Junk Science, Junkier “Journalism”

In recent years, this blog has made great sport of criticizing the MinnPost‘s coverage of Second Amendment issues, noting that much of their coverage has been both anti-gun and comically poor, and pointing out they are sponsored by the Joyce Foundation, which actively sponsors many anti-gun groups (including Protect MN here in Minnesota, and the national-scoped “Violence Policy Center”, or “VPC”). 

On the other hand, Joyce has sponsored the work of reporter Mike Cronin, who is three parts into a series on America’s gun culture (check out his installments so far on his introduction to shooting, attending a permit training class with Andrew Rothman, and his conversations with violence victims).   The series, thus far, is genuinely fair and balanced; I’ve talked with Cronin, and he seems interested in keeping it that way.  That’s all to the good. 

Snap Back To Reality: But it’s still the MinnPost, which still reflects the paternalistic inner id of the portion of the Minnesota left for whom MPR just isn’t aggressively “progressive” enough.

We’ve seen MinnPost “consumer health” reporter Susan Perry writing about guns before – all of it simply risible.  Perry has a habit of taking the opinion of an “expert” – an academic, a poorly-done and comically slanted study, an anti-gun organization – and regurgitating it uncritically, even fawningly, with that “Journalism!” label stamped on for that extra dollop of unearned credibility. 

Last week’s piece – who’s headline screamed “Gun deaths top motor-vehicle deaths in a rising number of states” – continues the trend.  Perry’s piece regurgitates a press release from the Violence Policy Center (which, Perry notes, is also funded by Joyce) which, to cut straight to the chase…:

  • Uses out-of-context numbers…
  • to reach a  conclusion that is at best meaningless and at worst intentionally misleading…
  • supporting policy proposals that would have no effect on the “problem” they purport to have found. 

Math Is HardPerry’s The VPC’s conclusion seems straightforward enough:

Gun deaths exceeded motor-vehicle deaths in 14 states and the District of Columbia in 2011, the latest year for which such data is available, according to a report published last week by the Violence Policy Center.

That’s up from 12 states in 2010 and 10 states in 2009.

The 2011 states are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

In Illinois, for example, there were 1,114 gun deaths and 1,080 motor-vehicle deaths in 2011, while in Vermont there were 78 gun deaths and 62 motor-vehicle deaths.

We Second Amendment people brag – justifiably – about the 50% drop in murder rates in the past 20 years (as the supply of guns has doubled).  But the rate of automotive fatalities has also plummeted in most of our lifetimes.    Cars are much safer than they used to be. 

Of course, the list of states Perry the VPC picked fall generally into two categories:

  • States with lots of gun violence:  Illinois?  Michigan?  Maryland?  Ohio?  Nevada?  Places with dense urban areas run by dense Democrat regimes where people frequently run or take the bus rather than drive from crime scenes?  
  • States with little of either:  Places like Vermont and Alaska and Utah, with low rates of deaths in either category, where comparative numbers can bounce around like toddlers who’ve gotten into the chocolate coffee beans. 

Which leads to a misleading, context-deprived, and in some ways fallacious numerical conclusion:

Nationwide, motor-vehicle deaths outnumbered gun deaths in 2011, but the gap is narrowing. In 2009, when the Violence Policy Center published its first report on this topic, 36,361 people died in motor vehicle crashes and 31,236 people died of gunshot wounds.

In 2011, the numbers were 35,543 and 32,351.

As the report points out, that narrow gap is even more startling given the fact that more than 90 percent of American households own a car while little more than a third have a gun.

“If charted out year by year,” the report notes, “… deaths nationwide from these two consumer products are on a trajectory to intersect.”

“If charted out year by year” is an interesting qualifier.  If gun fatalities drop by 10% per year, and car fatalities drop by 11%, they’ll intersect eventually; that’s a good thing for all concerned, and it doesn’t mean that guns are getting more dangerous.

It sounds like a stupid comparison.  It is.  It’s the one Perry the VPC is making. 

