Gun Control Debate 2013: You Can't Argue With Facts

by Zack Fulkerson

Source: Policymic

This is a response to Sean McElwee's article from May 10, entitled "Guns and Gun Violence Go Hand in Hand."

It is extremely difficult to argue with reasoned, logical arguments -- especially when those arguments are supported by the majority of empirical statistical data on a given subject. Instead, it is much easier to resort to putting words in the mouths of your opponents, and turning out ever-rehashed talking points. McElwee's article does this expertly. He begins, for example, by claiming that the notion that leftist gun-grabbers know very little about guns is a "non-sequitur," despite obvious evidence to the contrary. Need he be reminded that the vice president of the United States actually suggested that a homeowner aimlessly fire a shotgun in their home? Need he be reminded of the Colorado politician who claimed that magazines and clips are not reloadable, and could be exhausted and tossed in the trash like used gum wrappers?

The author rails into the data in More Guns, Less Crime by citing a 2004 study from the National Academy of Sciences -- a report which actually supports the thesis of my article. This report, which evaluated over 253 journal articles, 99 books, and 43 government publications, failed to find any form of gun-control that reduced violent crime or gun accidents. True, the data concluded that there is no evidence to demonstrate Lott's conclusion; but it also found that there was no data to support gun control either, which McElwee ignores completely. Interestingly enough, this council was thrown together by the Clinton administration and consisted almost entirely of researchers who were publicly anti-gun. Doesn't that indicate a potential bias?

Our attention is then turned to a 2010 study alleging that the "Impact of Right-to-Carry Laws" is an increase in aggravated assault -- a finding that the abstract explicitly states is in contrast with the 2004 study mentioned earlier. A few simple critiques immediately come to mind. First, McElwee simply directs us to the report's abstract, without offering a link to the article's full text. This makes me immediately skeptical as to whether McElwee actually read this study, or merely cited it blindly. Furthermore, without being able to see the full text, I have no ability to fully digest its most important aspects -- including the operational definitions of terms such as "Right-to-Carry laws," amongst other issues. Short of being able to read the study, it is impossible to make a useful analysis of its information. A single study does not at all discredit the years of research done by Lott and others which argue the counterpoint. At its maximum, this study simply makes apparent places where Lott can further improve More Guns, Less Crime.

Proponents of gun control legislation are unwaveringly apt to refer to each and every new gun control proposal as "common sense," despite the abundant lack thereof. As an example, McElwee chastises Lott's opposition to laws mandating locks on all firearms stored in the home. But how, pray tell, are we to enforce such a measure, short of mobilizing a tyrannical police state to assure that all firearms are being properly kept? McElwee claims that he has no problem with "responsible citizens using guns," while arguing in favor of a law which would render all firearms useless and raises serious privacy concerns. Handguns are kept in the home most often as a form of self-defense, and a locked firearm offers absolutely no preventative capacities. Is it even possible to reconcile all of the illogical consequences of simultaneously advocating both of these positions? McElwee also lists universal background checks and bans on high capacity magazines as common sense proposals. Both of these policies have been thoroughly discredited as ineffective by fellow PolicyMic pundits on more than one occasion.

McElwee cleverly sets up and knocks over the strawman that I, or any other "gun enthusiast," believes that gun control violates the Second Amendment. His vague wording suggests that I am squarely opposed to any and all regulations on firearms, when this is not at all the case. This plays well into the emotions of the abjectly uninformed, as if to suggest that the production, distribution, and sale of firearms is not already heavily regulated. Much to McElwee's inevitable dismay, all non-private firearms sales and purchases already require a background check, including sales at gun shows and on the internet.

My opponent claims, also cleverly, that "tons of other countries have reduced violence by reducing guns," and subsequently cites Australia as his case-in-point. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, the Australian Bureau of Criminology has openly acknowledged that this is not at all the case. In fact, according to the DC Examiner, Australia's highest year for gun murder was in 2006 -- after the ban. Australia's Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research also accounted for 46% increase in assaults and a 6% increase in the robberies after the firearm ban was implemented. Sexual assault in Australia rose 30%, and overall violent crime rose over 42%. In other words, Sean McElwee's notion that Australia has decreased crime by banning guns is nothing short of a fairy tale. NCPA data concludes: "while this doesn't prove that more guns would impact crime rates, it does prove that gun control is a flawed policy."

Next up on McElwee's list is the notion that an increased frequency of firearms in the home is positively correlated with suicide. Ironically enough, McElwee displays a graph which makes precisely the opposite claim. Whether the graph is wrong, or McElwee's description is inaccurate, the graph in his article shows that as the proportion of households owning firearms increases, the rate of suicides per 100,000 people decreases. In other words, his graph actually shows that the people with the most firearms kill themselves the least. And even if it were true that suicides did increase in frequency in correlation with firearms, suicide statistics are wholly irrelevant to gun-control policy.

