Singular Proof

roger bannister

If you read the prior post on cherry picking, you may recall that I cautioned about seizing upon isolated incidents as “proof” of something. Now, however, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that an isolated incident is always proof of something. A contradiction? Not at all. It just depends on what it is you’re trying to prove.

Consider a popular example: the use of guns for self-defense, commonly called defensive gun use (DGU). You’ve no doubt heard about plenty of these incidents; chances are your gun-loving friends will Facebook or Tweet every time such an incident drifts into their crosshairs, perhaps passing it along with the comment that “this proves that guns make us safer”.

But does it? “Us” is in this case a very inclusive pronoun. In order to prove that guns make “us” safer overall, you’d have to demonstrate that they effect a net reduction in crime — i.e., that the are used to prevent more crimes than they are used to commit. Nobody has ever been able to demonstrate anything even close to this.

For that matter, these incidents don’t even prove that guns make the individuals involved safer. They do prove that in some cases, guns can be used in self-defense. And that is essentially the value of an isolated incident: it demonstrates that such an occurrence is a possibility. When Roger Bannister ran the first recorded 4-minute mile in 1954, he proved once and for all that such a feat can be done. He didn’t prove that anyone could do it, but he did prove that it was at least humanly possible. (Since then, it’s been accomplished many times.)

Another thing about the singular proof, then, is that it also disproves something — Bannister disproved the commonly accepted notion that running the 4-minute mile was unattainable. He didn’t disprove a generality (running the 4-minute mile is very difficult) but he did disprove an absolutism (the 4-minute mile is impossible).

It’s been established that tobacco and excessive alcohol are harmful to health. Yet every now and then, you’ll hear about a man who’s lived a century even though he’s savored a cigar and a glass of whisky every day for years. Has he proved that medical science is wrong? Or that — as some of these superannuated persons maintain — these vices actually promote longevity?

Of course not. He disproves the absolutism that tobacco and alcohol invariably lead to premature death. And he proves that some regular smokers and drinkers can live long lives. But he’s done nothing to discredit the science that says such indulgences are harmful in general.

Scientists, however, are sometimes scornful of anecdotal evidence, declaring it to be totally worthless. Which is ironic, given how dependent they are on it. A scientific experiment is preceded by a hypothesis. And where does the hypothesis come from? Anecdotal evidence, quite often. Like the rest of us, scientists exercise inductive reasoning: they notice specific events and extrapolate from them that there might be a general pattern. Unlike the rest of us, they undertake methodical tests in an effort to prove this hypothesis — or hopefully, an effort to disprove it, since that’s really the only way to accomplish either proof or disproof. And how do they do this? By collecting more anecdotes, either in a laboratory or in the wild. But this isn’t considered anecdotal evidence, since the events are collected systematically rather than haphazardly.

Still. every anecdote does prove something. The trick is interpreting correctly what it proves, rather than being led over the lemming ledge of unwarranted conclusion.

(For more on the role of anecdotes in science and medicine, see here and here.)


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.)

Home Invasion? Defensive Gun Use? Or Creative Headline?

Davie shooting

While I was visiting Florida recently, this news headline caught my eye:

Man fatally shot during Davie home invasion, police say

This piqued my curiosity, because I’d already written a post discussing how the frequency of home invasions is very greatly overestimated. Additionally, this appeared to be the kind of incident that would probably be classified as a defensive gun use (DGU), which, as I’ve discussed, is also vastly inflated.

So I read the story, which includes this statement:

The resident of the apartment had some company over and they tried to rob him, Capt. Dale Engle said.

Huh??? The resident of the apartment had some company over? How exactly is it a “home invasion” if you willingly let people into your home? This is a strong indication that the alleged defender has been hanging out with the wrong company; and while it doesn’t automatically negate the claim that he acted in self-defense, it certainly does place a big question  mark next to it.  And reading a little farther, we see this:

The man who was shot was found about 8 p.m. outside the front door of the apartment in the 6100 block of Southwest 48th Street.

