Another day, another hit piece from Slate: “The Myth of the Good Guy With a Gun”

UPDATED: Kleck himself responded to this piece of garbage and it is a wonderful smackdown.

Looks like the antigun movement has found their anti-Lotts in  Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes, the two people behind the antigun blog “Armed With Reason”

On Jan 25, they vomited up their latest bit of propaganda, “The Myth of the Good Guy With a Gun – The NRA is wrong: Owning a gun is far more likely to harm you than protect you.”  This is naturally filed under Slate’s “Medical Examiner” section; not that either of the authors has any medical background.  No, it’d appear that their claim to fame is massaging statistics.

Their article starts by the every fashionable straw man attack on Wayne LaPierre, and then segue into their argument:

Tragically, a record number of Americans subscribe to some version of this mythology, with 63 percent (67 percent of men polled and 58 percent of women) believing that guns truly do make them safer. The public’s confidence in firearms, however, is woefully misguided: The evidence overwhelmingly shows that guns leave everybody less safe, including their owners.

What evidence is this? Why a menagerie of cherry picked statistics & studies of course.

A study from October 2013 analyzed data from 27 developed nations to examine the impact of firearm prevalence on the mortality rate. It found an extremely strong direct relationship between the number of firearms and firearm deaths. The paper concludes: “The current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer.” This finding is bolstered by several previous studies that have revealed a significant link between gun ownership and firearm-related deaths. This international comparison is especially harrowing for women andchildren, who die from gun violence in America at far higher rates than in other countries.

The first study in the above link is chock full of circular reasoning, but the summary results state:

Among the 27 developed countries, there was a significant positive correlation between guns per capita per country and the rate of firearm-related deaths (r = 0.80; P <.0001). In addition, there was a positive correlation (r = 0.52; P = .005) between mental illness burden in a country and firearm-related deaths. However, there was no significant correlation (P = .10) between guns per capita per country and crime rate (r = .33), or between mental illness and crime rate (r = 0.32; P = .11). In a linear regression model with firearm-related deaths as the dependent variable with gun ownership and mental illness as independent covariates, gun ownership was a significant predictor (P <.0001) of firearm-related deaths, whereas mental illness was of borderline significance (P = .05) only.

The study is behind a paywall but can be read here.

Gee, countries with more firearms have more firearms related deaths? That’s like saying countries with more cars are going to have more automobile related fatalities.

So let’s look to the meat of that study:

Do Guns Make a Nation Safer?
We then sought to evaluate whether possessing guns would make a nation safer, as has been a widespread contention. We used the crime rate per 100,000 population as an indicator of safety of the nation. There was no significant correlation (r = 0.33) between guns per capita per country and crime rate (P = .10), arguing against the notion of more guns translating into less crime

No significant correlation between guns per capita per country and crime rate, arguing against the notion of more guns translating into less crime.  No significant correlation also means that more guns doesn’t mean more crime.  If anything, this study shows number of firearms present has no real effect on how many crimes take place.  Presence of firearms has no effect on whether or not a country has more or less crime. Ooops.

Of course this isn’t addressed by study authors Bangalore & Messerli, much less DeFilippis & Hughes.

Digging down to the conclusion:

The present data suggest that the number of guns per capita per country correlated strongly and was an independent predictor of firearm-related deaths.  Additionally, in a linear regression model there was a correlation with mental illness, but this was of borderline significance in a multivariable model. Although correlation is not synonymous with causation, it seems conceivable that abundant gun availability facilitates firearm-related deaths. Conversely, high crime rates may instigate widespread anxiety and fear, thereby motivating people to arm themselves and give rise to increased gun ownership, which, in turn, increases availability. The resulting vicious cycle could, bit-by-bit, lead to the polarized status that is now the case with the US. Regardless of exact cause and effect, however, the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis purporting to show that countries with the higher gun ownership are safer than those with low gun ownership. (All emphasis mine.)

Hm, that’s a shocker, people in high crime areas might arm themselves to defend against attackers? What a surprise.

So already DeFillipis & Hughes have a problem – if anyone digs into their studies or examines the text critically, their argument doesn’t hold water.  Better follow their “science” with some tugging at the heart strings:

Behind such horrifying statistics are numerous heartbreaking tragedies, such as Zina Daniel, a woman from Illinois who was killed by her abusive ex-husband, or Caroline Sparks, who was only 2 when her 5-year-old brother accidentally killed her with his Crickett rifle.

