We need common sense steps to save lives. President Obama
Who should buy a
gun, NOW? - An
Who should buy a
gun, NOW? - An editorial
Locked and Loaded:
Take a Shot at Our Firearms Quiz
The partisan divide that for years has defined public opinion about the nations gun policies remains firmly in place. Yet there continue to be several specific policy proposals that draw broad support from both Republicans and Democrats.
Overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic leaners (89% each) say mentally ill people should be barred from buying guns. Nearly as many in both parties (86% of Democrats, 83% of Republicans) favor barring gun purchases by people on federal watch lists. And sizable majorities also favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks (91% of Democrats, 79% of Republicans).
Yet there is a 30-percentage-point difference between Democrats and Republicans in support for an assault weapons ban (81% of Democrats, 50% of Republicans) and even wider gaps on two other proposals: arming teachers and school officials in elementary and high schools and allowing people to carry concealed weapons in more places.
Large majorities of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favor both of these proposals (69% arming school officials, 68% expanded concealed carry), compared with only about a quarter of Democrats and Democratic leaners (22% arming school officials, 26% expanded concealed carry).
Opinions on these and other gun policy proposals have changed little in the year since Pew Research Center conducted a major study of guns in the U.S. (See Americas Complex Relationship with Guns.) Still, the new survey, conducted Sept. 24-Oct. 7, finds modest changes in some public attitudes on gun policy:
A majority of Americans say gun laws should be stricter. The share of Americans who say gun laws in this country should be stricter has increased somewhat since last year. Currently, 57% say gun laws should be more strict than they are currently, compared with 31% who say they are about right, while just 11% say they should be less strict. Last year, 52% supported stricter gun laws.
Stark partisan divisions on impact of more gun limits on frequency of mass shootings. Nearly half of Americans (47%) say there would be fewer mass shootings if it was harder for people to legally obtain guns in the U.S. Slightly more say making gun ownership more difficult either would make no difference (46%) or this would lead to more mass shootings (6%). Two-thirds of Democrats (67%) say making it harder for people to obtain guns would result in fewer mass shootings; an identical share of Republicans say it would not make a difference.
Modest shift in views of gun rights vs. gun control.
Opinions about whether it is more important to control gun ownership or protect gun rights have been closely divided for several years. Today, somewhat more say it is more important to control gun ownership (52%) than to protect the right of Americans to own guns (44%), according to a separate national survey, conducted Sept. 18-24 among 1,754 adults.
These attitudes, like many related to gun policy, have long been deeply divided along partisan lines. But the partisan gap has widened: In 2010, Barack Obamas second year in office, Republicans were about twice as likely as Democrats to prioritize gun rights rather than gun control (65% vs. 33%). Today, Republicans are four times more likely than Democrats to say gun rights are more important (76% vs. 19%).
There also is a wide gender divide in these views. By close to two-to-one (62% to 33%), women say it is more important to control gun ownership than to protect the right of Americans to own guns. Men, by a smaller margin (55% to 41%), say it is more important to protect gun ownership.
In views of gun policies, partisanship and gun ownership are factors
Like partisanship, gun ownership also impacts views of specific policy proposals. Overall, gun owners are more likely than non-gun owners to support measures that expand access to guns, and less likely to support restrictions on gun use and ownership.
In both parties, divides between gun owners, non-gun owners in views of gun policiesAbout four-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (41%) say they personally own a gun, compared with 17% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. (Chart)
These differences in views by gun ownership are evident among members of both parties, though they are more pronounced among Republicans than Democrats.
The roughly 50-50 split in views of Republicans overall on banning high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons reflects sharp differences between Republicans who own guns and those who do not. Among Republicans, non-gun-owners are about 30 percentage points more likely than gun owners to favor each of these proposals.
Yet Democrats also are divided on the basis of gun ownership. This is particularly evident in opinions about proposals to allow people to carry concealed weapons in more places and arm teachers and other school officials. Half of Democratic gun owners favor expanded concealed carry, compared with just 21% of Democrats who do not own guns. And Democratic gun-owners are about twice as likely as Democrats who do not own guns to favor arming teachers and other school officials in K-12 schools (37% vs. 19%).
Majority of public supports stricter gun laws
Nearly six-in-ten Americans (57%) say gun laws should be more strict than they are today, 31% say they are about right, and 11% say they should be less strict. Last year, 52% favored stricter laws; 30% said they were about right and 18% said should be less strict.
Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to say gun laws in the U.S. should be stricter than they are today (80% vs. 28%). About half of Republicans say current laws are about right (52%), while 20% say they should be less strict.
Like attitudes on specific gun proposals, gun ownership also impacts views of the strictness of gun laws. Within each party, non-gun owners were more likely than gun owners to say laws should be more strict.
Democrats regardless of whether they personally own a gun overwhelmingly say stricter laws are needed, though fewer Democratic gun owners than non-gun-owners favor making laws stricter (64% vs. 84%).
And while Republicans generally oppose stricter gun laws, support for tougher laws is more widespread among Republican non-gun owners (40%) than gun owners (13%).
Impact of changes in access to guns on crime, mass shootings
Public split on whether making it harder to own guns would cut mass shootingsThe public is mixed when it comes to the potential impact that more Americans owning guns would have on crime in the U.S. Comparable shares say that if more Americans owned guns, there would be more crime (37%) or there would be no impact on the amount of crime (33%). About one-in-three say there would be less crime. (Chart)
Republicans and Democrats are deeply split on the possible impact of more Americans owning guns. Half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say there would be less crime (50%), while a majority of Democrats say there would be more crime (56%).
Mirroring the gap among partisans, gun-owners and non-gun owners are also deeply divided. A small majority of gun owners say more gun ownership would lead to less crime while nearly half of non-gun owners say there would be more crime.
The public also is divided over the impact of making it harder to legally own guns on mass shootings in the U.S. Nearly half of adults (47%) say that if it was harder for people to legally obtain guns in the United States, there would be fewer mass shootings in this country. An equal share (46%) say it would make no difference in the number of these incidents, and 6% say it would result in more mass shootings.
Overall, public views are little changed since the question was last asked in 2017. However, the share who say there would be more mass shootings if it were harder to own guns is smaller from 13% in a year ago to 6% today.
Gun policy activism: Modest partisan gaps, except on attending protests
Relatively few Americans say they have ever expressed their feelings about the issue of guns by either posting on social media (26%), contributing money to an organization that takes a position on gun policy (14%), contacting a public official to express an opinion on guns (14%) or attending a rally or protest about the issue of guns (6%).
More say they express feelings about gun policy on social media than donate money or contact officialsEven smaller shares say they have done any of these activities in the past year. (Chart)
On two behaviors surveyed in 2017 and today contributing money to an organization or contacting a public official the share who report having done either is little changed. In 2017, 6% of adults said they had contacted a public official in the previous year to express an opinion on gun policy. Today, 7% of adults say they have contacted an official in the past 12 months.
Similarly, in 2017, 7% of adults said they had contributed money to an organization in the past year. Today, an equal share (7%) say the same.
There are no significant differences in expressions of views on gun policy by age or gender, but larger differences by gun ownership and partisanship.
Gun owners were more likely than non-gun owners to say they had publicly expressed feelings about the issue of guns on social media (22% vs. 16%) or contributed money to an organization that takes a position on gun policy (13% vs. 5%) in the past 12 months.
Differences between gun owners and non-gun owners are particularly pronounced among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. A quarter of Republican gun-owners said they had posted about guns on social media in the last year (25%), contributed money to an organization (16%) or contacted a public official (9%). Among non-gun owning Republicans, fewer reported engaging in these activities.
In contrast, there are few differences between gun owning and non-gun owning Democrats.
And while Republicans and Democrats overall report similar levels of engagement in expressive activities on guns, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they had attended a rally or protest about the issue of guns in the past 12 months (5% vs 1%, respectively).
The American Trends Panel survey methodology
Most of the analysis in this report is based on surveys conducted online with Pew Research Centers American Trends Panel (ATP). The ATP, created by Pew Research Center, is a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults. Panelists participate via self-administered web surveys. Panelists who do not have internet access at home are provided with a tablet and wireless internet connection. The panel is being managed by GfK.
ATP recruitment surveys (Chart)
One question was asked on a telephone survey conducted Sept. 18-24, 2018. For more, see Voter Enthusiasm at Record High in Nationalized Midterm Environment.
Data in this report are drawn from the panel wave conducted September 24-October 7, 2018. A total of 10,683 panelists responded out of 13,492 who were sampled, for a response rate of 79%. The cumulative response rate accounting for nonresponse to the recruitment surveys and attrition is 3.8%. The margin of sampling error for the full sample of 10,683 respondents is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. The module of questions about gun attitudes was asked of half of respondents (5,307) with a margin of sampling error of 2.1 percentage points.
