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Truth, Whole Truth, and Statistics…

March 31, 2011

For yet another example of victory through statistics, we look to Reason Magazine today.  The subject?  Well, really the subject is about how you can look to data to find what you want, but you can also look at what it really says.  Let’s look two ways at the subject of concealed carry permits:

The opponents rely on a litany of horribles. The Violence Policy Center in Washington claims that since May 2007, individuals licensed to carry guns killed 286 private citizens and 11 law enforcement officers and committed 18 mass shootings. This gory record, it asserts, destroys the myth that permit holders are generally law-abiding folks who behave responsibly.

In fact, VPC’s own data, when inspected closely, doesn’t dent the case for gun rights. Over the past four years, there have been more than 60,000 homicides in the United States. The slayings carried out by permit holders amount to fewer than one of every 200 murders. For every licensee who killed someone, there are more than 20,000 who didn’t.

So if you run down someone with your car, does that mean that we need to restrict who’s allowed to drive a car?  Of course not.  And in general, most people who drive cars have significantly less training (not practice, training) in how to drive a car vs. those who carry guns on a regular basis.  Further:

Often, notes Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck, the murders were premeditated or committed during the course of other serious crimes. In those cases, the license was irrelevant—unless you assume that someone willing to break the laws against murder or rape would not be willing to break another law by packing a sidearm.

What is extremely rare is a homicide committed by a permit holder in a public place in a fit of anger. Reviewing an earlier two-year database compiled by VPC, Kleck found only five cases “where possession of a carry permit may have contributed to the occurrence of the killing.” Such episodes are not quite flying pigs, but almost.

So, essentially, the people who are conscientious enough to get legal approval to carry guns are likley the people who are conscientious enough to actually know how to use them, and who are also willing to learn how to be responsible.  This is not a blanket statement, as I know a few yahoos who should get a bit more education.  But I’m generally impressed with the people I meet at the range and the work they put into being responsible for their actions.

But none of this is going to matter if you disagree with me.  Essentially, the wonder of statistics is that you can always find data that proves you’re brilliant.  If more people realized that we’d probably pay less attention to statistics.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2011 8:57 am

    It seems like your post is a good example of that cherry-picking thing.

  2. March 31, 2011 10:35 am

    I will read the article with great interest when I get this project out the door. Some of the statistics involved in gun use haven’t been just carefully selected — they’ve been fabricated, as in the infamous Bellesiles case:

    http://volokh.com/2010/05/11/a-new-book-coming-soon-from-michael-bellesiles/

    ===|==============/ Level Head

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