When Gun Facts Aren’t

We have a serious problem with gun violence. Believe it or not, just about everyone agrees on that point. The disagreement (putting it politely) concerns what ought to be done about it. There are numerous iterations and nuances between them, but there are two basic viewpoints that dominate the landscape on gun violence. The first of these argues  that if the combination of guns and people are a problem, then it is easier to control the inanimate portion of that equation (guns) than it is the sentient creatures (people) who are prone to reach for them. For its part, the opposition reasons that if gun violence is an issue, then the most sensible thing to do is get more guns into the hands of more people. I wish I could say that the problem with one of these proposed “solutions” is obvious and that most reflective people would favor one over the other. Sadly, that is not the case. In fact, along with marriage equality, climate change, and abortion, this is a topic that engenders embarrassing quantities of vitriol, emotive verbal dumps, and accusations (my glorious blog entry excluded -of course-).

The 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution makes conversations and efforts at progress all the more daunting. I won’t dissect the nuances of this amendment’s language or what, precisely, the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote it in after the Constitution proper had been adopted. Despite the fact that our United States has become quite different than theirs, there is no doubt that U.S. citizens presently have the right to possess guns. The U.S. Constitution is an inherently alterable document, and I hope it will someday be amended to repeal this Yosemite-Sam holdover from yestercentury, but I am not making any predictions or holding my breath.

In addition to the public’s ongoing demonstration that it cannot responsibly handle the right to bear arms (33,636 gun-deaths last year), we have also proved that we lack the moral and political will to address gun violence in meaningful ways. Even in the wake of horrible mass shootings, we dig-in our heels and double down on our commitment to guns rather than using the political process (or other means) to reduce gun-related death and injury. Technically speaking, I suppose I am part of the deadlock. I am not about to load up on “tactical supplies” under the guise of defending my family any more than my gun-clutching counterparts are willing to give an inch on reasonable #gunsense legislation.

It is a sad stalemate of sorts, but because of the 2nd Amendment, it is clear that gun-rights activists have effectively won the argument, at least in the past and present. My hope for the future is different, however. Because of the data available, my perspective on guns and gun violence has dramatically changed, and I hope that others’ will change as well. I just don’t know how realistic that hope is.

The Truth Will Save Us?

I am often tempted to think that facts and reason are the keys to making progress against gun violence. If people understood how much damage guns do to our people, our economy and society at large, and if they understood how infrequently guns were actually “needed” or used for legitimate self-defense, then surely they would be willing to do something about the problem of mixing guns and humans, right? This is obviously a mistake on my part. Conversations on gun violence are rarely governed by legitimate information and logic.

Similar to other politically charged and emotional topics, I don’t think truth and rationality will save us. We are emotional creatures, and our choices are often dictated by those emotions rather than facts and reason. It seems that our nature is to latch-on to any factoid or tidbit of information that reinforces the conclusions we have already leapt to with our emotions and feelings, even if those so-called “facts” aren’t.

When it comes to gun violence, control, and the 2nd Amendment in particular, neither of the respective sides are immune from leading with their emotions or launching whatever faux-facts they can as “evidence” for their perspective. In a discussion on another blog, a commenter who was aware of this danger responded that he did not care about any of the facts I supplied in making a case for gun control because he knew that data could be skewed to support any perspective. Ironically, he then began offering his own “facts” in an effort to make other points. Clearly it wasn’t facts that he didn’t trust, it was information that he didn’t like that he did not trust. This showcases our tendency to lead with emotions, but it also points out the trouble we face with the rising tide of poorly interpreted information, faux-facts, exaggerated internet memes and generally bad logic when it comes to gun violence (and our uncritical acceptance of that which reinforces our pre-existing opinions).

Real Facts. False Conclusions.