Now it’s possible that he might have been shot inside the apartment and then stumbled outside to die. But in the absence of solid facts, we have to allow for the possibility that he already might have been outside when the resident grabbed his gun, then came out and shot him. Very defensive, no?

Finally, there’s this:

The names of those involved haven’t been released, and no charges have been filed in the case. An AK-47 assault rifle found in the grass of a nearby home Friday morning was being examined, Engle said.

An AK-47? Hey, just the perfect thing to defend yourself against home invasion. Especially by some of your buds that you’ve invited inside.  Again, owning an AK-47 doesn’t automatically mean that you’re trigger-happy. But it certainly would seem to increase the odds dramatically.

Despite frequent wild claims of millions, the “confirmed” DGUs number no more than about 1000 per year. And a great many of those “confirmed” DGUs, on closer inspection, turn out to be not so confirmed after all because, as in the Davie shooting, the circumstances are fishier than Chicken of the Sea. Meanwhile, there are at least 400,000 crimes committed with a gun in the U.S. every year, and between 15,000 and 20,000 accidental shootings; altogether there are at least 100,000 gun injuries and/or deaths annually. All in all, it doesn’t add up to a very compelling argument that guns make us safer.

Make My Day: Mention Gun Defense “Statistics”…

There’s a certain number that gun fanatics just love. Well, actually there are several numbers they love, but there’s one in particular that they lustfully salivate over: 2.5 million. That’s the putative number of defensive gun uses (DGUs) that occur in the United States every single year. That’s a highly impressive “statistic”, which is why you’ll see it starring on bumper stickers or websites or wherever else people want to emphasize the need for firearms in order to feel safe from all the THEMs out there.

Except the “statistic” is not really a statistic. It’s a projection, an estimate, put forth in a “study” by Florida criminologist Dr. Gary Kleck (in collaboration with Professor Marc Gertz), based on interviews of alleged defenders in 1993. Except the “study” wasn’t really a study; it was a survey, which is a sort of glorified poll.

Whatever terminology you choose to use, the point is that the Kleck “study”, which involved 222 respondents, didn’t really estimate how many DGU’s actually occur; it estimated how often gun owners say they occur. That’s a different thing, but just how different is it? Well, let’s see how it stacks up against the real world.

Dr. Kleck, Meet Mr. Gallup

According to Gallup (a poll, not a study, but generally rather reliable) 30 percent of American adults own guns. With a U.S. population of 313 million, roughly 75 percent of whom (about 230 million) are adults, that translates to about 70 million gun owners. The gun culture estimates its own strength at 80 million, so let’s assume they’re right, and Gallup not so much so.  That would mean that one out of 32 gun owners is involved in a DGU every year.  Seriously? Even if we factor in the additional 12 percent who, according to Gallup, live in a household in which someone owns a gun, that means 99 million who have access to one.  And that would still mean that one out of 40 of them is involved in a DGU every year. If that sounds like a reasonable ratio to you, let’s draw a tighter bead on it.

Washington, DC has a population of about 600,000. That means it should have about 450,000 adults and about 189,000 with access to a gun. According to the Kleck ratio, we would expect that Washington would experience 4725 DGUs annually. (Actually much more, since DC is one of the most dangerous cities in the nation -and for several years in the recent past was the most dangerous.)  That means almost 13 per day. Seriously? Let’s return to DC later.

Media Rare

Dr. Kleck can get away with such extravagant claims because we don’t have real comprehensive statistics as such on defensive gun use.  But we do have accounts of them reported in the media, along with phony accounts reported in emails. And even the real ones and the fake ones together do not number in the millions.

In challenging my observation that many of the anecdotes are bogus, a writer at The Truth About Guns whipped out a list of “75 real ones, just from the last 4 months”. Except that many of these “real” ones were, um, not so real.  He didn’t say where he came up with this collection, but everybody who produces such a list produces essentially the same list, a roster of news headlines apparently meant to confirm the 2.5 million tally. If so, it indicates that maybe gunsters aren’t quite as proficient at counting people as they are at killing them.

