The Corner

Politics & Policy

NYT Shows How Not to Analyze Mass-Shooting Data

Some colleagues sent me the New York Times article “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer” today. My jaw just about hit the floor when I saw the chart that appears at the top of the piece, above everything else except the title and byline:

Uh, notice a problem there, guys? You can’t compare across countries without adjusting for population. A country with more people, all else equal, will have both more guns and more mass shootings, driving a false correlation between the two.

They get to the adjusted data about halfway through the piece. It’s true that the U.S. and Yemen are the countries with the most guns and the most shooters — and that is something that could, plausibly, suggest that easy access to guns increases mass shootings. But also worth noting is that there’s no pattern visible for the entire rest of the data set. Gun ownership varies from basically nonexistent to above 30 guns per 100 people, yet these variations don’t obviously correspond to variations in mass shootings.

There are a few other issues with the piece worth pointing out, in no particular order:

‐ Their mass-shooting numbers and much of their analysis — including a claim that gun ownership correlates with mass shootings even after the U.S. is excluded and overall homicide rates are taken into account — come from the researcher Adam Lankford, who has refused to share information about his analysis with media outlets likely to criticize him.

‐ In one paragraph, they claim that more gun ownership means more “gun murders,” but two of the four sources they link document gun deaths including suicide.

‐ We shouldn’t care about “gun murders” or “mass shootings”; we should care about murders in general and mass killings in general, regardless of how they’re accomplished. (Up to a point it’s essentially tautological to claim that more guns translates to more problems with guns, because a society with no guns by definition cannot have any problems with them.) As I’ve noted numerous times before, there is no simple, consistent correlation between gun ownership and murder or homicide rates in general, either among developed countries or among U.S. states. More sophisticated studies face a variety of serious methodological obstacles — I don’t find any of them that compelling — and have reached varying conclusions. The research on mass shootings in particular is in an even more primitive state.

‐ They claim that the U.S. has more lethal crime than other developed countries but not more crime in general, and argue that guns are the difference. Even if we take the initial claim at face value, in blaming guns we encounter the problem that, as Steven Pinker once put it, “If you subtract out all the gun homicides in the United States and you just look at the homicides committed with, say ropes, candlesticks, and daggers, we still kill people at a higher rate.” I went through various reasons for our high rate of lethal violence here.

I wouldn’t purport to know for a fact that gun ownership doesn’t lead to higher homicide or mass-shooting rates, but the effects are far more complicated and subtle than gun controllers want us to believe.

Most Popular

Elections

Bernie’s Huge Victory

Bernie had a massive night in Nevada, with a diverse nomination-winning-type coalition. According to the entrance poll, he won whites and Hispanics and did well among blacks. He won men and women. He won college graduates and did particularly well with non-college graduates. He won Democrats and independents. ... Read More
Elections

Bernie’s Huge Victory

Bernie had a massive night in Nevada, with a diverse nomination-winning-type coalition. According to the entrance poll, he won whites and Hispanics and did well among blacks. He won men and women. He won college graduates and did particularly well with non-college graduates. He won Democrats and independents. ... Read More

Elon Musk’s Plan to Settle Mars

He who follows Freedom, let him leave his homeland, and risk his life. — Adam Mickiewicz, Polish poet, 1832 Last week my wife Hope and I traveled to Boca Chica, Texas, to meet with Elon Musk. While we talked inside the SpaceX onsite headquarters, a mariachi band played outside, providing entertainment for ... Read More

Elon Musk’s Plan to Settle Mars

He who follows Freedom, let him leave his homeland, and risk his life. — Adam Mickiewicz, Polish poet, 1832 Last week my wife Hope and I traveled to Boca Chica, Texas, to meet with Elon Musk. While we talked inside the SpaceX onsite headquarters, a mariachi band played outside, providing entertainment for ... Read More
U.S.

Women’s Sports Should Be Women’s Sports

Transgender sports policies make a mockery of women’s competition. Just look at the state of Connecticut. At the 2018 state open for women’s track and field, two young men identifying as transgender took first and second place in the 100m race. Their participation not only deprived young women of their ... Read More
U.S.

Women’s Sports Should Be Women’s Sports

Transgender sports policies make a mockery of women’s competition. Just look at the state of Connecticut. At the 2018 state open for women’s track and field, two young men identifying as transgender took first and second place in the 100m race. Their participation not only deprived young women of their ... Read More
Elections

Bernie’s Houses

Mike Bloomberg scored a hit -- a palpable hit -- in the debate this week when he pointed back at Bernie Sanders and said: “What a wonderful country we have, the best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses.” Many conservatives laughed and cheered and wondered why Bernie ... Read More
Elections

Bernie’s Houses

Mike Bloomberg scored a hit -- a palpable hit -- in the debate this week when he pointed back at Bernie Sanders and said: “What a wonderful country we have, the best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses.” Many conservatives laughed and cheered and wondered why Bernie ... Read More

Escape from Wuhan

The onset of the crisis in Wuhan startled me like a jump scare in a horror movie. You’ve seen the kind I mean. The audience is led to believe that the monster, psycho killer—or what have you—pursuing the intended victim is still distant. Then whatever it is stands up from behind, leaps out in front, bursts ... Read More

Escape from Wuhan

The onset of the crisis in Wuhan startled me like a jump scare in a horror movie. You’ve seen the kind I mean. The audience is led to believe that the monster, psycho killer—or what have you—pursuing the intended victim is still distant. Then whatever it is stands up from behind, leaps out in front, bursts ... Read More