The (Poorly) Armed Assault On “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 3)

kennesaw

Finally, we return to our examination of NRA propaganda. In the first installment, we discussed what we have termed The Chicago Gambit, which consists of cherry picking data to suggest that stricter gun laws cause a rise in crime. In the second installment, we took a look at what we have called The D.C. Gambit, which consists of cherry picking data to suggest that loosening gun laws causes a drop in crime. Now let’s look at the latter in a little more detail.

If you talk to your gun-totin’ friends for very long, chances are you’ll hear them bring up a little city in Georgia called Kennesaw. It makes a very interesting addition to the gun propaganda arsenal, and adds a very interesting wrinkle to the D.C. Gambit; in Kennsaw,  not only are guns allowed, they are legally required. In 1982, the town passed an ordinance requiring every household to own a gun and maintain it in working order. (Kennesaw is also a haven for Confederate nostalgia in the heart of KKK country. Make of that what you will.) And since then, by golly, the crime rate has declined considerably. So bingo! That “proves” that guns deter crime, right? You’d be very hard pressed to find any other interpretation in anything you find by Googling Kennesaw.

But hold on, podner. Not so fast. There are in fact several good reasons to doubt such a conclusion.:

1. The problem of small numbers

Kennesaw is a small town, that had very little crime to begin with. When dealing with such small numbers, a shift of a single crime one way or the other can result in a percentage difference that seems more significant than it really is.

2. The problem of a growing population

The population of Kennesaw has increased from around 5000 at the time the ordinance was passed to around 30,000 now. The number of crimes has remained about the same for the past few years, so naturally the crime rate would show a huge drop. And while you might expect that an increase in population, under normal circumstances, would be accompanied by a proportional increase in crime, this isn’t necessarily true when dealing with such small municipalities.

3. The problem of the law itself

The mandatory gun ownership ordinance passed by the city of Kennesaw is really no such thing. It allows for exceptions among those who do not want to own a gun, and there is absolutely no effort made to enforce it. It says, in essence, “You have to own a gun if you want to, but if you don’t, you don’t, and it’s no big deal because we’re not going to check up on you anyway.” And this is supposedly a deterrent to crime?? This law was a purely symbolic gesture in a town in which most residents were already armed; it was passed as a way of thumbing the nose at Morton Grove, IL, which recently had enacted a gun ban. Kennesaw police chief Bill Westenberger declared that he believed the gun law to be a factor in the city’s low crime rate, but then he added that he believed most people didn’t even know the law existed, especially those who’ve moved to Kennesaw recently. Huh???

4. The problem of Kleck -lessness

If the mere knowledge that residents are packing isn’t what has brought the crime rate down, then the other possible explanation for guns making a difference would be that they have actually been used to prevent crime — in other words, there must have been an increase in the number of defensive gun uses (DGU) in Kennesaw. There’s no evidence this has happened. In fact, so far I’ve been unable to find any record of any Eastwood moment ever occurrring in Kennesaw. Perhaps if we kept digging, we eventually might uncover one or two. But there clearly is not the abundance of them we would have if they were responsible for the plunge in crime rate.

5. The problem of cherry-picked statistics

The year before the ordinance was passed, Kennesaw had 54 burglaries. The year it was passed, there were only 35, a decrease of nearly 33 percent. Many supporters of the ordinance zero in on this one-year time frame as “proof” that the law “worked”. But there are often such fluctuations from year to year, and they can seem more significant than they really are when dealing with small numbers. If you look at the statistics for a longer period of time, you will see that there has been little change overall. Furthermore, FBI statistics show that there was actually a huge surge in Kennesaw crime shortly after the ordinance was passed.

Incidentally, the gun ban in Morton Grove corresponded with a reduction in crime, particularly burglaries. Does that mean the ban actually caused the reduction? Not necessarily. Jumping to such a conclusion would be committing the same two sins the Kennesaw myth does: (a) using a narrow range of data — i.e., cherry picking; and (b) confusing correlation with causation.

Those are sins you’ll see the gun culture committing over and over again.

 

(Still more to come on this topic.)

 

 

 

The Real Lesson of the Midterms?

midterms

After any election, the party that loses the most and the party that wins the most immediately start trying to spin the outcome to their best advantage. And it was no different this year.

While their losses weren’t nearly as massive as the media narrative would have you believe, Democratic spin has tended to exhibit a great deal of wishful thinking, even as it incorporates some valid observations.  They point out that the party in The White House always loses congressional seats during a midterm. That’s generally true, but the party does not always lose control of Congress.

