The (Poorly) Armed Assault on “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 4)

gun-ownership-crime-rate

In previous discussions about gun propaganda, we’ve examined what we call The Chicago Gambit, which is cherry picking statistics to make the case that stricter gun laws cause a rise in crime, as well as its counterpart, which we call The D.C. Gambit — which is cherry picking data to argue that looser gun laws cause a drop in crime. We also took a closer look at one particular example of the latter, the peculiar gun ordinance in Kennesaw , GA. supposedly making gun ownership mandatory. As you probably realize, there are also many other examples of these two strategies; not only are they applied to many cities and states, but to the United States as a whole.

The statement I hear so often from gun fanatics goes something like this: “There are more guns being sold than ever, yet crime is decreasing. So obviously guns reduce crime.” Well, aside from the common sin of identifying correlation with causation, there are at least three major problems with this argument:

1. The Problem of the Long-Term Crime Trend

First of all, the crime decline they’re referring to has been going on for a good 20 years.

crimechart

But the surge in gun sales they tout apparently didn’t begin until much more recently. There is no comprehensive data on gun sales, but it probably has a pretty decent representation in the record of background checks:

Capture

And this one of gun production:

gun production

What both charts indicate is that the numbers roughly doubled over a period of about 6 years beginning around 2005; but you’ll notice that the major uptick coincides with the election of President Obama — whom the gun propagandists have painted as a bogeyman out to “take away your guns”. Even putting their best spin on it in an effort to establish the trend at an earlier point in time, they certainly can’t establish that such a distinct and consistent trend began before the drop in crime started.

If you’re looking for a more logical single specific cause for the crime decrease, you might try the Brady Bill, which became law just before the crime rate’s nosedive.  Again, we can’t prove that this was a cause as opposed to a mere correlation, but at least such an assumption, unlike the assumption that the increase in gun sales was responsible, wouldn’t require time-warping.

(There are at least three other probable factors that have made a difference. One is better policing. Another is the waning of the crack epidemic. And the third is something that few people of any ideological stripe want to acknowledge: the legalization of abortion a generation earlier, with the consequence that fewer potential criminals were born to begin with.)

2. The problem of a possible increase in shootings

You hear a great deal about how gun deaths have declined in recent years, but little about the number of non-fatal shootings. One reason is that we simply don’t know for certain how many such incidents occur — nobody really keeps a comprehensive score. Some reports claim the total number of shootings has increased, while others claim it has declined, though not by as much as gun fatalities. Others maintain that it has held steady , although the severity of the injuries has intensified. We do know that at least mass shootings are on the rise — and contrary to gun culture claims, armed civilians are almost never able to stop them. (I know, I know. Things will go down very differently when you and your guns get a crack at it, by god.)

In short, there is the strong possibility that even though fewer people are dying from gunshot wounds, more people are getting shot. And the apparent explanation is that emergency response to trauma has improved — not that guns are making us safer or that gun owners are less inclined to open fire. It’s pretty hard to make the case that the abundance of guns is the cause of the crime drop if more people are winding up with bullets in them.

3. The problem of gun ownership trends

Furthermore, gunsters focus on the boom in gun sales, but seldom mention the apparent fizzle in gun ownership — i.e., it appears that more and more guns are ending up in the hands of fewer and fewer people, as reflected in research by  Pew Research Center and the General Social Survey:

gun ownership

If this is indeed the case, then how in the holy hell could more guns have resulted in less crime? How many weapons can one person wield at once, anyway? On the other hand, it’s certainly conceivable that there would have been even less crime had there not been more guns. For one thing, the more guns there are in circulation, the greater the likelihood that some of them will end up (by theft if nothing else) in the wrong hands.

On those few occasions when Second Amendmenters do mention this trend, it’s most likely to deny it exists. My old friends, God bless them every one, over at my favorite gun propaganda site, The Truth About Guns, have made several attempts at denouncing this “myth”, though they still haven’t offered anything to debunk it. The most compelling piece of evidence they can provide is the boom in demand for firearms training. But that’s very far from conclusive. Just because there are more people who want to shoot effectively doesn’t mean there are more people who have something to shoot.

Another trick the folks at TTAG tried was presenting a chart of background checks, like the one reproduced above, as evidence of increased gun ownership. But while background checks might be a pretty good indicator of firearm purchases, they don’t  necessarily reflect the number of purchasers.