Even real data can be presented in a just-so fashion to mislead people. A perfect example is provided by the Conservative provocateur, Bill Whittle, and his video series, “Firewall: Number One with a Bullet.” In his episode, The Truth About Guns, Whittle describes how the United States has more guns in public hands than any other nation on the planet, more than 90 per 100 people. He then begins a disingenuous monologue about how, if guns are so bad, and we have so many of them, then the USA must have the most murders in the world too, right? That’s what the Liberals want us to believe, so it must be true, Whittle claims. But no! The United States is number 91 on the world stage of murders per capita. Take that, Libtards! USA! USA! USA! The conclusion Whittle wants uncritical viewers to draw is that more guns = more safety.

Did you catch that? The USA is #91 in the world for murders, and we do have the most guns per capita of any nation on earth (almost more than twice as many as our next closest gun-toting nation), therefore guns = good, and gun-control = bad. I don’t dispute the facts Whittle used in his premises (#91 in murder, #1 in guns). It is the way he used them that is shady and led to a questionable conclusion (guns = good). If you aren’t tracking with me yet, ask yourself this: “Is a non-gun related murder (like stabbing) relevant to a discussion on gun violence?” And if it isn’t relevant, why is Mr. Whittle including it to make his point instead of murders related only to guns?

Unfortunately for Whittle and his gullible fans, he is working with a faulty comparison, something to the effect of measuring apples to, I don’t know, golf balls. To do a legitimate comparison, we would not measure gun ownership in relation to murder in general, but in relation to gun-violence in particular. Gun-related deaths might be an even better place to start, and by that metric, the pro gun-crowd argument is in trouble. The USA is not #91, but #13 in gun-related deaths in the world. If guns made us safer (as Whittle wants us to conclude), then shouldn’t the USA be the safest nation in the world? We aren’t. Not by a long shot (pun apology). Is there any doubt concerning why Whittle didn’t bother sharing this information with the audience?

If we are going to discuss the “truth about guns,” shouldn’t we limit the conversation to gun issues? If we are going to host a video series called “Number One with a Bullet,” then shouldn’t we, I don’t know, maybe keep bullets in focus? Apparently not, if you’re Bill Whittle and want to mislead people on the issue of gun violence. The really sad part is that the video has more than 4.6 million views on You Tube, and its Facebook promo from Cold Dead Hands tells viewers to “Watch this video…  and allow yourself to be enlightened.” The stupidity and misplaced confidence is astounding.

Faux-Facts

Whittle’s video is just one example of using real facts to promote false claims and mislead people, but at least he started with reality. The same cannot be said of another pro-gun website that purports to highlight “gun facts.” Indeed, that is the name of the website, and I have often been referred to it. Yet even a modicum of digging reveals that the “gun facts” listed on the opening page are, well… not facts. The website consistently makes revisions to its listed “facts” and often writes in new qualifications for them, but when I looked at the site a few months ago, I decided to explore the first four “facts” listed, and you can see them below.

1: Guns prevent an estimated 2.5 million crimes a year or 6,849 every day. 5 

2: Property crime rates are dropping (especially burglaries). As the legal handgun supply in America rises the property crime rate drops. 6

3: Every day 400,000 life-threatening violent crimes are prevented using firearms.

4: 60% of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they knew the victim was armed. 40% of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they thought the victim might be armed. 7

These samples are from: http://www.gunfacts.info/gun-control-myths/crime-and-guns/ (The related footnotes can be found there as well).

But when we take a closer look…

“Fact” #1 references a discredited paper from the pro-gun advocate, Gary Kleck, who leapt to an inductive conclusion on defensive gun uses after surveying a woefully small sample-set and presuming that it held true for the entire population. Kleck didn’t even bother to verify any of the respondents’ claims or match them with available, real-world evidence. He claims between 1 million and 2.5 million annual instances of defensive gun use (that’s right, he allows himself a margin of error of one and a half million), but in 2014, the verified number of such uses was just shy of 1600. Even if we doubled that number to allow for the possibility of unreported instances, it still means that the pro-gun crowd has multiplied the number by a factor of more than 781 to come up with their claim. “Fact” #1 isn’t, and interested readers can find a fuller criticism of Kleck’s study here.