Damned Lies And Statistics:  Of course, the number of guns has doubled in the past forty years, and the percent of armed households has risen by a similar pace, while the rate of violent crime has dropped by half, and the percentage of families owning cars has stayed fairly similar since the fifties; guns by that measure have gotten much safer. 

But Perry’s the VPC’s numbers are completely out of context on another level.

Of the 35,000-odd traffic deaths, virtually all are accidents, with a small residue of suicides and an even smaller number of murders committed with cars.  Virtually all car accidents are related to some combination of driver error, driver impairment, or (more and more rarely) product defects.  Virtually none are intentional. 

But with guns?   Of the 31,000-odd gun deaths:

  • 2% – about 600 – were accidents
  • 34% – around 10,000 – were intentional homicides.  Of those, 80% (over 8.100 per year) are criminal-on-criminal shootings, mostly related to the narcotics industry.
  • At least 2% were justifiable homicides – self-defense shootings. 
  • 62% were suicides.   

In other words – 2/3 of gun deaths are self-committed, as a result of mental health issues; suicide is tragic, of course, but it is utterly non-accidental. In some ways, it’s the ultimate manifestation of “pro-choice” philosophy; how can people who believe humans should be able to “terminate” fetuses shouldn’t be able to do the same with themselves?  At any rate, they are people who choose suicide, using a gun rather than a car, bedsheets, or booze and pills. 

And over a third of gun deaths are directly related to crime. 

Which leads us to the conclusions.

Off Target: The VPC – operating through its stenographer, Susan Perry – would have our society penalize the law-abiding for the actions of criminals or the mentally ill, based on a reading of the data that is either uninformed, incompetent, or intended to deceive:

Guns, on the other hand, “remain the last consumer product manufactured in the United States not subject to federal health and safety regulation,” the report states.

“While the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is charged with enforcing our nation’s limited gun law, it has none of the health and safety regulatory powers afforded other federal agencies,” it adds.

But as the actual numbers show, while nearly all car deaths are “consumer product safety” issues, about 2% of gun deaths are. 

So the VPC’s recommendations are, well, about 2% applicable to the problem we actually face:

minimum safety standards (i.e., specific design standards and the requirement of safety devices);

We’ll come back to the “design standards”.  By “safety devices”, they are referring to “smart guns”, which are utterly useless; we’ve addressed them before. 

bans on certain types of firearms, such as ‘junk guns’ and military-style assault weapons;

limits on firepower;

Both of these are frankly idiotic; “assault weapons” amount to a few dozen deaths per year, virtually all of them a result of criminal activity.  “Firepower” is a factor in a tiny fraction of deaths – mass shootings – and as we’ve discussed before, the best way to curb mass shootings is to have a good guy on the scene with their own gun. 

The “junk guns” bit?  That’s a combination of ignorance and racism; few if any “junk” guns are produced any more.  The urge to get rid of lower-priced guns is purely an attempt to price firearms out of reach of the poor. 

restrictions on gun possession by those convicted of a violent misdemeanor;

A seemingly sensible statement that hides a lot of bad intentions, as we’ll discuss in coming days. 

heightened restrictions on the carrying of loaded guns in public;

This is simultaneously nonsensical, political, and stupid.  Over a third of deaths are caused by people who carry guns illegally in public, and are already “restricted” from it.  Barring the law-abiding from carrying legally in public will result in more dead law-abiding citizens, fewer dead criminals, and more mass-shootings (as mass-shooters find more crowds of unarmed victims). 

improved enforcement of current laws restricting gun possession by persons with histories of domestic violence;

Well, duh.

Of course, the DFL in Minnesota has consistently fought against such laws and such enforcement, as we’ve reported on this blog for the past dozen years or so. 

public education about the extreme risks associated with exposure to firearms.

Well, there we’re onto something. 

The Second Amendment movement – GOCRA, MN-GOPAC, the NRA, all of us – would be happy to start teaching people about the risks, safe handling, and benefits of firearms. 

