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


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.


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:


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.)

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

  1. POP,

    One reason gun nuts become obsessed with government interference, is that they view the 2nd Amendment as something Moses came down from the mountain top with. But in reality gun ownership is just as subject to being modified throughout changing times as are the rest of our Constitutional freedoms.

    I have tried in vain, (except for one occasion when commenting on a pro-gun website), to make those waiting for Obama to pry their guns out of their cold dead fingers, realize that the threat of government confiscation is nothing to fear. But despite this one pleasant exception, all of those I exchange comments with, fail to understand that the government has an obvious role in protecting the public from harm. That’s why “tommy guns,” are no longer easily acquired except by those who pass rigorous checks, and why semi-automatic weapons which can fire 50 rounds per minute, and can be fitted with magazines holding more than 100 rounds, are being scrutinized. Machine guns have incredible potential to harm the public just as do certain semi-automatics, which, although not capable of firing nearly as many rounds per second, can produce nothing less than but pure Hell when used in a crowded movie theatre and fitted with a 100 round magazine!

    The role of regulating dangerous products and substances has always been a role suitable for the government, and has been used fortuitously to regulate many harmful products–but the NRA refuses to support the slightest steps—even simply making background checks more thorough. Senator Toomey could not believe it when what he called one of the most fair and non-invasive gun laws ever brought before Congress was not passed—not to mention that prior to the votes that sunk the bill, Toomey had an A rating from the NRA!

    POP, you have unearthed numerous forms of cherry picking and deceptions that can be used by special interests to maintain the unbridled sale of their products–including weapons of choice. These kinds of tactics are also typically used by man-made global deniers, and in the ways that big Tobacco companies lied and misled the public to make sure their coffin nails remain unregulated.

    When large special interests require such extreme measures to prevent any and all regulations, the reasons why, always have to do with money. The more guns are sold, the bigger the piece of pie taken by the gun industry.

    I really think that the NRA is now motivated mainly by preserving the gun industry’s profits also, rather than by the desire to promote responsible recreational use of weapons. It used to stand for this, but has long since morphed into little more than a lobbying entity ensuring that guns, guns, guns, and more guns, will be sold to as many people as possible!

    • Never have never will own a gun. I have no interest in guns unless it’s seeing military weapons used by us in WW2 to defeat Japan, Italy and Germany such as Sherman M4 tanks, weapons we used in Korean War (we used Napalm in WW2, Korea and Vietnam), Huey Helicopters we used in Vietnam and so on.

      If 1 owns a gun, they must go through same process as getting a car which means licensing, insurance, gun registration and background checks for any1 buying a gun-reqd. anyhow if not mistaken. They must require marksmanship for hunters such as if a person is going to hunt ducks and deer for food, it must be a fast kill.

    • My thoughts are that President Harry S. Truman should have dropped the atom bombs elsewhere in Japan with fewer civilian deaths, but there is no guarantee that this would have ended the war. President Truman had bad options. He could have done what he did and it ended the war. If it had gone to a ground war with Japan, more people both Allied and Japanese would have been killed. Japanese would have used women and children in combat with house to house fighting and they were already doing so. Japanese had Bushido (Samurai way) and fighting to death was preferred to suicide.

      Yes, the newborns killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are innocent war victims andthey did nothing wrong. War is a bad thing. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong, but there were only wrong choices for President Truman to choose from. War is bad and an invasion of Japan would have been worse. If Japan and Germany had the atom bombs, they would have used them as the Japanese airforce had used parachuted fleabombs (similar to daisy cutters used in Vietnam) against China were many were killed in biological warfare. Japan had a program to build the atomb bombs.

      Japanese soldiers were taught to think that fighting to death including suicide missions was better than surrender as surrender considered dishonorable. Japanese military had Bushido which is Samurai Way and Japanese soldiers did Banzai charges in suicide missions along with Kamikaze Airforce-which included human piloted rockets (Okha or Cherry Blossom) and suicide boats. Also the daisy cutters (parachuted bombs) that the Japanese airforce used during World War 2 were fleas carried plague, typhoid and anthrax bombs.

      The daisy cutter bombs used during the Vietnam War were bombs that exploded and did not have fleas. We did use Agent Orange herbicides to kill crops during Vietnam War but biological war was not used. North Vietnamese used booby traps such as Bouncing Betties and we used cluster bombs during Vietnam War. The Germans did have the nerve gases Sarin, Tabun and Soman but Hitler rejected all ideas to use them during the war. Professor R.J. Evans in his book the 3d Reich at War mentions that the Nazis did have experimental nerve gas killings in the concentration camps. Nazis mainly used Zyklon B and diesel gas (Carbon Monoxide) to kill people. Nazis and Japanese military did heinous experiments on prisoners as happened in Nazi concentration camps or Unit 731 in Manchuria on allied POW. The intentional killing of civilians is an evil act and is wrong-war alone is bad.