Because 75 in 4 months does not quite add up to 2.5 million. It adds up to 225. And at that rate, you would have – quite literally – a substantially greater risk of being struck by lightning. So, since the NRA has only your best interests at heart (wink wink nudge nudge) why isn’t it promoting handy dandy designer rubber suits to go along with those portable miniature lightning rods it pushes?

Even on the busiest day, there are rarely more than 2 or 3 DGUs in the news; and in order to meet the quota of 2.5 million annually, you would need to have 6849 daily, more than 2 per day in each of the nation’s counties.

Okay, okay. I can hear the screaming from the gunster gallery, so we might as well acknowledge what they’re saying:


Well okay, I guess it wouldn’t greatly surprise me if that’s true. But it would greatly surprise me indeed if the number of non-covereds greatly exceeded the number of  covereds – especially to the extent Dr. Kleck maintains. If an incident is truly serious enough to warrant pulling out a weapon, it’s generally serious enough to warrant notifying the police. And what makes it into the police blotter is generally fair game for the media.

There are exceptions, of course – some defenders have good reason to keep their actions under their sombreros. But even among Dr. Kleck’s subjects, 64 percent said the police learned of the episode either from them or someone else.  My calculator says that 64 percent of 2.5 million totals 1,600,000 police reports and 1,600,000 potential media stories. So where are the other 1,599, 775?

Okay, they’re screaming again. Let’s see what they’re saying this time.


Well, let’s say that we buy into the “liberal bias in the media” canard. It will require a tremendous effort to say it with a straight face, since the myth is so easily discredited, but we’ll give it our best shot. Say that the media suppress 90 percent of DGU stories – no, hell, let’s let our persecution complex really run wild, and say 99 percent. Still, one percent of 1,600,000 is 16,000. So where are the other 15,775? (And if you think the media suppress even more than 99 percent – well, I’m very sorry, but I just can’t take you seriously at all.)

The truth is that if you ask someone who’s actually worked in the media (like, er, um…well, yours truly, maybe) they’re likely to tell you that the media love this kind of story. They have a lot of column space and airtime to fill, and they’re savvy enough to know that the public would much rather hear about a sensational crime than a church bake sale. And lacking a sensational crime, the public will settle for a sensational crime prevention, thank you very much. Some editors would just about break into someone’s house themselves to get this kind of story.

The Great Equalizer

Yet it’s fine if you choose not to believe this. Thing is, the gunsters who invoke the specter of the librulmedia to explain the phantom DGUs are overlooking something. A little thing called the Internet – even though most likely they’re using it to state their case. While referring to guns as “equalizers”, they overlook the greatest equalizer ever : ye olde world wide web.  Thanks to millions of websites and blogs, thanks to email and Facebook and YouTube and Reddit and Twitter and so on, we no longer have to rely on the sinister librulmedia to give us The Truth About Guns.

One website that regularly circulates the latest version of The List is And hoo boy, if you want to stoke your paranoia and justify your gun addiction, you’ve come to the right place. There are ample links to stories abut the big bad guvmint wanting to take away your so-called Second Amendment rights, and about the incompetence of law enforcement personnel – we all know that they’re not nearly as skilled and responsible at using firearms as we are. And of course stories about defensive gun use. In fact – get this – this website even recruits a team of volunteers to scrape up these stories and send them in. Even so, they can’t come up with more than a few hundred per year (even assuming they’re all genuine) – while there seems to be a higher incidence lately, the archives indicate  that 75 in 4 months is more or less typical. And guess what? From what I can tell, every one of these incidents was reported in the nefarious librulmedia.

Or take the NRA. Please. Since 1958, this humanitarian organization has maintained (first in print and now online as well) a feature called Armed Citizen, which also collects these stories. And it doesn’t just rely on the commie librulmedia; its 4 million-plus members are all invited to submit items to be listed. There is an archive of “thousands” of these in the past 53 years (only thousands??) and the NRA assures us that there could be many more, editorial space permitting, because there are millions of DGUs to pick from every year. And how do they know this? Why, that famous “study”, of course.