The ATP was created in 2014, with the first cohort of panelists invited to join the panel at the end of a large, national, landline and cellphone random-digit-dial survey that was conducted in both English and Spanish. Two additional recruitments were conducted using the same method in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Across these three surveys, a total of 19,718 adults were invited to join the ATP, of which 9,942 agreed to participate.
In August 2018, the ATP switched from telephone to mail recruitment. Invitations were sent to a random, address-based sample (ABS) of households selected from the U.S. Postal Services Delivery Sequence File. In each household, the adult with the next birthday was asked to go online to complete a survey, at the end of which they were invited to join the panel. For a random half-sample of invitations, households without internet access were instructed to return a postcard. These households were contacted by telephone and sent a tablet if they agreed to participate. As of Sept. 17, 2018, a total of 8,611 had been invited to join the panel, and 8,023 agreed to join the panel and completed an initial profile survey.
Of the 17,965 individuals who have ever joined the ATP, 13,493 remain active panelists and continue to receive survey invitations.
The ATP data were weighted in a multistep process that begins with a base weight incorporating the respondents original survey selection probability and the fact that in 2014 and 2017 some panelists were subsampled for invitation to the panel. For panelists recruited prior to 2018, an adjustment was made for the fact that the propensity to join the panel and remain an active panelist varied across different groups in the sample. No adjustment was made for new panelists from the 2018 recruitment. The final step in the weighting uses an iterative technique that aligns the sample to population benchmarks on the dimensions listed in the accompanying table.
Sampling errors and statistical-significance tests take into account the effect of weighting. Interviews are conducted in both English and Spanish, but the American Trends Panels Hispanic sample is predominantly native born and English speaking.
In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.
The following table shows the unweighted sample sizes and the error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for different groups in the survey: (Chart)
Sample sizes and sampling errors for
other subgroups are available upon request.
Right to Bear
Arms? Gun grabbing sweeping the nation
The court order was the result of a dispute Roberts had with a member of the doctors staff and, after Roberts pleaded no contest, the matter was resolved. Yet, even though he filed the proper Law Enforcement Gun Release paperwork on four separate occasions, obtained clearance from the California Department of Justice and had two court orders commanding the return of his guns, police refused to hand them over.
With the backing of the National Rifle Association and California Rifle and Pistol Association, Roberts filed a federal lawsuit in May 2014, over the $15,500 worth of firearms. In the end he got the money, but not the guns. The police had had them destroyed.
Second Amendment lawyers say his case is not rare.
NRA and CRPA constantly get calls from law abiding people having problems getting their guns back, said Chuck Michel of Long Beach based Michel & Associates, who represented Roberts in the case. The state Department of Justice wrongly tells police not to give guns back unless the person can document ownership of the gun and it is registered in the state DOJs database. But the law doesnt require this.
Gun owners cant comply anyway, Michel said, because police themselves routinely fail to enter the firearms into the DOJs database, and most people dont have receipts for the guns they own.
While Americans have the constitutional rights to keep and bear arms and protect their property from governments unlawful seizure it is not just in California where guns are seized and destroyed illegally, attorneys charge.
"This kind of below-the-radar bureaucratic gun confiscation is a growing Second Amendment and property rights violation problem, particularly in strict gun control states like California, New Jersey and Massachusetts, said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation. People can't afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees to get back a $500 firearm."
The Second Amendment Foundations most recent case involves Rick Bailey, a 56-year-old Navy veteran from Glendale, Ariz., whose entire collection of 28 firearms valued at $25,000 was seized by authorities because of an ongoing dispute with a neighbor.
After Bailey complained over several months to the city of Glendale that his neighbor frequently parked his landscaping companys dump trucks in front of Baileys home -- and toxic chemical odors were coming from his neighbors property -- the neighbor obtained a harassment order against Bailey. Police showed up and seized Baileys gun collection.
Mr. Bailey is devastated by this situation. We seem to live in an environment when someones life can be turned upside down on an allegation that should have been thoroughly investigated before any action was ordered by a court, Gottlieb said. Were helping Bailey in his appeal of the judges order so he can not only reclaim his valuable firearms, but also some of his dignity as well.
Probably the most notorious gun confiscation case happened after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005 when the citys then-mayor, Ray Nagin, ordered all legally owned firearms seized. The Second Amendment Foundation successfully sued on behalf of thousands of law abiding gun owners to stop, or reverse, the confiscations. But hundreds more gun owners without legal representation or ownership paperwork had to abandon their guns. Those firearms still have not been destroyed, Gottlieb said.
In Massachusetts, residents who had their guns taken because of restraining orders or other reasons must pay a fee to a private storage company when their legal issues are resolved, regardless of their own culpability. The fees can run in the thousands of dollars, often exceeding the value of the guns. Instead of paying the fee, they often forfeit the firearms and the company auctions them off, Gottlieb said.
In Lakewood, Ohio, in August 2011, police seized 13 firearms valued at $15,000 from U.S. Army veteran Francesca Rice while she wasnt home, according to Cleveland Scene. Police reportedly had an employee of the condominium complex let them in.
The firearms collection of Rice, who served her country in Iraq, included handguns, shotguns, a vintage Chinese SKS M21 semi-automatic carbine and a semi-automatic rifle.
The seizure was based on a situation involving the gun owner's absence from a VA hospital where she had been receiving treatment . However, no charges were ever filed, and a year later, Rice's requests to have her guns returned had gone unanswered, the Ohio-based Buckeye Institute reported, noting after the lawsuit was settled, the police were ordered to return her firearms.
These tactics are a way for police departments or the government to make it more costly to own guns, said John Lott, an economist, leading expert on guns, and author at the Crime Prevention Research Center. Lott believes the illegal policies most hurt poor gun owners, who not only are less likely to afford to get their property back, but also typically live in neighborhoods where they are more vulnerable to crime.
Seizing legally owned guns can also be a way for law enforcement agencies to boost their revenue if, as in some cases, they sell the firearms rather than destroying them, Lott said.
In the Roberts case in California, police blamed a letter from the California Department of Justice that required gun owners to produce documentation showing it was their firearm that was seized and ordered them to register all firearms that previously had been exempt.
The receipt the police department issued when confiscating the firearms wasnt sufficient proof, the DOJ said, and most firearms owners dont have other proof of purchase, especially for firearms passed down from generation to generation.
The case was settled for $30,000 and the department changed its policy, but Roberts suffered through three years of aggravation and lost family heirlooms as a result of the departments actions.
In 2012, California civil rights attorney Donald Kilmer represented the Second Amendment Foundation and CalGuns Foundation in the first legal challenge in California for wrongful retention of firearms and won, leading San Francisco and Oakland to change their policies.
Attorney Donald Kilmer speaking at a March 2015 conference. Kilmer represented the Second Amendment Foundation and CalGuns Foundation in the first legal challenge in California for wrongful retention of firearms
But remarkably, the situation in California in some respects is getting worse.
The legislature has never met a gun regulation they didnt like and the state is populated with millions of people who want to exercise their Second Amendment rights, said Kilmer.
The problem now is that the State Bureau of Firearms is issuing letters that misstate the law with regard to what documentation gun owners must produce to get their property back, Kilmer said.
In the past, if firearms were seized in California from a home because of psychiatric issues, domestic violence allegations, restraining orders or other issues, the firearms were returned after the case was resolved through a court order.
However, under a new law, Kilmer said a background check is required to ensure the property is not stolen, the owner has to prove ownership, and then the owners get a letter clearing them to pick up their property.
It makes sense on its face, but it is taking longer to issue letters, Kilmer said, adding most gun owners cant meet other requirements because they dont have paperwork to show title, many legally owned guns are not registered, the federal government is forbidden from keeping firearms ownership records with the exception of for specialty guns, and California just started its database in 1996 exclusively for handguns.
People keep forgetting the right
to keep and bear arms, the Second Amendment, is protected by
the U.S. constitution, and private property is protected
under the Fifth Amendment, Kilmer said.
Government cannot take property without just
compensation and due process. The great thing is that when
it comes to guns, you get protection under both
State by State
California: "Children are attracted to and can operate firearms that can cause severe injuries or death. Prevent child access by always keeping guns locked away and unloaded when not in use. If you keep a loaded firearm where a child obtains and improperly uses it, you may be fined or sent to prison."
Connecticut: "Unlawful storage of a loaded firearm may result in imprisonment or fine."
