Opinion by Gary Mauser, Alan J. Chwick, & Joanne D. Eisen
I’ve made it a priority to ensure that background checks are performed for every concealed carry permit @FDACS issues. We should be passing laws to prevent gun violence, not allowing permitless open carry. pic.twitter.com/5kwghE6lk2
— Commissioner Nikki Fried (@NikkiFriedFL) April 29, 2022
USA – -(AmmoLand.com)-There are an estimated 25+ thousand Federal, State, and local gun laws in the US. We are told we need still more. But would additional gun laws be a net benefit? It is not obvious. There is wide disagreement about how effective such laws actually are. In fact, the best research finds that restricting access to guns can even cause more criminal violence.
The recent trend by some states to relax laws restricting concealed carry of firearms, for example, passing Constitutional Carry, is frequently met with concern by leftists in the media. So when Governor Ron DeSantis announced that he intended to bring Constitutional Carry to Florida, Democrats began loudly complaining. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried tweeted, “We should be passing laws to prevent gun violence, not allowing permitless open carry.”
But that begs the question: do restrictive laws reduce gun violence? Does Constitutional Carry increase gun violence?
Candace Swain, who claims to be an average Floridian citizen, wrote an opinion piece for the Palm Beach Daily News, complaining, “What about my right to feel safe? I don’t feel safe around guns on civilians.” From her comments, she doesn’t appear to be very familiar with firearms. At this point, could she ever feel safe around guns? Swain, like many people, has been subjected to deceptive anti-gun propaganda led by the public health community and the media for decades.
The legacy media unnecessarily frighten the electorate by eagerly publishing anti-gun-rights “research studies” cranked out by zealous public health researchers. Few citizens realize that public health is more akin to a religious cult than a science. Many widely published reports are no more than propaganda. Uncritically accepting bad research creates the kind of fear that prevents voters like Candace Swain from understanding the damage to society from the restrictive gun laws they are demanding. These laws tend to reduce the ability of civilians to legally possess weapons, thereby reducing the ability of citizens to protect themselves from violent criminals and, as a consequence, even undermining the stability of our country.
For decades public health researchers have created a large body of pseudo-science (or scientific-looking studies) that suggests that more restrictive laws reduce gun violence. Many of these studies may appear scientific but they are fatally flawed. [read related “Bloomberg Ponies Up $300 Million Dollars to Attack Gun Owners” ] Their research methods are so weak that they don’t support the researchers’ claims. For example, some authors merely assume their conclusions; others don’t understand how their statistical methods actually work, or even worse, confuse correlation with causation. Then they leap to a pre-determined conclusion, unsupported by their research. Waving statistics around is not the same as actually conducting scientific research.
What makes for an effective law?
Professor emeritus Gary Kleck, a prominent criminologist, observes that laws must have certain qualities in order to be effective. Crucially, laws should address gun acquisition by the violence-prone population; they must be obeyed by a sizeable fraction of that population and should not instigate civil disobedience among the lawfully inclined population. Achieving these requirements when crafting laws that work as promised is a difficult challenge
Professor Kleck warns us that restrictive laws are unlikely to achieve the “hopeless task of producing overall gun scarcity”* in our nation of over 400 million guns and growing. Other respected researchers agree with Kleck. For example, both John Lott and James Jacobs argue that general gun restrictions are ineffective in reducing criminal violence.
Kleck points out that the most critical roadblock to achieving the goals of firearms laws is that to be effective, restrictive gun laws must reduce the availability of firearms in the general public. However, in his recent study, Compliance with Universal Background Checks, Kleck found exceptionally low levels of compliance. Approximately 90% of owners did not comply. Why would any criminal obey a gun law when even the so-called law-abiding folks do not?
Americans, as well as Canadians and Europeans, are likely to silently refuse to obey laws they believe are unjust. This noncompliance can be seen with drug laws and public health restrictions, as well as gun laws. Distrust of government prohibitions is widespread. Folks may even say they will comply, but they do not obey. Their behavior tells the real story.
If governments cannot get “law-abiding” citizens to cooperate, we should not be surprised that gun laws do not work as promised. Officials are just fooling themselves by crafting 25+ thousand gun laws when in fact, few, if any, actually are effective.
Public Health Research
To assess the benefits (and costs) of restrictive laws, researchers have attempted to survey the hundreds (if not thousands) of research papers that have examined this topic. All too frequently however such reviews include low-quality studies that have fatal flaws rendering their research findings questionable. It is important to set minimum standards. Quality matters. Social science research is exceedingly complex so it is easy to make mistakes. One of the reasons for insisting on high-quality research methods is that doing so protects researchers from accidentally fooling themselves.