One only hopes that the good folk at NRA are more competent handling weapons than they are handling editorial space. Armed Citizen easily could accommodate one DGU per day, 365 per year. And how many did it print last year? Barely more than 100. And guess what? It appears that every one of them was reported in the terrorist-coddling librulmedia. Can I order my rubber suit now? Surely they must come in red, white and blue.

Capital Offenses

NRA headquarters sits across the river from the nation’s capital. Because of this proximity, and because the NRA is so intensively involved in influencing government policy (to put it mildly), its personnel no doubt have spent a great deal of time in DC and crossed paths with its criminal elements – and we’re not referring to Dick  Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Therefore, they should have had plenty of opportunity to bag their very own share of those 4725-plus annual DGUs. If nothing else, they surely have heard about many of them through the grapevine, even those that were buried by the scumsucking librulmedia.

And how many did they list for Washington in 2011? A grand total of zero. In fact, the last one I found was more than SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO!  This excludes a 2004 story in The Washington Times about a hiker shooting a bear. No, no, not on the National Mall. In Alaska. Yep, the straight-shootin’ NRA feels that if it appeared in a Washington newspaper, that makes it a genuine DC DGU – even though it also was listed under Alaska’s database. Which really makes you wonder how many of their other untold “thousands” are also duplicates – especially since, contrary to what the gun culture clams, these episodes are usually covered by a number of media sources.

Armed Citizen recently has been revamped.  Before that, the search options were more user-friendly, and I counted 24 DGUs in the former Murder Capital of America for the 53 year period, falling a tad shy of our expected total of 250,425.  But those 24 include the ursine encounter in Alaska; and I didn’t confirm the legitimacy of the other 23.

Studying the Studies

Unless you’re really heavily immersed in a gun propaganda website, I probably don’t have to tell  you that there is a wee bit of difference between 2.5 million and 2.5 hundred. The question is, which is closer to the truth? No, strike that. The question is, how could a reputable researcher like Dr. Kleck, even given his apparent propensity for gun worship, have fucked up so royally?

I don’t claim to have a solid answer for that. I don’t believe he deliberately cooked the books, and even if he did, it hardly would cover the bases. There have been at least a dozen other “studies”, one by the Department of Justice, that also generated some preposterous projections. Granted, there was quite a range in the totals, with the lowest being 65,000. That, contrasted with the high of 2.5 million, is a point spread of  4000 percent, for crying out loud; and that, if nothing else, ought to raise a matador-size red flag about the challenges of obtaining accurate data on such a subject. But even 65,000 seems greatly overinflated.

So it appears that Dr. Kleck is not to blame. Instead, the probable explanation is that the respondents to such surveys tend to give consistently and wildly distorted responses. Why? Well, that might take an actual study or two to figure out.  Prof. David Hemenway of Harvard has made some illuminating comments, which of course have been attacked ferociously by the gun lobby. He  notes by way of comparison that among 1500 adults contacted at random, 10 percent claimed to have witnessed a UFO, and of those, 6 percent claimed to have had personal contact with space aliens.  Which would mean that 1,380,000 American adults have encountered Klingons. And hey, 579,600 of those may have been hauling a heater. Hmmm… maybe so many DGUs are missing because they occur on the far side of the chronosynclastic infundibulum.

A 2004 investigation – one actually might call it a study –  by J. F. Denton and Dr. W. V. Fabricius that examined shooting incidents over a period of 3.5 months in the Phoenix metropolitan area confirmed that of 81 shootings, only 3 were of a defensive  nature; two occurred in a single encounter with two security guards firing at the same offender, and the third involved a family quarrel. The Kleck data would have projected 334 defensive shootings for the time frame and location. Denton and Fabricius illustrate the drawbacks of the Kleck survey by discussing another clash involving a drunken quarrel between two acquaintances, one of whom shot the other to death, which was ruled to be criminal homicide, but which Dr. Kleck would have misclassified as a DGU. Undoubtedly, there have been many cases that were misclassified.