While accidents are tragic, I’ve already addressed their infrequency in a previous blog entry found here – children 18 & under are rarely accidentally killed by firearms (with less than 100 fatalities in 2012).  No, the shameful part of DeFillipis & Hughes article conveniently ignore that firearms are used to defend wives against abusive husbands as well, such as when Robert Vann Marshall was shot and killed just minutes after being released from jail, trying to break into his wife’s house.

So next DeFillipis & Hughes have to establish that guns are the only reason why homicides are high:

If we examine data from within the United States, the odds aren’t any better for gun owners. The most recent study examining the relationship between firearms and homicide rates on a state level, published last April, found a significant positive relationship between gun ownership and overall homicide levels. Using data from 1981–2010 and the best firearm ownership proxy to date, the study found that for every 1 percent increase in gun ownership, there was a 1.1 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate and a 0.7 percent increase in the total homicide rate. This was after controlling for factors such as poverty, unemployment, income inequality, alcohol consumption, and nonhomicide violent crime. Further, the firearm ownership rate had no statistically significant impact on nonfirearm homicides, meaning there was no detectable substitution effect. That is, in the absence of guns, would-be criminals are not switching to knives or some other weapons to carry out homicide. These results are supported by a host of previous studies that illustrate that guns increase the rate of homicides.

Wait… didn’t the first study they reference state outright that they could not determine a correlation between firearms availability & crime?  Now here they are trying to say that firearms availability causes homicides.  Please note, the study they linked to is, again, behind a pay wall (can’t have people easily reading what you are citing, natch), so we can’t drill down to examine it.

But homicides aren’t enough, no, they have to address suicides too:

The evidence against firearm ownership becomes even stronger when suicides and accidents are included in the analysis—guns make both much more likely and more fatal. There can be nothing closer to a consensus in the gun debate than this point. Indeed, every single case-control study ever conducted in the United States has found that gun ownership is a strong risk factor for suicide, even after adjusting for aggregate-level measures of suicidality such as mental illness, alcoholism, poverty, and so on.

Again, note the word choice: “gun ownership is a strong risk factor for suicide” – not a cause, simply a risk factor.  Clearly the implication is that if there were less firearms, suicides would go down.

Unfortunately for DeFillipis & Hughes, the real world doesn’t agree with their contention.  Just look at this handy list of suicide rates by country on Wikipedia.  The United States has on average 12.5 suicides per 100,000 people.  Surely if there were less guns, there would be less suicides, right?

Wrong.  Look at Japan: 21.4 per 100,000.  Even worse, look at South Korea: 28.5 per 100,000.  Neither country has ready access to firearms.   Belgium has much stricter gun control than the US, but firearms are available there.  Surely their suicide rate must be lower than the US, right? Nope: 17.0 per 100k

Removing (or controlling) guns isn’t the miracle cure, sorry!

Moving on, DeFillipis try to downplay reasons for having a firearm for self defense, namely the threat of home invasion:

Suppose a criminal has just broken into your house brandishing a firearm. You need to protect yourself and your family. Wouldn’t anyone feel safer owning a gun? This is the kind of narrative propagated by gun advocates in defense of firearm ownership. It preys on our fear. Yet, the annual per capita risk of death during a home invasion is 0.0000002, which, for all intents and purposes, is zero.

Sure, the risk of death my be near zero, but there’s a wide spectrum between being killed by an attacker and not being injured at all.  The DOJ did a report based off the National Crime Victimization Survey titled “Victimization During Household Burglary” and guess what they found?

An estimated 3.7 million household burglaries occurred each year on average from 2003 to 2007. In about 28% of these burglaries, a household member was present during the burglary. In 7% of all household burglaries, a household member experienced some form of violent victimization.

Let’s do some simple math: 3.7 million *.07 = 259,000 people violently victimized each year.  This, unfortunately isn’t accurate, as the report cites:

A household member was present in roughly 1 million burglaries and became victims of violent crimes in 266,560 burglaries.

.  Breaking that down further, that’s 730 people violently victimized each day. And that’s just household burglaries.

Why don’t DeFillipis & Hughes want that sort of information addressed? Why do they focus strictly on people killed during home invasions?  Because they have a vested interest in making it look like having a firearm to defend yourself is a myth based on fantasy.  Well, not just fantasy:

This past November, Campbell was riding home in a car with her boyfriend after purchasing a gun, preparing for the unrest expected to follow the grand jury decision about whether to pursue criminal charges against the policeman who killed Michael Brown. She joked that “we’re ready for Ferguson,” waving the gun. Distracted, the boyfriend ran into the car ahead of them, and the gun fired, killing Campbell.