But I have a hunch that the VPC has in mind less of that, and more like Susan Perry’s uninformed, context-mangled buncombe. 

“America is reaping the benefits of decades of successful injury prevention strategies on its highways, but continues to pay an unacceptable, yet equally preventable, cost in lives lost every year to gun violence,” the report concludes.

We can indeed prevent many firearms deaths.

But Susan Perry’s the VPC’s recommendations won’t prevent a single one.

35 thoughts on “Junk Science, Junkier “Journalism”

  1. Any given suicide can’t be both a “mental health” issue and “choice”. A person suffering from mental health issues severe enough to cause suicide is almost by definition not making a rational choice. I suspect the population of suicides by “choice” (e.g.deliberate end of life self-euthanasia) that involve a firearm is pretty small. Moreover firearm restrictions would leave those choosing suicide, many other options.

    So basically you are saying some additional impulse suicides (say X) by the mentally ill is just a necessary cost for others to have easy access to firearms. So under current law, how big a number do you think X is? and how big would it have to be for you to agree to restrictions on firearm ownership?

  2. Any given suicide can’t be both a “mental health” issue and “choice”.

    Says who? Do people with depression lose their agency?

    I suspect the population of suicides by “choice” (e.g.deliberate end of life self-euthanasia) that involve a firearm is pretty small.

    Your suspicion is noted, classified as “opinion”, and filed away.

    So basically you are saying some additional impulse suicides (say X) by the mentally ill is just a necessary cost for others to have easy access to firearms.

    That’s a bizarre reading of my reasoning.

    What you’re saying is there is a zero-sum equation connecting my lawful exercise of my right and someone else’s bad, depressed or depraved choice. It’s akin to denying free speech to everyone because Maxine Waters makes a mockery of it.

  3. “Do people with depression lose their agency?” If they are depressed enough to kill themselves, yes. What else is the difference between suicide by the mentally ill and the healthy? Mental illness causes people to do things they would not choose to do if they were healthy. That is why we take away there ability to act if we think they are suicidal due to mental illness.

    “bizarre reading of my reasoning”
    OK what am I missing? You seem to admit that some amount of suicides are caused by firearm ownership. You also don’t think those extra deaths are not a sufficient reason to restrict firearm ownership.

    “It’s akin to denying free speech to everyone because Maxine Waters makes a mockery of it.” I am not taking any position on gun control. Someone can recognize many different harms from a policy without wanting to reverse the policy. I can recognize that there are many downsides to free speech without abandoning the policy.

  4. Liberals specialize in obfuscating stats and especially in discounting intent. After 9/11, you would hear them argue that the 3,000 people killed in the WTC attack were equal to one month’s car fatalities in the U.S. Are we going to declare war on cars, now?

  5. “So basically you are saying . . .”
    Rewriting his opponents’ arguments is a RickDFL specialty!

    “I suspect the population of suicides by “choice” (e.g.deliberate end of life self-euthanasia) that involve a firearm is pretty small.”
    Only RickDFL can decide if your choice for death — or life, for that matter — is legitimate. Your “choice” is really his “choice”.

  6. The U.S., by the way, is among the Western nations with the highest gun ownership rate and the lowest suicide rate.

  7. I think if they want to reduce suicide, they should prohibit living in or near Russia. Check out this world map of suicide rates. Obviously proximity to Moscow drives people to kill themselves.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology_of_suicide#mediaviewer/File:Suicide_world_map_-_2009_Male.svg

    Probably better not to live in Idaho’s university town, either. I’ll be waiting on my MinnPost offer, at least unless this bit of nonsense shows itself too scholarly for them.

    Really, though, what it shows is that if we concentrate on the tool used for a death–car, gun, or other suicide method–we’re going to miss the “why”, and that’s what’s critical. One might posit that economic despair due to socialism leads to suicide, and quite frankly, might also be involved a touch in alcohol and drug-related automotive deaths.