Indeed, a close inspection of the Kleck data reveals some major thorns. As we mentioned, at least 36 percent of respondents stated they didn’t even notify police. Which makes you wonder whether the incidents really were serious enough to justify calling in the infantry.  Furthermore, 46.8 percent admitted (the actual percentage could be higher) that the supposed offender neither attacked nor made a threat. So what made the hardware necessary? In more than half of the cases, the supposed defender admitted (the actual percentage may be higher) that the supposed offender had no weapon of any kind.  And since 57.6 percent of defenders say they verbally referred to their guns and 75.7 percent brandished or showed their guns, that seems to indicate that about 25 percent only referred to them verbally. And this counts as a defensive gun use? I could do the same thing, but since I don’t even own a gun, the weapon du jour would be bullshit, not a Glock.

In 8.3 percent of the cases, the subject claimed to have wounded or killed the offender. There is no breakdown of what percentage was killed, but let’s conservatively guess one percent. Most likely, the true percentage is much higher, especially given that there seem to be a great many gun incidents that are falsely classified as DGUs; and a higher percentage of fatal shootings means a lower number of DGUs. But even one percent of 2.5 million would be 25,000; and we should be able to verify this because gun deaths are a matter of official record. Oops. According to the FBI, there were only 232 justifiable homicides by firearm in all of 2010 – and this was an increase over recent years.  No matter how you slice it, something in Kleck has to go.

Perhaps most interestingly, the subjects claimed to have experienced an average of about 1.5 DGUs each for a 5-year period; in other words, many of them said they were involved in multiple incidents.  Talk about red flags. This supposedly random sampling that supposedly represents the typical American gun owner nonetheless seems to be comprised largely of people who live in the world’s worst neighborhoods. In contrast, this group of gun owners, in response to a query about how often they’ve drawn their weapons (which doesn’t necessarily mean a DGU)  typically say once or twice in 15 years or 25 or 30 years; some even say “never”, although such an individual is probably not as likely to respond to this question at all.

Defensive or Offensive

All told, these facts shoot a big gaping hole in one of the gun culture’s prime tenets: that guns are used in self-defense more often they are used to commit crimes – some even claim ten times as often or more! In the Phoenix sample, however,  the score was 78 to 3 in favor of the Offense. Granted, these were actual shootings and most defenders don’t open fire – but neither do most offenders. While there are only a few hundred confirmed DGUs per year, there are at least 400,000 gun crimes per year. Among those committed or attempted, there is a 100 percent chance that the offender has a gun, but only a 42 percent chance that the victim even has access to a gun, much less is armed at the moment and able to use it successfully. Of course, there are many other crimes in which the criminal is not packing; but they are less likely to warrant firearm defense. In many of them, the victim is not even aware of the crime, and indeed may not even be present. But none of this will stop the gun lobby from peddling the illusion that guns make us safer.

At least one blogger out there is making an effort to chronicle the destructive use of firearms, both intentional and accidental – there are thousands of accidental gun deaths and injuries every year, but I’ve yet to hear of a gun accidentally preventing a death or injury. He seems to be waging a war of anecdotes with the gunsters, but it’s not much of a war. Despite their persistent claims of vastly superior firepower, he’s been blowing their asses out of the water.

Not that I expect it to make a great deal of difference. People will believe what that want to believe, and for the gun culture it’s important to believe that lead is more vital than oxygen. For all their rant and cant about “defending liberty”, many gunsters are quite willing to enslave themselves to the unscrupulous marketing machinations of the firearms cartel. And every time a trigger clicks, a cash register ka-chings.

(STILL TO COME:  A more reasonable approach to calculating DGUs; and the assault on “gun control”. Stay tuned.)

