An Apotheosis of Garbage

In the wake of two horrifying mass shootings, Nicholas Kristoff has published a supposed guide to reduce shootings. He says it is the result of tons of research and represents a new strategy. But what it really is is a rehash of every bad anti-gun argument and junk science claim made over the last decade with a a few fancy graphs. It has little original insight and no original solutions.

We’ll start at the beginning. The first graphic puts out two facts: that the United States has more guns than any other country and that the United States has more murders than other developed countries.

I have addressed this argument before but it is worth rehashing. This comparison only works if you limit your analysis to guns. If you include all murder, no matter how they are committed, the connection completely falls apart.

Look at the statistics he cites. He has Sweden and Switzerland (countries that, incidentally, have high rates of gun ownership) at gun murder rates of 0.3 and 0.2 per 100,000. But while guns are used for about 60% of murders in the United States, they are only used in about 25% of murders in those countries. Would those gun murders vanish if we didn’t have guns? Or would people just murder with other means? You can’t tell from that data.

Here’s a comparison of the “gun murder rate” with the total murder rate.

US – 3.0 (4.9)
Italy – 0.7 (0.8)
Canada – 0.5 (1.7)
Sweden – 0.3 (1.2)
Germany – 0.2 (0.9)
Switzerland – 0.2 (0.7)
Australia – 0.1 (0.9)
England, Wales – 0.1 (0.9)
France – 0.1 (1.6)
Spain – 0.1 (0.7)
Japan – 0.0 (0.3)

Limiting his analysis to gun murders allows him to conveniently ignore 90% of the murders in France, 80% of the murders in Australia and the UK, two-thirds of the murders in Canada. The clear meaning of that graphic is that we had Japan’s gun laws, we’d have zero murders. I don’t see any evidence of that in the data.

His second section looks at the big decline in automobile deaths, which have resulted, at least in part, from laws passed mandating safety technology and cracking down on drunk driving. We’ll put aside the egregious comparison of something that is a Constitutional Right — the Right to Bear Arms — against something that is a privilege — the ability to drive on public roads. Here, he actually does have a point except … that gun murders have declined too. They’ve declined massively from the early 90’s peak, by at least 50%. And that has happened with gun laws becoming less restrictive.

His third point is that the gun death rates track gun ownership in states. This point was addressed in the links above. But notice a two-step he’s done here. In the first graphic, he was comparing murder rates. In the second, it’s death rates, which include suicides. Why does he do this? Mainly because including suicides would have blown up his point since supposedly idyllic Japan has an astronomical suicide rate. But again, when you look at homicide or suicide by state regardless of method, they don’t track gun laws at all. Just like they don’t with countries. Guns change the method but not the madness.

His fourth section ranks states by how well their laws are rated by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and argues that states with good gun control have fewer gun deaths. But … again … Volokh looked at this and found no correlation between total violent death rate and gun laws. The connection only works if you limit it to deaths involving a gun. Moreover, if you restrict your analysis to just murder — remember in the fist graphic, when we were just concerned with murders? — the relation completely disintegrates. Maryland is rated A on their gun laws. They have 5th highest murder rate in the country. Illinois has a B. They rank #4. Maine has an F for gun laws and has one of the lowest murder rates in the country.

His next point is actually legitimate. He points out, correctly, that mass shooting are a tiny part of our nation’s problem of violence. But then he says America is “moving in the wrong direction” because our gun law are getting less restrictive. But if America is “moving in the wrong direction”, why has gun violence dropped so dramatically in that period of time? Why has the loosening of our gun laws overlapped with the most dramatic drop in violent crime in our history?

He then cites two studies from Bloomberg Center for Gun Policy and Research. One showed Connecticut’s gun registration law cut murders 40%. I’ve talked about this study before. The study is highly dubious, taking one law in one state and comparing the result to “synthetic Connecticut” to show … something. This synthetic state method, by the way, is gaining popularity in gun control circles, primarily because it allows you to prove whatever you want just by changing what states you use for your controls. The other study looks at gun laws in Missouri and says gun violence rose after the laws were eased. While that’s accurate, it elides the fact that gun violence was rising before the law was passed and other states did not see similar increases. These studies are why I call that group the Bloomberg Center for Cherry-Picking. And both of these carefully cultivated studies are undercut by the massive overwhelming national trend of looser gun laws and less violence.

His last few points are semi-reasonable. He hits Congress for banning federal funding for research and says that proper training might cut gun violence. And while he’s right that majorities agree on some gun control measures, there isn’t a huge wave of support for them.

In a way, I’m grateful for this article appearing. It’s a nice distillation of every BS talking point, every garbage data manipulation, every deceptive claim that has characterized the gun control movement. It’s one-stop shopping for nonsense. If he’d only included ABC’s ridiculous “If I Only Had A Gun” segment, it would be perfect.

Comments are closed.

  1. salinger

    So the murder rate and the gun murder rate is basically proportional. Doesn’t that negate your premise? Either the US is that much more violent or mentally ill – or the means of killing other folks is that much more effective.

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  2. Hal_10000 *

    The murder rate and gun murder rate are not proportional. In the US, a much larger percentage of murders involve guns. So comparing just gun deaths exaggerates the difference between us and other countries.

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  3. salinger

    But they are – look at the rates of murder. The US is way ahead in total murders per capita – just about three times as high as the other countries shown. The fact that more are by gun simply shows that firearm murders are more efficient. Walking int a church with 30 full magazines is going to offer way more ROI than walking into the same place with a knife. I think you’ve proven the case against yourself.

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  4. Iconoclast

    It’s Evil to Focus on Gun Control as the Solution to First Baptist Church Shooting

    We’re already choking on gun control laws that aren’t followed (are you listening, Air Force?) or that sinister and/or disturbed parties care not one whit about: criminals, the evil who are sane, and the mentally ill who have homicidal intentions. Either they pass their background checks with flying colors, or they obtain firearms illegally. What a travesty to focus on guns.

    Also a travesty is comparing America to other countries with stricter gun control laws and lower incidence of gun violence. That’s like comparing an A-student who is taking one class with a B- or even C-student who is taking four classes and working full-time. No other country is as diverse, complex, and free as we are. If someone starts with a comparison between us and Canada or us and Sweden, don’t waste your time engaging. They and their ideological blinders are the real problem.

    If they really cared about the victims of mass shootings, they would tell the truth about the problem. You can’t solve a problem you don’t define it accurately. Persisting in defining mass shootings as a gun control problem is its own kind of evil because it virtually guarantees more of them. While the self-appointed Do Gooders are patting themselves on the back that they’re not conservatives, future mass shooters are passing background checks or obtaining firearms illegally.

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  5. CM

    Always interesting to look into whether the “it’s a mental health issue” have supported improvements in mental health, or the opposite. Or have even done nothing. If they really cared about the victims of mass shootings, and they think they know what causes them….

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