They say that now Republicans will actually have to try to lead rather than throw spitballs, and their ineptitude will be exposed. Maybe so, but we’ve been down this road before; 20 years ago, the GOP enjoyed a considerably more dramatic sweep under Clinton. They used their new majority to indulge in petty persecution of the president, including impeaching him for lying about his sex life. If there was political fallout for their actions, the lessons were quickly forgotten.

Now there is another Republican majority in Congress that promises to indulge in more imaginatively silly wastes of time and money in childish pursuit of a venomous vendetta against President Obama. It’s almost certain that they’ll move to impeach him for… well, something. Or nothing. It really doesn’t seem to matter to them whether or not they have a reason. The word impeach no longer means “to investigate an official for misconduct”; it now means, “to use political clout to try to undo an election you didn’t like.”

Democrats also take comfort in the fact that while their candidates may have lost, their issues won; indeed, most of the Republicans who won were able to do so only because they disguised themselves as Democrats. And there’s a great deal of truth to that.  Republicans often win by assuming “liberal” stances on the stump. But that isn’t necessarily an indicator of how they’ll behave once they’re in office.

As for the notion that the public supports progressive values much more strongly than it supports “liberal” politicians, true enough. Progressive values usually win in most places, even if progressive (or the least non-progressive) candidates don’t. The history of the human race has shown a pretty steady march forward, even if the leaders in charge have taken two steps forward and one step back — or vice versa.

Electing a Republican isn’t necessarily a step backward, and electing a Democrat isn’t necessarily a step forward. But when you compare the two parties overall, you see that Republicans are far more likely to impede progress. They are far more likely (to name just one example) to subjugate scientific research to ideology. Accordingly, it appears that certain key posts relating to the environment are about to be filled by arrogantly ignorant climate science “skeptics” like James Inhofe and Ted Cruz.

The Republican spin, which has become the official spin, is that this election was a referendum on President Obama and/or his policies. Even Obama himself seems to believe that. Thus, Fox “News” and company would have you believe that the results were a huge slap in the face to the president. The election, they maintain, is a mandate to engage in further obstruction and extremism. Indeed, when President Obama suggested that he could work with the new Congress (a suggestion also made by Mitch McConnell despite his history of gridlock), he was met with derision and scorn by the punditocracy.

Thing is, Obama’s approval rating (around 40 percent) is considerably higher than that of Congress itself (around 20 percent). But wait. Maybe people just disapprove of Congress so strongly because it’s too librul, and things will change now that there are going to be more Republicans, and they’re going to be the head of both houses. Well, the problem there is that going into the election, Democrats in Congress had a higher approval (44 percent) than Republicans (40 percent) in some polls. In other words, the public elected the party it dislikes most to run the branch of government it’s most disgusted with. Kind of makes sense if you stare it cross-eyed long enough.

The logical conclusion here is that Republicans won because Democratic voters stayed at home. And this might be due in part to the same factor that Republican voters were so fired up: the propaganda campaign against President Obama. Right-wing fanatics, aided and abetted by the media, have convinced a large portion of the American public that a B-plus president is actually an FFF-minus-minus president. Consequently, Democratic candidates behaved as if he had leprosy, distancing themsleves from his achievements — which very well could be why their constituents were uninspired to show up at the polls.

The absurdity of the whole thing was succinctly highlighted by David Letterman:

Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.

Polls indicate that some 63 percent of the American public believes that the country is headed in the wrong direction, while only 27 percent say it’s headed in the right direction. What would it take for people to think it’s moving in the right direction? Who knows? Few people seem interested in answering that question. They just know they’re supposed to hate Obama because they’ve been told to.

They rail about how he’s an embarrassment in foreign policy and he’s trashing the economy and “Obamacare” is an utter disaster. Even in the face of reports showing that unemployment has dropped below 6 percent for the first time since 2008, and millions have healthcare for the first time, and America’s image abroad has improved considerably since Obama took office. Hey, who needs facts when you have Fox?

Which leads us to what may be the real lesson of the midterms: perhaps Americans are currently living in a brainwashed dystopian dictatorship. But the dictator isn’t Barack Obama or anyone in Congress. It’s Rupert Murdoch et al.

 

So NOW Election Fraud Is Considered Newsworthy!

Fox Voter Fraud

There are three things as certain as death and taxes during an election season these days :(1) gas prices will fall at the pump; (2) the airwaves will be saturated with attack ads, and (3) the media will devote lots of time to airing warnings by Republicans that Democrats are out to “steal” the election. And they don’t mind making up stories to support their case.