Florida: "It is unlawful, and punishable by imprisonment and fine, for any adult to store or leave a firearm in any place within the reach or easy access of a minor under 18 years of age or to knowingly sell or otherwise transfer ownership or possession of a firearm to a minor or a person of unsound mind."
Maine: "Endangering the welfare of a child is a crime. If you leave a firearm and ammunition within easy access of a child, you may be subject to fine, imprisonment or both. Keep firearms and ammunition separate. Keep firearms and ammunition locked up. Use trigger locks."
Maryland: "Warning: Children can operate firearms which may cause death or serious injury. It is a crime to store or leave a loaded firearm in any location where an individual knew or should have known that an unsupervised minor would gain access to the firearm. Store you firearm responsibly!"
Massachusetts: "Warning from the Massachusetts Attorney General: This handgun in not equipped with a device that fully blocks use by unauthorized users. More than 200,000 firearms like this one are stolen from their owners every year in the United States. In addition, there are more than a thousand suicides each year by younger children and teenagers who get access to firearms. Hundreds more die from accidental discharge. It is likely that many more children sustain serious wounds, or inflict such wounds accidentally on others. In order to limit the change of such misuse, it is imperative that you keep this weapon locked in a secure place and take other steps necessary to limit the possibility of theft or accident. Failure to take reasonable preventive steps may result in innocent lives being lost, and in some circumstances may result in your liability for these deaths."
"It is unlawful to store or keep a firearm, rifle, shotgun or machine gun in any place unless that weapon is equipped with a tamper-resistant safety device or is stored or kept in a securely locked container."
New Jersey: "It is a criminal offense to leave a loaded firearm without easy access of a minor."
New York City: "The use of a locking device or safety lock is only one aspect of responsible firearm storage. For increased safety, firearms should be stored unloaded and locked in a location that is both separate from their ammunition and inaccessible to children and other unauthorized persons."
North Carolina: "It is unlawful to store or leave a firearm that can be discharged in a manner that a reasonable person should know is accessible to a minor."
Texas: "It is unlawful to store, transport, or abandon an unsecured firearm in a place where children are likely to be and can obtain access to the firearm."
Wisconsin: "If you leave a loaded firearm within the reach or easy access of a child you may be fined or imprisoned or both if the child improperly discharges, possesses, or exhibits the firearm."
Please check with your licensed
retailer or state police for additional warnings which may
be required by local law or regulation. Such regulations
change constantly and local authorities are the best
position to advise you on such legal matters.
In the fraught days following a mass shooting, people often ask if an assault weapons ban or allowing concealed carry permits would reduce the likelihood of further violence. But reliable evidence on the effects of those policies can be hard to find.
Now the largest comprehensive analysis of research on U.S. gun policy in years offers some answers, but also troublingly little guidance. A glaring finding of the study, published by the RAND Corporation March 2, is how little work has been done to know which policies work.
The research literature on gun policies is really very thin, says Andrew Morral, a behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonpartisan institute based in Santa Monica, Calif.
Ideally, solid research leads to effective public health policies, which then reduce deaths, be it from guns, car accidents or fires. But when it comes to gun research, good science is lacking, says Morral, who led the study. So legislators typically turn to experts and advocates who can disagree vehemently about the effects of laws.
The goal of the report is to help people understand what is reasonably well-known and what isnt, says Morral. Hopefully we can work from there and identify where research can be most helpful.
Compared with other leading causes of death, research into gun violence is among the least funded, an analysis of U.S. mortality data and federal funding from 2004 to 2015 reveals. Funding for research on gun violence is 1.6 percent of what would be expected, given the number of gun deaths.
Morral and his colleagues reviewed existing research on 13 types of gun policies, including concealed carry laws and waiting periods, and their impact on health, and safety, including mass shootings, suicides and accidental deaths. Next the researchers looked to see if those studies were any good. Out of thousands of studies considered for the analysis, a mere 63 met the research teams strict criteria: Studies had to use rigorous methods and establish cause and effect.
The team ranked the strength of the evidence of a given policys effectiveness as limited (at least one study showed an effect, which wasnt contradicted by other studies), moderate (two or more studies showed the same effect, no contradictory studies) or supported (three or more studies with at least two independent datasets found an effect with no contradictory studies). Here are the biggest takeaways:
1. Theres not enough data to show what would prevent mass shootings. There is no universal definition of a mass shooting, which, along with their relative rarity, makes it hard it hard to spot trends, such as whether mass shootings are on the rise. Studies looking at seven of the investigated policies, including concealed carry laws and background checks, were inconclusive about whether those policies lowered the likelihood of a mass shooting. For nearly half the gun policies, including gun-free zones, prohibitions associated with mental illness and stand-your-ground laws, no studies met the researchers criteria.
2. Keeping guns out of the hands of kids is good policy. Theres solid evidence that these laws reduce unintentional firearm injuries and deaths among children. Theres some evidence these laws also reduce adult unintentional firearm injuries and deaths.
3. Gun policies can decrease the number of suicides. This is no small thing: Of the more than 36,000 U.S. gun deaths each year, two-thirds are suicides. Laws that prevent kids from getting access to guns reduce the number of suicides by young people. And theres some limited evidence that keeping guns away from people with certain mental illnesses, minimum-age requirements and background checks all prevent suicides.
4. Background checks can work. Designed to prevent certain people, such as convicted felons or those subject to a restraining order, from buying guns, background checks do reduce some gun violence. Theres moderate evidence that these laws can reduce the number of firearm homicides and suicides and limited evidence that background checks reduce violent crime and homicides in general.
5. Keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill has mixed effects. While theres limited evidence that these laws can reduce the number of suicides, theres slightly stronger proof that these laws reduce the amount of violent crime in general.
6. Allowing people to carry concealed guns ups gun violence. Theres limited evidence that laws that guarantee a right to carry increase unintentional firearm injuries among adults and increase violent crime.
7. Saying its OK to stand your ground can also lead to gun violence. Rather than curtailing gun deaths, theres moderate evidence that laws that let people claim self-defense even if they dont ty to retreat from a perceived threat lead to an uptick in homicide rates. There were no studies that met the researchers strict criteria demonstrating that stand-your-ground laws lower the likelihood of any gun-related violence.
Few smoking guns
Some gun policies, such as background checks, do curtail gun violence (down arrows), while others, like concealed carry laws, lead to an uptick (up arrows). But for most policies, the data are inconclusive or lacking entirely (light and dark gray).
The analysts found little or no research on the impact of other policies, including gun-free zones, firearm sales reporting requirements and bans on assault weapons.
Many scientists, including the authors of the RAND report, blame federal directives that, for the past two decades, have forbidden the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from advocating or promoting gun control and slashed its funding.
That sent a very loud signal that firearms research was dangerous to your budget, Morral says.
Similar language was added to the funding bill for the National Institutes of Health in 2012 and the end result is today the U.S. government invests very little in research on firearms and public health (SN: 5/14/16, p. 16). A recent JAMA study comparing spending on leading causes of mortality, such as cancer, malnutrition and hypertension, found that gun violence research funding was only 1.6 percent of what would be expected, given the number of people that die from guns each year. The same analysis looked at the volume of scientific papers published for each cause of death and, relative to mortality rates, guns were the least researched.
Good data are needed for good policy, says David Hemenway, an expert on injury and violence prevention at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. To understand, for example, whether collapsible steering columns in cars prevent driver deaths, it takes data on head-on collisions, says Hemenway, not just motor vehicle deaths in general. Such fine-grained data are lacking for much of gun-related violence.
Those data likely will reveal that
theres no one-size-fits-all policy to reduce
gun-related violence, says Hemenway. Interventions that
reduce gun violence in at-risk communities might be very
different than, say, policies for reducing mass shootings.
But without the research, its hard to know. Hemenway
is confident that over time, data and science will win out.
Every success in public health meets with
opposition, he says. You have to fight and fight
and it takes much longer than you hope.
Our ongoing investigation of gun
violence, which costs the United States at least $229
billion a year, includes data on the the economic toll for
individual states. Wyoming has a small population but the
highest overall rate of gun deathsincluding the
nation's highest suicide ratewith costs working out to
about $1,400 per resident. Louisiana has the highest gun
homicide rate in the nation, with costs per capita of more
than $1,300. Among the four most populous states, the costs
per capita in the gun rights strongholds of Florida and
Texas outpace those in more strictly regulated California
and New York. Hawaii and Massachusetts, with their
relatively low gun ownership rates and tight gun laws, have
the lowest gun death rates, and costs per capita roughly a
fifth as much as those of the states that pay the most.