Gun Culture Fires Back – With Blanks

It really isn’t hard to elicit an attack from ideological fanatics; all you have to do is suggest that their particular ideology might not exactly be the cat’s pajamas. Gun addicts can be among the most passionate of ideologues, so it was only a matter of time before my posts on the Second Amendment myth and the twisted logic used to justify gun ownership drew fire from a gun propaganda website.

This article, on the website, is written by a fellow named Bruce Krafft, who seems to have a great deal of time on his hands, and a willingness to devote it all to promoting his passion (which he deems a matter of “civil rights”). The site is at least more intelligent, more articulate and more adult (despite its haughty dismissal of dissenting voices, even of the most respectful and regularly contributing sort, as “trolls”) than most assemblages of firearm fanatics. It even makes some valid points. If you seek propaganda to quote in support of your gun habit that doesn’t make you sound like a blithering devotee of Beck or Rush, this is the place to get it.  But it’s still quite prone to misinformation, misinterpretation and faulty reasoning.

Now I’m not one to respond to everyone who takes potshots in my direction. That’s mostly a fruitless exercise that only gives them more ammo to twist and distort, and it will go on forever if you let it. I have no desire to engage in a pissing contest, especially with someone totin’ a hogleg. But Mr. Krafft’s remarks do provide some further examples of specious reasoning and other forensic follies, and since that’s partly what this blog is about, it’s worth taking a look.

Racing to Conclusions

The alarm bells start playing a sonata as soon as he mentions the present blog, summarizing its posts about the gun culture thus:

The Propaganda Professor – Gun owners are racist and unrealistic about self-defense.

I suppose the second part is a fair enough conclusion about my commentary. But racist? Where did I ever say that gun owners are racist? Exactly nowhere. The only mention I made of race at all was to note the frequent correlation between paranoia about violent attack with paranoia about illegal immigrants (specifically from south of the border), and how this is reflected in the fabricated Hispanic names in the bogus anecdote I cited. Does this suggest that racism is sometimes a factor in gun addiction? It would appear so. Does it mean that gun owners as a whole are racist? I’d never say so, and to claim that I did is misguided if not misguiding. This type of unwarranted extrapolation is a common way to distort someone else’s words.

He then goes on to accuse ME repeatedly of invoking “straw men”. Seriously. In fact, his “dissection” of my posts is little more than one shell game after another, often with a distinct whiff of straw mingled with the gunsmoke.

Barely Bearing Arms

He takes me to task for describing only one of the bogus incidents I mentioned. What he means is that I described only one of the many variants of the same story I see over and over again. If there really are so meany genuine cases, why is it necessary to keep rehashing the phony ones?

To buttress his implication that defensive gun uses (DGUs, as they’re affectionately called)  are more commonplace than farting, he tosses out a list of 75 of them “from just the last 4 months”. Holy crap – 75 in 4 months. That adds up to…let me see, 225 per year. Almost a fraction as high as your chances of being struck by lightning. (Of course, the estimate that gunsters love to cite manages to bump the decimal point over a few notches, but that’s a story for another day.)

Except that, um, not all of these incidents are exactly bona fide DGUs per se, as such, really and truly. Some mention defense against animal attacks which certainly can be self-defense but not what gunsters normally refer to as DGU; one mentions someone being shot with an arrow, and a few tell of successful defense using knives. Yep, warding off an attacker with a bow or a knife is supposed to prove that guns are necessary for self-defense. That’s only a sampling of the kind of logic that prevails on Planet Heston.

Presumably, the purpose in including those accounts is to suggest that things would have gone down more smoothly in such situations if the defender had been packing. But that’s not how the list is packaged; it’s presented as an enumeration of incidents that did entail self-defense with a gun. And padding the roster in this manner is not exactly dealing from the top of the deck.

Incidentally, if you look at these stories more closely, you see that in many cases there is a nagging doubt, to say the least, that it really was self-defense, or if it was someone being trigger-happy. In one story, a man found another man in bed with his girlfriend, and the interloper (apparently unarmed if not unclothed) allegedly “came at him” so he was shot and killed in “self-defense”. Seriously?