  8. Same suicide rate as “gun-free” Britain. Half the rate of gun-free Japan.

  9. When people — always liberals — blame the high murder rate in the U.S. on the ‘gun culture’, I press them on other useful statistics we could use to better identify these wicked killers who are part of the ‘gun culture’ and apply appropriate remedies. Where do these murders take place? What is the income level of these killers? Have the killer and victims been in prison and released? What about immigration status? Could there be a cultural or ethnic link to gun violence?

  10. The numbers won’t get better, only the cause will change. Presently, old White men kill themselves with legally owned guns. But even as they die off, young Persons of Color will continue to kill each other with illegally owned guns. None of that can be solved without the Giant Magnet. Another waste of column inches in the Minn Post.

  11. OK what am I missing?

    Plenty. Although it’s mostly the stuff you’re making up from the whole cloth that bothers me. For example:

    You seem to admit that some amount of suicides are caused by firearm ownership.

    I “admit” no such thing. That would be to “admit” that guns change peoples state of mind by themselves. That’s just stupid.

  12. I can recognize that there are many downsides to free speech without abandoning the policy.

    OK, fine.

    So for speech, you exercise prudential reasoning, but with guns, you wallow in non-causative correlations and demand that we the law-abiding pay for the symptoms of the insane and the deeds of the depraved.

    Gotcha. I think.

  13. This is literally a perennial issue – the Star Trib ran a big story on it last year. I still don’t understand why RickDFL hates poor children and wants them to die. Don’t see the connection? Let me explain:

    Most Minnesota gun deaths are old men committing suicide which saves end-of-life Obama-care dollars. Most of the remaining gun deaths are gangsters killing each other which saves welfare and law enforcement dollars. Those freed-up dollars could go to vaccinate poor children but only so long as gun deaths continue. If RickDFL gets his way, the people who would have died won’t die, they will continue to consume valuable dollars and poor children will suffer as a result.

    Why does RickDFL hate poor children? Why does he want them to die?
    .

  14. Some suicides are caused by rope ownership, of course, and others are caused by ownership of poison or access to tall buildings.

  15. less and less, what with increasingly sophisticated car safety features and new guard rail technology, “suicide by car” is becoming a thing of the past. Can’t count on the single car/single occupant contact with a tree or a bridge abutment to give your family that life insurance payout and burial with the church’s blessing

  16. When you think that you know something — like what percentage of suicides are done with a gun — you should ask yourself ‘how do I know that this is true?”
    Any time someone dies by gunshot there is bound to be an inquest. The finding might be accident or murder or suicide. People who kill themselves in other ways are more likely, I am sure, to have their suicide classified as an accident. Guy took too many sleeping pills? Accident. Guy put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger? Suicide.
    In the state I live in, after a person enters hospice care there is no inquest, no autopsy if the family doesn’t ask for it. Cause of death is whatever the doctor puts on the death certificate.

  17. It’s interesting that while I don’t call for any sort of limits on guns, everyone assumes that I am, because I point out some obvious negative direct effects of Americans arming themselves. First and foremost, more innocent people will be shot. Your likelihood of being shot goes up strongly if you:
    a) Live in a house with a gun owner
    b) Live in the poor part of a big city
    c) Are male, black, big, or otherwise threatening.
    I don’t want the government to ban them, because I don’t want that kind of government. I feel the same way about banning abortions and narcotics. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and respect the rights of your fellow citizen.

  18. Geez, Emery, what tripe. The family of a big, Black Minneapolis policeman is in no danger from his service pistol in the house.

    Your likelihood of being shot goes up strongly if you hang around with the type of people who typically commit shooting crimes. Liberals are terrified to admit it, but the FBI crime stats reveal the profile of the typical big-city shooter is a Black male between the ages of 13-30, never married but has fathered children he doesn’t support, who has no higher education and doesn’t pay Social Security tax but has plenty of money to spend and flashy clothes, who has at least a juvenile record and frequently associates with felons, who cannot pass a background check but nonetheless owns and carries pistols in public.