BB Guns Injure
Thousands Each Year
children are shot at home, not in the street
Time Out for NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre for announcing a Gun theme store planned for Times Square in New York City, a place city officials have worked hard to rid of violent crime. "What better place to enable more people to get involved in shooting?" oozed LaPierre on this NRA marketing scheme to promote gun use. ''It's fun for the whole family." www.millionmommarch.com/html/timeout.html
We can blame it on the availability of guns, or movies, television or war toys as innocent as GI Joe. We can even point, in this case, at Goth. But in doing that, I suggest we look where our other three fingers are pointing and take responsibility for the part we played in this scenario. Yes, all of us. For, you see, I think the problem goes much deeper that what the newspapers or "expert" psychologist are saying. The problem lies within virtually every home in America. While the solution may be more difficult, I think problem is very simple.
Name calling. Feeling insecure in our selves, or developing a dislike or even hate of people who are different from us (race, religion, sexual preference, and the hate list goes on), we start by passing on jokes that malign others, then name calling behind someone's back, then finally to their face. Names beyond the many raciest names we all know.
These killers in Littleton, Colorado weren't athletes, or pep squad leaders, or the popular kids at school. The "killers" at the previous school killings weren't either. But those are the people they targeted. And, I think, they just got tired of being called weirdo's, nerds, geeks, freaks, stupid, slobs, or whatever words the in-crowd uses to attack someone's self-esteem. After a while, these young men can't deal with it anymore and return the attack in the only way they can see that will stop the abuse.
The message they are sending is "Stop calling me names" and no one is listening. So, the name-calling and ridicule continue. And the communities involved start focusing on an action plan and gun control and fences around the schools and more security checks, more shakedowns, and the list goes on. While short-term those may be necessary, they are only short-term solutions.
We all must get actively involved with this problem. Really look at all the ways each of us becomes a perpetrator. Then, start teaching our children about the dangers of name calling and the importance of developing respect for everyone, especially those who are different in some way than we are. Outside the home by standing up and saying "Stop calling him (or her) names" or "I don't think that joke is funny" or "Stop sending me those emails." In school, send the name callers to the principles office.
As an adult, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." But as a kid who doesn't "fit in," or look the part, or isn't as popular as "Joe cool," names not only hurt, they kill.
It can get frustrating as a parent or non-parent knowing what to do. And, while there are a number of good books and how to work to reduce teen violence, cultural violence and the shadow violence that lurks without each of us, many of us won't go to the effort of getting one of these books to start the work now.
In the meantime, the following are some steps you can take to stop violence among young children, from Parenting for Peace & Justice:
Speak out to your family, friends, and co-workers to develop an awareness of the "accepted" violence among teens and children, including name calling, insults, pushing, shoving and kicking.
Support conflict-resolution programs in your home, school and community to help children (and adults) learn now to solve problems without resorting to violence (hitting, kicking, throwing something, slamming doors, phones, pencils, etc.).
Volunteer in parent education classes or as a "resource parent" for young teen and first-time parents to help participants parent without resorting to violence. Volunteer for the teen crisis line, if you really want to get a reality check about what's happening to the youth in your community! If you're man enough, that is.
Help your children select nonviolent toys, television programs and movies. DON'T BUY WAR TOYS!!! Read books to your children that promote peaceful conflict resolution.
Speak out against movies and television programs that glamorize violence or make it funny. TV Violence
Lead by example. Children learn more
from our actions than our words. And check out the following
Report: School Violence
The misleading uses, flagrant abuses, and shoddy statistics of social science about gun violence.
There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America," President Barack Obama proclaimed after the October mass shooting that killed 10 at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. "So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don't workor just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their gunsis not borne out by the evidence."
In this single brief statement, Obama tidily listed the major questions bedeviling social science research about gunswhile also embodying the biggest problem with the way we process and apply that research. The president's ironclad confidence in the conclusiveness of the science, and therefore the desirability of "common-sense gun safety laws," is echoed widely with every new mass shooting, from academia to the popular press to that guy you knew from high school on Facebook.
In April 2015, the Harvard gun-violence researcher David Hemenway took to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to declare in a headline: "There's scientific consensus on gunsand the NRA won't like it." Hemenway insisted that researchers have definitively established "that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be...that guns are not used in self-defense far more often than they are used in crime...and that the change to more permissive gun carrying laws has not reduced crime rates." He concludes: "There is consensus that strong gun laws reduce homicide."
But the science is a lot less certain than that. What we really know about the costs and benefits of private gun ownership and the efficacy of gun laws is far more fragile than what Hemenway and the president would have us believe.
More guns do not necessarily mean more homicides. More gun laws do not necessarily mean less gun crime. Finding good science is hard enough; finding good social science on a topic so fraught with politics is nigh impossible. The facts then become even more muddled as the conclusions of those less-than-ironclad academic studies cycle through the press and social media in a massive game of telephone. Despite the confident assertions of the gun controllers and decades of research, we still know astonishingly little about how guns actually function in society and almost nothing at all about whether gun control policies actually work as promised.
Do More Guns Mean More Homicides?
"More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history," New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote on August 26, 2015, just after the grisly on-air murder of two television journalists in Virginia. It's a startling fact, and true.
But do the number of guns in circulation correlate with the number of gun deaths? Start by looking at the category of gun death that propels all gun policy discussion: homicides. (Gun suicides, discussed further below, are a separate matter whose frequent conflation with gun crime introduces much confusion into the debate.)
In 1994 Americans owned around 192 million guns, according to the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice. Today, that figure is somewhere between 245 and 328 million, though as Philip J. Cook and Kristin A. Goss in their thorough 2014 book The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press) wisely concluded, "the bottom line is that no one knows how many firearms are in private hands in the United States." Still, we have reason to believe gun prevalence likely surpassed the one-gun-per-adult mark early in President Barack Obama's first term, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report that relied on sales and import data.
Yet during that same period, per-capita gun murders have been cut almost in half.
One could argue that the relevant number is not the number of guns, but the number of people with access to guns. That figure is also ambiguous. A Gallup poll in 2014 found 42 percent of households claiming to own a gun, which Gallup reports is "similar to the average reported to Gallup over the past decade." But those looking for a smaller number, to downplay the significance of guns in American life, can rely on the door-to-door General Social Survey, which reported in 2014 that only 31 percent of households have guns, down 11 percentage points from 1993's 42 percent. There is no singular theory to explain that discrepancy or to be sure which one is closer to correctthough some doubt, especially as gun ownership continues to be so politically contentious, that people always reliably report the weapons they own to a stranger literally at their door.
The gun murder rate in 1993 was 7.0 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (Those reports rely on death certificate reporting, and they tend to show higher numbers than the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting program, though both trend the same.) In 2000 the gun murder rate per 100,000 was 3.8. By 2013, the rate was even lower, at 3.5, though there was a slight upswing in the mid-00s.
This simple pointthat America is awash with more guns than ever before, yet we are killing each other with guns at a far lower rate than when we had far fewer gunsundermines the narrative that there is a straightforward, causal relationship between increased gun prevalence and gun homicide. Even if you fall back on the conclusion that it's just a small number of owners stockpiling more and more guns, it's hard to escape noticing that even these hoarders seem to be harming fewer and fewer people with their weapons, casting doubt on the proposition that gun ownership is a political crisis demanding action.
In the face of these trend linesway more guns, way fewer gun murdershow can politicians such as Obama and Hillary Clinton so successfully capitalize on the panic that follows each high profile shooting? Partly because Americans haven't caught on to the crime drop. A 2013 Pew Research Poll found 56 percent of respondents thought that gun crime had gone up over the past 20 years, and only 12 percent were aware it had declined.
Do Gun Laws Stop Gun Crimes?
The same week Kristof's column came out, National Journal attracted major media attention with a showy piece of research and analysis headlined "The States With The Most Gun Laws See The Fewest Gun-Related Deaths." The subhead lamented: "But there's still little appetite to talk about more restrictions."
Critics quickly noted that the Journal's Libby Isenstein had included suicides among "gun-related deaths" and suicide-irrelevant policies such as stand-your-ground laws among its tally of "gun laws." That meant that high-suicide, low-homicide states such as Wyoming, Alaska, and Idaho were taken to task for their liberal carry-permit policies. Worse, several of the states with what the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence considers terribly lax gun laws were dropped from Isenstein's data set because their murder rates were too low!
Another of National Journal's mistakes is a common one in gun science: The paper didn't look at gun statistics in the context of overall violent crime, a much more relevant measure to the policy debate. After all, if less gun crime doesn't mean less crime overallif criminals simply substitute other weapons or means when guns are less availablethe benefit of the relevant gun laws is thrown into doubt. When Thomas Firey of the Cato Institute ran regressions of Isenstein's study with slightly different specifications and considering all violent crime, each of her effects either disappeared or reversed.
