy who got hit shoots and kills the first guy,” Hoekstra said. “According to the FBI handbook, that’s not legally justifiable. But you don’t know the specific details of the case. In reality, you can imagine a situation where that scenario was deemed justifiable. You can also imagine a situation where it would be criminal and the guy would go to prison.”

    That makes it difficult for people like Hoekstra to study justifiable homicide, and it makes it difficult for lay people, like you and I, to understand what’s going on when we hear about stuff like this in the news or see statistics repeated on a Facebook JPEG. There’s a lot of room for people and organizations to take a concept – what happens when states institute stand-your-ground laws, say – and fiddle with different ways of counting until they end up being able to make the statement they want to make. What’s more, those folks can all probably make a decent case for why they chose to tally up the numbers the way they did. It’s not really as simple as someone lying to you and someone not. At least, not always. When data and definitions don’t capture the full story, it leaves room for reasonable (and unreasonable) people to group the numbers in different ways.

    Whether you think it’s the guns or the people that kill people, you’re bound to agree that homicide isn’t the only kind of violence guns end up involved in. Guns are part of burglaries. They’re used as a threat in of some kinds of rape. They’re used to harass and intimidate victims of domestic violence. Sometimes, people who are shot with guns don’t die. Sometimes, people shoot themselves, whether accidentally or intentionally.

    All of those things are, presumably, affected in some way by the availability of guns and by the regulations that we place on guns. This isn’t just about people killing one another. But research on gun violence tends to focus on homicide. And there’s a very good reason for that.

    “Start with deaths and go down from there to shooting yourself in the hand,” Charles Wellford explained. “As you go down that continuum, the comprehensiveness and quality of the data decreases.”

    There’s a lot we just don’t know when it comes to how guns are used and misused in a whole range of violent events. The simple explanation is that a dead body is hard to hide. Murders get reported to police. The police generally follow up on those cases and report them to the FBI. Other crimes are much more of a patchwork, said John Donohue, professor of law at Stanford Law School. People may or may not call the cops to report domestic violence or an assault by someone they know. If the cops are called, the situation may or may not be taken seriously enough that it’s logged in any meaningful way. And if the violent incident in question isn’t technically a crime – shooting yourself in the foot, for instance, or drunkenly blowing a hole in your mother-in-law’s garage on the 4th of July – there’s no reason why that information would be reported to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, to begin with.

    All those things matter very much to the people who are trying to figure out how guns are used in our society and how gun use changes over time. But there’s not really a solid, nation-wide, uniform way of tracking any of it. So what we say we know about gun violence is almost always just a synonym for what we know about gun murders.

    And that’s not the only information that is just flat-out missing.

    Think about right-to-carry laws, which allow licensed individuals to pack heat in a holster or handbag, or even just slung over their shoulder at a JC Penny. Scientists like Donohue and Hoekstra study the effects of those laws by analyzing data on crime statistics – murders, and whatever else happens to be available in the states they’re researching. That information can help them get an idea of what’s going on. But to really understand how the specific conceal-carry laws affect those crime statistics you would need to know what people are actually doing with their newfound rights. How many people were carrying guns last year? How about this year? How often do they carry them? Where do they take them? That data simply doesn’t exist, Wellford told me.

    Another thing we don’t have is reliable, long-term data on where the guns that are actually used in crimes come from. One of the ways we legislate gun use is through registration programs and systems that limit who can buy a gun legally. But if we don’t know whether guns used in crimes are purchased legally, illegally, or purchased legally and then sold or given illegally to a third party, we have no idea how to craft those laws or even if they make any difference at all.

    Finally, consider the question of whether more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens serves as a deterrent to criminals. That’s a pretty basic argument that many people make, and scientists try to answer that question using lots of different methods. (For the record, the National Academies report came to the conclusion that the research is currently inconclusive on this. Right now, we don’t know whether having more guns means less crime, or more crime, or whether it has any effect at all. The research is all over the place and nobody has made a strong enough case to be conclusive.)

    But here’s one thing nobody has ever done: Find out what the criminals think. That same issue also came up when John Pepper was involved in a National Academies panel considering research on the death penalty. “If you think about whether it has a deterrent effect, we know almost nothing, because we know almost nothing about how offenders perceive the risk of execution,” he told me. And the same is true of the risk of being shot by a potential victim.

    Sixty years ago, nobody really knew how America had sex. Sure, scientists could guess sex was happening, based on the basic population numbers collected in the census. But who was doing it, when, with whom … that was all lost in the mists of incredibly awkward conversations that nobody wanted to have. Figuring out ways to collect and compile that data was a daunting task. And, in fact, a lot of people likely would have thought it was pretty invasive for scientists and government entities like the CDC to even want to know the answers to those questions.

    But here we are, in 2013, and even if we don’t know exactly what people get up to between 9:35 and 9:37 on a Wednesday night, we do know a lot more about American sex habits. More importantly, we know how those sex habits affect other parts of people’s lives, and we know a lot more about how public policy affects both sex and quality of life. That matters. It’s uncomfortable, potentially invasive research that actually makes us aware of rapes and sexual assaults that go unreported in crime statistics. It’s that research that helps us track STD rates, and makes sure we notice when those patterns change for the better or worse. Research on sex means that we know more about teen sex, teen pregnancy rates, and how to reduce the latter.

    “We made progress,” Charles Wellford told me. “There are lots of examples of difficult measurement issues and we didn’t just throw our hands up and walk away from them.”

    We can solve the problems with gun violence data, scientists say, but it’s going to take funding and it’s going to take political willpower. There are a few key solutions that the researchers I spoke with suggested.

    First, we need to expand the crime reporting systems that track a broader range of incidents and collect more detailed accounts of what actually happened in those incidents. That means expanding the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System from 18 states to 50. And it means getting more local law enforcement agencies using the FBI’s National Incident Based Reporting System. The basic Uniform Crime Report has been useful, they say, but it’s time to bring this kind of reporting into the 21st century.

    The harder task is going to be finding ways to collect a new kind of data. Wellford calls it the “left side variables”. If you think about the relationship between crime and guns as an equation, he said, all we really have right now is the information in the right-hand side of that equation. We have data on the occurrence of gun violence. What we’re missing is all the stuff that connects people to those guns.

    “None of the surveys used to study other crimes, where you could include information about guns and then link that up to other things we care about like crime, labor markets, schooling outcomes … we just don’t have the data,” John Pepper said. “Take a simple question about correlation between gun ownership and crime, or gun ownership and suicide. We can’t even answer that.”

    There are two ways to study questions like those. If you had a survey or some reports that could tell you how many gun owners in the state of Virginia had committed suicide, then you could compare that to suicides among people in Virginia who didn’t own guns. Alternately, you could take broadly aggregated data about how many suicides happen in the state of Virginia and broadly aggregated data about gun ownership rates in the state of Virginia, and you can compare those statistics to other states. You can easily tell that the former method is going to produce a much more accurate estimate of the relationship between gun ownership and suicide than the latter. But we have no way to do that.

