Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Friday, December 17, 2004

Evidence of Absence

While still overwhelmed with work, travelling and otherwise, I've neglected my posting here in order to trade barbs engage in discourse over at Tim Lambert's Deltoid blog. There I was made aware this evening that the National Academy of Sciences' panel on firearms and violence has released a new report. The full report, should you wish to purchase it, is available here. (I wonder who funded the report?) You can read it for free (for the time being) here. Obviously I haven't had time to read the thing yet, but I have read the press release, and I've also read the opening speech given at the press conference.

Now, I find it fascinating that both Tim Lambert and one of his syncophants have latched on to the finding that:

There is no credible evidence that “right-to-carry” laws, which allow qualified adults to carry concealed handguns, either decrease or increase violent crime.
In fact, Tim's commenter put it thusly:

(T)he results published yesterday by the NAS Committee on Firearms and Violence have demolished (yet again) the claim that the adoption of a shall issue law reduces crime.
To be fair, Tim also quotes these findings:

There is almost no evidence that violence-prevention programs intended to steer children away from guns have had any effects on their behavior, knowledge, or attitudes regarding firearms. More than 80 such programs exist.

Research has found associations between gun availability and suicide with guns, but it does not show whether such associations reveal genuine patterns of cause and effect.
The second does not surprise me, and the third is what I've said for a long time.

This report was released yesterday, December 16, 2004. In the opening statement by Professor Charles F. Wellford, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Director of the Maryland Justice Analysis Center made those three points listed above and noted that they were "(t)he committee's major conclusion". Let me quote him verbatim so that we all are on the same page here:

The committee's major conclusion, however, is that the existing data and research methods cannot answer some of the most pressing policy issues in this area. Although there have been some well-designed studies on policy issues, the underlying data and the methods used are not strong enough to draw policy conclusions. For example:
The literature on "right-to-carry" laws has obtained conflicting estimates of their effects on crime, despite the fact that data and methods used in these studies differ in only minor ways. Thirty-four states have enacted these laws, which allow qualified adults to carry concealed handguns. However, we found no credible evidence that such policies either decrease or increase violent crime.
There is no credible evidence that the more than 80 gun-violence prevention programs reviewed by the committee have had any effect on children's or teens' attitudes, knowledge, or behavior regarding firearms.
And although research does show associations between gun availability and suicide with guns, that research does not show whether such associations reflect actual cause and effect.
Now this reminded me of another such study of all the then-available gun control research that was published in 1983 - twenty-one years ago. That study was performed at the behest of the Carter administration by James D. Wright, Professor of Human Relations, Dept. of Sociology for Tulane University; Peter H. Rossi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and past president of the American Sociological Association; and Kathleen Daly, Professor of Sociology at Yale University, and it was published under the title Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime, and Violence in America. The preface to that report states:

In 1978 the Social and Demographic Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, received a grant from the National Institute of Justice to undertake a comprehensive review of the literature on weapons, crime, and violence in the United States. The purpose of the project is best described as a "sifting and winnowing" of the claims and counterclaims from both sides of the Great American Gun War - the perennial struggle in American political life over what to do, if anything, about guns, about violence, and about crime. The review and analysis of the available studies consumed the better part of three years; the results of this work are contained in this volume.

The intention of any review is to take stock of the available fund of knowledge in some topical area. Under the Gun is no different: our goal has been to glean from the volumes of previous studies those facts that, in our view, seem firmly and certainly established; those hypotheses that seem adequately supported by, or at least approximately consistent with, the best available research evidence; and those areas or topics about which, it seems, we need to know a lot more than we do. One of our major conclusions can be stated in advance: despite the large number of studies that have been done, many critically important questions have not been adequately researched, and some of them have not been examined at all.

Much of the available research in the area of weapons and crime has been done by advocates for one or another policy position.
(Big freaking surprise.) As a consequence, the manifest intent of many "studies" is to persuade rather than to inform.
And times haven't changed, at least in that regard.

Flash forward twenty-one years, and compare and contrast that with this statement from yesterday's press conference:
Should regulations restrict who may possess firearms? Should there be restrictions on the number or types of guns that can be purchased? Should safety locks be required? Answers to these questions involve issues that go beyond research on firearm violence.

These policy questions cannot be informed by current studies. Available data are too weak to support strong conclusions. Therefore, we believe that one of the most pressing needs is to pursue the data and research that are needed to fill knowledge gaps and, in turn, inform debate in this important policy area. Our committee identified key approaches to strengthen the research base on firearms and violence. We also believe that the federal government should support a rigorous research program in this area.