See the subtle attempt to paint firearms ownership as racist in nature too?  Also remember, the plural of anecdote isn’t data, guys.

So next they have to make the assertion that defensive gun uses don’t really happen that often:

However, despite the NRA’s mantra that there are millions of defensive gun uses every year, empirical data reveals that DGUs are actually extremely rare. Criminal uses of firearms far outnumber legal defensive uses. The evidence shows that there may be fewer than even 3,000 DGUs annually. In comparison, there are 30,000 gun deaths annually, and many more injuries and shattered lives. The costs of gun ownership unequivocally outweigh the benefits.

Sure, you can make that argument if you only count DGUs that end in a justifiable homicide.  If you notice, the above link goes to a politico article written by the same authors that tries to tear apart DGU methodology, calling it fantasy that someone wouldn’t report a DGU to police.  I find this uproarious, since there is no standard police reporting for non-crimes or crimes that were averted; cops may come out (if they have time) to take a report that someone tried to rob you, or tried to rape you, because that is useful information to them in trying to apprehend criminals.  If you do wound or kill an attacker, they certainly will take reports.  But if you scared them off without firing a shot? That information isn’t going to make it into any sort of official database or measurement metric.

The article closes with an “it could never happen to me” anecdote where they cherry pick an Open Carry advocate killed her husband and author; clearly firearms owners are crazy people, right?  Heck they even say that this sort of thing is the norm, not the exception:

Rather than gangbangers and maniacal criminals going on killing sprees, it is cases like Dunnachie’s that drive gun violence.

Let’ s see what the FBI says – Murder: Race and Sex of Victim by Race and Sex of Offender, 2011

Sure looks like it’s not women driving murders to me.  If we break it down by Age, Sex & Race the numbers don’t look any better for DeFillipis & Hughes.  In fact, it really looks like that the majority of murders are being perpetrated by men 17-34, and the data would seem to indicate that black men are more of them, not white women. Draw your own conclusions.

Finally in closing the authors try to tell you that you are less likely to be injured if you use a weapon other than a gun:

Yet a study examining data from the National Crime Victimization Survey found that people who used any weapon other than a gun for defense were less likely to be harmed than those who used a firearm.

I find it ironic that they cite a study authored by Kleck in 2004 as authoritative proof that guns aren’t reliable means of self defense when they spent the entire Politico article cited earlier disparaging him and his methodology. Again, the study they link is behind a paywall, however you can read it here.  Reading through the study, it would appear that Kleck’s conclusion is the exact opposite of what DeFillipis & Hughes state:

Even very large coefficients for protection variables were often not significant because of the action’s rarity. For example, based on their very large negative coefficients, attacking or threatening the offender with a gun appears to be almost totally effective in avoiding serious injury.  The estimates of their effects are not significant, however, because they were based on only forty-five sample cases of attacking with a gun and 202 of threatening with a gun, in a sample where serious injury after defensive action was almost nonexistent.

The conclusion of the Kleck study has this as well:

While there are exceptional situations, victim resistance is usually either successful or inconsequential, and on the rare occasions that it is harmful it is rarely seriously so. Therefore, unless there are circumstances that clearly indicate resistance will lead to significant harm, the evidence reported in this paper indicates that some for most resistance should be the path generally taken.

Hm.  Resistance works.  Imagine that.

Kleck goes on to say:

Various kinds of forceful victim protective behavior, such as threatening the offender with a gun or other weapon, show the strongest negative coefficients, though none are significant. […] Resistance with a gun appears to be the most effective in preventing serious injury, though this finding is not statistically significant due to the small number of reported gun uses.

None are significant? Most effective in preventing serious injury?  Why would DeFillipis & Hughes leave this out when saying that firearms aren’t a good choice for self defense?  Possibly because they are trying to lie through omission?  Again, draw your own conclusions.  Kleck also notes that NCVS data may be flawed as someone who successfully defends themselves with a gun may not consider themselves a victim of a violent crime, and if the respondent answers as such during the interview they will not be asked questions about what crimes they have experienced, how they resisted, etc.  This naturally skews the number of defensive gun uses down.

In summation, DeFillipis & Hughes seem to be arguing in bad faith when they make their statements, and rely on the casual reader to not scratch past the surface of their claims.  When examined critically, their arguments are quickly revealed to be based on partial truths, logical fallacies, distortions or other dishonesty, which is no surprise given the subject matter.

2 thoughts on “Another day, another hit piece from Slate: “The Myth of the Good Guy With a Gun”

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