Another recent well-publicized study trying to assert a positive connection between gun laws and public safety was a 2013 JAMA Internal Medicine article by the Harvard pediatrics professor Eric W. Fleegler and his colleagues, called "Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Fatalities in the United States." It offered a mostly static comparison of the toughness of state gun laws (as rated by the gun control lobbyists at the Brady Center) with gun deaths from 2007 to 2010.
"States with strictest firearm laws have lowest rates of gun deaths," a Boston Globe headline then announced. But once again, if you take the simple, obvious step of separating out suicides from murders, the correlations that buttress the supposed causations disappear. As John Hinderaker headlined his reaction at the Power Line blog, "New Study Finds Firearm Laws Do Nothing to Prevent Homicides."
Among other anomalies in Fleegler's research, Hinderaker pointed out that it didn't include Washington, D.C., with its strict gun laws and frequent homicides. If just one weak-gun-law state, Louisiana, were taken out of the equation, "the remaining nine lowest-regulation states have an average gun homicide rate of 2.8 per 100,000, which is 12.5% less than the average of the ten states with the strictest gun control laws," he found.
Public health researcher Garen Wintemute, who advocates stronger gun laws, assessed the spate of gun-law studies during an October interview with Slate and found it wanting: "There have been studies that have essentially toted up the number of laws various states have on the books and examined the association between the number of laws and rates of firearm death," said Wintemute, who is a medical doctor and researcher at the University of California, Davis. "That's really bad science, and it shouldn't inform policymaking."
Wintemute thinks the factor such studies don't adequately consider is the number of people in a state who have guns to begin with, which is generally not known or even well-estimated on levels smaller than national, though researchers have used proxies from subscribers to certain gun-related magazines and percentages of suicides committed with guns to make educated guesses. "Perhaps these laws decrease mortality by decreasing firearm ownership, in which case firearm ownership mediates the association," Wintemute wrote in a 2013 JAMA Internal Medicine paper. "But perhaps, and more plausibly, these laws are more readily enacted in states where the prevalence of firearm ownership is lowthere will be less opposition to themand firearm ownership confounds the association."
What About Suicides?
Removing suicides from "gun deaths" is a basic step for assessing whether a gun regulation is producing its proposed effect, which in most cases is to reduce the number and severity of gun murders. But what do gun suicide rates tell us on their own?
Chiefly, that a gun is a very efficient means of killing yourself. According to the CDC's National Vital Statistics System, 21,175 Americans committed suicide with firearms in 2013, more than twice as many as used the next most popular suicide method, suffocation. There were nearly twice as many gun suicides that year as gun homicides.
Gun owners are more than three times as likely to commit suicide as non-gun owners, according to a 2014 Annals of Internal Medicine meta-analysis by Andrew Anglemyer and his colleagues. They looked at 14 previous observational studies regarding suicide from 1988 to 2005, statistically re-analyzing them all together. They found that the studies (with one exception) indicated that the people who committed suicide (whether with a gun or not) were more likely, usually far more likely, to own guns than the control group of people with similar characteristics who did not kill themselves. This does not, however, allow us to conclude that the gun's presence caused the suicide, since it's always possible that those more likely to be suicidal are more likely to want to own guns.
A 2002 study by Mark Duggan, now an economist at Stanford University, seems to endorse that conclusion, writing that "much of the positive relationship between firearms ownership and suicide is driven by selectionindividuals with above average suicidal tendencies are more likely to own a gun and to live in areas with relatively many gun owners."
The U.S. currently ranks 47th in total suicide rates among nations according to World Health Organization (WHO) calculations, and 11th among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development nations. But our firearm suicide rates are among the highest in the world, likely behind only Uruguay. Nations with far tougher gun laws and far lower known prevalences of gun ownership, such as Japan, India, and Korea, have far higher overall suicide rates. This suggests that the percentage of firearms in America leads us to have more firearm suicides, but not necessarily more suicides overall.
Of the 56 nations for which the WHO felt it had accurate reported method data, hanging remained the most popular means of death, accounting for over 40 percent of suicides in 35 of them. At least one study"Small Arms Mortality: Access to Firearms and Lethal Violence," by Mark Konty and Brian Schaefer, published in 2012 in the journal Sociological Spectrumused "nation-level...data from the Small Arms Survey and the World Health Organization's measures of mortality" to "examine whether rates of small arm ownership have a positive effect on rates of homicide and suicide." Their conclusion: "Contrary to the opportunity model, the accessibility of firearms does not produce more homicide or suicide when other known factors are controlled for."
Still, evidence from the Anglemyer meta-analysis suggests that policies like waiting periods, trigger locks, or other "safe storage" requirements might prevent some suicides by inserting at least a little extra time to think things through.
Is Having a Gun in the Home Inherently Deadly?
The idea that keeping a gun in the home puts owners and their families at elevated risk first rose to prominence in a 1993 New England Journal of Medicine article by Arthur Kellermann and his colleagues. "Although firearms are often kept in homes for personal protection," they concluded, "this study shows that the practice is counterproductive."
The study has many flaws. In addition to the predictable failure to establish causality, there's a more glaring irregularity: Slightly less than half of the murders Kellermann studied were actually committed with a gun (substantially less than the national average in 1993 of around 71 percent). And even in those cases he failed to establish that the gun owners were killed with their own guns. If even a small percentage of them weren't, given that more than half of the murders were not committed with guns, the causal relevance of the harmed being gun owners is far less clear. (The study found that even more dangerous risks than having a gun at home included living alone, using drugs, or being a renter.)
A 2013 literature review in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior, written by the University of Utrecht psychologist Wolfgang Stroebe, starts with Kellermann but rejects the idea that firearm possession is "a primary cause of either suicide or homicide." However, he writes, "since guns are more effective means for [actually killing someone] than poison or other weapons, the rate of firearm possession can be expected to be positively related to overall rates of suicide and homicide." But even then we can't be sure of causality, since guns might be the choice of people with more serious lethal intent, against themselves or others, to begin with.
Stroebe notes that the two major post-Kellermann studies most often used to demonstrate an association between gun ownership and risk of homicide shared one of Kellermann's fatal flaws: They offer no information about whether the gun used to kill the gun owners was their own. And despite Kellermann's finding that living alone was very risky, one of the follow-ups, a 2004 study by Linda Dahlberg and colleagues, found that it was only those with roommates who faced a higher risk of a specifically gun-related homicide.
Are Guns a Public Health Hazard?
Public healthlong associated with the prevention of communicable diseasesgot into the gun social science game with a vengeance in the 1990s. These scholars commonly viewed weapons as nothing more than vectors for harm; leading lights, such as a professor at Harvard's School of Public Health, could happily declare: "I hate guns and cannot imagine why anybody would want to own one. If I had my way, guns for sport would be registered, and all other guns would be banned." The CDC earlier in 1987 published a study openly recommending confiscating guns in the name of public health.
Public health scholars have continued to research from a place of hostility to firearms. An October 2015 special issue of the journal Preventive Medicine dedicated to guns began with an editorial that praised the role the public health movement played in spreading vaccines and reducing tobacco use, then cut to the quick: "It is the editorial position of this journal that there is one overtly visible and low-hanging fruit left in the tree, one that has surprisingly eluded concerted action from public health: gun violence prevention." Alas, there is an obstacle: the "peculiar proclivity that much of the American population has with firearms.
That proclivity is indeed vast. In addition to those owning guns for reasons of self-defense, there is the massive recreational component. A 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey found that "13.7 million people, 6% of the U.S. population 16 years old and older, went hunting." The National Sporting Goods Association says there were at least 20 million recreational target shooters in the U.S. as of 2014.
Less quantifiable, but still quite real, are the sense of self-fulfillment and identity that guns and gun culture bring to Americans, the same way any other recreation from surfing to sailing to car culture does. Attempts to scientifically demonstrate the "social costs" of gunsfor example, a 2006 Journal of Public Economics paper called "The Social Costs of Gun Ownership," by Duke's Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig (then of Georgetown)typically don't rigorously address these benefits.
While most of the articles in the Preventive Medicine issue were standard anti-gun material, one piece perhaps inadvertently undermined a popular argument for expanding background checks. "Sources of Guns to Dangerous People: What We Learn By Asking Them," by Philip Cook and colleagues, surveyed a set of jailed criminals in Cook County, Illinois. It found that they "obtain most of their guns from their social network of personal connections. Rarely is the proximate source either direct purchase from a gun store, or theft." So the go-to remedy for gun control advocates seeking to limit homicides might not have much impact on actual gun criminals.