Despite my opponent's increasingly obvious inability to cite accurate data to reflect his arguments, he says that I play an "unfortunate game" of picking the side with the most studies rather than the side with the "most coherent and robust research." He all the while appears to regard himself as the final authority on what is most coherent and robust, and his article up to this point does nothing other than buttress my own hypothesis. McElwee implores my readers to "look for [themselves]" at the links I provided (to demonstrate support for Lott's findings) as if to suggest that the evidence is not actually there. Feel free to do so. Here's a handful of those studies nonetheless:

-- Bruce L. Benson, Florida State University, and Brent D. Mast, American Enterprise Institute, "Privately Produced General Deterrence", The Journal of Law and Economics, October 2001.

-- Florenz Plassmann, State University of New York at Binghamton, and T. Nicolaus Tideman, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, "Does the right to carry concealed handguns deter countable crimes? Only a count analysis can say", The Journal of Law and Economics, October 2001.

-- Carlisle E. Moody, College of William and Mary, "Testing for the effects of concealed weapons laws: Specification errors and robustness," The Journal of Law and Economics, October 2001.

-- Stephen G. Bronars, University of Texas, and John R. Lott, Jr., "Criminal Deterrence, Geographic Spillovers, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns", American Economic Review, May 1998.

-- David E. Olson, Loyola University Chicago, and Michael D. Maltz, University of Illinois at Chicago, "Right-to-carry concealed weapons laws and homicide in large U.S. counties: the effect on weapon types, victim characteristics, and victim-offender relationships," The Journal of Law and Economics, October 2001.

-- David B. Mustard, University of Georgia, "The Impact of Gun Laws on Police Deaths," The Journal of Law and Economics, October 2001

-- T. B. Marvell, Justec Research, "The Impact of Banning Juvenile Gun Possession," The Journal of Law and Economics, October 2001.

-- William Alan Bartley and Mark A. Cohen, Vanderbilt University, "The Effect of Concealed Weapons Laws: An Extreme Bound Analysis", Economic Inquiry, 1998

-- Florenz Plassmann, State University of New York at Binghamton, and John Whitley, University of Adelaide, 'Confirming "More Guns, Less Crime"', Stanford Law Review, 2003.

-- Eric Helland, Claremont-McKenna College and Alexander Tabarrok, George Mason University, 'Using Placebo Laws to Test "More Guns, Less Crime",' The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 2008.

-- Carlisle E. Moody, College of William and Mary, and Thomas B. Marvell, Justec Research, "The Debate on Shall-Issue Laws", Econ Journal Watch, 2008.

So what of the research of Mark Duggan, which McElwee says is "far more robust" than mine or Lott's? As it happens, the study is riddled with errors. Lott notes several discrepancies in the data analysis on his own blog, ultimately concluding: "About half of [Duggan's] violent crime rate estimates show statistically significant drops in violent crime from right-to-carry laws and none of his results show a statistically significant increase." Once again, McElwee's comes up short in supporting any of his arguments with solid data. A pattern appears to be emerging here.

And, hey, what do you know? McElwee changes his tone from "there are no studies to support Fulkerson's claim," to "Fulkerson links to a Wikipedia page with a group of studies that support it." He says: "Great … but of those 12 studies confirming Lott's original conclusion, four were co-written by Lott and another co-written by his collaborator." For the record, there are actually fourteen studies listed in my citation. Granted, the author correctly states that four of thestudies in this list were written by Lott. However, each of these studies were Lott's rebuttals to his critics. For example, "Abortion and Crime: Unwanted Children and Out-of-Wedlock Births," is a direct response to "policy heavyweight" Steven Levitt's suggestion that the Roe v. Wade decision is responsible for lowering violent crime rates.

The culmination of McElwee's own narcissism is in his last paragraph, and each of his accusations appear to fall back upon his own shoulders. After once bad-mouthing me for using biased sources, he turns to data from the Center for American Progress and Media Matters. After howling from the rooftops that I failed in my research, he offers a number of studies which systematically dismantle his own claims. After gleaning himself as an expert in firearms and the Second Amendment, he demonstrates very clearly just how sophomoric and amateur his opinion actually is. We should take it for a grain of salt.

I would like to conclude by formally challenging Sean McElwee to a debate regarding the Second Amendment. McElwee's rebuttal contained a great deal unfounded animosity toward Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, as well as some inaccurate information. This is a separate debate entirely, but happens to fall within my area of expertise. I pose this question: "Does the Second Amendment guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms?"