      There are only wrong and bad choices which President Harry S. Truman had. My view always will be that the atom bombs should have been dropped in other places in Japan with fewer civilians death but I admit that there is no guarantee there would be surrender. There was no guarantee that Japan would surrender after Hiroshima and Nagasaki as they had not surrendered after Tokyo and other cities were bombed with so many civilian deaths. If it goes to an invasion, many more civilians get killed and Japanese would have used women and children soldiers in combat. 14 year old Japanese boys would fly planes in kamikaze missions. In Okinawa, families committed suicide such as Japanese women with their children would jump off of cliffs to their deaths.

      And must repeat that Japan would have used the atom bombs if they had them and we may still be dealing with them today and Japan would likely have expanded or tried to expand by taking over other nations such as India. As it currently is, Communist China and north Korea are the 2 Communist powers in Asia which we deal with and China has done it’s expansions into Tibet, wants territory from Vietnam (1979 was last war between Vietnam and China), India (1962 war) and other places.

      • Peter W. Johnson, in wars they use guns, tanks, planes & atom bombs & is relevant to the gun topics. But hoping you can give your thoughts on what you think of the 1970s musician Theodore Anthony Nugent or Ted Nugent. He is from Michigan (where I am while you are in Minnesota & I have been to Duluth) & if you know about him, he is a hunter & NRA supporter. Theodore Anthony Nugent or Ted Nugent is if not mistaken partly American Indian (he is mostly White but believe he has some American Indian) as his 1970s song Great White Buffalo (I mostly listen to new music but l do like that song along with Free For All by him) is about hunting buffalos with lyrics about the Indian & the buffalo.

        Theodore Anthony Nugent or Ted Nugent has talked alot as you know about guns, hunting with argument that he hunts for his food the same way as the Indians did. He has been called a racist though again, I think he is part American Indian as he sometimes wears American Indian clothes & uses American Indian language such as words such as Blood Brother & believe he has fluent knowledge of American Indians. Ted Nugent has defended the Red Skins name among other things. Now if you’ve seen him, Theodore Anthony Nugent (Ted Nugent) defends guns.

        If 1 owns a gun, they must go through same process as getting a car which means licensing, insurance, gun registration and background checks for any1 buying a gun-reqd. anyhow if not mistaken. They must require marksmanship for hunters such as if a person is going to hunt ducks and deer for food, it must be a fast kill. But not as ideological as Theodore Anthony Nugent gets & I think he overhunts. What do you think Peter W. Johnson of 1970s musicianTed Nugent (Theodore Anthony Nugent) & what do you think of other thoughts on hunting which I have. Here’s a copy/paste or copy&paste I’ve done before on hunting & hoping Peter W. Johnson you can give your thoughts to this as it is about guns below which involves country singer Miranda Leigh Lambert & hunting. See my copy/paste or copy&paste below & please give your thoughts to Theodore Anthony Nugent (Ted Nugent), Miranda Leigh Lambert, guns & hunting.

        If every1 were vegetarian, then hunting would mostly disappear. As long as people eat meat, animals will be killed for food be it farm animals or hunting. While if not mistaken there are fewer people hunting than they did in 1950s, hunting is not disappearing anytime soon because as long as people eat meat, animals will be killed on farms or in some cases hunted for food.

        If people want to hunt deer, pheasant, ducks or rabbits for food, then as long as they are swiftly killed, then I have no problem. While I’m a vegetarian, I have no problem with hunting for food as long as the animal is quickly killed and I support requiring marksmanship for hunters. I know hunters who agree with me and they oppose poaching & believe in the idea of eating their kills. I’ve found that hunters (huntress for women) can love their pets such as dogs, cats & horses, but not feel the same way with the quail, duck or rabbit they hunt because they see the quail, deer, duck or rabbit as food. Nature as known can be cruel. Though PETA would differ, I would rather see a hunter quickly shoot and kill a quail, duck, deer or rabbit and eat their kill vs. a python killing a rabbit. Yes, the python is doing what is nature, but nature can be cruel.

        Though I do not listen to country music, singer Miranda Leigh Lambert in addition to the good work she does to protect dogs with Pedigree dog food also hunts & fishes for food. Miranda Leigh Lambert proves that it is consistent to support animal welfare & @ the same time have no problem with food hunting as long as the animal is humanely and swiftly killed. Miranda Leigh Lambert proves that there are people who support animal welfare who have no problem with food hunting. Another eg. would be radio host Rush Limbaugh (Rush Hudson Limbaugh) who did announcements for U.S. Humane Society in 2009. Though I don’t know if Rush hunts, he supports people’s right to hunt for food. Rush in 2009 did announcements for U.S. Humane Society where he speaks against dog fighting, animal abuse & he talked of his cat & how he loved his cat and so on. Should Pedigree Dog Food & U.S. Humane Society take announcements from people on animal topics like country singer Miranda (Miranda Leigh Lambert) and Rush because 1 has hunted?

