When there’s a tragic shooting, it’s always a time for reflection about guns’ role in society.
Say you’re going to work and you see someone pull a gun, threatening to harm others. Do you wish you had a gun so you could shoot down the gunman (they’re almost always men)? Or do you wish the other person didn’t have a gun? Which scenario do you think would be better?
Or maybe you think it’s unrealistic to think that guns can be kept out of the hands of those intent on harm so it’s best you have one, too.
To this, Australia makes an interesting case study. After a mass shooting that killed 35 people there, coincidentally in New Town, the big hunting nation outlawed assault rifles, semiautomatic rifles and even shotguns. The government bought back 650,000 of them at a profit to the gun owners. It hasn’t had a mass shooting in the 15 years since.
America has been reluctant to embrace an effective gun ban, and many instead call for more guns as a solution to gun violence.
Last Sunday after the Newtown, Conn. school massacre, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) said, “The facts are every time guns have been allowed, concealed-carry has been allowed, the crime rate has gone down.”
A letter-to-the-editor this week by John Vettel of Carson City had a similar message: “Had the teachers in the (Sandy Hook) school (in Newtown, Conn.) been armed, far fewer people would have been harmed. Had the shooter been aware that teachers in the school were armed, he may not have attempted this crime.”
Both sides in the debate have anecdotes to support their views.
Those who think more guns would cause more carnage point out an August incident at the Empire State Building when a man shot a former co-worker. Two police officers — trained professionals, not civilians — caught up with the shooter and opened fire, hitting him as well as nine bystanders. Such cases are rare.
There also aren’t many good anecdotes for those who think more weapons would thwart crime.
In some cases that proponents cite — at Virginia, Mississippi and Pennsylvania schools — armed civilians did apprehend assailants but only after the shootings were over. In fact, of the 62 mass shootings in the past 30 years in the United States, not one was stopped by a civilian with a gun, according to a roundup by Mother Jones magazine.
Seldom mentioned are cases where gun-carrying Good Samaritans got seriously wounded and even killed when trying to intervene, as at a Tyler, Texas courthouse and a Tacoma, Wash. mall.
Perhaps the best anecdote for those supporting right-to-carry laws has a Reno connection.
It happened in 2008 at Players Bar in Winnemucca. A guy entered the crowded tavern to confront two brothers accused of shooting his brother. The guy shot and killed the brothers. A Reno man who was a U.S. Marine with a licensed concealed weapon shot and killed the guy.
Another piece of the puzzle to figure out is whether places with more guns have more or less violence.
The Harvard Injury Control Research Center reviewed the research and found that places with more guns have more violence. It found this was true literally everywhere. In homes with more guns, there are more homicides; in cities with more guns, there are more homicides; and the same is true of states and countries.
One passage: “After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide.”
This is called correlation, not causation. Correlation just means that when you find one thing, you tend to find the other, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that one caused the other. For instance, leaves fall from trees when the temperature drops but that doesn’t necessarily mean lower temperatures cause leaves to fall, although that could be why.
But it’s hard not to notice that the United States ranks tops in the world for per capita gun ownership while — according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Trauma, Injury Infection & Critical Care — it also has a gun homicide rate about 20 times higher than other affluent nations.
The first prominent attempt to show that the presence of guns decreases crime came in a 1998 book by Yale professor John Lott called “More Guns, Less Crime.” He argued, based on county crime data analyzed by him and David Mustard, that violent crime goes down when states approve laws allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons.
As happens with verifiable mathematical claims that gain widespread media attention, other researchers set out to verify whether he was right. When asked for his data, Lott said he lost it.
Maybe he did, but when the data was reconstructed from other sources, the consensus was that the data didn’t show what he said it did.
A 1998 study in The Journal of Legal Studies concluded, “Our reanalysis of Lott and Mustard’s data provides no basis for drawing confident conclusions about the impact of right‐to‐carry laws on violent crime. … Their results cannot be used responsibly to formulate public policy.”
The National Research Council analyzed everyone’s gun-crime data in the 2004 book “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” available free online. It found: “With the current evidence, it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates.”
In 2009, Yale’s John Donohue and Ian Ayres revisited the efforts of Lott to counter these findings.
They found that if Lott’s methods were used on crime data ranging from 1977 through 2006, then more guns increase crime.
They don’t agree with Lott’s methods, though. Using what they consider the most appropriate methods, they write: “The one consistent finding that is statistically significant … is that RTC (right-to-carry) laws increase aggravated assault.”
A lot of ideas are being floated about policy actions that could lessen the chance of another Sandy Hook massacre — increased mental health services, armed guards at schools, restrictions on ammunition, an assault weapons ban, better background checks and databases, etc.
But when people say it’s obvious that more civilians carrying guns is the solution, the evidence is simply not there.
Truthmeter: 2 (out of 10)
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Fact Checker columns by Mark Robison are rated on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being absolutely true with no gray area, 5 being down the middle with good points by both sides, 1 being false with no gray area and 0 being intentionally, maliciously or foolishly false.
Originally posted on RGJ