    Creating a system that allows scientists to gather that data might be objectionable to some people who own guns. But think of it this way. Right now, whatever your beliefs on guns happen to be, it’s incredibly difficult to back them up with solid science. If you want to be able to make any kind of statement about gun ownership and the effects thereof – and have anybody who doesn’t agree with you 100% actually take you seriously – then you should support better data. This should be the first step. Because right now, we don’t know enough to know definitively what effects guns have, or what effects gun policies have.

    Better data would help that. But, unfortunately, it’s not the only thing that needs fixing. In my next post on gun violence research, I’ll focus in on the way scientists analyze data. To avoid misleading conclusions, we need good mathematical models. But some experts say we don’t have those. So what does that mean for the research scientists are publishing? And what does it tell us about the usefulness of evidence-based policy making, in general? Stay tuned.


    Playing politics

    This is a story about science, a peek behind-the-scenes at some of the factors that make it difficult for experts to come to definitive conclusions about how gun ownership and gun laws affect crime, violence, and self-defense. But, in a lot ways, it’s impossible to separate that from politics. Data and methodology are the gooey filling. Politics is the crust. It’s all one pie.

    In particular, it’s important to acknowledge that politics is a big part of why some of the missing data discussed here is actually missing. This issue goes far beyond a simple lack of funding for the expansion of improved crime reporting systems.

    For instance, in this piece, I mentioned that social scientists don’t have a good way to track where a gun used in a crime came from. And that problem isn’t unique to science – local law enforcement runs into the same roadblocks. From a practical perspective, this is an easy problem to solve. From a political perspective, it’s not – the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is prohibited by law from setting up a national, centralized gun tracking system. While the agency does collect data on gun sales and background checks, it’s forced to regularly destroy some of that information. And it can’t share the information it does retain with any member of the public. This was a key complaint voiced by Charles Wellford and other scientists, who count as members of the public.

    Another key problem, at least in the eyes of the researchers I spoke with, was the existence of Public Law 104-208 and Public Law 112-74. Passed in 1996 and 2011, respectively, these pieces of legislation included provisions that prevented first the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and then all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, from using federal funding to advocate or promote gun control. The language used in this legislation was both broad and vague. According to researchers I spoke with, those laws have had a chilling effect on government-funded scientists, who worried any research they did could be construed as gun-control advocacy if legislators didn’t like the results.

    Charles Wellford described a meeting he attended he chaired recently, aimed at formulating research goals and figuring out how to fill in some of the most important blanks in gun violence research. Of the 15 people at the meeting, one was from the CDC. Throughout the meeting, the man began nearly every statement he made by first hedging, explaining that he didn’t want ideas attributed to him and that the CDC would never consider research directions he might personally recommend. “[That legislation] doesn’t say we can’t do research on, say, whether someone has a gun in their home, but careers were damaged and people lost jobs and that has a lasting effect,” Wellford said.

    Not all research is done the same way or with an equal level of quality. John Pepper, for instance, was very critical of the gun violence research coming out of the public health sector, which would include work being done by the CDC. This kind of research often matches populations of people who have been subjected to violence to populations that have not and looks for commonalities and differences between them. But that perspective is based on modeling the spread of disease, not on modeling complex behaviors and decisions, Pepper said. He didn’t think it did a good job of dealing with questions of correlation vs. causation. “A gun isn’t a virus,” he said.

    But, even so, Pepper thought the legal restrictions were unreasonable, and he thought they had a detrimental effect on gun violence research, in general, not just on the research coming out the public health tradition. For instance, some of the important work the CDC used to do, he said, included adding questions about gun ownership and gun violence to national surveys that tracked a wide variety of health issues and outcomes – data that would have been useful to social scientists and public health experts, alike.

    Some of this may change in the future. On January 16th, President Obama issued an executive action authorizing (and, in fact, mandating) the CDC to do gun violence research and collect better crime data. But the pesky money problem still exists. The action called for $10 million in funding for research and another $20 million in funding to expand the National Violent Death Reporting System. That cash, however, has to come from congress. And if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that this is probably not the ideal time to push large spending bills through Capitol Hill.

    For further reading on the political side of gun research:

    A New York Times story by Erica Goode and Sheryl Gay Stolberg that digs into the restrictions placed on the ATF.
    • Justin George of The Baltimore Sun writes about the ATF restrictions and the problems this presents for policy making.
    • A CBS Evening News report by Mark Strassman on the legislation that blocked gun research at the CDC.


    / / COMMENTS

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    1. Now THIS is a real starting point to the discussion.  Maybe now, finally, we’re ready to have an adult conversation about this in the US.

      1. One powerful lobby has a history of getting congress to de-fund any agency that attempts to collect unbiased data on gun violence. I’ll let you have fun trying to figure out which one!

    2. For a criminology professor, mr. Wellford seems to be rather stupid. What about the concept of ‘police’? You know, like in “Excuse me officer, but I haven’t received an expected safety call, can’t contact my daughter and since this is unusual I am worried that a crime might be in progress at her home – so please send a patrol car to check it out”?

      I know that over there in the colonies you all want to be the cowboy with the white hat, but in reality there are trained people for dealing with the bad guys: they are called police. And if you didn’t go around shooting anything that moves like madmen, they could actually do their work unhindered.

      1.  It depends on the jurisdiction.  In some places the police will have time to do this in others they will be busy with more definite crimes.

      2. Assuming that the police would even respond to the request, ‘in a rural area’ could mean that the patrol car is an hour or more away.

        In the same situation, I would make the 1-mile trip myself, whether I was armed or not, rather than call the police.

        1.  The same is true in the UK, it can take a while for the police to go check something out, even assuming they have the spare officers to do so.
          Of course in the UK you’d be packing a big stick rather than a gun…

      3. That depends on if you trust a police officer with a gun more than you trust yourself. You’ll have plenty of people who’ll throw horror stories about our militarized police force right back at you. Police teams raiding into the wrong house and shooting a family dog while a 5 year old watches for example. The American spirit is very much an individualistic “If you want something done right, do it yourself” spirit. That’s just how the culture is. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but in the end you know that you are the sole responsible party and you are in control of the outcome. It sounds like it worked out just fine for the person in the example you’re quoting.

        1. That’s a red herring if there ever was one.  If you can’t at least mostly trust the police, then you have anarchy or third world corrupt law enforcement.  Most cops are here to help.  Also cops have training, bulletproof vests and lots of backup.

          1. “If you can’t at least mostly trust the police, then you have anarchy or third world corrupt law enforcement.”
            Welcome to America. Hell, I’m white and middle-class, and I’d think thrice about calling the police for most situations. 

          2. Call the police and they might just kill you

            Police escalate car chase to deadly conclusion

            Even the mayor isn’t safe

            Police helping the mentally-challenged
            “With his dying words, he… never understood why the defendant had beat him. He said ‘All I wanted was a Snickers bar.'”

            Newly-Released Surveillance Video Shows Police Officers Brutally Beating, Suffocating, and Tasing Kelly Thomas to Death


            Sure, a lot of cops, maybe most, are there to help. I’ve met some of them. But in this country, it really is a crapshoot. You don’t want to call the cops unless you absolutely have to.