    • Government threat of confiscation is not something to fear, but something to forbid and prevent. For example, “universal” background checks involve record keeping, which must not be permitted.

      • Odysseus M. Tanner,

        I believe that at present records are kept only for a short times and destroyed after a possible flag has been raised, and then investigated. However, why are you so serious about “preparing” for a potential threat if you consider it unlikely to come? The question I would ask is “if such a government confiscation has any chance of happening, then what are just a few, (or even just one) scenario you can provide under which that type of confiscation could really happen? If it is such a definite possibility, then surely those who seek to prevent such an extreme action from being perpetrated by the government, must have a few credible ideas of just how it could happen? So please tell me one. I’d really like to consider if what you might say could really happen? For one thing, the entire police force and the military, two organizations which depend on and recognize a need for weapons, would need to reach virtually unanimous consent with the President, or any other authority having that kind of power, in order to willingly confiscate the guns of citizens in the first place! But even if Congress had a supermajority under the control of one party, there would still be legal avenues available to remove a power hungry President from office–assuming that the entire police force and military was somehow under his direct command, and would obey he, she, or it, unquestioningly?

        The top brass of the Pentagon would need to comply with the orders of such a madman President, since, if they rejected his or her absolute authority in any way, They could certainly move swiftly to eject that president and his cronies from their positions of power–something they could very handily do with the might of the military and its arsenal at their command—since just because they are supposed to obey the President hardly means that they actually would. Are you saying that our own Pentagon would permit the formation of a military Junta under the command of Obama, or pehaps some future Republican with a nefarious plot in mind? I think the safeguards built into our government’s structure, would stop such plots in their tracks, and the vast majority of the American people would reject the plans of such a President.

        At any rate, please give me the details of at least one scenario under which the government might carry out such an infamous deed—unless you actually believe it could happen, there is no need for you to even consider it as a (potential) threat, let alone a likely threat.

        The NRA has only about 4 million members, and there are about 80 million guns owners. And as far as I can tell, even deer hunters are not likely to surrender their guns to some sort of crazy of dictatorial government. So please give me an idea about how such a bizarre situation would or even could happen. I will criticize your proposals if they seem to fantastic or unlikely to be a real, but I will also pause and think them through if you have any valid scenarios under which a government take-over could happen.

  2. Abner,

    The discussion of WW2 is not really something relevant to the topic of gun regulations in contemporary America i.e. It’s as if the POP posted an article about global warming, and then you extrapolated from that topic, to comment about Kitchen appliances like stoves, which use heat to cook with, or even the quality of mass produced appliances, in regards to outsourcing? When you mention issues like Ted Nugent’s hunting phillosphy, that may be more relevant, but even then, you continue to jump from one minimally related topic to another. And none of these really voices your opinions about the misuse and misrepresentation of gun statistics in order to prevent regulations that might reduce the number of mass shootings, as well as other crimes and fatalities that involve the use of unregulated weapons.

    If I am not mistaken, Ted Nugent made some outlandish accusations about the President— supposedly to defend every American’s complete freedom to own guns of any kind. And because of those accusations, I dislike his brazen assumption that he is someone especially qualified to talk about that issue. Although I am not a big Country Western fan, I believe I have heard Miranda Lambert sing quite well as a country music star. But according to your understanding of what is a related topic, I might go off on a tangent involving the fact that Miranda is a country star and, since crops are grown in the country by farmers, corn being one of them, wouldn’t corn be great help to for cutting Co2 emissions with ethanol production? then I could discuss factories that give off Co2, the industrial revolution, mass production, movable type printing presses, the Bible, Jesus, Mohammed, and Darwin’s evolution. All of these tangents could be extrapolated from a discussion of Ted Nugents gun politics, but not many of them really pertains to the topic of the POP’s post.

    You obviously have a great interests in many topics, including important historical periods–that’s to your credit. But usually, when I answer a politely phrased comment of yours, I feel that I required to veer way off topic and must sort of, free-associate among various minimally related issues that come to mind. I don’t blame you for discussing your interests in the same way I DO blame you for being horribly uncivil, and even emotionally sadistic when verbally accosting the family of Matthew Shepard, but when you jump from one topic to the next, based on their loosest associations to the POPs articles, that simply wastes the time of those who want to comment directly on his points. You’re not wrong for having many other interests, but they often have very little to do with the specific topic at hand.

    I suggest you concentrate on how gun regulations, are commonly considered an outrage among those who want weapons to be sold to nearly everyone, with as few regulation as possible,(preferably none), as well as how statistics are manipulated by the gun culture to support their claims that America needs more guns, instead of less.

  3. I don’t trust any study conducted by a group that has a reason to fudge the numbers. If they have a horse in the race at all, I am very critical of their ‘findings’>

    That includes this blog, since you seem to have a personal bias against gun ownership.

  4. Pingback: 5 Years On: Hitler and Guns Still Reign Supreme | The Propaganda Professor

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