Research linking firearms to criminal violence and suicide is limited by a lack of credible data on firearm ownership (including possession and access) and individuals' encounters with violence. The committee found that the existing data on gun ownership and use are the biggest barriers to better understanding gun violence. Without better data, many basic questions cannot be answered. Such data will not solve all problems of methodology. However, the almost complete absence of this information from the scientific literature makes it extremely difficult to understand the complex interpersonal, social, and other factors that determine whether or not a firearm will be used to commit a violent act.
We've gone 21 years since publication of Under the Gun, millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours have been invested in research on gun control and gun violence, and still most of the data is contradictory, useless, or non-existent.

So what does the National Acadamy of Science want? More money to do more studies, of course! After all, that's what research scientists are for!

I applaud their doggedness.

But here's the point I want to make. While absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, what we have here is not an absence of evidence. We have decades of evidence. If there were unequivocal evidence that "gun control" was effective at reducing gun violence, shouldn't decades of research have irrefutably shown that? For example, gun ban control advocates protest shrilly in each state that contemplates "shall-issue" concealed weapon legislation, with dire predictions of "blood in the streets" and murder and mayhem over traffic accidents. They protest that such legislation will result in "more guns on the street" and a subsequent increase in homicide and accidental shootings.

Yet it never happens. And they steadfastly ignore the record of each previous state to enact such legislation, even if those states are adjacent to the one they are currently protesting in. So the National Academies of Science have concluded, "we found no credible evidence that such policies either decrease or increase violent crime." Had such evidence existed, given the amount of time and money hurled at the question, shouldn't someone have found it? Tim Lambert says about it:
The conclusion was not that the laws have no effect, but that the evidence doesn't tell us what effect, if any, the laws have.
If the evidence is studied and found to be inconclusive, how does this differ from the law having no effect? There can be only two conclusions drawn:
(1) The evidence suggests that whatever the effect is, it's lost in the statistical noise inherent in the data (i.e.: the effect is negligible).

(2) The "evidence" is so distorted that the signal-to-noise ratio overwhelms the data so that no useful information can be extracted.
My position is, obviously, option (1). Tim's is, equally obviously, option (2). But understand, the gun ban position is that gun violence will go up, and that doesn't happen unless you cherry-pick your data. The John Lott position is that gun violence will go down - and that doesn't happen unless you cherry-pick your data. When you throw in all the so-called "research" done by advocates, the noise overwhelms the signal. But if the research is done by non-advocates (there must be some), the signal is still lost in the statistical noise. The conclusion I draw is that "shall-issue" laws don't have a noticeable effect on overall violent crime - but they have a definite effect for those few who exercise the ability to carry concealed and who have used their concealed weapons defensively. Without those laws, those people would very probably have been crime victims, and today they are not.

This is a net good. As I said in a comment at Tim's:
If the worst you can say about "shall issue" is that it doesn't provably reduce crime, then I'm all for it, since it positively expands the right to arms. BUT if you cannot prove beyond doubt that "gun control" reduces crime, then I strongly recommend rolling back "gun control" laws to restore an infringed right to the people who were promised in writing that it wouldn't be infringed.
I'd like to finish this piece with another quote from the conclusion of Under the Gun:
The progressive's indictment of American firearms policy is well known and is one that both the senior authors of this study once shared. This indictment includes the following particulars: (1) Guns are involved in an astonishing number of crimes in this country. (2) In other countries with stricter firearms laws and fewer guns in private hands, gun crime is rare. (3) Most of the firearms involved in crime are cheap Saturday Night Specials, for which no legitimate use or need exists. (4) Many families acquire such a gun because they feel the need to protect themselves; eventually they end up shooting one another. (5) If there were fewer guns around, there would obviously be less crime. (6) Most of the public also believes this and has favored stricter gun control laws for as long as anyone has asked the question. (7) Only the gun lobby prevents us from embarking on the road to a safer and more civilized society.

The more deeply we have explored the empirical implications of this indictment, the less plausible it has become. We wonder, first, given the number of firearms presently available in the United States, whether the time to "do something" about them has not long since passed. If we take the highest plausible value for the total number of gun incidents in any given year - 1,000,000 - and the lowest plausible value for the total number of firearms now in private hands - 100,000,000 - we see rather quickly that the guns now owned exceed the annual incident count by a factor of at least 100. This means that the existing stock is adequate to supply all conceivable criminal purposes for at least the entire next century, even if the worldwide manufacture of new guns were halted today and if each presently owned firearm were used criminally once and only once. Short of an outright house-to-house search and seizure mission, just how are we going to achieve some significant reduction in the number of firearms available?
If "the number of guns" is the cause of gun crime in America, which is a shibboleth of the gun-ban crowd, then Wright, Rossi, and Daly just hit on the fundamental truth of gun control in America. They understand it. We understand it. And we believe the gun ban crowd understands it, however much they protest that they don't want to confiscate anything.

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