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


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.)





  1. POP,

    Along with the small size of Kennesaw, and the statistical axiom that correlation does not equal causation, the most telling information about the real statistical effects of this law, is simply that, for all practical purposes, there essentially is NO LAW requiring gun ownership! If the only requirements in the law include the freedom to own a gun if one wants to, or not own a gun at all, if one object, it’s absurd to think that Kennesaw’s supposed new law influences anything at all!

    Cherry picking and faulty data collection methods are always a problem, but in Kennesaw both of these factors are null and void because, (in essence), there really is no new law to be statistically evaluated. Since it’s only on the books for cosmetic political purposes, and to symbolically address gun regulations, How about actually accomplishing something similar by passing a law giving everyone the freedom to talk like Donald Duck—or not—depending on their own discretion? If one were to record the conversations of every resident, and then establish the number of times people talked like Donald Duck—well, good luck finding any conclusive evidence there either!

    It’s true that guns are used in violent crimes, and that one can assume no one robs a bank or kills anyone else by talking like DD, but still the complete lack of authority to enforce Kennesaw’s (voluntary) law, approaches the same level of absurdity as my DD analogy!

    Thanks for another look beneath outward appearances, to reveal an absurd inner reality that essentially accomplishes nothing of importance at all!

  2. While this isn’t exactly on point, this post seems the best place to put this without going too deep into the archive.

    In L. Neil Smith’s latest gun rant on The Libertarian Enterprise, he states:

    “[T]he purpose of the Second Amendment is that we should be able to kill anybody who tries to crush individual liberty.”

    Then, in the very next paragraph he tries to claim he didn’t mean it the way it sounds:

    “I have not advocated killing or even injuring anyone….”

    It’s amazing to think that he really thinks anyone would believe that. The classical assumption would be that he is either delusional or cynical, but things like this make me wonder if he’s just pulling some kind of long con. His entire writing career is based on libertarian (specifically anarcho-capitalistic) fiction; this may be just part of some grandiose publicity stunt.

    Regardless, I wonder how long it’s going to be before some cop-killer says, “El-Neil said I had a right to shoot that cop for giving me a speeding ticket!”

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