22 April, 2007

People Don't Shoot People Without Guns

If you ever need an antidote to left-wing political correctness, you might take a look at an article in today's news about an Australian study showing that the recent strict gun controls and the AU$500 million buy-back of weapons was actually having an impact, it seemed like excellent news. Being an inveterate sceptic, I started scouting about for more information and informed comment. And that's when I found a piece called Contradictory Research Findings About Guns From Australia, by Dr John Ray on A Western Heart.

You should take a look at it if you're interested in the subject as it summarises the study and a previous one quite nicely. Ray's criticism of the more recent study is that the graph they use as evidence for the conclusion could also be interpreted as evidence for no effect. He also points out that the large drop in gun-related suicides doesn't mean a lot if we don't know whether the overall rate of suicide has dropped too. The study also found that there have been no mass murders in the 10 years since the buy-back and the change in the law (there were 11 mass murders in the ten years prior to the change). While the politicians love this statistic and cite it as evidence that they achieved precisely what they set out to, Ray says, quite rightly, that with such a small sample size, it is very hard to make the case.

I scanned a bit further down the Western Heart page that Ray's piece was on and found an article by Dr Glen Otero and it really is a case study in how differently it is possible to perceive the same information. KG thinks Otero's 'well-documented findings' somehow invalidate the need to have gun control. I see them in an entirely different light. Here are the ones KG quotes with my interpretations next to them.
  • Approximately 80 percent of all adult American citizens own firearms, and a gun can be found in nearly half of American households. (Interpretation: Americans are paranoid. It is irresponsible of the government to pander to this level of suspicion and mistrust by letting people arm themselves.)
  • Between 1974 and 1995, the total number of privately owned firearms in America increased by 75 percent, to 236 million. During the same period, national homicide and robbery rates did NOT significantly increase. (Interpretation: The criminal element in America was already saturated with firearms by 1974. Since then mostly ordinary paranoid Americans have bought weapons – as well as replacement weapons for criminals, new weapons for new generations of criminals and additional weapons for criminals who already have one or more weapons.)
  • Less than 1 percent of all guns are involved in any type of crime, which means that 99 percent of all guns are NOT used to commit any crime. (Interpretation: So why have them? If people don't need them, get rid of them. Having so many superfluous guns sloshing around in America just makes it easier for the 1% who want to shoot people to get hold of them.)
  • In 1987, the National Crime Victimization Survey estimated that about 83 percent of Americans would become the victims of violent crime during the course of their lifetime. (Interpretation: Without knowing what percentage of violent crime involves firearms, this is a meaningless statistic. If it's all 83%, then those guys with the 1% of guns are really working their asses off! The reality is, this is the kind of statistic that is used to scare people so that they will go out and buy guns 'to defend themselves'. Since the second point in this list suggests that homicide and robbery rates are not increasing, all those extra guns the scared people are buying are not actually making any difference. They might as well not have them!)
I like to keep an open mind and I like to consider both sides of an argument. I'd also like to think that people with the title 'Dr.' would do the same. It's one thing for thickos like George W. Bush to have half-baked opinions on gun control but these guys ought to know better.

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