Michael On Everything Else

Cherry Picking For Gun Control

Updated: July 21, 2016

There is a video snippet making the rounds on Facebook recently, in response to the recent gun violence in the U.S. The video is from an episode of the fictional TV series the West Wing and the title of the Facebook post that uses the snippet is “How To Silence The Opponents Of Gun Laws In 30 Seconds.”

Let me start by stating a few things:

  1. I do not oppose reasonable gun laws
  2. I do not condone coercive violence of any type*

Here’s the video snippet:

Clearly, firearm regulations reduce the number of gun homicides, right? Wrong. The data used was cherry-picked. Let’s do the same exercise with different cherry-picking.

My 30-second Response

The statement below is how I would respond:

While the Second Amendment does state 'a well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of the free state, the government shall not infringe...,' the Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), declared it an individual's right to bear arms.

If you combine the populations of Myanmar, Belize, Brazil, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Jamaica, Panama, South Africa, Venezuela, and the Bahamas, you'll get a population roughly the size of the United States. We had 33,599 gun deaths in 2014—they had 67,852. Do you think it's because their citizens are more homicidal by nature? Or do you think it's because they don't have permissive laws protecting the right to bear arms?

Cherry Picking Different Data

I started by selecting countries that have the highest rates of homicide, based on data provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found in this wiki article.

I then filtered each country through GunPolicy.org’s website, which is hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health, the University of Sydney. I then selected only countries with “restrictive” firearm regulations.

From that filtered list of countries with restrictive firearm regulations, I added countries to the final list until I reached a population “roughly the size of the United States.”

Results

The combined gun homicides for my cherry-picked countries was 61,508. The United States had 10,945 in 2014, the latest year available at GunPolicy.org.

The data in the table below can be verified via these links:

GunPolicy.org: Firearm Regulation

GunPolicy.org: Gun Homicides

GunPolicy.org: Gun Deaths

CountryFirearm RegulationPopulationGun HomicidesGun Deaths
United Statespermissive384.46m10,94533,599
Myanmarrestrictive54.3m27*
Bahamasrestrictive377,37410578
Belizerestrictive331,9005178
Brazilrestrictive200.4m40,07742,416
Dominicarestrictive72,0002*
Dominican Republicrestrictive10.4m1,254910
Guatemalarestrictive15.47m4,2574,551
Jamaicarestrictive2.7m9801,039
Panamarestrictive3.86m511613
South Africarestrictive52.98m4,1524,217
Venezuelarestrictive30.41m10,09213,950


*Data not available

Even if we compare gun deaths, which is the statistic mentioned in the video, and a statistic which would include suicides, acidental and defensive shootings, etc., my selected countries had a combined total of 67,852 gun deaths, compared to 33,599 gun deaths in the U.S.

We can go even further and contrast private gun ownership in these countries versus the U.S. The combined countries have an estimated 29,187,000 guns in private hands. The United States has ten times that amount; 310,000,000. The U.S. has ten times the rate of gun ownership with half the rate of gun deaths.

Therefore the data does not support the theory that more restrictive firearm regulations reduce the number or the rate of gun homicides or gun deaths. We can also conclude there is no evident correlation between the number of guns in private hands and the rate or number of gun homicides.

What we’re seeing is a classic case of astroturfing via social and traditional media. Despite the increased frequency in reporting of gun violence, the homicide rate in the U.S. is at a 51 year low and has been following a long-established trend downward (2014 FBI Uniform Crime Report). This fact is largely unknown to the American public:

As Pew has reported in recent years, in fact, the American public is "unaware" that the homicide rate in the United States has fallen by 49 percent over the past twenty years. And while Pew doesn't report on it, it's also a safe bet that the public is also unaware that homicide rates have collapsed as total gun ownership in the United States has increased significantly.

Over a recent 20 year period, the number of new guns in the US that were either manufactured in the US or imported into the US increased 141 percent from 6.6 million new guns in 1994 to 16 million in 2013. That means a gross total of 132 million new guns were added into the US population over that time period. (Mises Institute)

I would further argue that Americans are indeed “more homicidal by nature” than many other cultures but the cause of that is just as complicated as the gun debate.

Mass shootings are tragic. The unending, slow-motion mass shootings happening in Chicago are tragic. But historical evidence does not support the theory that restrictive firearm regulation reduces the rate or the number of gun homicides. Looking at the table above, three of the countries have rates and total numbers of gun homicides higher than the United States. Brazil, a country with 2/3 the population of the United States has almost four times more gun homicides with just under 1/20th the number of guns. Stated another way, the U.S. has almost 20 times more guns and 30% more people, but roughly 1/4 the number of gun homicides.

There is so much more going wrong in the U.S. to cause current rates of violence. It isn’t easy access to firearms. The problem is culture.

Food for thought

We’re not rehabilitating criminals: “In the largest seventy-five counties in the United States in 1988, over 89 percent of adult murderers had criminal records as adults.” (Lott, 2010, p. 9) (emphasis mine).

Men are far more likely to be vicitims and offenders: “Males represent 77% of homicide victims and nearly 90% of offenders. The victimization rates for males were 3 times higher than the rates for females. The offending rates for males were 8 times higher than the rates for females.” (“Homicide trends in the United States,” 2013) (emphasis mine).

References

  1. Lott, J. R., Jr. (2010). More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, Third Edition (Studies in Law and Economics). University Of Chicago Press.
  2. Homicide trends in the United States. (2013). BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics . Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/htius.pdf

Updated July 10, 2016: Formatted for readability, added section “food for thought,” corrected total number of gun homicides stated in “results” section.

Updated July 21, 2016: Added section “my 30-second response.”


Updated March 18, 2017: removed stray HTML code.