          3.  There is a difference between “trusting” and “depending upon.”  I live 13 miles away from the closest gas station.  If I happen to need the police, there is no guarantee that they could be there in 10 minutes or less — and a lot can happen in 10 minutes.

            The courts have decided that the police are not obliged to help you.  If you call up that somebody is attacking your family, you cannot sue them if they decide not to show up.  I am sure that they would TRY to help, but you have no recourse if they do not, or if they are late for some reason.

            This is why I would at least like to have the option of defending my family myself.  Yes, I am individualistic.  I would happily help others, and would accept help from others.  I would just hate to be in a position where I am completely screwed if help never shows up.

            1.  >There is a difference between “trusting” and “depending upon.”  I live 13 miles away from the closest gas station.  If I happen to need the police, there is no guarantee that they could be there in 10 minutes or less — and a lot can happen in 10 minutes.

              For many America’s that’s no longer the norm.  In an urban area cops are usually close by and usually respond very very quickly to thing deemed serious.  I had a friend who woke up to the sound of someone trying to pick the lock of her apartment. She said she waited in terror for a long minute before she heard the cops suddenly break down the doors to her apartment building.

              Anyway, most people get shot with handguns either they own, or one that a criminal stole from someone that owned it legally.  Stand to reason, reduce the number of handguns and you’ll cut deaths.  Handguns in particular are a problem because they can be concealed and thus are ideal for criminals to carry.

          4. You mean “you have America or any-world corrupt law enforcement,” right?

            BTW, anarchism is about social cooperation, equality, and among other things, making sure that no one organization is too powerful for the people to hold it accountable. Unfortunately, one of the reasons we have these problems is that some police forces are too powerful for the people to hold them accountable; another reason is that some people look away, because they don’t have to worry about the [class-based, racial, sexual, other] harassment other people face.

          5. We have a saying here.  “If you have a problem, and you call the cops, then you have a problem, and cops.”

        2. Why should I trust my neighbors though?  These are the same people who in the pre-civil rights days were happy to lynch a black man for saying the wrong thing.

      4. In rural areas, it can take an hour for police to arrive, even in an emergency. I spent several years living in a very rural area of the country, and there was no way to have a police presence heavy enough to get decent response times with the low tax base of the county.

        It’s less about being a cowboy, and more about the realization that in rural areas in America, the police are there to come collect the bodies, or intervene in domestic disputes that haven’t turned deadly yet. Home invasions happen, and being able to defend yourself is actually pretty important.

        On the other hand, a shotgun works just fine in these incidents. Don’t need a semiautomatic rifle with a 30 round magazine to drive off a drug addict…

        1.  Home invasions happen, and being able to defend yourself is actually pretty important.

          I’d dispute that fact that because something happens, one has a right to defend oneself against the peril regardless of cost to society. 

          To take a silly case, given what happened in Russia, my neighbors would still be right to complain about the surface-to-air missile mounted on my roof, as (1) the chance that it actually stops the peril is low and (2) the chance that it ends up being used to the detriment of the neighbors in a situation that has nothing to do with the peril are high.

          Likewise with guns, home invasions are actually quite rare, and the chance of a gun being stolen, lost, accidentally used, used for suicide, or used in passion are relatively high (compared to the threat).

          Anyway, not to say that you’re wrong once you’re weighing all the pros and cons, but it should be clear that “the right to defend yourself regardless of the cost to society” is *not* self-evident.

          1. “Likewise with guns, home invasions are actually quite rare, and the chance of a gun being stolen, lost, accidentally used, used for suicide, or used in passion are relatively high (compared to the threat).”

            Did you not bother to read this article?  The data collected is too poor for you to make those claims with any certainty.

            1. I don’t think you actually read the article. We do have statistics on home invasions and theft.

              We don’t, and can’t, have statistics on the defensive use of guns because as Pistorius demonstrates, people who “defend” themselves with guns can and do lie about the circumstances involved.

            2. This article also mentions the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, and the deficiency of data collected through these systems.  To make a claim based on whether a gun was “…accidentally used, used for suicide, or used in passion…” based on this data would be flawed.

              This article also makes the claim that the difference in statistics on the defensive use of guns is based on researchers’ differing definitions, not on self-reporting by those involved.

            3. As foobar mentions, we do have fairly reasonable stats for stolen guns, lost guns, accidental use of guns (reasonable, not great), suicide using guns, and acts of passion using guns.

              However flerd_trandle, you are correct: I can’t support my claim that they’re “relatively high compared to the threat”, since we don’t know how many home invasions are prevented by handguns.  Given that home invasions are fairly rare, my common sense would indicate that this sort of protection is fairly rare.

              What I also use as common sense is that (1) non-gun owners do not seem to victimized at rates substantially different from gun owners, which tends to lead me to the conclusion that waving a gun around does not prevent a lot of crime and (2) that Canada, which has a violent crime rate substantially similar to the US, has a murder rate substantially lower.

              Since I think violent crime is a continuum, and I don’t think Americans are particularly homicidal, it seems quite likely that the murder rate is fairly directly connected to the ease of procuring weapons that are very good at killing people.

              However, yes, I can’t prove it with statistics.

          2.  It can be argued that home invasions are rare, because homeowners are often armed. Again, the data is inconclusive, but anecdotal evidence suggests this has some truth.

            1. While it certainly can be argued, if we look at Canada, which has a violent crime rate that is very similar to the US (it’s culturally very similar), there’s no dramatic increase in home invasions despite a much lower rate of gun ownership.  This would suggest (to me) that the correlation is unlikely.

          3. Can anybody tell me when the term “home invasions” started being a thing? Didn’t we used to call this burglary? 

            1. Whenever I see the term being used, I assume that people are distinguishing burglaries, where the burglar is hoping the house is unoccupied (or hoping to do their work while the inhabitants are fast asleep), from “home invasions” where the criminal is forcing their way into an occupied home.  The problem with this is that these sorts of “home invaders” are mostly let into the home by the inhabitants, so unless you answer the door packing a gun and point it at your visitors, the presence of the gun isn’t going to help you much.  And burglars are generally going to be scared away merely by the realization that the homeowners are present (and awake) and calling the police, and where a gun isn’t too useful when you’re either asleep or not there.

            2. Yeah, I understand what you are saying but this term is new I believe. I can remember back in the 90’s in New Orleans there was a crime streak going on around the Tulane campus. I had one friend who chased an armed person out of his home and thereafter he packed heat everywhere he went. I had another acquaintance who was forced at gunpoint to disable his alarm and keep his dog silenced while a second person ransacked his house. No one called these incidents “home invasions” back then. 

            3.  A burglary is when the criminal avoids confrontation with the owner. We could call this an “armed robbery,” but “home invasion” classifies crimes committed with the express intent of catching the residents at home, with the idea of forcing them to reveal security codes, vault combinations, etc.

