Monday, February 26, 2018

Methodology in the gun-control debate

Proponents of gun-control blame the prevalence of school shootings on the prevalence of guns. But a problem with that correlation is that guns have been equally prevalent in the past, without a corresponding prevalence of school shootings. So what accounts for the rash of school shootings since Columbine? Here are three considerations:

i) Crime is complex and highly localized. For instance:

From 1991 to 2016, the murder rate fell by roughly half, from 9.8 killings per 100,000 to 5.3. The murder rate rose last year by an estimated 7.8 percent. With violence at historic lows, modest increases in the murder rate may appear large in percentage terms. Similarly, murder rates in the 30 largest cities increased by 13.2 percent in 2015 and an estimated 14 percent in 2016. These increases were highly concentrated. More than half of the 2015 urban increase (51.8 percent) was caused by just three cities, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. And Chicago alone was responsible for 43.7 percent of the rise in urban murders in 2016.

ii) To avoid a fallacious inference, it's important to control for reverse causation. What's the relation between high crime and high gun-ownership? Does increased gun ownership increase crime, or is increased gun ownership a response to high crime? In other words, does gun-ownership prompt crime or does crime prompt gun ownership? This is a point made by Timothy Hsiao in "The Moral Case for Gun Ownership," Bob Fischer (ed), Ethics, Left and Right: The Moral Issues that Divide Us (Oxford University Press, 2019)

iii) Why were witch hunts all the rage during the Enlightenment? Why was there a wave of suicides in 18C Europe? Why was there a massive spike in highjacking between 1967-76? Why was there a repressed memory craze in the 1980s? Why the modern surge in alien abduction stories? Why are reports of gender dysphoria skyrocketing? Why are school shootings more frequent since Columbine despite the wide availability of guns for decades prior?

One explanation is social contagion. A fad or copycat syndrome. So we need a counter-social contagion. 

Let's consider some additional comparisons:

There is also evidence that right-to-carry laws are effective in mitigating the effects of mass shootings. Lott and Landes (2003: 135) found that right to carry laws reduce the number of people killed or wounded from multiple victim public shootings and that limiting the places where permit holders are allowed to carry their guns increases the number of murders, injuries, and shootings.^ Additionally, Lott (2016: 123) found that from 1950 to February 2016, 99% of mass public shootings occurred in locations where guns are legally prohibited. A plausible explanation of this is that mass public shooters tend to select locations in which they know their victims will be defenseless. Timothy Hsiao, "The Ethics of 'Gun-Free Zones" Philosophia 45 (2):659-676 (2017).

In 1997, the United Kingdom banned the ownership of handguns. The ban was ineffective at reducing crime. Indeed, violent crime in England and Wales increased significantly after the ban relative to what it was before the ban, such that the UK is now one of the most violent countries in Europe and has a higher violent crime rate than the United States.53 From 1984 to 1997, the average yearly number of homicides in England and Wales was about 580. After the ban, from 1998 to 2011, the average was 715, a 23 percent increase.54 The number of deaths and injuries from gun crimes in England and Wales increased by 340 percent from 1998 to 2005.55. C’Zar Bernstein, Timothy Hsiao, and Matt Palumbo, "The Moral Right to Keep and Bear Firearms," Public Affairs Quarterly Volume 29, Number 4, October 2015.

Consider the current situation:

Reducing gun violence doesn't reduce violence, since perpetrators simply resort to different weaponry. 

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