    Yes, being a gangster moll is risky. Always has been. Has nothing to do with legal ownership of firearms by law-abiding citizens, which is what Joyce wants to end. Blurring the distinction by distorting statistics isn’t helpful.

  19. Emery,

    I point out some obvious negative direct effects of Americans arming themselves. First and foremost, more innocent people will be shot.

    That’s a hopelessly broad statement. Innocent people will be shot by whom? How? Why?

    But “hopelessly broad” is better than your next one:

    Your likelihood of being shot goes up strongly if you:
    a) Live in a house with a gun owner
    b) Live in the poor part of a big city
    c) Are male, black, big, or otherwise threatening.

    Now you’re just making stuff up.

    Living in a house with a gun owner? If that gun owner is a law-abiding citizen with no record of crime, substance abuse or mental illness, the ratio of deterred crimes to killings is 400:1. (If the gun owner has a crime record, a druggie or drunk, or mentally ill, the odds are about even). By the way, the “killings” are, as noted above, 2/3 suicides and 1/3 criminal on criminal, with a fringe of accidents)

    Poor part of big city? There is no statistical correlation between poverty and violence that doesn’t tie in equally to drugs, alcohol, criminality and mental illness. Which introduces the question; do we have high-crime areas because of poverty, or poverty because of drugs, alcohol and mental illness?

    And while males commit most crime, I urge you to produce any evidence that there’s a tie between crime and size, black people qua black people, and that ephemeral quality known as “looking threatening”. That should be an interesting study.

  20. MBerg says: “Now you’re just making stuff up.”

    Suburban Phoenix child shot when gun accidentally dischargeshttp://ktar.com/22/1692643/Dad-cleaning-gun-accidentally-shoots-child

    There are just too many “guns in home” accidents to link to or mention. I think you get my point. A gun in a home increases the odds for being shot.

  21. So Mitch is your position that all U.S. suicides by firearm would happen otherwise and therefore none are a cost of U.S. firearm regulation policy or that some suicides are a cost of low firearm regulation but you are willing to pay that cost?

    I can’t tell which point you are trying to make.

  22. “A gun in a home increases the odds for being shot.”
    This is a triviality. “A knife in the home increases the odds of being cut.”
    Correlation != causation. Being a passenger in or driving a motor vehicle dramatically increases your odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident, but being a passenger or a driver of a motor vehicle does not cause you to have a motor vehicle accident.

  23. emery intoned:“There are just too many “guns in home” accidents to link to or mention. I think you get my point. A gun in a home increases the odds for being shot.”

    the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”

  24. and to follow up on PMs comment
    having a ladder in the house…..
    having a bathroom in the house…..
    having electricity in the house…..

  25. PM says: “This is a triviality.”

    I don’t believe the 11 year old who was shot by her father would agree with you.

  26. “I don’t believe the 11 year old who was shot by her father would agree with you.”
    Nonresponsive and childish.

  27. RickDFL: I won’t speak for Mitch, but for myself, I argue that people exercising their Constitutionally protected rights always carries a risk that some of them may come to harm. But the benefit to society of having Constitutionally protected rights generally outweighs the harm to the few.

    I posit that people who commit suicide are mentally ill. I further posit people intent on suicide will commit suicide using whatever instrumentality suits their purpose (for example Cleopatra died by snake bite so her beauty wasn’t marred). From those assumptions, I reason that rural middle-aged White men who suffer from such sufficiently serious mental illness that they consider suicide will use a tool they feel comfortable with: a firearm.

    To avoid that, society could treat mental illness, but it’s hard to get middle-aged White men to admit they need help plus it would cost a bundle and require Liberals to admit the present system they designed is a failure. Never going to happen.

    Society could take away every gun from everybody who might become depressed and suicidal, but it’s hard to get middle-aged White men to voluntarily hand over their firearms so disarming the entire state would require house-to-house searches and border inspections. Never going to happen.

    If you could invent a giant magnet to suck up all the firearms in the world, you eliminate suicide By Firearm but it doesn’t mean you eliminate suicide.

