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.)