In one post, TTAG zeroes in on Gallup’s tracking, which seems to be a bit of an outlier, and the writer brandishes three selective years to give the impression that Gallup shows gun ownership to be on the rise. But in fact if you look at the big picture — i.e., a graph of Gallup’s numbers since it began surveying the issue in 1960 — you get a rather different impression:

Gallup gun poll

This appears to be a slightly downward trend as well, though not as steep or consistent as GSS. Indeed, the zigzagging of Gallup’s numbers suggests that, for whatever reason, its polling on this particular matter is less than reliable. Nonetheless, its figures have been combined with those of GSS into a cohesive graph that indicates an unmistakable downward shift:

gun ownerhsip in america

Yet another tactic is to dismiss the GSS estimates as inaccurate because they are produced by surveys, which can’t be trusted. These, mind you, are the same folks who latch onto the outrageous figure of 2.5 million annual DGUs, produced by another survey, as absolute gospel. Evidently they want you to believe that in both cases, the respondents understate their cause — and thus, instead of an already preposterous 2.5 million DGUs per year, there are actually 5 or 6 million.

Indeed, the head Gun Guru himself over at TTAG posits this supposed under-reporting in terms that, be warned, may make you fall out of your chair and roll in the floor:

In fact, Americans don’t like to tell strangers about their guns. Not just the ones who consider government the greatest threat to individual liberty (i.e. those afraid of firearms confiscation). Gun owners who understand that discretion is the better part of valor.

Gunsters don’t like to tell strangers about their precious guns? So they never attend rallies to proclaim they have a (so-called) constitutional right to be armed? They never sport their pieces in restaurants or other public places? They never attend gun shows? They don’t maliciously campaign against and harass and threaten “anti-gunners” (many of whom own guns themselves) who express concern about school kids being gunned down and want to take measures to prevent it that don’t involve flooding the streets with even more guns? They don’t have websites devoted to promoting their fetish?

These are individuals who presumably have already gone through the process of background checks, which apprise the Big Bad Guvmint not only of their gun ownership, but of their identities and other personal data. And yet they don’t want to acknowledge their passion anonymously to pollsters who might help promote their cause?

It’s probably true that there are some false negatives in surveys of firearm ownership. It’s probably true that there are false positives as well. And that there are some respondents who reply “It’s none of your damn business.” But surely that’s always been the case.  And thus, the surveys should not be any more inaccurate now than they’ve ever been.

Unless gun owners have become a lot more paranoid because of the gun-grabbin’ librul socialist fascist Muslim atheist terrorist anti-Amurrcan Kenyan in the formerly White House. Well, there’s not much denying that the right-wing gun culture has ratcheted up its hysteria since Obama has become president, and that this has resulted in a healthy increase in profits for gun manufacturers. But does this mean that more people are buying into the hype? Or, to put it bluntly, just because the right-wing loony fringe has devolved into deeper lunacy, does this mean that more sane people have been inspired to join the right-wing loony fringe?

Again, such a conclusion is at odds with the long-term trend. Look again at those charts showing the decline in gun ownership. It began long before Barack Obama became the wingers’ demon du jour. It went on during the terms of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes, who were — notwithstanding the elder Bush’s renunciation of his NRA membership — much cozier with the gun culture.

Note that the figures presented are percentages; and given the population expansion, it’s possible that a decreased percentage could represent an increased tally; but in such statistics and trends, it’s usually percentages that we’re concerned with.  The GSS estimates may or may not be the most accurate indicators of the actual percentages of gun ownership. They may be off by plus or minus 3 points. Or 10. Or 15. But the fact that they show a consistent long-term decline is still an indication that they probably are at least a reasonable barometer of the change.

And one other thing about the graph of that trend. I hate to spoil the party at the gun-lovers’ orgy, but it correlates rather nicely with another graph we presented above. The one showing a steady drop in crime.

(Still more to come on this topic. Alas.)

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Crusading for the Crusades: How Revisionists Are Whitewashing a Bloodbath

crusades

As you may have noticed, the Crusades have become something of a sacred cow in the U.S. As President Obama discovered, anyone who dares point out how brutal they were is in danger of being branded as anti-Christian and anti-American.  In recent years, a spate of revisionist books have tried to paint the Crusades as a noble and just endeavor; one of the most egregious of these volumes, for instance, is The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Crusades (“politically incorrect” being a euphemism for ideologically tilted and/or historically inaccurate).

There are basically four flimsy defenses that the Crusades Crusaders offer for their pet cause:

Flimsy Defense # 1: It was a long time ago

Because a millennium has passed, some crusaders suggest, it’s no longer cricket to express horror and outrage — at the same time, however, they see no problem with reaching back into the past nearly half a millennium in order to find some grounds for defending the Crusades (which we’ll get to in a moment). The implication is that because the Crusades are so deeply buried in the vaults of history, Christian violence is too.

Wrong.

These folks are overlooking the Inquisition. They’re overlooking the witch trials. And they’re overlooking events in modern times as well. For example, violence between factions in Ireland (a centuries-old tradition carried over into recent years), though officially pegged as politically rooted, was in fact largely occasioned by differences in religion. This conflict gave rise, among other things, to The Shankill Butchers, a band of Protestant fanatics who abducted, tortured and murdered Catholics (as well as a few fellow Protestants who pissed them off).

More recently, there was the “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia, which might be more accurately characterized as religious “cleansing”.