        2. “Home invasions happen…” 

          This is the most common argument for gun rights supporters, and for the record, I’m a gun owner, but I have to take issue with it. Home invasions are rare. As opposed to burglaries. But this is the vision gun nuts always start with. (Jim, I’m not calling you a “gun nut”)

          Unless you’re a drug dealer or involved in some other criminal activity, the likelihood of someone busting into your house is small. You really need to be a known target for a criminal, or several, to walk up to your house and try to force their way in. Mainly because they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.

        3. Actually, a rifle is probably a better choice, and these evil assault weapons are probably the best:  Despite what Joe Biden says, shotguns don’t actually spread all that much (e.g. even at 20 yards, 00 buckshot only produces a ~10″ pattern), so you still need to aim and aim well.  Yet its hard to aim with no sights and a gun which can be described as “Kills in front, wounds in back” due to the recoil.

          While a rifle is much easier to aim and shoot, and most .223 softpoint bullets actually penetrate through drywall less than either typical pistol rounds or buckshot.  The biggest problem is cost:  A good .223 rifle is $1000, while a good shotgun is half that.

          IF I needed a gun for home defense [1] it would probably be a California-legal AR.

          [1] I don’t, so I don’t have one.  In my neighborhood, I have a 600x greater chance of having to deal with the San Andreas Fault.

          1. With my understanding that .223s have rather little stopping power and the fact that you don’t necessarily want a lot of spread in a close-range home invasion scenario but you would want stopping power I would think a shotgun or a hand cannon would be the way to go. 

            I’m still rather certain people like the ARs because owning one makes them feel like a badass.  I’ve seen “they’re good for hunting” and “they’re good for home defense” but the rationales for both don’t make a lot of sense to me, especially given the lack of stopping power.

            1. Actually a 223 has plenty of stopping power however it also depends on the type of bullet. Besides, it is bullet placement that is the major factor of stopping a threat. 

            2. Ah, so the guys insisting that an AR-15 has little stopping power did not know what they were talking about, or perhaps you do not know what you are talking about.  And somehow it is the pro-gun control side who is accused of making “contradictory arguments”.

            3.  Different types of bullets have radically different stopping power when fired from the same weapon. Military rounds are designed to cause disabling wounds that don’t necessarily kill (wounded soldiers force the enemy to expend resources on medical treatment), while hunting rounds are designed to kill quickly with massive trauma, and self-defense rounds spread their force over a greater area to stop a rushing opponent.

            4. They have more than enough stopping power for the job, but they are too over-specialized for a homeowners’ tool.

              A shotgun works equally well for home defense, target shooting, skeet, varmint and pest control, large and small game, etc. and uses a variety of easily obtainable ammunition and is easily repaired and cared for using parts and supplies from nearly any hunting or shooting supply.

              I don’t usually agree with Joe Biden, but this time he’s right.  A Remington 870 is a generally purpose killing tool well worth having around the house, and a military carbine is overly specialized and expensive.  If you’ve already got one and the armed forces have trained you in its use (like my friend Mimi – Hi, Meemers!) maybe that’s reasonable, but there’s really no good reason to go spend money on a handgun or assault rifle.  Shotguns are far more useful.

          2. The shotgun logic for protecting the family has one very important safety factor.  The buckshot generally will not penetrate all the way through a wall, so your small child sleeping in the other room is relatively safe when you fire at someone.  Most bullet based weapons will penetrate the wall which means you risk killing that person on the other side of the wall.  Have mythbusters done this one?  I would purchase a shotgun for home protection if I wanted to, because my 30 30 would go through a couple walls so it lives locked up and unloaded, as it is much to dangerous to shoot a burglar with….

            1. This is VERY FALSE! 

              00 buck penetrates walls more than a soft-point or hollow-point .223, which tends to shatter into pieces as it passes through drywall.  This is the kind of thing that the gun nuts like testing all the time because it means shooting at stuff, photographing it, and posting it on the Internet.

      5. I made the mistake of calling the police in a similar situation. Worst mistake of my life. Calling the police is almost always going to be a terrible idea if there’s any sort of unknown. Inviting a gang of heavily armed, highly strung individuals with authority complexes and a penchant for violence to resolve a situation with unknown factors in an effort to /safeguard/ someone’s safety is pretty much always going to be a bad idea, at least in the US.

        In my own case, it’s because they didn’t bother asking her what was going on when they found her, made a lot of unjustified assumptions, and while no one got shot or hurt (thankfully), she ended up pretty upset with me for months for causing one of the most degrading experiences in her life, all because I made the mistake of calling the police to “check on her and make sure she was all right” because I was worried about her. (And even that was only because I was so far away at the time)

        1. I’d like to know more about this, if I may – respecting any details you may leave out to protect her privacy, naturally.

        2.  Uhm. I have to disagree with the generalization here.  Not all police have “authority complexes and a penchant for voilence”.

          I had the police show up at my place expecting trouble because some idiot placed a fake panic call to them. But even though they thought there was a good chance they were walking into a shooting situation, and were obviously not real comfortable, they played it remarkably well — they asked my permission to search the place rather than jumping direct to insisting, they were firm but polite about interviewing me, and as soon as it became obvious that there was no problem they apologized and left.

          Of course it helps that I didn’t hit _them_ with a bad attitude. If you act like an ass and/or like someone who has something to hide, they’re going to respond and that’s entirely appropriate. If you work with them everything goes much more smoothly.

          Yes, there are parts of the US where the police department, or specific officers, are problems. But that really is the exception, NOT the rule. Remember, anecdotal evidence tends to be inherently biased because it’s the unusual and/or problematic cases that get talked about.

          1. And what you are describing is exactly that – anecdotal evidence.

            It’s a matter of odds – is calling the police likely to make things better, or worse? In my experience, there’s a lot of variables. Sure, if you are calling to help your white, male, calm-headed, respectful, sober, non-depressed, non-handicapped, fairly compliant with authority friend with some potential outside threat, maybe that’s overwhelmingly a good choice. But how well do you know the person you are trying to help? How sure are you there’s an actual problem the police could help with? If there isn’t, how sure are you there won’t be any complications? How much better an option is calling the police than some alternative such as (in this case) going there yourself (since you would be far more likely to identify the potential victim successfully and be able to quickly diffuse any misunderstanding, what with the two of you knowing each other).

            What ARE the benefits? Will they get there too late to help if it IS an emergency, but soon enough to cause problems if it isn’t? Maybe it’s not the best idea to get them involved at all, then.

            Calling the police is like going in for surgery. There are definite rewards if needed, but it’s silly to act is if it isn’t always going to involve an element of risk of complications. Sometimes the risk of a false positive is enough to opt against the surgery and in favour of some other treatment that might be less risky, but have a lower chance of success if the problem is real (In this case, traveling to her house himself to check on her).

            Not every surgery has complications. But even if most surgeries don’t, that doesn’t mean surgery is necessarily the best option for a /suspicion/. And it’s the same with the police.

            I should probably add that showing up at someone’s house with a loaded gun in hand and ready to fire is probably significantly more likely to have a poorer outcome than calling the police though.

