Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Facts are stupid things: gun violence edition

We often hear claims that firearm regulation just doesn't work. People who want to get guns and shoot people are going to do it anyway. Conversely, making it easy for peaceful citizens to obtain and carry guns means that people can protect themselves and make us all safer. This is just BS the NRA pulls out of an orifice -- there is plenty of evidence that it's the opposite of the truth.

These investigators ran a regression over 17 years of the rate of mass shootings in states on the permissiveness of their firearm laws. There are various definitions of mass shootings, but they use a relatively non-restrictive one: four or more people killed in a single incident. Most firearm deaths are actually suicides and most homicides do not result from mass shootings, but these events get a lot of attention. The findings are stark and quite compelling:

Table 1 shows that in fully adjusted models, a 10 unit increase in state gun law permissiveness was associated with a significant 11.5% (95% confidence interval 4.2% to 19.3%, P=0.002) higher rate of mass shootings. A 10% increase in state gun ownership was associated with a significant 35.1% (12.7% to 62.7%, P=0.001) higher rate of mass shootings.
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is not letting have a gun in the first place.


John Bachtell said...

The FBI doesn't use the term "mass shootings". They use the term "active shooter incidents" and your chance of being a victim is minuscule. It's the rarest of all types of shooting, the smallest number of shooting victims per category and the smallest number of offenders.

And even with that, I'd be on board with limiting the access of guns to qualified citizens if they had only negative effects. Guns also prevent crime. That's why police carry them.

Cervantes said...

This is true, as I noted. However, the authors in the introduction tell us that:

"Previous studies have found that more permissive statewide gun laws are associated with higher levels of gun homicide and gun suicide,678910 although none of these studies considered whether state gun laws in general were associated with mass shootings. Gun ownership is also a potentially key variable to be examined in conjunction with gun laws, given that statewide gun ownership can lead to the implementation of laws, and the implementation of laws can result in changes to statewide gun ownership. Previous studies have found that gun ownership is associated with higher levels of gun assault and gun homicide, although none of these studies considered whether state gun ownership in general was associated with mass shootings.1112131415"

So this contributes something but in general, we already know that the more guns in the environment, the more gun violence.

As for the police, of course given that a whole lot of people in the community are armed, understandably people feel the police need to be armed as well. I think yes, we're pretty much stuck with the situation for the foreseeable future.

Don Quixote said...

Police also kill a lot of innocent people, disproportionately brown people. So much for guns saving lives.

It's a bunch of crap that we can't regulate guns, or even take them away. We're simply too violent a society. Too many people here love violence--it's their birthright from the people who illegally founded the country and killed to steal it. Trail of Tears, etc.

Raymond said...

It is, in my experience, unhelpful to use the term "gun violence" because it describes an instrument rather than an act or intent. That is, mass shootings are distinct from domestic violence from robbery, etc... People will use whatever instrument is most effective and available to affect their designs. The real argument is at the margins: how many would be alive if no gun had been available. Almost all discussion of "gun violence" assumes a perfect positive relationship between gun availability and incident mortality. This is self evident bullshit.

Given that mass shootings account for less than 0.5% of the US aggregate homicide rate it seems obvious that they are a terrible place to start our search for a causal relationship.

Cervantes said...

Well Raymond, we have already stipulated that mass shootings are a small portion of all homicides, and this just adds a bit to what we already know about the association between gun ownership and violence. It is true that there are other implements of violence than firearms, but guns are far more effective than blunt objects or knives. An assault with a firearm is more likely to result in death, and can obviously affect more people. There is indeed an association between gun ownership and the overall homicide rate, not just the rate of gun violence. But guns are actually more likely to be used in suicides. Most suicides are impulsive. If you plant it out, there are lots of ways to kill yourself, but having a gun in the house makes suicide much more likely. These are facts, there is indeed a positive relationship between gun availability and incident mortality. This is not an assumption and it is most certainly not self evident bullshit.

It is proven fact.

mojrim said...

While it's almost certain that gun availability increases the mortality rate of certain actions that doesn't really get us anywhere from a public policy standpoint. This is america, not an actual civilized nation-state, so just hoovering up the guns simply isn't going to happen. For that reason we have to be specific about which acts we are trying to address, even if from an instrumental standpoint. Vis a vis suicide, for example, the idea of a family gaining an injunction seems like a good place to start but application is going to be a problem. Sending a cop to take a distraught person's guns is a good way to create an armed standoff that will result in either death or imprisonment, pretty much the opposite of desired outcome. I'm not dismissing the idea, rather saying that it hasn't been thought through in the public debate. The same can be said for almost every idea I've seen floated.

Cervantes said...