“Fact” #2 Fails to make a causal relationship between handgun supply in the USA and “property crime rates.” Never mind the fact that most property crimes (like shoplifting) do not require a gun to commit or stop, this faux-fact wants gullible readers to jump to the conclusion that handguns reduce property crime even as it provides zero evidence about the involvement of guns in either committing or defending against property crime. In short, “fact” #2 is useless (at best), and designed to deceive (at worst).

“Fact” #3 Is at odds with “fact” #1. Which is it? Do guns prevent 6,849 crimes every day, or is it 400,000 per day? We just went from 2.5 million annual instances of defensive gun use in “fact” #1 to 146 million in “fact” #3. Not only is this wildly inconsistent and flatly unbelievable, this faux-fact doesn’t even bother to cite a source. And just like “fact” #1, it fails to correspond with verified defensive gun uses.

“Fact” #4 referenced a 30-year old study that only considered the input from a select group of inmates in a handful of prisons and merely assumed that it applies to all criminals today. I hope reasonable people can see the problem with this sort of inductive logic leap. And if that is not enough, consider that by the linked website’s reckoning, “60% of criminals avoid crime when they know their intended victims have guns.” Sounds like an impressive case for guns, right? Unfortunately, the inclusion of all criminals is like saying that a drug-dealer wouldn’t sell cocaine to his usual clientele if he knew they were carrying or that a tax-evader wouldn’t have dodged his due if he knew IRS agents carried weapons. “Fact” #4 is ridiculous.  Sometimes “gun facts” aren’t.

Correlation ≠ Causation

A final issue that regularly surfaces in arguments over guns and control is confusing correlation with causation. For example, while it is true that every person who has ever eaten peas has ultimately died (correlation), it is not true to say that peas were the source of death (causation). That is an obvious example, but it gets trickier when we make it about guns, especially since both sides of the aisle are guilty of making this mistake. For instance, I recently chased some clickbait provocatively titled, “The Gun Violence Chart that DESTROYS Liberal Gun Control Arguments.” How could I resist?! You can see the handy chart right here (special thanks to Alex Toth of Colorado for showing me this moronic meme):This Gun Violence Chart DESTROYS Liberal Gun Control Arguments

 

As it turns out, the numerical claims are more or less true, gun murders have decreased since their highpoint in 1993, and the number of guns in the population has risen. However, this chart’s lines (and its claims) significantly misrepresent the situation, not just because points from A to B were anything but straight lines, but also because it presumes that increasing gun numbers were the cause of decreasing crime rates. The two are roughly correlated in the sense that they both changed over the 22-year period from 1993 to 2015, but this does not prove that one caused the other. The chart’s claim and credibility is further reduced when we consider that most of the crime reduction happened from 1993 to 2001, but that most of the increase in guns (68% of the estimated 118 million added since 1993) happened between 2001 and 2015. Even more interesting is that crime dropped most abruptly as the crack cocaine market was routed in the 1990s and at the same time as the Assault Weapon Ban was in effect (1994-2004). So, if we wanted to construct a gun violence chart of our own that would “destroy” pro-gun arguments, all we would have to do is draw some straight lines between 1993 figures and those of 2001 that showed the steep decline in gun homicides along with the even steeper decline in gun sales, assault weapons in particular. In fact, the two may have had a direct relationship on one another, but these figures alone prove nothing more than correlation. Claims to causality reach beyond the data listed here, and that is a regular logic leap found in gun discussions.

Playing Detective and Overcoming the Tendency to be Sheeple

From purposefully misrepresenting real information and fabricating faux-facts, to confusing correlation with causation, clearly there are poor arguments on both sides of the gun issue. Most of us intuitively know there is something wrong with a lot of the rhetoric we hear, even if the errors aren’t immediately obvious. So I hope this blog entry has helped inspire us to be better at looking beneath the surface of the panoply of soundbites, manipulated charts, and ridiculous internet memes that we encounter every day. If we allow ourselves to be misled, we will be. And when we fail to be critical thinkers, we fail ourselves.