      6. In some rural areas, it might take far longer for the police to arrive, than the time it would have taken Mr. Wellford to investigate on his own. Regardless, there was nothing for the police to act on, only his worry, so why would he call the police?

      7. As they say out in the sticks (and sometimes in very urbanized areas), “when seconds count, the police are minutes away”. 

    3. Woe unto any science that becomes the focus of politics!  However, political conflict about guns can be enormously valuable to people who don’t want certain other subjects discussed publicly.  Divide and rule.

    4. More articles like this please! 

      I’m a Brit so pretty unaffected by this but it’s fascinating to see an in depth look at the hurdles evidence based policy faces. Especially on something that I’d assumed was pretty easy to study (in correctly assuming that information on gun violence would be easy to track).

      1. The problem being what law changes will affect criminal behavior. This isn’t like seat belts where the distribution of fatalities is somewhat random, this is were a few criminals (convicted felons mostly, who cannot legally own guns) with guns they did not obtain through a dealer, killing people. As per Obama’s Justice Department in January, none of the currently proposed legislation would have any effect on the homicide rate.

        It seems that banning leaded gas has been the single largest thing we have done about crime since 1970. So the right thing to do is not necessarily the obvious thing.

    5. I think the major problem is that neither side in the gun control debate really has much need or desire for facts. The debate is far more about affiliation and culture than about actual numbers.  What impetus does either side have to possibly arm their opposite number with better statistics?

      (I’d like to think that real data would support my (pro gun control) point of view because it suits my “common sense”.  But if I’m leaving my hubristic impulses at home, then I have to acknowledge that there are a large number of very intelligent people whose common sense tells them the opposite.  Moreover, if I claim to “know” the outcome in advance of the science because of my intuition, then I’m not much better than the creationists who also claim their intuition beats science.)

      1. Probably the most honest assessment of this debate I’ve heard yet, and yes, I’m pro-2nd Amendment on this issue.  This is one of the main reasons why I think most, if not all of the most recent political proposals are bogus – they’re based on emotion and give us a false sense of security.  Nothing proposed will make us any safer.

        That being said, I worry that “research” being done by the wrong groups will be biased.  Just like I wouldn’t want the NRA funding research through a 3rd party, I certainly don’t want the Johns Hopkins BLOOMBERG School of Public Heath setting policy agendas.

      2. Well, the data is poor, there are serious definitions issues, and the anti gun people have a nasty history of crap studies. For example, when Florida changed to a shall issue concealed weapon carry permit system (so instead of them being issued on the whim of the local cops, you could get one unless they could show why you shouldn’t), there was a study showing how awful it was, they showed how crime had gone up in the five cities (I may not be exactly right, it’s been years) they studied, and they just picked those at random. Well, the study was correct in that crime did go up in those five cities, but over all, it had gone down in Florida, and in fact, those were the places crime had gone up the most, by *chance* they had picked the places that best represented the point they wanted to make. You also see studies where they have the sort of leaps I associate with dot com business plans, and outright lying (there was a book about the history of guns in america that got all kinds of awards, until it became clear that the author had just made most of it up).

        You see stuff like this over and over. The pro gun people are not as bad, in general, but it is a field where getting some good data would be nice.

        Don’t trust the data we have too far either, for instance, there is quite a bit of anecdotal data that NYC has driven their crime rate down by the police misreporting what crimes are reported to them, rape becomes burglary or felon in position of a weapon, etc. There have been some very limited scandals about this, but I’ve not seen a reason to think it’s not widespread.

        1. I personally think you can say that guns are not the problem, if they were, then there would have been a good study showing that. It might be that shall issue concealed carry laws are a good thing, but probably not a huge thing. You can say that our occupied residential burglary rate is much lower than say, England (20% vs 80% or so), but you cannot say that this is because burglars are avoiding armed citizens (though you can say there is data supporting that idea).

          Heck, I think you can show that motorcycle helmets do not cause more injuries and fatalities than they prevent, but I don’t think you can show that they save lives, other than by discouraging some types of riders from riding. Personally, I believe they do, and I’ve put over 100,000 miles on motorcycles, with a helmet on, and less than 5 miles without a helmet on, but I cannot prove that (I mean, the last really good study on it was the Hurt Report in the late 1970s, I think).

          1. Yes, you are!  ;)

            But why shouldn’t people be clear where they stand?  Seems like a virtue to me.

        2. Given that the NRA has made it legally impossible for the federal government (or anyone who gets federal grants) to research the dynamics of gun violence, it’s rather hard to say that the “pro gun people are not as bad.”  What I see coming from the pro-gun crowd is nothing but anecdotes and fantasies.

      3. There was actually a gun-control advocate who wrote about how guns were not part of the experience of his “tribe” and he practically described some pro-gun people coming into his neighborhood the way you’d think a racist would describe undocumented workers. 

        1. You may be referring to Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo. If that’s the case, then I think your comparison to racism is more than a little over the top. Anyway, the original posting is here so people can judge for themselves.

    6. Here is an interesting interview with philosopher Jeff McMahan re: gun control.  Via the “philosophy bites” podcast.


      He makes logical sense but the practicality of it is so far outside the scope of what is possible given the high number of existing weapons in the US and the impending ability to manufacture weapons at home with a 3d printer. (It will eventually be possible with better materials and modified ammunition that is designed for low pressure receivers.)

      1.  Its easier to build a gun with a small lathe, milling machine, or other tools (most custom car and bike shops would have no trouble at all) It’s just “too hard” for your average criminal to get that far. besides, the current laws pretty much everywhere cover that, so possession of that created gun would be a crime. Unless you proved that you made it, you didn’t buy/sell it, and that it was otherwise legal, which would be pretty tough. The fact that most hoods carry “stolen” (someone at some point bought it) guns, seems to suggest that they are not as interested in the home-baked attempts. That said, I’ve heard that it is very common in some countries.

        1.  “besides, the current laws pretty much everywhere cover that, so possession of that created gun would be a crime. ”

          Most criminals won’t care what laws you pass anyway.  They’re criminals.  The laws proposed only infringe on legal gun owners.

          1. By this logic there is no point to having any laws at all because criminals will just ignore them and non-criminals will act just fine.

            In reality, criminals are not born sub-human creatures, they are ordinary human beings who break the law.  You can’t identify criminals before they break a law because at that point they are not yet criminals.  Furthermore, I’m fairly certain that “legal gun owners” are no less prone to breaking the law than anyone else.  “Criminal” and “legal gun owner” are not mutually exclusive categories.

            It’s silly to argue that criminals are inherently criminals and that actual laws have no effect on the behavior of criminals or would-be criminals.

            1.  Again, you missed my point.  Criminals won’t care there are laws to prevent you from owning a firearm even if you made it illegal to own a firearm.  They’d find a way.  A great example is Prohibition.  Despite alcohol being illegal, criminals found a way to make it and sell it.

            2. You seem to have missed my point: you are still talking about criminals as if they are a non-human species rather than human beings who have broken laws.  Criminals do care about laws.  That’s why they usually try to commit crimes out of view of policemen and witnesses.