How Often Are Guns Used Defensively?
One of the most powerful narratives gun advocates have on their side is the image of a woman pulling a handgun out of her clutch to prevent a rape, or a man cocking a shotgun at a burglar to defend his family.
Many social scientists who research this issue of "defensive gun use" (DGUs) say such scenarios are vanishingly rare, arguing that owning a gun is more likely to lead to harm for the owner than be his or her savior in a pinch.
There are no even halfway thorough documentations of every such event in America. They are not all going to end up reported in the media or to the police. The FBI and the CDC will have no reason to record or learn about the vast majority of times a crime was prevented by the potential victim being armed. So our best estimates come from surveys.
The survey work most famous for establishing a large number of DGUsas many as 2.5 million a yearwas conducted in 1993 by the Florida State University criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. Kleck says they found 222 bonafide DGUs directly via a randomized anonymous nationwide telephone survey of around 5,000 people. The defender had to "state a specific crime they thought was being committed" and to have actually made use of the weapon, even if just threateningly or by "verbally referring to the gun." Kleck insists the surveyors were scrupulous about eliminating any responses that seemed sketchy or questionable or didn't hold up under scrutiny.
Extrapolating from their results, Kleck and Gertz concluded that 2.2 to 2.5 million DGUs happened in the U.S. each year. In a 2001 edition of his book Armed, Kleck wrote that "there are now at least nineteen professional surveys, seventeen of them national in scope, that indicate huge numbers of defensive gun uses in the U.S." The one that most closely matched Kleck's methods, though the sample size was only half and the surveyors were not experienced with crime surveys, was 1994's National Survey of the Private Ownership of Firearms. It was sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department and found even more, when explicitly limiting them to ones that met the same criteria as Kleck's study4.7 million (though the research write-up contains some details that may make you wonder about the accuracy of the reports, including one woman who reported 52 separate DGUs in a year).
The major outlier in the other direction, nearly always relied on for those downplaying the defensive benefits of guns, is the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), a nationally representative telephone survey, which tends to find less than 70,000 DGUs per year.
In the October 2015 special issue on "gun violence prevention," Preventive Medicine featured the latest and most thorough attempt to treat the NCVS as the gold standard for measuring defensive gun usage. The study, by Harvard's Hemenway and Sara J. Solnick of the University of Vermont, broke down the characteristics of the small number of DGUs recorded by the NCVS from 2007 to 2011. The authors found, among other things, that "Of the 127 incidents in which victims used a gun in self-defense, they were injured after they used a gun in 4.1% of the incidents. Running away and calling the police were associated with a reduced likelihood of injury after taking action; self-defense gun use was not." That sounds not so great, but Hemenway went on to explain that "attacking or threatening the perpetrator with a gun had no significant effect on the likelihood of the victim being injured after taking self-protective action," since slightly more people who tried non-firearm means of defending themselves were injured. Thus, for those who place value on self-defense and resistance over running, the use of a weapon doesn't seem too bad comparatively; Hemenway found that 55.9 percent of victims who took any kind of protective action lost property, but only 38.5 percent of people who used a gun in self-defense did.
Kleck thinks the National Crime Victimization Survey disagrees so much with his own survey because NCVS researchers aren't looking for DGUs, or even asking about them in so many words. The survey merely asks those who said "yes" to having been a crime victim whether they "did or tried to do" something about it. (You might not consider yourself a "victim" of a crime you have successfully prevented.) Kleck surmises that people might be reluctant to admit to possibly criminal action on their own part (especially since the vast majority of crime victimizations occurred outside the home, where the legality of gun possession might be questionable) to a government surveyor after they've given their name and address. And as he argued in a Politico article in February 2015, experienced surveyors in criminology are sure that "survey respondents underreport (1) crime victimization experiences, (2) gun ownership and (3) their own illegal behavior."
The social science quest for the One True DGU Number is interesting but ultimately irrelevant to those living out those specific stories, who would doubtless be perplexed to hear they shouldn't have the capacity to defend themselves with a gun because an insufficiently impressive number of other citizens had done the same. Even if the facts gleaned from gun social science were unfailingly accurate, that wouldn't make such policy decisions purely scientific.
Could More Guns Mean Less Crime?
The most well-known proponent of the idea that widespread private gun ownership might reduce the rates of violent crime is John Lott, a law and economics professor who has held positions at Yale, UCLA, and the University of Chicago, and who now works as an independent scholar with an organization he runs called the Crime Prevention Research Center. In 1998 Lott published the controversial book More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press), which was updated with a third edition in 2010. Lott's main argument is that pro-gun policies, such as shall-issue right-to-carry (RTC) laws, tend to lower most crime rates against person and property.
Violent crime has been going down in America in the era when right to carry has spread, but social science is more complicated than simply pointing to two quantities moving in opposite directions.
The most obvious and important fact in modern criminologythe huge decline in crime rates that started a quarter century agostill lacks anything approaching a universally agreed-upon set of explanations. That fact should help contextualize the picayune and arcane level of argumentation over variables accounted for, specific data sets consulted, and number of different specifications tested when scholars try to buttress or refute Lott's thesis.
The range of contentious issues involved in Lott's techniques were summed up pretty thoroughly in a sympathetic but critical review of the third** edition in Regulation. The economist Stan Liebowitz of the University of Texas at Dallas wrote: "Should county level data or state level data be used? Should all counties (or states) be given equal weight? What control variables should be included in the regression? What violent crime categories should be used? How should counties that have zero crimes in a category, such as murder, be treated? How much time after passage of a law is enough to determine the effect of RTC laws? What is the appropriate time period for the analysis?"
Lott tried to demonstrate that on the county level, violent crime trends showed signs of improvement in counties that had or passed RTC laws compared to counties that had not, among other things checking both mean crime rates and the slope of crime rates before and after RTC passage. He attempted to control for many handfuls of other variables that might affect crime ratesindeed, some researchers accused him of accounting for too many variables, while others slammed him for failing to account for other factors, like conviction rates or length of prison sentences.
Trying to prove Lott wrong quickly became a cottage industry for others interested in the nexus of guns and public safety. The back-and-forths were so extensive that the latest edition of Lott's book is nearly twice as long, with his reactions to his critics.
The U.S. National Research Council (NRC), inspired in part by the Lott debate, assessed the state of the gun controversy in 2004's Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review. The council concluded Lott had not fully proved that RTC laws lowered crime significantly; it also denied that the laws had provably increased crime. "Answers to some of the most pressing questions cannot be addressed with existing data and research methods," study authors Charles F. Wellford, John V. Pepper, and Carol V. Petrie wrote, "because of the limitations of existing data and methods, [existing findings] do not credibly demonstrate a causal relationship between the ownership of firearms and the causes or prevention of criminal violence." That statement is perhaps the most important for people trying to use social science to make gun policy to remember, and there is no strong reason to believe the past decade of research has made it obsolete.
Lott has maintained for years that, even if his critics were right about his positive effects not being robust enough, if you are contemplating for public policy considerations whether expanded RTC is a good, bad, or neutral idea, no one had yet demonstrated that RTC laws made any relevant crime or safety outcome worse.
Then, in 2011, Abhay Aneja, John Donohue, and Alexandria Zhang came out with "The Impact of Right-to-Carry Laws and the NRC Report: Lessons for the Empirical Evaluation of Law and Policy," a paper in the American Law and Economics Review. Working at a very high level of statistical sophistication and running their data through a huge variety of different specifications and assumptions, the authors concluded that "aggravated assault rises when RTC laws are adopted. For every other crime category, there is little or no indication of any consistent RTC impact on crime." (While this kind of social science is always working with subtle attempts to figure out how much more certain quantities might have changed had things been different, it's worth noting that while the number of states with "shall issue" or unrestricted carry permit laws has more than doubled since 1991, aggravated assault rates overall have fallen by 44 percent since 1995.)
The study is suffused with an advanced sense of caution. As the authors write in a 2014 update of that study, "we show how fragile panel data evidence can be, and how a number of issues must be carefully considered when relying on these methods to study politically and socially explosive topics with direct policy implications." They stress "the difficulties in ascertaining the causal effects of legal interventions, and the dangers that exist when policy-makers can simply pick their preferred study from among a wide array of conflicting estimates." And "a wide array of conflicting estimates" is definitely what confronts anyone wading into the social science related to guns and gun laws.