Thanks for reading me,

-CL

For those willing to look, one of the more balanced assessments of arguments over gun control I have come across can be found here, at FactCheck.org (and they are far less biased than I am).  -CL

 

Interested readers may also find this takedown of Bill Whittle’s bogus state-of-the-union nuttiness interesting: The “Best” 7 Minutes on Gun Control EVER! 

Bill Whittle  Aaron Betz  Tony King  Misael Gonzales  Desmond Daigle

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About C_Lambeth

I currently live in the Pacific Northwest. I graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelor's of Science and from George Fox Seminary (now Portland Seminary) with a Master's of Divinity. In addition to knowing Christ and helping others know him, I am passionate about peace, the environment, Christian feminism, justice for all (not just the wealthy) and being a lifelong learner. Please feel free to comment on any of the posts here or to suggest new posts altogether. Thank you for reading me! -CL
This entry was posted in Guns, Other Topics, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to When Gun Facts Aren’t

  1. Marcus M. says:

    I looked at your conversation with “John” at the other blog you referenced ( http://mikethegunguy.com/2015/05/22/want-to-be-good-guy-with-a-gun-join-the-bandidos/ ). Towards the end it looks like his part of the conversation has been deleted. Were you having a strange monolog or is something missing?
    MM

  2. C_Lambeth says:

    Ah, yes. “John.” He got more and more angry and unpleasant as I continued to challenge him, so the moderator eventually shut him down. “John” made an effort on my blog too (and it can be found here). I had to edit out some of his more caustic remarks as well, but ultimately I think he got tired of losing and left.
    -CL

  3. G. Wedemeyer says:

    -Hi Corbin,

    Just read the e-mail you sent on guns. There was a surprising (to me) article in the Seattle Times following the mass killings at the college in Roseburg Oregon. Seems Roseburg citizens are buying guns and arming themselves instead of being revolted by guns and refusing to have anything to do with them. What do you make of that?

  4. C_Lambeth says:

    Hello, GW! Thank you for your comment.

    I don’t know the specifics of the demographics you mentioned, but I think the best question to ask concerns the political mindset of the individuals who rushed out to buy guns after the shooting and how many of them were already gun owners. The national trend is for less people to be gun owners, even as those who already have guns add more to their collections every year. I would guess that the Roseburg buyers were already part of the pro-gun crowd and already had many firearms. In either case, I am betting that it is only a small subset of Roseburg residents who have decided to buy new guns, rather than all of the town’s denizens.

    Since the gun-wielding murderer killed himself in the chaos, it certainly is not fear of him that has motivated new gun purchases. Among folks who buy into fringe narratives about the government aspiring to “come and take” guns away, there is always a spike in gun sales after mass shootings. I suppose they reason (and perhaps rightly so) that each new mass shooting will inspire a tougher look at gun control, so they believe they need to “stock up” prior to any new legislation.

    It is both sad and perplexing that these folks’ gut reaction is to add more guns to an existing problem with guns in our society and culture. I suspect it is because they still believe (despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary) that guns make them safer. If you ask me, this type of fearful gun-clutching is also encouraged by gun manufacturers and the politicians and organizations who are funded by them.

    -CL

  5. Suzanne says:

    This post is extremely impressive. The depth which you went into the topic – all of the thought and research ….wow. I think you did an excellent job. I am wholeheartedly in support of your viewpoint. It’s so important to counter fictitious or scewed data with clear facts..
    I want to help along these lines but am not sure of the best way to do it. I joined one group but they seemed to be about mudslinging, just like “the other side” so I unsubscribed.
    Keep up the good work.

  6. C_Lambeth says:

    We are reeling in the aftermath of the worst gun-murder in U.S. history (since our nation’s genocide against Native Americans, that is) as 49 people were murdered by yet another gun-owner in Orlando, Florida over the weekend of June 11th-12th, 2016. How long are we going to tolerate this before we develop the moral and political will to do something about our insane gun-culture and worship of these instruments of death? Oh long, oh Lord?