              “They’d find a way” — sure, but if it’s more difficult, fewer “criminals” will find a way.  Just as a matter of elementary logic.  And if you have to break more laws to commit criminal violence then we can put those guilty of breaking those laws in jail for longer periods of time.  This is really the point of effective gun control.

              Do you think it’s fine that people can just walk into gun shows and buy guns without any kind of background check?  Just where do you think “criminals” get their guns in the first place?

              During prohibition alcohol was scarcer and more expensive which means a lot of people who would otherwise be drinking weren’t (again, just a matter of elementary logic — if you can barely afford alcohol at non-prohibition prices then you can’t afford it at prohibition prices). Prohibition “worked” insofar as it went. it just turned out that the costs were higher than the benefits.

            3. wysinwyg makes excellent points, and I’d like to add, that you are comparing two very different things. Alcohol is a consumable, that is desirous for its intrinsic qualities. Guns are tools, that are desirous for what goals they can help those who use them to accomplish. There’s no real substitute for alcohol, but if you make guns harder to obtain, and make non-coercive opportunities for people to get what they want more plentiful, it should be possible to reduce gun violence.

            4. They’d find a way.

              That seems substantially at odds from reality.  The law of supply and demand are fairly immutable.  Remove most of the supply, and prices go up, decreasing demand.  Of course, some secondary sources will come in, but pretending that a few illegal machine shop can match the production power of the US small arms industry is, to be charitable, stretching it.

              Also, as might be expected, alcohol consumption plunged about 70% during prohibition, then gradually recovered to 60-70% of pre-prohibition levels.  A solution doesn’t have to be perfect to produce a lot fewer deaths.

              (Personally, the whole assault-rifle thing is theater.  You want to save American lives (not just middle-class white American lives in mass-shootings)?  Ban handguns.  Period.  The long guns are hardly on the radar when it comes to Americans killing each other.

              Note, if one wants to claim that the right to self-defense is worth 100,000 American lives over the last decade alone (especially given that they tend to be poor and minority), go right ahead.  At least that’s principled.  (After all, I’d say that the right to drive is worth 30,000 Americans lives a year.)

            5. Didn’t you know?  There’s a class of people who are criminals (also known as “bad guys”) who can be clearly differentiated from “law abiding gun owners” (aka “good guys”), mostly by the color of the hats they wear.  And by “hat color,” the NRA generally means “skin color.”

            6. It is silly to think that people who exhibit consistent disregard for the rule of law will, somehow, be encumbered  in their criminal activity by the creation of additional laws.

            7. Not even remotely.  Not all drug dealers rob houses.  Not all burglars murder.  Not all murderers rape.  A great many drug users are, besides their one preferred hobby, completely compliant with the rule of law.  Breaking one law is no guarantee that someone will break another.

              But even that’s not really the point.  When you make it harder to own guns you make it harder and more risky to obtain guns, which means a lot of people who might have been considering committing a violent crime but aren’t too well connected will now not have access to guns.  Will some?  Sure.  But that’s just to say we can’t eliminate gun violence which no one claimed was the goal.  Reducing the number of guns in circulation would almost certainly reduce the amount of gun violence –which sounds like a pretty good outcome to me.

              Finally, the more laws that someone must break to commit gun violence the longer and more easily that person can be put into prison which is also presumably a good outcome.

            8. No by that logic there is no point to having laws that criminalize non-evil unharmful behavior. We have laws against rape because we want to deter rapists by penalizing them and we want to punish rapists who have done a harm.

              We don’t have laws against making paper, even though a criminal could use paper to harm someone because there is a lot of good uses for paper. 

            9.  The paper analogy is pretty disingenuous.  Consider how difficult it would be for a “criminal” to “use paper to harm someone”.  Consider how easy it would be for a “criminal” to use a gun to harm someone.  Consider how many disparate non-violence-related uses paper has.  Consider how many disparate non-violence-related uses guns have (maybe you could weigh down your paper with it?).

              You’re not allowed to build a nuclear reactor in your garage.  Why?  It’s non-evil unharmful behavior –if you do it right.  But there’s good reasons to believe the risks outweigh the benefits of allowing people to build nuclear reactors in their garages — and nuclear reactors are, like paper, much more useful for non-violent purposes than are guns.  We have laws against doing a lot of “unharmful” stuff.

              As I mentioned before, “legal gun owners” do not have some magical exemption from committing crimes.  On the other hand, when legal gun owners do commit crimes they have guns at their disposal.  I really don’t understand why you guys continue to make arguments that seem to assume that “legal gun owners” never commit crimes.  Can we admit that it’s at least possible to commit a crime with a legally owned gun?

      2. Moderator note: If you ever put a media file behind a URL shortener again, you can expect to be banned.

    7. This has nothing to do with the “science regarding gun violence”.  This has to do with the SOCIAL culture of fear that permeates the American psyche.   From a Canadian perspective, Professor Wellford’s reaction of grabbing a gun and driving 10 minutes with the intention of confronting some intruder, potentially even a highly armed intruder belies belief.  It doesn’t enter his mind that maybe she’s got car problems or was even in an accident.  Even his desire that his daughter call him when she arrives safely at home, is founded in fear.
      Is driving 10 minutes down the road really considered self-defence under U.S. law?  It is hard to describe how foreign Prof Wellford’s reaction is to a Canadian.  Is this a normal American reaction, and if it isn’t, why is it accepted or tolerated. 

      1. As another Canadian, I agree whole heartedly.

        Just this week I saw a middle aged man stopped in the Eaton Centre here in Toronto by the police for carrying a gun tucked down the back of his pants. His response was “It’s okay, I’m allowed. I’m an American.”

        Casually carrying a gun through a mall is so foriegn to us, it’s unfathomable. The fact that even some people see this as acceptable just shows how far the US attitude has to change.

      2. Well, he couldn’t pursue some one, but he could go check up on his daughter, and it could be a self defense situation once he got there. Also remember as some people have pointed out, the police can be more than an hour away (especially on a non emergency call, which is what that would be treated as), and you may not have any cell phone coverage.

        Some people are more paranoid than others, and you do hear of people having accidents and being stuck for long periods of time in isolated places like that. Same reason they say not to go backpacking alone.

        1. I think what our Canadian friend is referring to is the assumption that the daughter was at risk of (presumably) a stranger attack by simply driving home and walking in her front door, something which almost never happens.  But American paranoia turned that situation into one with real dangers.  The reality is that Americans are at far, far greater risk of being hurt or killed, deliberately or accidentally, by a friend or family member who owns a gun.  Which is to say, he was actually putting her at greater risk by showing up, agitated, at her home with a gun after his paranoia had taken over.

    8.  To someone who grew up in very rural Canada, that’s not such a big deal. If you remember the Merithorpe shooting that happened because the police showed up not expecting trouble. I grew up in an area served by three RCMP officers. maybe a thousand people spread over many hundred square Km. It all just depends on what you are used to. Of course the closest thing we had to a gang was either all the kids from the “wrong” side of the tracks, all my cousins, or the mis-informed kid from the reservation who though he was IP (Indian Posse, a western canadian prison gang) yeah, small town fun.
      Also, I lived in Churchill for a little while as a small child, folks carrying guns in grocery stores wasn’t that uncommon (there was a rack by the door I think) But it was for bears more than anything else.
      Although my great aunt, who was american, was upset she had to leave her purse pistol at the boarder, what kind of barbarians make a 75 year old lady walk around without a friend?