Supreme Arrogance

Mr. Krafft also objects to my observation that the Supreme Court essentially “rewrote” the Second Amendment with a 2008 ruling, and suggests that I only say that because I don’t like their decision. Actually, I say that because they declared that the Second Amendment says something that it just doesn’t say. If that doesn’t have the effect of rewriting it, I don’t know what does. What difference does it make whether I like it or not?

He even pontificates that:

If you don’t bother to actually read the Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller it’s easy to believe the media myth that the Court ruled 5 – 4 that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. If, however, you do read the decision (specifically Justice Stevens’ dissent, with which Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer all concurred) you will discover that the “ruling” was 9 – 0 in favor of the individual rights argument.

That’s an odd decoy, constructed of something distinctly resembling dried grass. Sure, the dissenting opinion concurred that the Second Amendment applies to individuals – but within the context of a “well-regulated militia”. The real issue is whether the presumed “rights” of individuals to keep and bear arms transcend the government’s right to regulate firearms. If you do bother to read the decision, you will see that Justice Stevens says:

The opinion the Court announces today fails to identify any new evidence supporting the view that the Amendment was intended to limit the power of Congress to regulate civilian uses of weapons. [He also notes that “a review of the drafting history of the Amendment demonstrates that its Framers rejected proposals that would have broadened its coverage to include such uses.”] Unable to point to any such evidence, the Court stakes its holding on a strained and unpersuasive reading of the Amendment’s text. [Translation: they rewrote the goddamn thing.]… When each word in the text is given full effect, the Amendment is most naturally read to secure to the people a right to use and possess arms in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia. So far as appears, no more than that was contemplated by its drafters or is encompassed within its terms. Even if the meaning of the text were genuinely susceptible to more than one interpretation, the burden would remain on those advocating a departure from the purpose identified in the preamble and from settled law to come forward with persuasive new arguments or evidence. The textual analysis offered by respondent and embraced by the Court falls far short of sustaining that heavy burden.

That last point is key. Even if there is a shadow of a doubt about the meaning of the text, the existence of that doubt means that one cannot unequivocally state that the meaning encompasses a  certain application that is in doubt. Which is precisely what the “conservative” justices did. In other words, they rewrote the goddamn thing. Call my evaluation (along with that of the four disinterested justices) subjective if you must, but to claim that it’s “false on its face” is truly false on its face.

Emulating the Duke

He also tries to divert focus to a consideration of my supposed beliefs in discussing my comments about the Nevada IHOP massacre:

John Wayne wet dream? Seriously? The Prof believes we think this way? The sad thing is that he probably does.

AHHH—CHOOO!!! Sorry, my hay fever is really acting up for some reason.

Having never met Mr. Krafft nor (to the best of my knowledge) his followers, I wouldn’t presume to know how “we think”. But I have met many other gunsters. Many, many, many,many, many. I grew up in the heart of redneck gun culture territory, so I’ve had all too much exposure to cocky lead-pumpers chomping at the bit for a chance to put their devices into action. My comments were not a reflection of what I think about how (or whether) they think, but of what they’ve said about how they think.

Naturally, it would be a mistake to conclude that all gunsters are inbred goobers with itchy fingers. But it’s equally mistaken to assume they’re all intelligent, mature and responsible. What they all are is human; and as such, they’re all different.

Since Mr. Krafft seems to bristle at my use of the expression “gun addict”, let me make it clear that I don’t apply this term to all gun owners. (But if the holster fits…) I have known some whom I never would have suspected to be gun owners, because they didn’t make an issue of it. They didn’t conspicuously flash their pieces, they didn’t display issues of Guns and Ammo  on the coffee table or NRA stickers on their pickups, they didn’t rant about their “Second Amendment rights”. They were just healthy adults who happened to own firearms.

