In the Crossfire, Too


This is a continuation of last Saturday’s post, In the Crossfire.  I chose the title because those of us taking a moderate position seem to be exactly that, caught between the rhetoric of the gun rights and gun control extremes.

Statistics is the study of the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data.  As imposing as that definition is, it hardly conveys the breadth or depth of the topic, which ranges from managing data collection and presentation to statistical inference, the process of drawing conclusions based on the collected data to mathematical statistics which provides math tools to the statistician and methods of characterizing random data.  I suspect that only a very small fraction of the U.S. populace is trained in statistics yet we are continually bombarded by statistics as a means of leading us to a conclusion.   Yet, as Daryl Huff pointed out in his 1954 book, How to Lie with Statistics, it is easy to exploit the public’s lack of understanding of statistics to lead them astray.  Hence, statistics become not only a means of correctly analyzing data but a means of presenting data to support particular conclusions, a tool of marketers and politicians.

In the first post of this series, In the Crossfire, I said that Gun control advocates are fond of anecdotal evidence, out of context quotes, and partial statistics to prove their point.   I need go no farther than the right hand panel of the poster at the top of this page, taken from the the Brady Campaign website.  The easy conclusion is: (there are very few gun murders in some countries)+(wow, there are a lot of killings in the U.S.) = (we have too many guns).  Let’s take a look at one statistic, Finland.  Right off the bat, the number 17 is misleading because Finland has a much smaller population than the U.S.  But more significantly, Finland has one of the highest levels of gun ownership in the world behind the U.S.   In How to Lie with Statistics, Daryll Huff points out that correlation isn’t causality … that is, just because two things appear to be related, one doesn’t necessarily cause the other.  Doesn’t Finland’s low murder rate in spite of high gun ownership suggest that it’s due to something else?  Likewise, England and Wales have a much lower gun murder rate than the U.S. since gun control laws were passed, but they had low murder rates before the laws were enacted, too.  I’m not saying that gun ownership isn’t a factor there, just that it’s complicated.  I’m also not saying that all gun control literature is fast and loose with statistics, but in general, it tends to favor the heart at the expense of the head.

Then again, the gun rights folk tend to overwhelm with statistics that ignore that these are human lives we’re talking about and accuse us of knowing nothing about firearms.  The article, Assault Weapons on the anti-gun control website, GunCite, is a good example.   The article labors through a discussion of exactly what constitutes an assault weapon, both legally and in the eyes of gun owners.  I got to read about caliber and what weapons are more powerful and whether they are useful for hunting.  It gave me a part by part and function by function description of what makes a gun a genuine assault weapon.   I was totally uninterested but I read it anyway so I could not be accused of being uneducated about assault weapons.  Now, I’m educated but it has had no effect on my opinion**.  If gun rights people want to reach people like me who are In the Crossfire, they need to realize that we are not interested in the fine details of weaponry … or whether it can kill a cow or not.  The article then drags me to the conclusions … with plenty of documented statistics … that: only 1.7% of the guns in the U.S. are assault weapons; that one-fifth of one percent (.20%) of all violent crimes and about one percent in gun crimes; and less than 4% of mass murders, committed with guns, involved assault weapons.  Does it make me a bleeding heart to remind that the 4% includes 20 children from Sandy Hook?  Talk about favoring the head over the heart.

The most notable part of the article came in the form of a question: If this is such a small part of gun ownership, why all the fuss when assault weapons are banned?  The answer is that many gun control advocates make it clear that they see the banning of assault weapons as a first step to much broader gun control.   I’m inclined to think that the possibility that extreme gun measures would be unlikely but I’ll explore that in another post.

Meanwhile, what are those of us In the Crossfire … with both heads and hearts to think?

I will approve all comments offered respectfully and intelligently.  Others will be dumped as spam.

** Late Note: My opinion as of now isIt’s time to outlaw possession of assault or military-style weapons meant for warfare and for high-capacity clips that make no sense as self-protection. It’s time to tighten standards for gun possession. Gun rights folk talk about only criminals having guns but crimes like Sandy Hook are more often committed by the mentally or emotionally debilitated and there certainly can be more control of access for the potentially unstable. Still, the guns Lanza used were his mother’s. Sadly, I think only more extreme security measures at the schools can keep them from being a target of choice.   But this can change … that’s the point of this exercise.

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5 Comments on “In the Crossfire, Too”

  1. I so agree with your premise here -starting with the fact that statistics, while a great tool that can be used to emphasize a point (or several), those same statistics can be worked in virtually any way the statistician wants to use them to manipulate data and minds.

    Funny thing too but just yesterday, my son and I got to talking about this issue -in which we too are like you and caught in the crossfire. Unlike most of the other males in this area, he is not one who is “into” hunting or even shooting much less gun ownership although he carried a gun while serving in the Army for four years and knows enough about them and handling them and respects those who do enjoy hunting or shooting for sport. I, a former employee of the NRA, and in many ways, still a supporter of many of their programs, have never understood the paranoia that so many folks have about gun registration -for openers. Some would probably say I am naive and that the government is just drooling to have registration and all kinds of more laws pertaining to gun ownership and such so that they can come and confiscate all the guns. And, they’d probably add if my home were invaded, I -and any family members present -would all be killed for sure since we would have nothing available for self-protection. I don’t really follow the logic on that either. I have however been able to go skeet shooting (many, many years ago with a good friend and missed most everything that got sent up in the air too, I might add) and I can honestly say I did enjoy doing that -or at least trying. I’ve seen some very high level shooting matches in my time too and know the excitement of watching marksmen (and women as well) show off their prowess and I also enjoyed that very much and appreciate the talent that comes through at events like that.

    There is a good deal of truth in the NRA catch phrase of “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” And, therein lies the problem area in my opinion. Education plus knowledge of mental health issues and better methods of detection and helping those who have “issues” and shouldn’t have firearms as well as people learning anger management too are things that perhaps might help ward off some of the incidents we’ve seen in recent years.

    Perhaps, as a lot would probably say, I am a dreamer and not a believer in reality, but there has to be a way, some how, that a comfortable medium can be reached and results gained that make us truly a civilized society, not one that reaches for a gun to solve ever difference, whether major or slight. JMHO there and my apologies for writing a post instead of a simple comment!

  2. cherperz Says:

    I agree with Jeni Hill Ertmer’s comment that statistics can be manipulated to support anyone’s point of view. Sorta like the Bible…you can find a verse to support or condemn any act you would ever want to do. It’s all about the interpretation.

    As for gun control..I think you make a valuable point that pro-gun supporters are worried that any restriction could lead to more restrictions. That seems to be the case on so many “rights” debates these days. No matter what the argument is about these days, no one wants to move an inch toward compromise.

  3. […] posting my response to him here, as a broadened topic. Please read his posts, In the Crossfire and In the Crossfire, Too, so that you understand to what I am responding […]

  4. I started to reply here and then realized I was basically writing a whole post in this comment box. May I ask that you read my post from today, Common Sense, as a reply to your thoughts here?

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