A Libertarian friend of mine who seems to be fond of guns (hmmm… have you ever met a Libertarian who’s not fond of guns?) recently sent me this link for my perusal. It’s a poll that apparently is meant to suggest that police in general disapprove of “gun control”. And that apparently is supposed to carry some weight because the police are dealing with guns and crime on a more or less daily basis, so they might be expected to know whether or not gun regulations are a good thing — an assumption which does indeed appear to have a certain amount of logic to it. I found this poll worth commenting on not only because the topic itself is interesting, but also because it illustrates some of the caveats about polls in general.
Virtually all of the mainstream media coverage I’ve found about the poll distorts — i.e., greatly exaggerates — its findings and import. Gun propagandists, including the NRA and my old friends at my favorite gun propaganda site, The Truth About Guns, have been waving it around like the ears of a bull they’ve slain in combat, hailing it as “potentially game-changing”. Sorry, but it’s nothing of the kind.
It’s being touted as the most comprehensive survey ever of law enforcement personnel on this issue, and that may even be true. Even so, the 15,595 respondents represent fewer than 2 percent of the nation’s 900,000 or so police officers (local, state and federal). Now under the right conditions, such a relatively meager sampling could be quite sufficient to obtain an accurate cross-section of the entire population in question. Many political polls, for example, project very accurate results with much thinner slices than that. The catch is that the sample has to be well chosen — i.e., it has to be selected in a manner that guarantees a random sampling without distortion. And this poll does not appear to have done this. On the contrary, it appears to have been conducted with a stacked deck that virtually guaranteed a desired result.
The survey was conducted by a website called PoliceOne, an online support group for police officers, which apparently made no effort to include the views of all police in the poll, but limited it to its own membership of 400,000. Not only is this fewer than half the number of total police officers, but the site’s membership is not even limited to police; it’s open to anyone in any country. The surveyors claim that the respondents are all “verified law enforcement professionals”, but in fact they “verified” this in the same way that Dr. Kleck “verified” his respondents had experienced a DGU: by asking them, and then taking their word for it. More than 5 percent, however, even admitted they’d never been cops; but even if all were, they would represent not only a small minority of police officers but a small minority of the website’s membership.
The participants were self-selected in response to email solicitation and an ad on the website. That’s an excellent means of obtaining participants if you really want skewed results. Particularly with a highly charged subject like “gun control”. Actually, it’s wise to be cautious with any poll about such intensely emotional issues, because it’s very easy for such polls to become slanted toward the reactionary side — which in the case of “gun control” generally means the Second Amendment cult.
Whipped into a froth by the likes of Wayne LaPierre and Alex Jones, they have been led to believe that: (1) they have a constitutional (if not a God-given) right to own a gun; (2) such a right is the very cornerstone of liberty; (3) any and every attempt to regulate firearms is an abridgment of that right, and (4) President Obama (or substitute the “liberal” of your choice) poses a dire, Hitleresque threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of firepower. Consequently, believers in “gun rights” tend to be more vociferous than those who know that the very idea of constitutional gun rights is bullshit (or at least understand that it’s debatable at best and therefore by definition cannot be absolute). But decibel level is not necessarily an indicator of demographic strength.
You get a good inkling of the problems permeating the survey when you read the announcement of the results on the PoliceOne site, including this: “(T)he survey found that the overall attitude of law enforcement is strongly anti-gun legislation and pro-gun rights.” This seems to suggest that the conductors of the survey are among those gunsters who hold “gun control” and “gun rights” to be mutually exclusive. which is by no means the case. Both are established by legislative and judicial action (not God or the Constitution, sorry), and far from being contradictory, they are complementary.
The wording of some of the questions on the survey provides further evidence of a lead-headed agenda. There is, for example, a question about approval of “the White House’s currently proposed legislation”. Invoking the specter of Obama is a surefire way to draw out the Second Amendment Mutant Ninja Turtles and other assorted Obama haters. And there’s one about a national database of legal gun owners, which is actually prohibited by federal law, and — contrary to NRA propaganda — is not part of Obama’s plans.
Just for good measure, there’s a response to one query indicating that those polled believe the biggest cause of crime is lack of “parenting” and “family values”. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past 30 years, “family values” is a popular catch phrase that really has no meaning without elaboration, but which wingers often use to designate their own values — not infrequently including homophobia.