Researchers can and should try to go beyond mere binaries about laws existing or not existing when making subtle assessments of causation. Lott, for example, gets as granular as he can when studying RTC laws, considering not just whether they exist or not, but how easy it is to actually obtain a permit where it's legal to do so. If it's more expensive and time-consuming to get one even in a "shall issue" state, that will likely blunt the law's causal effects at least somewhat.
Along the way, Lott has tried to compile the number of permit holders nationally. He figures the total is 12.8 million, up from 4.6 million as recently as 2007. And now six** states allow so-called "constitutional carry" without a permit, creating a pretty much uncountable body of potential RTC practitioners. We still don't know how many people with gun permits actually carry their weapons, and we have no idea about the end of the causal chain of speculations about how such laws affect crime: what potential criminals believe about how many citizens are carrying guns.
Do 'Common-Sense Gun Laws' Work?
At the top of the list of "common-sense gun safety laws" is expanding background checks beyond the current requirements for federally licensed dealers. The underlying belief here is that the various classes of federally prohibited gun owners, such as felons or those adjudicated mentally ill or known to be drug addicts, should never be able to use "loopholes" such as buying from a private citizen to get a gun (even though the vast majority of all those categories of people would never misuse a weapon).
An April 2015 study by Daniel Webster and three colleagues for the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research earned positive press for claiming that the tougher laws Connecticut passed in 1995 (requiring a background check and a permit for any gun purchase from any source) lowered the state's gun murder rate by 40 percent.
Since Connecticut and most of the rest of the country were all enjoying huge murder reductions in the years after that law went into effect, the researchers couldn't meaningfully compare what happened in Connecticut with what happened in the rest of the country. They needed to compare Connecticut's post-law results to what they think would have happened with gun murders in the state had the law not passed. So they created a statistical model of a "synthetic Connecticut" that was 72 percent comprised of Rhode Island, based in essence on the principle that past results would guarantee future performance, since in the past Rhode Island's murder rates and changes tended to match Connecticut's. Then they compared the two states from 1996-2017. The results? "Connecticut Handgun Licensing Law Associated With 40 Percent Drop in Gun Homicides" blared the Johns Hopkins press release headline.
Rhode Island's murder rate went up unusually after 1997 (the researchers don't speculate on why that might have been), thus creating some "extra" murders (presuming that choices to murder in Rhode Island would have for some reason created a proportional number of choices to murder in Connecticut) that we can credit Connecticut with having evaded thanks to the more stringent gun law.
But what happens when you extend the analytic period beyond the arbitrary cutoff date of 2005? From 2005 to 2012, Connecticut's gun murders per 100,000 people increased 66 percent, from 2.05 to 3.41, while Rhode Island's went down 20 percent, from 1.83 to 1.45. It seems quite premature to take Webster and his team's counterfactual guess about expected murder rates over one 10-year period as establishing any reliable causal knowledge about the effects of tougher gun purchasing laws. Yet that study was used to help buttress a proposed federal law the week it went public, trying to pressure other states into following Connecticut's lead on background checks and permits, given what we now "know" about how life-saving that move had been.
Webster and his colleagues produced a similar but more rigorous study in 2014. It involved actual counts and not assumptions about what might have happened in a counterfactual, and it didn't stop looking at forward data at the most convenient time for its conclusions. This study tried to prove that Missouri's 2007 repeal of its "permit to purchase" law led to a 16 percent increase in murder rates there. Lots of other factors were controlled for, and the numbers indeed showed higher murder rates compared to the U.S. average at the time after the permit law was repealed.
It's tricky to credit the permit-to-purchase repeal with causing that rise, because in the four years prior to eliminating the law, Missouri's murder rates had already gone up 15 percent while the national one had stayed essentially the same. This suggests that unaccounted factors influenced Missouri's rising murder rate both before and after the law changed.
Even if both studies had been flawless, seeing one thing happening in one place over a limited time is usually not sufficient to establish a scientifically valid causal relationship that policy makers can confidently expect to see replicated elsewhere. Aaron Brown, the chief risk manager at AQR Capital Management and a statistician with interest in gun issues, has lamented that the overarching problem with most of these attempts to learn what effect any element of gun prevalence or gun laws has on any real-world outcome is that there simply aren't enough varied data to be sure of anything.
There's another very likely step between "law exists" and "law changes behavior" that most gun social science doesn't, and likely really can't, account for. After Webster's Connecticut study appeared, I asked him: Since you are presuming a strong causal effect from the law's existence, how did you account for how stringently or effectively the law is enforced? If people continued to blithely sell weapons without background checks or permits, that would blunt the notion the law would have such a strong effect on gun murder rates.
Webster's emailed reply: "Virtually no studies of gun control law take enforcement into account because data are lacking and we don't really know the degree to which deterrence (people not wanting to violate the law) is a function of levels of enforcement." Unknowables shadow the causal chain in nearly all social science involving any law's effects on behavior.
The Duke economist Philip J. Cook put the knowledge problem well in a 2006 Journal of Policy Analysis and Management article. "Policy analysts are trained to critique evaluation evidence, pointing out potential flaws," Cook and co-author Jens Ludwig wrote, "but are perhaps not so well prepared to judge whether the preponderance of the evidence points in one direction or another."
In other words, the most convincing element of any gun study tends to be the part where one scientist is explaining why another one's causal conclusions don't hold up. The parts where they claim strong or definite policy-relevant causal knowledge tend to be much more questionable.
Cook and Ludwig, in their aforementioned 2006 paper "The Social Costs of Gun Ownership," look at this loose link between scientific knowledge and policy differently. They grant that perhaps we're asking more of science than it can give to the policy debate. But that shouldn't stop us from using it to promote more gun law interventions, they maintain. "Suppose [a certain intervention] implies the treatment reduces gun crime by 25% but the p-value on this point estimate is just .15, short of the conventional .05 cutoff," they wrote. "Any academic referee worth her salt would reject a paper submitted for scientific publication that claimed this intervention 'worked.'"
But, Cook and Ludwig wonder, are those scientific standards too rigorous for statecraft? "Would that referee really want to live in a jurisdiction where this evidence persuaded policymakers that they should not adopt the new treatment, but rather stick with the status quo?"
As Harvard's Hemenway explained to me, the confidence intervals of the social sciences in colloquial terms demand a belief that the chances are 19 to 1, or at worst 10 to 1, for you being right about your conclusion before you accept it as provisionally verified. Hemenway also believes, given the good he thinks can come from legal interventions about guns, that we don't need to be that certain we are right for policy work.
But that's easier to accept if you don't value any particular benefits to relatively unrestricted private gun ownershipscientific, constitutional, or just personal. Some researchers, particularly in the public health field, act as if there were no values to balance on the other side of the policy goal of making it harder for people to get guns.
Whether you consider the associations and causations supposedly demonstrated by gun-related social sciences to be proven beyond whatever level of doubt you see as appropriate, applying those stipulated facts to policy questions can never itself be a purely mathematical or scientific process. It's politics all the way down, and that politics is less informed by rigorous and certain knowledge than President Obama thinks.
**Correction: The article originally and incorrectly stated that it was the first edition of Lott's book being reviewed, and that there were only four constitutional carry states.
Brian Doherty is a senior editor at
Reason magazine and author of Ron Pauls Revolution:
The Man and the Movement He Inspired (Broadside Books).
are the owners of firearms used in adolescent
5 Questions To Ask
When Buying A Gun
2.What is the warranty from the manufacturer? Is it a lifetime warranty, or limited? Most companies offer excellent warranties, and the customer service representatives are good to work with.
3.What is the reputation of both the seller and the manufacturer? Do a bit of research and find out what both companies are like to deal with. You want to make sure that both the seller and the manufacturer are available for questions and assistance, should they arise.
4.Can you readily get the caliber? For example, 9mm, .380, .38 Special, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP are easy to obtain, but .32 (long and short), .25, and .22 Magnum are incredibly difficult, and tend to be quite expensive when you can locate it. Price for practice (or range) ammo may be a factor to consider also. Generally speaking, 9mm is a lower price than 38 Special, .380, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP.
5.Are there aftermarket accessories? The internal parts of magazines will wear out with use over time, so you want to make sure you can get replacements, and at a reasonable price. You may also want to consider sights (night sights, XS Big dots, etc), are there modifications available for controls (such as extended slide releases or magazine releases), trigger modification kits, laser sights, and grip modification kits. Holsters are much easier to obtain, but some rare models of handgun may need a custom holster created.
Making a handgun purchase can be quite involved. Asking questions, doing research on brands and models, as well as handling and shooting as many different models and calibers prior to making a purchase will make the decision much easier.
Remember, the best gun for you is the
one that you are the most comfortable with, in the highest
caliber you are consistently accurate with. Shooting is a
perishable skill, be prepared to gain and maintain your
proficiency with regular range visits. Happy Shooting!
