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Debunking the Debunkers



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Dave Gilson of Mother Jones purports to debunk “pro-gun myths.” It’s too bad the piece is riddled with misleading statements:

Gilson claims it’s a “myth” that “they’re coming for your guns.” I agree it’s unlikely that massive confiscation will happen here, but it has happened in countries that are similar to the U.S., and various new gun-control laws and proposals ban commonly owned weapons. New Yorkers have to get rid of any ammunition magazines that hold eight rounds or more, for example.

To disprove the notion that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” the piece notes that there’s a correlation on the state level between gun ownership and gun deaths. Aside from the fact that correlation is not causation, and the fact that it’s misguided to evaluate gun control based solely on its effects on gun homicides, the major problem here is that the graph seems to include suicides. The two states with the highest gun ownership, Wyoming and Montana, also have high rates of gun deaths — but they have murder rates significantly below the national average. It seems likely to me that gun ownership increases the chance of suicide, but I don’t think the common understanding of the “kill people” in “guns don’t kill people” includes suicides.

 Gilson also cites a more detailed study claiming that gun ownership is linked to higher crime. This kind of research is notoriously unreliable — you can go all day citing studies back and forth. Link, you’re it!

In response to the idea that “an armed society is a polite society,” Gilson cherry-picks some numbers about people with concealed-carry permits. In general people with permits are incredibly law-abiding.

He claims that not a single mass shooting has been “stopped” by an armed citizen. That would be relevant if these shootings didn’t usually occur in gun-free zones — at Pearl High School and the Appalachian School of Law, people had to run to their cars to get their guns, so their odds of “stopping” the incidents were rather small. Armed citizens were also on the scene at Tucson and the Oregon mall, though the former citizen arrived too late and the latter didn’t shoot for fear of hurting innocent people. And the focus on mass shootings ignores the wider reality of armed self-defense. Surveys come up with a ridiculous range of estimates, but it’s clear that it’s not rare.

Gilson claims that keeping a gun at home doesn’t make you safer. Some studies do arrive at this conclusion, though they typically do so by treating all “gun owners” as a single group and underestimating the prevalence of armed self-defense (for example, including only cases in which someone actually shot and killed an assailant — Gilson directly cites one of the classics in this genre). Obviously, if you abuse alcohol or drugs regularly, or if you have a short temper, or if you’re a criminal, guns can make you less safe. But a data set that includes such people is not helpful to people who don’t fall into those categories.

Gilson plays up the rarity of justified homicide. However, most gun self-defensive gun uses probably don’t involve shots fired — the victim pulls a gun, the attacker leaves. This is part of the reason that armed self-defense is hard to quantify — such cases are often not reported to police and it’s debatable how honest people are in surveys.

Gilson dismisses the idea that video games cause violence. I’m highly sympathetic, but his sole piece of evidence — a comparison with Japan — is absurd. There are simply too many differences between the U.S. and Japan for us to be able to sort out which factors cause the difference in crime rates.

Gilson repeats the line that 40 percent of gun sales are private. This is based on a questionable survey, and it seems to include all transfers, not just sales.

It’s also interesting that many of these claims are cited to research by people affiliated with the “public health” school of gun-control studies. We’re going to be getting more of these claims, now that the Centers for Disease Control is back in the game.



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