      All depends on what you consider “Normal”

    9. I agree that all problem solving needs accurate data to start with, but I also have the impression that all this discussing and claiming to need more and more refined data is to avoid facing a simple reality that more guns (and practically limitless ability to carry them around) mean more gun-related deaths/accidents/crimes.

      There are also other issues, racism, the unofficial caste system that exists in the usa, the fear machine that is the american television (fiction and fiction-ed reality).

    10. There were 4 occupied-house burglaries in Napa in the past couple of weeks (not home invasion, mind you, but someone breaking into the house when people were home and asleep, which is very bad), and Napa is such a low-crime area that the shoplifting arrests at Wal*Mart are reported in the local paper.  

      When I was on vacation in Hawaii, there was an at-night, occupied house burglary in the vacation home area we were staying. 

      It is rare for most people and most areas, but it is nonzero and it really depends on the local neighborhood.

      1. not home invasion, mind you, but someone breaking into the house when people were home and asleep,

        I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what “home invasion” means.

          1.  wiki says burglary and home invasion are different because the latter implies “violent intent”; I don’t think the occupant has to answer the door but you are absolutely correct that they are distinct things.

    11. Imagine if everyone had magic powers and with a flick of a wand could kill another person.  Would the world be a safer place?

      1. I’d imagine that would be a self-correcting situation. The world might be a quite nice place once all the assholes have blinked each other our of our society.

        1. Regarding the gun debate I have often pondered the same thought experiment as Marcus45. (On what basis could one assume that assholes would only be blinking EACH OTHER out of existence?) The ease with which technology allows us to kill is important. The Second Amendment was written at a time when the most common weapon was a flintlock, and the potentially tyrannous government had cannons.   

    12. Every day I see 3 or more news articles involving a gun death. Normally it’s a case of some guy shooting his family and maybe himself, or a 3 year old finding a gun and killing a family member..or as today, a fool who shot himself with a gun he thought was unloaded. In the last several months since Sandy Hook, I’ve only seen 3 articles involving a person who could say they defended themselves with a gun. The case where the old guy purposely killed 2 teens who broke into his home (hmmm?), a case where a mother shot a guy who broke into her home and a shop owner who had a semi automatic and fought off 2 crooks. Conceivably, the media doesn’t print ‘success stories’ involving a gun defense, which really makes little sense. IMO, most people injured by guns are the result of someone who bought a gun to defend themselves and their family from bad guys. It defies logic.

      1.  Agreed.  Very little is printed or reported on in mainstream urban media about these events.  It’s no secret that the Baltimore Sun, for example, refused to print stories about the massive rally at the state capital on February 6th when over 4,000 people showed up to voice their opposition to the current round of anti-2nd Amendment legislation being pushed.  Over 1,800 people signed up to testify against the bill.  It was the first time in over 11 years the Senate building was closed due to volume.  The Sun reported “a few hundred on both sides…” on a 3rd or 4th page segment.  I think it’s one reason why pro-2nd Amendment supporters get so emotional and angry over this issue.  It’s very one-sided despite what the anti-gun lobby wants you to believe.

        1. Umm, one of two political parties rabidly defends your point of view and there are plenty of conservative news sources these days supporting more guns for everyone everywhere.  The NRA routinely prevents even justifiable and moderate regulations of gun ownership. It is not at all one-sided.

    13. There’s a tremendous amount of resistance to instituting anything that looks like (or can be turned into) a registry of firearms.

      If data is sufficiently scrubbed and anonymized to make it useless for purposes of confiscation (which /has/ occurred several times in the US, recently) it may be too low fidelity for research.

      One thing I do know: Collected data is forever in the hands of a government. It pays to be careful about what you let the government know, because Things Change regardless of the initial intent.

      1.  Maybe, but I tend to think I’m in more danger from my armed fellow idiots than from the government.  What if the registration was federally mandated but the data could only be maintained at the state level?

        1. Yes, what could possibly go wrong?  These records would be totally contained at a state level — at least until someone comes up with a way to share large amounts of data, virtually instantaneously that requires very little effort.

          1. I don’t love the federal government either but you guys are being pretty silly.  If the US government “wanted” to become an autocracy your AR-15s wouldn’t protect you.  But that’s an entirely ridiculous scenario because the puppet government we like to call “democratic” is a perfect cover. 

            Again, you guys scare me more than the federal government.

            I can’t seem to find any records of recent gun confiscations in the US, I suspect Landon Dyer is mistaken about that.  Besides that, gun companies are a pretty potent economic force in the US.  I really don’t think confiscation is on the table.  What are you guys worried about really?

    14. Even if the relationship between gun control and violence is poorly researched, though, there are a couple of places where there are clear data. One, many countries show it is possible to make guns more difficult for even criminals to access, and two, they have not in general ended up with any higher risk of government tyranny than other places.

      And yet you still hear gun supporters argue as if the opposites were certain facts. So while more data about the relation to violence would be valuable to have, I’m not sure the debate really depends on its absence.

    15. Has anyone heard a reasonable argument against gun control that does not employ the term ‘Second Amendment’?  I haven’t.  Similarly, I haven’t heard a reasonable anti-abortion argument that does not in any way reference religion.*

      Yet the ‘debates’ continue.  How terribly sad.

      *If one exists, kindly relieve me of my ignorance.  I live to learn.  

      1. The funny part is, there are few Constitutional fundamentalists.  It usually runs along the line of “The original amendments are the best, but the ones I don’t like (cough…commerce clause…cough) don’t count.”  I have yet to meet a pro gun, pro income tax Constitutionalist.  I’m guessing they’re out there, but I’ve never met one.  The Constitution is sacrosanct, except when it isn’t.

      2. Well, that’s not completely fair, is it, because who is the arbiter of what is reasonable or not? Or, for that matter, what is the definition of ‘gun control’? I’ve heard lots of arguments that don’t explicitly refer to the constitution — they’re mostly the same arguments that do refer to the constitution, because everyone likes to believe the founding fathers had the same concerns they do. 

        That said, the constitution is terribly important in US culture. That’s why, unlike many Western countries, the US tolerates Nazis (in the name of free speech). (Obviously the track record on this is uneven, eg. communists were horribly treated. But my point is the Bill of Rights is thought of seriously.) At some level I think that makes sense. Having a final set of laws/rights that are above all others really doesn’t work if  you aren’t absolutist about it, because otherwise people could reinterpret things on political whim and you had might as well not have a Bill of Rights at all….

      3. “Similarly, I haven’t heard a reasonable anti-abortion argument that does not in any way reference religion.”

        I’m a pro choice person because I believe in harm reduction.  As far as I can tell, the pro life people think that fetuses are the same as babies and therefore it’s murder to kill one.  I don’t think one has to be religious to grapple with that question, and being an atheist doesn’t somehow free a woman from all quandaries associated with her choice.