  7. C_Lambeth says:

    My favorite moment on Facebook today was when self-avowed “knowledgable, huge gun-advocate,” Aaron Betz, warned me not to “fight” with her (I suppose because she would either shoot me or try and humiliate my anti-gun stance). Yet she repeatedly failed to understand that repealing the 2nd Amendment is fundamentally different from banning guns. She just couldn’t connect the dots and went on to express loyalty to a narrow, ahistorical interpretation of the 2nd Amendment and bleat the tired platitude that murderous gun owners are going to murder regardless of laws or types of weapons, and that I’ve just been “fooled” by the mainstream media, blah, blah, blah. Good thing I decided not to “fight” with such a powerful rationale. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. So yes, I exited the conversation rather than trying to reason with the unreasonable, especially since our nation’s recent history has proven that provoking the fragile egos of gun owners is unwise. Facebook confabs amongst strangers can be equally unpleasant. So keep on telling yourself (and others) how strong your advocacy for guns is, Aaron. No one is going to change your mind. In the meantime, here’s the link supplied by my friend, Chris, that sparked my exchange with Ms. Betz.

    http://truthinmedia.com/reality-check-intent-second-amendment/

    In case you don’t have the patience for the video length, it pretty much makes the case that the 2nd Amendment was never for sporting or self defense (Gasp!), but rather for a fledging nation that had to rely on armed citizen soldiers for national defense and governments (like England) that would otherwise subjugate them. In the continued presence of a standing, professional military force, the 2nd Amendment is completely irrelevant (and has been for more than 200 years). And the whole “gov’t tyranny” thing hasn’t been, well… a thing for 239 years since we said “adieu” to England. Thanks, French!

    In the subsequent years, if anything, we, as a society, have demonstrated that if we are subject to the “tyranny” of anything, it is individual citizens with guns. It’s time for this to change. And the first step in this necessary change is to repeal the 2nd Amendment (and no, Aaron, that’s not the same thing as a ban).

  8. C_Lambeth says:

    Perhaps the second sentence in this blog post was too optimistic. Not EVERYONE agrees that we have a problem with guns in our nation. In the aftermath of the new, “worst” modern gun massacre in American History (Las Vegas, October 1st, 2017), I asked the following question on my Facebook page, “Are we ready to admit we have a guns and people problem yet?
    Former friend, Desmond Daigle, didn’t skip a beat with his opinion: “Nope. We just have a people problem.

    Desmond is a somewhat typical representative of conservative Texas: white, privileged, Southern Baptist, and completely delusional when it comes to the obvious connection between murder, guns, and people. As I’ve learned though, in an obvious repudiation of the sentence I referenced above, that Desmond is not unique. He is ridiculously wrong by trying to exclude guns from discussions on GUN violence, but he is right by pointing out that we have a serious people problem. Of course I would put a finer point on it and add that it’s not people in general, but rather those who are too stupid and too delusional to realize that our present 2nd Amendment right and our nut-ball fixation with guns and violence (and our subsequent refusal to do anything about these) are the problem. THESE people, like Desmond and the NRA, and all their mindless trolls, are complicit enablers of gun violence in our nation. They didn’t start the problem of gun violence, but they are doing their part to make it worse, hamstringing any intelligent and reasonable efforts to fight the problem, and all too eager to fight for allowing the most insane and disturbing behaviors and devices imaginable when it comes to firearms. Concealed carry without a special permit? Sure! Silencers? Cool! 40-round magazines? Yes. Legalize it. Guns in schools, churches, sporting events? Absolutely! Legalize it! Kits that convert semi-automatic weapons to full-auto? OF COURSE! THIS WILL MAKE US SO MUCH SAFER! LEGALIZE IT!!! And on and on and on. The mind-numbing insanity makes me sick. I have no tolerance for this kind of delusional and deadly advocacy, and I pray for a day of reckoning for willfully idiotic people in this nation. May God have mercy on them, because no one else should.

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