When pseudo-scientific papers, or studies of basement-level quality, are included in a multi-paper review, the good is lost in the bad. Moreover, if the screening criteria are incorrectly defined it is too easy to bias the conclusions by rejecting high-quality studies. Accidentally or deliberately.
Since the 1990s, many low-quality research papers, primarily funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other public health organizations, have been published and all too often do not contribute to our knowledge. They are not properly scientific but full of statistical jargon. Typically, the conclusions are overblown. Often it is not even possible to determine how the authors reached their conclusions because the research methods are hidden behind a paywall.
In 2003 the CDC published a research review article entitled First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws that set such a low bar for the studies they surveyed that their conclusions were rendered meaningless. The review included cross-sectional studies that inappropriately confuse correlation with causality.
As the report makes clear, “No study was excluded because of limitations in design or execution.” The result was they concluded there was “insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combination of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.”
CDC may have set such a low bar for quality in their survey of the research literature because they intended the conclusions to be inconclusive. Take, for example, the articles cited in their review that examined the outcome of the 1976 Washington D.C. gun ban. By not setting proper standards, the CDC could conclude that the “Studies of the 1976 Washington, D.C. handgun ban yielded inconsistent results.”
One of the included papers was by Colin Loftin, Effects of restrictive licensing of handguns on homicide and suicide in the District of Columbia, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1991. Loftin found that the 1976 law did reduce gun deaths. A few years later, in 1996, Chester Britt, Gary Kleck, and David Bordua identified serious flaws in the Loftin study. In A Reassessment of the D.C. Gun Law: Some Cautionary Notes on the Use of Interrupted Time Series Designs for Policy Impact Assessment, they described flaws obvious enough for the CDC to have known about it in 2003. The Britt article is a thorough analysis of the faults of the Loftin paper and goes on to describe the proper statistical approach. The authors then re-evaluated the 1976 DC gun law. They found that “gun laws were likely not responsible for changes in monthly homicide counts…”
Which outcome was right?
The arguments in the Britt article are so logical and compelling that you will not need any math to understand that Loftin committed basic errors that seriously undermined his findings. One basic error was that Loftin chose to compare DC with its surrounding suburbs – a “control” where the DC gun law didn’t apply. However, to properly assess the effects of the gun law, the comparison location should be as similar as possible to the test site. If so, that reduces the chance of other variables causing differences. But the DC suburbs are the wealthy communities of northern Virginia, which differs enormously from Washington DC. A much better comparison would be Baltimore, which resembles Washington D.C. much more than do the DC suburbs. Clearly, Loftin’s choice of a comparison location is inappropriate. Loftin committed another error: he inexplicably ignored two years of data. Years that could make a significant difference in the results?
Given these serious flaws, why did the CDC not exclude Loftin’s results from their review?
The decision to include all relevant studies, regardless of quality, required it. Deliberately including badly flawed studies in their review allowed high-quality research to be smothered by low-quality studies. Thus CDC could say that there was “insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combination of laws reviewed on violent outcomes,” and more research was needed.
In 2020 the Rand Corp published a review article titled, Growing Evidence About the Effects of Gun Policies Provides Needed Information for Policy Decisions, about the benefits of restrictive firearms laws and the strength of the evidence. In their review, RAND reviewed thousands of studies “to assess the available evidence about 18 commonly discussed gun policies on a range of outcomes, including injuries and deaths, mass shootings, defensive gun use, and participation in hunting and sport shooting.” And yet again, the studies cited in the Rand Review are biased and solid research is rejected.
Even though Rand legitimately excluded cross-sectional correlation studies that confuse correlation with causality, they still included a large number of seriously flawed studies, such as case-control studies. Case-control studies are exploratory studies that are inappropriate for identifying causality. Case-control studies are useful for discovering clues or possible correlations that should be examined more thoroughly in an experimental or quasi-experimental design to see if a causal link actually exists. By including such low-quality research as case-control studies, Rand made it impossible to reach a firmer conclusion; they were unable to decide either “we need more laws” or to identify which gun laws failed. As Kleck has pointed out, higher quality research is less likely to support the more-guns-cause-more crime hypothesis.
Rand started with over 12,000 studies that they deemed relevant, and screened out all but 123. Many of their decisions seem arbitrary and capricious because they included questionable studies that favored restrictive gun laws while rejecting a number of solid studies that supported right-to-carry laws that seemingly meet their criteria for inclusion.
One of the references cited by Rand is The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know by Philip Cook and Kristin Goss. Philip Cook is a prestigious criminologist who has a nasty habit of ignoring facts that do not match his advocacy of reducing civilian firearms. He ignores facts like the defensive gun use research of Gary Kleck. Cook holds to exceptionally strict standards when it comes to Kleck’s research on defensive gun uses, as the high number of Defensive Gun Uses (DGUs) found by Kleck increases the perception of the benefits of civilian possession. And so, Rand was able to claim that research about DGUs “was essentially unavailable.”