Yes, it's true that the U.S. environment is already saturated with guns and that isn't going to change in the foreseeable future. However, "red flag" laws that allow for gun confiscation so far haven't resulted in the adverse outcome you envision. Some states do have experience with them and they seem to be effective.

The idea that we could treat firearms like automobiles -- you have to take a training course and pass an exam to have a license, and you have to register the object -- could be effective, but right now it isn't politically feasible it seems.

Anonymous said...

Guns are not automobiles. No one has an explicit constitutional right to own or drive a car.

And I'm wondering which new laws proposed would solve which problems. Much of the problem with the gun issue is the laws already passed are not enforced or they fail because no one is passing information about those unqualified to a central database. There's a lot of holes in the system and just huffing and puffing and passing new laws and congratulating ourselves doesn't do squat other than help politicians get re-elected.

mojrim said...

The car analogy fails on a basic point: they are only registered//licensed when intended for public right-of-way. If you own 100 acres and a BTFU plymouth valiant, go off, no law pertains. Similarly, most states do have some training/background requirements for carrying in public but having the gun in your home is similarly unregulated. Don't even get me started on the insurance fallacy.

That said, I think a baseline training requirement would both work and be acceptable to gun owners but I don't see it making a substantial difference. There are only around 600 lethal firearm accidents annually. If you combined it with a background check and handed them a license card afterward so they can skip the NICS annoyance you'd probably have a winner. If you want to pursue the automobile analogy it could have endorsements for different types and concealed carry. If you could get the states to agree on reciprocity you'd have a winner.

Registration is another matter entirely and not one I'd waste time on. Given the examples of the UK and Australia few would comply even if it became law.

On the "red flag" laws I guess I'm speaking anecdotally, but I know plenty of folks out here that would either be "not home" or would shoot if the cops knocked on their door.

Cervantes said...

Well, that auto registration and driver's licensing are required only for operation on the public way seems beside the point. There are far more non-lethal unintentional firearm injuries, of course and that is worth worrying about. However, as I say, most firearm deaths are suicides. The Australia National Firearms Agreement has in fact been quite successful.

Anon, without getting into the real meaning of the Second Amendment, as the courts currently interpret it the sort of regulation I propose is considered constitutionally permissible. Yes, there have been some failures to get information into the background check database but just fixing that won't accomplish very much. But as I say, I don't know whether effective measures are politically feasible.

Anonymous said...

One of the big problems in discussing the firearm issue is one side not acknowledging the positive aspects of firearms.

Without that, a serious discussion on where the balance might be cannot be had.

Cervantes said...

Where I live, I encourage people to hunt deer. However, very few people are hunters. Otherwise, the only purpose of firearms is to injure and kill humans. Given that they're out there in large numbers, some people feel they need to have them for self-defense, but otherwise I don't know what's positive about them. They didn't exist until the Renaissance and I can't see how the world is better off because of them.

Anonymous said...

This is just the first one that came to mind and you'd think it would be obvious.


Private gun use against violent criminals and burglars is common and about as frequent as legal actions such as arrests. It is a more prompt negative consequence of crime than legal punishment and is often far more severe. In 1980, about 1,500-2,800 felons were legally killed by gun-wielding civilians. About 8,700-16,000 were nonfatally wounded and guns were used defensively about one million times. Victim resistance with guns is associated with lower rates of both victim injury and crime completion for robberies and assaults than any other victim action, including nonresistance.

Cervantes said...

Well I don't know anything about the quality of that research -- note that it was published in 1988 -- but it's largely beside the point. The question is whether you're safer with or without a gun in the house, and the answer is "without."

Anonymous said...

You're safer if you take the bus. But that, too is beside the point.

The benefits of taking a car outweighs the risks in most people's mind.

I'm sure gun owners might feel the same way about firearms or they wouldn't have them in their own home.

Cervantes said...

Well yes, obviously they feel that way, but they're wrong.

mojrim said...

Oh FFS, the Kleck study? That thing has been fisked out so many times it looks worse than one of John Lott's sock puppets. The methodology was absolute garbage, leading to a result that would mean everyone in america knows someone who had a DGU. The only data set that holds water is the NCVS which calculated about 108,000 DGU annually at the height of the violent crime wave. Just ballparking makes it around 50,000 annually today.

The problem, Cervantes, is that the Australian case is exactly what US gun owners will go to war to prevent. Registries morph into confiscation lists when politicians get stampeded.

Cervantes said...

Yeah, I didn't take the time to look at that but it did look fishy.

Yes, as I say I don't expect we could get to the Australian result in the present climate. I'll post today on the red flag laws -- they haven't had the adverse consequences you fear.