  28. Rick,

    So Mitch is your position that all U.S. suicides by firearm would happen otherwise and therefore none are a cost of U.S. firearm regulation policy or that some suicides are a cost of low firearm regulation but you are willing to pay that cost?

    I can’t tell which point you are trying to make.

    Oh, you could probably tell. But you’re being obtuse.

    What Joe said. People who are of a state of mind to kill themselves, kill themselves with what is at hand. Suburban women check out with tranquilizers and vodka. In the city, bridges and trains and overpasses. In Japan (with double the US suicide rate)? bridges and trains and tall buildings and overdoses. Brits, gun-free but with the same suicide rate we have? Ropes, natural gas, whatever. Old rural white guys? They have guns.

    Rick, you could kill yourself with the computer in front of you, if you tried hard enough. Why don’t you? I’m gonna guess “no urge to do it” comes in well above “It’d be difficult”.

  29. OK, if we assume that gun ownership in itself is to blame for all those deaths, sure, that’s horrible.

    But not a hundredth as horrible as the cost of not owning guns, as JPFO will be glad to tell you. All of the genocides of the 20th century occurred in disarmed societies, tens of millions of lives ended too soon.

    But really, the fairly high suicide rates in Europe and in Russia in particular indicate that there is something else going on. Say, despair in terms of promises people were made being broken by the fall of the Soviet Union, a lack of hope for the future, etc.. (i.e. “The Obama Economy”)

    In terms of crime, it’s worth noting that when you factor out unwed parenting, there’s not much of a correlation to guns, race, or ethnicity.

    So hopefully, the left will come out against unwed parenting and their own economic policies, and suicide and crime will plunge. But I won’t be holding my breath.

  30. Emery, I’ll agree that there are too many unintentional firearm injuries and deaths, but (a) they’re a small fraction of the intentional injuries and deaths and (b) they are not accidental because every injury or death indicates that the gun was not pointed in a safe direction, and the owner’s/handler’s finger was on the trigger.

    Put differently, they’re accidental in the same way it’s always an “accident” when one of my kids drops a stack of plates when they’ve been told to carry 1-2 at a time and never use the counters as a ladder. No, not an accident, but an unintentional but predictable consequence of failing to follow safety rules.

  31. Let’s apply Emery and RickDFL’s logic to other areas of life:

    Airline hijackings are bad. People die in them. Many if not most airline hijackers nowadays are Muslims. Your chances of dying in an airline hijacking are greater if you fly on airplanes with Muslims. We could reduce the number of hijackings and save innocent lives by banning Muslims from flying on airlines. Constitutional rights aren’t absolute, it’s time for sensible, reasonable restrictions that only affect a few people for the safety of all.

    Good luck with that, fellas.

  32. Suburban Phoenix child shot when gun accidentally dischargeshttp://ktar.com/22/1692643/Dad-cleaning-gun-accidentally-shoots-child.

    Tragic? Yes. Result of a father who violated at least two of the four absolute safety rules (#1 “they’re always loaded” and #2 “Never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to destroy”, and probably #3, “Never put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to destroy your target”). And as noted above (do you actually read this stuff), part of at most 2% of firearms deaths.

    Result of “Guns”? Sure, in the same sense that “cars”, “swimming pools” and “slides” will kill thousands of kids this year.

  33. The other part of the argument is that guns have no use other than shooting people. It’s not true, but even if you agree to that proposition, it is clearly not true for every person. We allow law enforcement personnel to carry guns. I wonder what the death rate due to accidents and suicide using these guns is? Shouldn’t it be easy to find that number? Shouldn’t we want to know that number? Don’t cups suffer from depression and substance abuse at a higher level than the general public?
    What part of “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” do anti-gun people disagree with?

  34. Nate, I think the better parallel of RickCCCP’s argument is that since Muslims hijack airplanes, we ought to ban Muslims.

    Certainly that is the implication of recent government reports using interest group reports to demonize conservatives for a few acts of the fringe.

    And by the way, for the assistance of the logic impaired, no I don’t want to ban Muslims.

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