4 Things To Practice
Every Range Visit
With the goal of improving in mind, here are four exercises to warm up with during each range session. These are simple exercises, that help me focus and make the most out of each session. I tend to begin slowly, as I have a tendency to get a bit amped up shall we say, and fight an inclination to get trigger happy and indulge in some rapid fire. (Not that there is anything wrong with this- but I do need to concentrate on shot placement rather than letting lead fly for kicks.)
First, breathe. Simple, right? Breathe in, breathe out, lather rinse repeat. However, as it was pointed out to me recently, when I get excited, there is a decided tendency to hold my breath. Holding my breath decreases my accuracy quite a bit. To combat this, I inhale, squeeze the trigger, exhale, hold the trigger, inhale and allow trigger to reset, squeeze the trigger You get the idea. Initially this exercise is done deliberately slowly, to reset my initial desire to get overly enthusiastic and trigger happy.
Second, another valuable training tool- practice proper magazine changes! Initially, do them slowly with precision, at eye level. In the event that you need to defend yourself, being able to change your magazines and maintain awareness of the situation around you is critical. By practicing reloads at eye-level, you not only are eyes-on with the target, but you are also back on target much quicker.
Third, trigger control. In the first step, I mentioned the importance of breathing during and after your trigger squeeze. Now, you are going to take it one step farther. After you take the shot, hold your trigger to the rear until you recover your site picture. Rather than releasing the trigger, allowing it to spring forward completely, maintain pressure and hold the trigger all the way to the rear. When you have recovered your site picture, ease the pressure up, allow the trigger to move forward to the reset point. Then, take your follow up shot. Your shot placement will improve drastically.
The fourth thing is always critical, and comes first, middle, last and always. Practice proper safety habits. Avoid becoming complacent at all costs. By following the four rules of gun safety, you are ensuring the safety of all those who are shooting with you.
Have a plan for your shooting trip. Do
your best to establish excellent safety habits, and remember
to breathe and move with purpose and deliberation.
6 Different Ways To
Carry Your Gun
For most, carrying their gun is a matter of picking an IWB (inside waist band,) or OWB (outside waist band) holster. Carry options branch from there, to the appendix position, ankle holsters, shoulder holsters, and belly band style. There are options for ladies, that we will examine in another post.
Each carry method presents their own challenges. If you reside in a state that has strict rules about concealed-only carry, and whether or not your gun can print (print meaning a passer by can see the outline of your firearm even though it is concealed,) understand that you may need to make some wardrobe adjustments in order to comply with your state laws. For IWB, you may need to go up a bit in waist size, in order to slip your holster and gun in comfortably. Make sure you can access and draw your gun smoothly and easily from your IWB carry position.
Carrying your gun in the IWB/ appendix position is a very popular and secure position. It is quite comfortable (with the proper holster) and also has the added benefit of being the fastest position to draw from.
Ankle holsters are quite popular with law enforcement officers, seeking a secure location for a back-up gun (or a BUG.) Finding a good holster for your ankle can be a challenge and it will alter the way you walk a bit.
Shoulder holsters are not seen very often, since there are other, safer carry methods available.
If you opt to carry with your gun holstered in the small of your back, choose a holster for the opposite of your dominant shooting hand. For example, if you are naturally right handed, choose a left handed holster. The reason behind this is gun position and draw.
Belly bands are another potential option, as they are easy to position, adjustable in size, and allow for right or left handed draw.
No matter what on-body style you choose, make sure you use a good, solid belt to help keep your gun stable. Take some time at home to carry, so you can find out the most comfortable position. Youll also be prepared for Decepticons as well.
Carry safe, carry smart and Happy
Although these events are tragic in all settings, homicidal violence in the school setting is especially horrific, with children and adolescents often being the prime victims. Sometimes the assailants are fellow students; sometimes they are outsiders who enter the schools to commit murder.
As we try to make sense of these tragedies, our responses vary from we need stronger gun controls to we need to arm teachers with automatic weapons. Vocal members of the public take polarized positions on the gun-control issue, and provide examples to support positions at each extreme.
The media contributes to the problem with its 24/7 coverage and its intense focus on the killers and their backgrounds. This type of coverage attracts unstable individuals and increases the risk of future tragedies.
School board members, superintendents, principals and other school administrators struggle to address this issue in a meaningful way. They institute emergency plans and procedures so that students and staff are prepared to respond appropriately in a crisis. Although these are prudent and necessary measures, which undoubtedly save lives in an emergency such as a schoolshooting, the fortunate truth is that these events are rare.
If we examine the profiles of these killers, which often include histories of mental illness, it is easy to assume, with the benefit of hindsight, that their crimes were inevitable or predictable. This assumption is ill advised; it suggests that these murderers can be identified in advance and should be incarcerated or hospitalized.
Indeed, there is public pressure to lower the threshold for involuntary commitment from imminent dangerousness to potential dangerousness. However, for every violent perpetrator of mass killings who has a history of mental health disorders and/or psychological and social stressors, there are hundreds of individuals who have similar profiles who do not become violent.
Mental health professionals generally are unable to accurately predict violence other than in instances of imminent danger; and allowing commitment for the mere potential of violence would simply result in many individuals becoming reluctant to seek needed mental health services. Although mental health disorders can lead in rare instances to mass killings, an individual who has a mental health disorder (with the exception of a paranoid delusional disorder) generally does not have an increased risk of violence.
When these mass killing tragedies occur, schools often respond by addressing the emotional needs of the community (e.g., grief counseling, therapeutic dogs) and safety concerns such as building security. Clearly, it is important for schools to have security, safety and access procedures in place. But schools and other public places would need to be turned into fortresses to keep out killers armed with automatic weapons and multiple rounds of ammunition. Clearly, there are no simple solutions to preventing these heinous, but fortunately rare, events.
These mass killings are the tip of the iceberg of a much greater problem causing daily repercussions in schools across the nation. The problem: students untreated mental health disorders that contribute to academic underachievement, acting out behaviors in the classroom, self-destructive and/or aggressive behaviors, poor graduation rates and costly special education interventions that often have poor outcomes.
If schools are able to address students mental health issues successfully, it is possible that they might prevent future violent acts. The more likely, and extremely worthwhile result, however, will be students improved academic performance, a reduction in behavioral incidents and significant cost savings, especially within the special education system.
Before we formulate the appropriate role of schools in addressing student mental health concerns, we must first understand the demographics of mental health disorders in children and adolescents. Research indicates that approximately 18% of children and adolescents have a mental health disorder, and that approximately 5% are severely emotionally disturbed.
The odds are, therefore, that every classroom in every school has at least one student with a mental health disorder. Of those who have a mental health disorder, only one out of five will receive any treatment, generally from a primary care physician rather than a mental health professional. The vast majority of students who have mental health disorders, even severe ones, are served within the general education system and are not receiving special education services.
If a student is receiving special
education services for emotional/behavioral problems, the
student generally has either been diagnosed with a mental
health disorder (e.g., Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, autism spectrum
disorders, psychotic disorders, etc.) or exhibits
characteristics of one. Often, the student is receiving no
mental health treatment, or is only receiving medication
from a primary care physician that may not be of the correct
type or dosage. This lack of appropriate treatment for the
mental health disorders underlying the identified disability
category leads to high cost educational services with
largely poor outcomes in graduation rates, post-secondary
education, vocational success and involvement with the
of Firearms in Youth Suicides
Parents may believe that their guns are adequately hidden or that their kids would never use them in a suicide attempt. But studies show parents sometimes underestimate their childrens experience handling guns at home. In a study by Baxley and Miller, among gun-owning parents who reported that their children had never handled their firearms at home, 22% of the children, questioned separately, said that they had.
Safe storage makes a difference.
While the risk of youth suicide is lowest in families with no firearms at home, among gun-owning families, youths living in homes in which all firearms are stored unloaded and locked are at lower risk for suicide than those living in homes in which firearms are stored less securely (Grossman 2005).
Read the Consensus Statement on Youth Suicide by Firearms, developed by a multi-disciplinary consortium of experts in 1996. (summary)
Baxley F, Miller M. Parental misperceptions about children and firearms. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 2006;160(5):542-7.
Grossman DC, Mueller BA, Riedy C, et
al. Gun storage practices and risk of youth suicide and
unintentional firearm injuries. JAMA.
Quotation of the Week
Sometimes even to live is an act of courage. - Seneca
* * *
I envision a time when raw milk is legal and assault weapons are not. Barbara Henrioulle
No one can unfire a fire arm.
Guns don't die, children do.