And then there are the others. The ones who frequent gun shows and hang out every day on online gun forums. The ones who forward every anecdote that comes down the pike about a granny with a shotgun fending off a gang of rapists. The ones who foam at the mouth about the big bad guvmint wanting to take away their toys.  The ones who fawn like schoolgirls over implements of death and mayhem as if they were Faberge eggs. These are probably prime candidates for a twelve-step program.

Be that as it may, the point is that given a random gathering of, say, a hundred human beings,  you’re certain to have a wide variety of personality types. Give them all guns, and you’re certain to have a wide variety of armed personality types – and levels of shooting skill.  Introduce a sudden threat to their lives (like, say, a guy opening fire on everyone) and the odds of extensive collateral damage are high indeed- my projection of “a dozen or so bodies” might well be conservative.

Yet many gunsters are perfectly willing to assume that in such a scenario, everyone present would behave with perfect poise, restraint and efficiency – not to mention impeccable marksmanship. How naive can you get?

And the Kewpie Doll Goes to…

But of the many silly utterances in Mr. Krafft’s commentary, the silliest has to be this:

There is no such thing as “gun violence.” There are people who do violent things with guns, but they also do violent things with knives, rocks, pointy sticks and fists.

Oh. I’ll try to remember that, and I’ll also try to remember that there’s no such thing as an automobile accident; there are only accidents that happen to involve automobiles. They could instead have involved bicycles, camels or pogo sticks. The fact that they involved automobiles gives us no right to linguistically link a car with a crash. (Is this some of that “political correctness” stuff I’ve heard so much about?)

I suppose this little display of semantic chicanery is meant to foster an Orwellian disconnect between guns and gunshots, and reinforce the gun culture mantra that “guns don’t kill, people do”. But while the role that firearms might play in inciting violence is open to debate, their very presence in shootings is not. I’ve never heard even the most rabid gun fanatic argue that bullets are discharged by bare hands. (At least not yet.)

Pro but conned

Speaking of loaded language, as it were, I notice that the denizens of The Truth (sic) about Guns have a habit of referring to non-gunsters (including, it would appear, yours truly) as “antis”. Normally the prefix anti designates opposition to something, but I’m not clear just what it is that I/we are supposedly against. If anything, one might infer from reading these pages that I am in favor of certain things – e.g., stricter gun laws and a more precise reading of The Constitution.

In any case, the knee-jerk use of this label is a good indicator of how the gun culture, like the culture of right-wing extremism with which it is so closely allied, is fueled by paranoia and divisiveness. There must always be a THEM out there somewhere, intent upon taking away one’s guns and one’s freedom (which are one and the same of course), and destroying one’s country and violating one’s daughters, etc. etc. etc. etc. The gun lobby, a distinct minority that nonetheless enjoys a powerful grip on media and politics, has managed to convince its constituents that it has been brutally marginalized; and it appeals to the very type of mindset that probably shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a loaded anything.

Blossoms among the stubble

Still, I don’t mean to suggest that Mr. Krafft always has his head up his barrel. I commend him for at least recognizing that there is for most people a heavy emotional price tag attached to shooting someone, however justifiably. Many gunsters I’ve encountered seem quite clueless about this, and honestly believe they can just blow away a bad guy and then go have a beer and forget about it. The scary thing is, some of them may be right.

And I give him a standing ovation for refusing to name the shooter at Virginia Tech. I’ve always strongly suspected that if the media didn’t lavish so much attention on mass murderers, there’d be far fewer copycats.  But we’ll never know for certain, will we?

Additionally, his speculations about how crime may have been prevented by armed citizens in other mass shootings, and his follow-up post offering possible solutions to the problem of gun violence (though he denies it exists) are, though presumptuous, at least thoughtful.

On the whole, however, the website is yet another example of the very brand of fear mongering and polarization that the world doesn’t need a lot more of.

(COMING SOON: We’ll examine “gun control” and other nifty phrases, as well as gunster mantras such as “gun control doesn’t work” and “more guns, less crime“. And we’ll turn the microscope on the “statistics” about defensive gun use.)