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:
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:
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:
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 perfectly reliable. Nonetheless, its figures have been combined with those of GSS into a cohesive graph that indicates an unmistakable downward shift:
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.)