And we’re certainly not out of the woods now. You’ve surely heard a great deal about Muslim terrorists these days, but chances are you’ve heard much less about the more common and more menacing Christian terrorists. Violence isn’t exclusive to any one age or country or religion. And somebody once said something important about those who can’t remember the past.

Flimsy Defense # 2: Everyone else was doing it too

Because the Crusades occurred so far in the past, some people imagine that there is a magical boundary between Then and Now; and that once humanity crossed that line, it was suddenly transformed into a different biological order. Back then, they want to believe, people were just more violent in general, so it’s understandable that Christians would have been too (though at the same time, Christians were supposed to be morally superior to everyone else).

I was having a discussion along these lines a few years ago with a friend — a highly intelligent friend who knows more about history than I do — when I brought up what a bloodthirsty sleazeball Columbus was. To which he replied, “Well, can we really judge a Fifteenth-Century man by modern standards?”

Yes, absolutely, we can.

One reason we know so much about the misdeeds of Columbus and other Christian conquerors in the New World is that a contemporary priest, Bartolomé de Las Casas, recorded them with disgust. If he could feel compassion and respect for the Natives and revulsion over violence and exploitation, why couldn’t Columbus?

It isn’t human nature that has evolved. It’s the collective social order, to the point that most societies now frown on genocide, slavery and torture. On an individual level, though, some people still do it when they can get away with it. But just because some people do it is not, and has never been, ample cause for someone else to do it.

Flimsy Defense # 3: It was self-defense

This is the most popular of the flimsy defenses, the very heart and soul of Crusades revisionism. According to this tidy fairy tale, the Crusades were a just and holy undertaking, quite pleasing unto the will of God, because they were a defensive maneuver against those nasty Muslims who were picking on Christians. But this narrative is at best a gross oversimplification.

There were numerous crusades — the exact number is a matter of debate — over a period of a couple of centuries (some historians maintain they lasted as long as five centuries). Some were motivated by political and economic rather than, or in addition to, religious factors. Not all of these were directed toward Muslims; the Christians also targeted Jews, pagans and even their fellow Christians whose beliefs were considered “heresy” by those in power. And far from being uniformly defensive, these were often aggressive campaigns with the aim of not only conquest but eradication.

The mythos of  Crusades as defense has its roots, curiously enough, in what is generally taken to be the first major Crusade (1096-1099), which was organized ostensibly for the purpose of retaking Jerusalem, which had been conquered by Muslims.  Evidently God wanted Christians to have Jerusalem for themselves, because they consider it a holy place and all.  It is, for one thing, the site of the “Holy Sepulchre”, the reputed burial place of Jesus. The expedition, in other words, was at least as much about recovering control of a shrine as it was about protecting Christians from alleged abuses — arguably a campaign about conquering places and things rather than liberating the oppressed or defending ideals.

Furthermore, the Islamic sacking of Jerusalem occurred some 4 centuries earlier. If the Crusaders were following the calling of The Almighty, they certainly were taking their sweet time about it. One explanation for the delay is that the subjugated Christians in and around Jerusalem found life tolerable enough until the Seljuk Turks took over and began oppressing and persecuting them more heavily. But even if we grant this, they at least were allowed to live under Muslim rule. The conquering Christians did not return the favor, but systematically exterminated the Muslim men, women and children they encountered. They also slaughtered Jews living there, some of whom joined the Muslims in fighting off the Christian invaders — which just might provide a clue as to who the real bad guys were.

Flimsy Defense # 4: The numbers have been inflated

Of course they have. The Crusades, like the witch trials and the Wild West gunfights, have become the stuff of legend. And legend invariably lends itself to hyperbole.

So what’s the point here? That murdering 1000 people is more morally upright than murdering 10,000? This kind of argument might carry a bit more weight if the difference had been 10 or even 100 versus 1000.  But even though the numbers have been exaggerated, they are still quite extreme enough, numbering in the high thousands if not the millions.

Perhaps the purpose of playing the exaggeration card is to suggest that Christian atrocities like the Crusades were carried out by fringe elements, and thus do not represent “true” Christianity, whatever that may mean. In fact, the Crusades were carried out with the approval of, and even under the impetus of, the Pope.

Finally, we should mention that one of the most troubling things about Crusades revisionism is its Machiavellian implications. Which is to say, it suggests that many Christian apologists believe that if they can establish there was worthy reason to undertake the Crusades, then it excuses any and all actions undertaken by the Crusaders. That’s a similar line of reasoning to that exercised by guys who fly planes into buildings.

Let’s be very clear: these holy Crusaders ruthlessly butchered, tortured, beheaded, dismembered, impaled, burned, and even cannibalized innocent people of all ages. At times they literally waded in the blood of their victims, with which they were smeared from head to toe, and wore proudly as a token of their triumph as they exhibited the severed heads and limbs of the vanquished.

Is there really any cause sufficiently holy to justify all of that?