        As a secular humanist I find it a little strange when theists talk about there being no morals without religion, and to say that a religious person’s morals must only be informed by their religious beliefs seems like the mirror image of that assumption.

      4. [Since you asked, and at the risk of derailing: I am a pro-choice atheist, and a very left-wing gun-rights supporter.]
        Abortion: Personally, I feel that the mother should have the right to decide at any point “I do not wish this parasite inside me any more”, but should not have the right to decide “…and it must therefore die”. If medical science can induce birth and save the child, great. If it’s too early and the child cannot be saved, well, that’s unfortunate for the child, but there are limits to today’s science. At some point, though, kids will be viable from conception, and that’s fine by me.

        Gun rights: I’ve lived in the UK with about the strongest anti-gun laws in the world, where in Bradford, I was the only person I knew who had not been mugged in the last four years; in Putney within a few hundred yards of where I lived, in the space of about three years, a kid was shot dead, a shootout between two gangs occurred, the corner shop was held up at gunpoint, a securicor van was parked across from my house and the people who’d held it up at gunpoint fled over the railway line behind my house, and I was several times called out to come give some presence to the corner shop from gangs who were scoping it out and felt myself severely at risk of being shot.

        I have also lived in Texas, where my neighbors are armed. I have never experienced crime here in four years. I know of no violent gun crimes that have occurred in the area in that time. I have never felt in danger of being shot. A friend in rural California did hear people moving around on her patio one night while she was home alone, and trying her door, and that was one worrying Skype chat. With a gun, she could have taken a defensive position and fired if they entered, but she was unarmed.

        From my personal experience, then, gun control *simply does not work*, and an absence of defensive guns actively increases risk.

        As well as that anecdotal argument, there are also a plethora of arguments made using statistics, but as the article points out, you can currently prove anything with them.

        There’s also the argument from class and equality, where the 1% wants gun control for the poor because it can buy its own armed guards, and the poor want gun rights because they are the ones with the greatest exposure to and risk from crime, and the greatest problems from oppression by those above them (qv Black Panthers).

    16. “Another thing we don’t have is reliable, long-term data on where the guns that are actually used in crimes come from. One of the ways we legislate gun use is through registration programs and systems that limit who can buy a gun legally. But if we don’t know whether guns used in crimes are purchased legally, illegally, or purchased legally and then sold or given illegally to a third party, we have no idea how to craft those laws or even if they make any difference at all.”

      Don’t forget about the fact that states are responsible for regulating internal sales of existing firearms and there are plenty of states that don’t register firearms. There are plenty of perfectly legal, in-state, private transactions that make this incredibly difficult to study.

    17. if there are 200-300 justifiable homicides reported annually in the US it wouldn’t take too long to track down every newspaper report about them would it? Or do they not make the papers?

      1. Not if it’s a big city with a high homicide rate. And even so, small town newspapers are starting to disappear. This means larger towns are picking up the slack and becoming more broad in what they cover.

    18. If the presence of a deadly firearm, legal or otherwise, can differentiate a run of the mill assault from an aggravated assault, I motion that walking around with a gun, legal or otherwise, should be hereby known as aggravated citizenry.

    19. There are phase-change moments in almost every analysis of complex phenomena. Murder? Yes, but first or second degree? Genocide? Yes…or no, if you ask the wrong government. We want bright lines but the moment we require agreement between two or more brains the lines dim to a blur. Yet we must try to draw the lines and give them explanatory and predictive authority: “Do this, suffer that,” and so on. Otherwise we descend into the world of might-makes-right, “facts on the ground,” and fait accompli in which everything is arguable and all consequences avoidable.

      What should the man do about his daughter? This isn’t question to be answered by the choice in a moment but by a series of choices over time. Where are her neighbors? If they would not look out for her then community is at issue. Can she take care of herself? If not, why does she live alone among strangers? These things are solvable if we take the time to meet those around us and exchange some bit of trust and dependence, but in America it has often seemed easier and sexier to play lone wolf, a glorious independent who keeps to himself and answers only to conscience. To survive as the hero in that myth one doesn’t need any relationships but cold metal and the will to shoot.

    20. You wrote, “Right now, we don’t know whether having more guns means less crime, or more crime, or whether it has any effect at all.”

      This statement is absolutely wrong.  Read the book “More Guns, Less Crime” by John Lott.  It’s an exhaustive statistical analysis of gun-use statistics that proves a correlation between the increase in “must issue” concealed carry license laws, the increase in concealed carry, and the decrease in violent crime.

      Other than that, my congratulations on a well written and very thoughtful article.

      1.  That’s kind of the point.
        http://www.nber.org/papers/w7967 here’s a paper called “More Guns, More Crime”.
        The point of the article is that we have NO IDEA which of these is right, right now.
        The correct decision is not “more crime” or “less crime” – both authors are simply wrong in their titles, no matter how definite they sound about their facts and conclusions.
        The correct decision is “insufficient data”.

        1. Yep. Debating assumptions is not productive. To draw any useful conclusions, you need large amounts of raw statistics. And unfortunately some folks don’t want that, because they’re afraid it might not support their current beliefs.

          “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts.”

    21. It’s truly amazing the NRA can force through legislation, imposing its will upon on the CDC and ATF, with nary a ripple of dissent or protest from the rational wing of the electorate or congress.

      The only explanation I can adduce is they are so cowed by the constant and unremitting irrationality and aggressiveness of the gun owners, they mentally say, “They want it so much. Gun owning doesn’t really affect or apply to us, the non-gun owning. Let’s just let them have their fun.”

    22. An excellent article that I could relate to, given my own experience with gun crime and how, over several years, I had to redefine what happened to me in terms of how our culture was defining various terms (e.g., “mentally ill”, “gun violence”, “home invasion”, “victim”).

      Regarding good data: If we decide to ignore gun use by the police, then we are simply cherry-picking, as if wearing blue clothing and a shield creates some magical barrier against statistics.  I want better stats, but I don’t want to to see a good chunk of data thrown out because a citizen was using his gun as part of his employment.

      1.  True, but there *is* a difference between trained (in much more than gun use) and monitored experts who are explicitly authorized by society to use force when necessary vs. amateur. If you want to compare police against military or professional security, fine. Mixing them into stats on the general population is apples and orangutans.

        1. I’ve got no problem with making sure we all know where the statistics are coming from and what segment of the population was sampled to create those statistics. A column labeled “police officers”?  That’s fine with me.  So where’s the data?  Should be plenty already available.  Is there really such a blind spot that we ignore such an obvious source of data?

          If I want to make a study about safety features in automobiles, do I ignore available data from NASCAR races, just because they are professional drivers in a professional race car?  Make a separate column for NASCAR, sure, but don’t ignore applicable data.

          If I want to make a study about food and kitchen safety, do I throw out all data available from restaurants because that involves professional chefs, waiters, and dishwashers?  Again, make a separate column, but don’t ignore applicable data.

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