Gun Policy and Intellectual Honesty


If we are going, to have ourselves a serious debate regarding guns and gun policy, it would behoove us to get the facts right. I recognize that this is a revolutionary thought in some circles, but the hardworking staff here at does believe that certain idiosyncrasies and departures from the norm can be beneficial. And who am I to disagree with my hardworking staff?

So, for starters, let’s debunk a particular talking point from the White House. Here, we turn over the microphone to Eugene Volokh:

There’s been much talk recently — including from President Obama — about there being a substantial correlation between state-level gun death rates and state gun laws. Now correlation obviously doesn’t equal causation; there may be lots of other factors that are the true causes of both of the things that are being measured. But if we do look for now at correlation, it seems to me that the key question should focus on state total homicide rates, or perhaps (for reasons I describe below) total intentional homicide plus accidental gun death rates. And it turns out that there is essentially zero correlation between these numbers and state gun laws.

To begin with, here’s why I focus on total homicide, rather than gun homicide or all gun deaths. First, few people care much about whether they are stabbed to death or shot to death. And even if gun restrictions do decrease gun homicides, that effect may well be offset (or more than offset) by an increase in other homicides . . .

[. . .]

. . . let’s look at how jurisdiction-level homicide rates (i.e., homicides per 100,000 people) correlate with jurisdiction-level gun laws, counting the 50 states and D.C. (I use 2012 Justice Department homicide data, from the Proquest Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2015. I use the 2013 gun law scores and grades from the Brady Campaign, with low scores meaning a low level of gun restrictions and high scores being a high level. And I use an estimate of my own for D.C. based on the Brady Campaign’s criteria, since the Brady list didn’t include D.C.; I think my estimate is if anything an underestimate of D.C.’s tight gun laws, at least as of 2012-13.) I have also run the analysis using the data from the National Journal article that has recently been in the news, and the result is virtually identical.

[. . .]

The correlation between the homicide rate and Brady score in all 51 jurisdictions is +.032 (on a scale of -1 to +1), which means that states with more gun restrictions on average have very slightly higher homicide rates, though the tendency is so small as to be essentially zero. (If you omit the fatal gun accident rates, then the correlation would be +.065, which would make the more gun-restricting states look slightly worse; but again, the correlation would be small enough to be essentially zero, given all the other possible sources of variation.) If we use the National Journal data (adding the columns for each state, counting 1 for each dark blue, which refers to broad restrictions, 0.5 for each light blue, which refers to medium restrictions, and 0 for each grey, which refers to no or light restrictions), the results are similar: +0.017 or +0.051 if one omits the fatal gun accident rates. You can also run the correlation yourself on my Excel spreadsheet.

More on this issue here. Needless to say, there has not been nearly enough attention paid to the fact that the White House is being misleading in its citation of statistics. And needless to say, this general unwillingness to call shenanigans will do nothing whatsoever to help us craft sensible and effective gun policies.

(Photo Credit.)