Perhaps the most interesting, and the most illuminating, replies concern the belief that armed civilians can or do play a crucial role in reducing crime. Asked to rate the potential for this on a scale of 1 to 5, respondents chose 5 by 54.7%; 4 by 21.7%; and 3 by 14%. But despite the popularity of the Kleck Kool-Aid, there is no evidence that armed civilians do in fact take a noticeable bite out of crime — much less effect a net reduction.
It always puzzles me when I hear about cops who oppose “gun control”. Do they harbor such an intense death wish that they want to see more guns on the streets with fewer restrictions? Do they relish the idea of being dispatched to a scenario like Newtown or Littleton or Jonesboro or Littleton or Stockton or Blacksburg? Ah, wait — that’s covered by a question on the poll. More than 80% of police, if the poll is to be believed, think it’s a good idea to arm teachers and school administrators. (And note Wayne LaPierre’s 180-degree turn on this issue.) So instead of just walking into a scene where one armed wacko might open fire, they’d prefer walking into a scene where any number might be opening fire. And no, it doesn’t work to say that the solution is just to make sure they’re well trained. Can you ever really be sure that perfect strangers are that well trained? Even if they are, can you guarantee that in such a panicky situation they will respond calmly, rationally, accurately?
Incidentally, many gunsters are having a field day over the fact that the most recent school massacre du jour was committed by an individual who apparently had left-wing views — hell, he even seems to have flirted with communism, which we all know is synonymous with “liberalism”, eh what — and the media have not given this the kind of attention they’ve given the right-wing views of many many many other mass shooters. Which of course is missing the point by a mile. The real issue that has drawn media attention is whether an unbalanced individual can be nudged into violence by the endless stream of hateful, deranged and, lest we forget, gun-saturated, invective spewing from right-wing fanatics.
During the bloodbath in Tuscon, an armed civilian attempted to intervene. Not only was he not successful, he nearly shot an innocent bystander. The gun culture promptly hailed him as a hero. And aside from the potential for armed citizens to harm each other, there is the potential confusion among law enforcement at such a scene about which gunman is which. But apparently we’re to believe that most police officers can’t figure out that this could be a problem.
Perhaps the one question that most starkly indicates a disconnect from the realities of police work is number 22: “Considering the particulars of recent tragedies like Newtown and Aurora, what level of impact do you think a legally-armed citizen could have made?” To this, 80% chose “Casualties likely would have been reduced” and 6.2% chose “Innocent casualties would likely have been avoided altogether.” But how often has this been the case in the real world? About as often as Rush Limbaugh blows kisses to Barack Obama.
The gun culture has compiled a list of 9 such alleged incidents over a period of several decades to prove that this sort of thing happens “frequently”. Unfortunately, the list of the Golden Nine doesn’t quite hold up to close scrutiny. Almost all of the “armed civilians” were actually police officers, security guards or military personnel; but since they were generally off-duty, we’ll let that slide. What’s much more difficult to dismiss is that in every case it was doubtful whether the armed good guy actually made a difference. Meanwhile, one man who attempted to stop a mass shooting was killed, and another was seriously wounded.
Mother Jones, in an article examining the 62 mass shootings during the previous 30 years (several more have been added to the tally in the brief time since the article was published) noted that even if we generously assume one particular intervention (and killing of the criminal) by an armed civilian in 1982 did indeed prevent further bloodshed, that amounts to a success rate of only 1.6%. But Mother Jones used a rather restrictive definition of mass shooting: a shooting in a single location that claims at least 4 lives. There have been many many many other episodes involving more than one location and/or fewer or no fatalities. If we count those, the success rate in stopping them with more guns is very minute indeed — even if we’re extremely generous and count all of the Golden Nine.
Of course, you’ll hear the gun culture claim that there are surely many other successes; they just can’t, um, think of any right now. And they’ll claim that the reason there aren’t more is that most mass shootings occur in a gun-free zone. (Most? Try fifteen percent.) They will even claim that mass shooters deliberately select gun-free zones to go berserk in. But there’s no evidence to support this, either.
The truth about guns is that in the past few years, gun regulations have fallen like wounded children, while mass shootings have exploded. And “armed good guys” have been pitifully ineffective at stopping them. (I know, I know: things would go down very differently if you and your guns were on the scene, by god.) And while it may be true that “guns don’t kill”, they unquestionably have a tendency to be coincidentally in the neighborhood whenever someone receives a bullet wound.
Despite all this, it’s theoretically possible that most cops, against their own interests, really do favor more guns floating around with fewer limitations. But we have no way of knowing that at the moment, PoliceOne’s poll notwithstanding. What we do know is that such a conviction would be based on ideology rather than fact.