Solid pro-gun studies are nearly invisible in many research reviews.
This tactic of hiding positive facts about gun ownership is widely used by anti-gun researchers because they know it is difficult for the reader to know what is missing. Gun control advocates, in addition to attempting to prove that gun laws reduce violence, work hard to minimize John Lott’s research with its solid support for “More Guns, Less Crime” as well as Kleck’s research about the impressive numbers of DGU. Including these missing pro-gun statistics would unbalance carefully crafted arguments demanding restrictive laws.
The positive benefit of civilian weapons, like the existence of a high number of defensive gun uses, adds weight to our side of the debate. Guns may be misused, but guns save lives.
For example, it is known that the CDC had information about defensive gun use that bolstered Kleck’s findings of high numbers of DGUs. And yet, the CDC attempted to cover up that data. Fox News reported, “Republican lawmakers are pressing the CDC to reinstate data on defensive gun use to its website after removing it at the request of gun control advocates.”
Another reference used by the Rand review was the Robert Hahn study, Firearms Law and the Reduction of Violence: A Systematic Review. But Hahn’s review was tainted by a large number of low-quality public health studies. Like the CDC’s review mentioned earlier, Hahn concluded the “evidence is insufficient to determine whether the degree or intensity of firearms regulation is associated with decreased (or increased) violence.” What would they have concluded if the pseudo-scientific studies had not been included? Instead of the usual claim of “insufficient evidence,” might it have been “no more laws required here, folks.”
Searching For Honesty
It all boils down to that question of what works best for society and to the need for virtue and honesty – Do the positives of civilian weapons ownership outweigh the negatives? We believe that it does, and we would also ask another question –What harm does any restrictive law contribute to society? What is the effect of the growth of illegal markets like the Mexican cartels? What is the effect of reducing or eliminating the intimidation factor of armed citizens on cultural violence? Do armed citizens fare better against the centralized power of criminal Governments?
We cannot quantify any answer because there are so many factors to consider, like the relationship between cultural violence, violence reduction, firearms law, average civilians and criminals, race, class and education, the culture of government, and other factors that affect human behavior. We want sound honest research in order to arrive at accurate answers. We all want that. We all have our families we love, and we all, Left and Right, want the correct answer.
Or do we actually only want the answers we want?
Could Candace Swain ever believe that she had been used by advocates of a moralistic campaign against civilian firearms? Would she ever trust a stranger with a gun? Importantly, would she ever vote against a restrictive gun law, even if the law proves to be harmful to society? That is, might she vote for a gun-free school zone rather than choose to let a gun-carrying stranger into her local school?
And would she be comforted in living in Illinois, where Governor J.B. Pritzgker just signed an ‘assault weapons’ ban, even though the data are inconclusive? Sheldon Jacobson commented recently in the Hill “arguing for a ban based solely on existing population risk reduction benefits extracted from the data appears to be more about political posturing than data-driven evidence-based analysis.”
What if the data told us that our Founding Fathers were wrong to trust ‘The People?’ What if the virtuous citizens they expected did not appear? What happens if the gun violence statistics show that Freedom leads to cultural decay and is incompatible with casual civilian gun ownership? What if our guns were really a danger to our families?
Would we gun owners still demand our Second Amendment rights? For sure, we would because there is more to the debate about weapons possession than criminal violence statistics and obedience to laws.
But we should at least have that accurate knowledge so we could have an honest debate.
Pro-gun-control advocates and scientists have made a mess of the truth. We need to reclaim it.
Too many researchers use poorly conducted research to justify moralistic campaigns against firearms. They draw conclusions that are not supported by their methodology and compound their errors by recommending legislative solutions that fall far outside the boundaries of their research. They exploit the trappings of science to centralize their power and stampede folk into begging for harmful political remedies.
We do not need to accept that.
About The Authors
Gary Mauser is a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. Check out his blog at JusticeForGunowners.ca for more information.
Alan J Chwick has been involved with firearms much of his life and is the Retired Managing Coach of the Freeport NY Junior Marksmanship Club. He has escaped New York State to South Carolina and is an SC FFL (Everything22andMore.com). AJChwick@iNCNF.org | TWITTER: @iNCNF
Joanne D Eisen, DDS (Ret.) practiced dentistry on Long Island, NY. She has collaborated and written on firearm politics for the past 40+ years. She, too, escaped New York State, but to Virginia. JoanneDEisen@cs.com
* Kleck, G. (1997). Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315130644