Normally, their claim is that such theft will be carried out by voters themselves — which, as we’ve discussed before, is extremely difficult to pull off, and too infrequent to have an impact on an election. (Not to mention which, many if not most of the documented occurrences actually involve high-profile Republicans.) In 2012, for instance, they floated rumors about busloads of dark-skinned immigrants with limited English skills being driven to the polls to vote — clearly fraud, right? At least one report even characterized them as “Somali pirates”.

In keeping with the philosophy that no steamroller is too large to attack a gnat with if the political gain is sufficient, Republicans have responded to this virtually nonexistent problem by introducing drastic measures in the form of voter ID laws which have a hugely disproportionate effect on low-income, dark-skinned and foreign-looking citizens — who, by some strange coincidence, tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. These laws are to a large extent the spawn of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing activist group founded by Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the right-wing think tank The Heritage Foundation. In a rare moment of candor, Weyrich reveals the true purpose of such legislation:

I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

Or as Michigan state legislator John Pappageorge said in 2004, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.” (Detroit is the home of a large number of dark-skinned, foreign-looking Democratic voters.)

You can count on the media, and especially Fox “News” to shine a bright spotlight on every single case in which a Democratic voter is suspected of voting fraudulently. But the mysterious disappearance this year of more than 40,000 ballots from a Democratic stronghold in Georgia that could tilt that state’s elections? Not so much so. In seems that in order for suspected fraud to be considered newsworthy, it must meet two conditions: (a) it must be on an insignificant scale, and (b) it must be to the benefit of the Democratic Party.

Thus, we have a great deal of attention devoted this year to a suspected case of actual election (as opposed to voter) fraud. It seems that a few machines in Illinois have been reportedly switching a few votes from Republican to Democrat. Officially, it’s just a glitch, but Fox “News” and their ilk are all over it, brandishing it as undeniable proof that Democrats have “hacked” the machines and are out to sabotage the electoral process and finish converting the nation to a colony of drones who’ll surrender their guns, convert to Islam and keep their radios tuned to NPR.

The deliciously rich irony here is that Democratic and progressive activists have been struggling for years to bring greater accuracy, transparency and accountability to the electoral process. And they have very good reason. For one thing, voting machine glitches of this type have occurred before — except that the machines were flipping votes from Democrat to Republican. During the 2012 election, for instance, there were reports  of machines in Pennsylvania switching votes. What say you, Fox? Same thing happened in Texas in 2006. Tucker? Sean? Bill?  In Florida in 2000, voting machines in Volusia County awarded George W. Bush 4000 superfluous votes, while subtracting 19,000 from Al Gore’s tally. Rather than expose and investigate the irregularity, the media promptly seized upon the inaccurate totals to prematurely project Bush the winner (the first to do so was Bush’s cousin, John Ellis, who worked for — surprise — Fox “News”), permanently casting Gore as a “sore loser” and making it all but impossible for him to obtain a fair recount.

Fox didn’t exactly jump all over those cases of fishy election activity. Could it be because the machines were switching votes from Democrat to Republican.? The vast majority of voting machines are produced by companies with strong ties to the GOP, and in some cases their execs have made it clear that they will do whatever it takes to deliver elections to the candidates of their choice. Still waiting for the Fox exclusive on that one?

Nor are machines the only problem, by any means. As we discussed in the examination of Bush vs. Gore, Republicans have employed a mile-long series of dirty tricks to get into power and stay there. And these, mind you, are not merely isolated actions by individuals, but a widespread systematic process. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush was boosted into the White House by his governor brother’s unlawful purge of tens of thousand of Democratic voters from the rolls. The GOP’s tactics also include some very heavy-handed gerrymandering, which has allowed the party to gain congressional seats in the past two elections even though Democrats received more votes. In at least three states (Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin) GOP-mandering has been ruled unconstitutional. But like The Terminator, they’re no sooner struck down than they get back up and start it all over again. Fox, where art thou?

Okay, since conspiracy theories are so popular these days, here are a couple to try on: (1) Maybe right-wingers are raising such a stink about the Democratic “fraud” in Illinois to divert focus away from their own sins — maybe they even hacked the voting machines themselves. (2) Or maybe Democrats really did fix the machines. Maybe they did it because they knew that was the only way to draw the media spotlight on the potential problems with voting machines, which thereby might lead to tighter regulation of said machines that would make it harder for anyone to cheat.

Stranger things have happened. And infinitely stranger things have been believed.