Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Joe Nocera of The New York Times celebrates a year of his gun violence column, The Gun Report. He attempts in today's column to make sense of his data.

He starts off by admitting that his methodology is simply to do a Google search every morning for shootings. Is that the standard for rigourous at the Times? He then admits that this methodology misses a lot compared to data proved by the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) and even Slate magazine. Nevertheless, Nocera plunges on:

Part of the issue, as Slate has noted, is that it is impossible to track suicides using news media accounts — and suicides, according to the C.D.C., account for some 60 percent of gun deaths. But it was also obvious that a Google News search was bound to miss plenty of examples; that’s just the nature of the beast. Comprehensiveness was never really the point, though. [How convenient.]

First, the biggest surprise, especially early on, was how frequently either a child accidentally shot another child — using a loaded gun that happened to be lying around — or an adult accidentally shot a child while handling a loaded gun. I have written about this before, mainly because these incidents seem so preventable. Gun owners simply need to keep their guns locked away. Indeed, one pro-gun reader, Malcolm Smith, told me that after reading “about the death toll, especially to children” in The Gun Report, he had come to believe that some gun regulation was necessary. He now thinks gun owners should be licensed and “should have to learn how to store guns safely.” [No definition of what constitutes a "child." As has been seen before with gun control advocates, they routinely factor in shootings by gangbangers as being committed by "children" if the individual is younger than 18.]

Second, the N.R.A. shibboleth that having a gun in one’s house makes you safer is demonstrably untrue. After The Gun Report had been up and running for a while, several Second Amendment advocates complained that we rarely published items that showed how guns were used to prevent a crime. The reason was not that we were biased against crime prevention; it was that it didn’t happen very often. (When we found such examples, we put them in The Gun Report.) [Again a failure of methodology. If your daily Google Search is keyworded on shootings only, then you'll get far fewer Defensive Gun Uses (DGU) than actually occur, since in many cases, simply displaying a gun to a criminal is enough to cause him/her to flee or stop his attack. Similarly, not all DGU's are reported to the police. So, since the Nocero's numbers are based on his own flawed methodology, he gets equally flawed results, and is apparently satisfied with that situation.]

Third, gang shootings are everywhere. You see it in the big cities, like Chicago, Detroit and Miami, and you see it in smaller cities in economic decline like Flint, Mich., and Fort Wayne, Ind. Drive-by shootings are prevalent in California, especially Los Angeles and Fresno. As often as gang members shoot each other, they kill innocent victims, often children who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. [Finally Nocero has to admit the obvious.]

Among the readers who post daily comments to The Gun Report are a number of gun rights advocates. What has been astonishing to me is the degree to which they tend to dismiss inner-city violence, as if to say that such killings are unavoidable. The code word they often use is “demographics.”

It is unquestionably true that the most gun homicides occur in the inner cities — the anecdotes we collect in The Gun Report are confirmed by such studies as a May 2013 Bureau of Justice Statistics report. And, yes, plenty of them are the result of gang violence. But why should that make them any less lamentable, or preventable?
[Here basically Nocero is hinting that gun ownership advocates are racist for not feeling sympathy for the black thugs, most of them with criminal records, that kill each other in shocking numbers every year.]

There are an estimated 300 million guns in America, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. But to read The Gun Report is to be struck anew at the reality that most of the people who die from guns would still be alive if we just had fewer of them. The guys in the movie theater would have had a fistfight instead of a shooting. The momentary flush of anger would pass. The suicidal person might have taken a pause if taking one’s life were more difficult. And on, and on. The idea that guns, on balance, save lives — which is one of the most common sentiments expressed in the pro-gun comments posted to The Gun Report — is ludicrous. [Ludicrous only in that you don't provide accurate numbers on DGU's - - and can't, since so many go unreported. left out of the equation entirely is that, even during the period when more and more guns exist in the US than ever before, gun homicides and gun violence has gone down annually for decades even as gun ownership increased.]

So Nocera in the end proves nothing. He uses dubious methodology to confirm what is known already - - that many gun deaths each year are committed by suicides or by gangbangers, and dismisses DGU's because he can't - - or won't - - figure out how to factor them in to his calculations; indeed, he smears law-abiding gun owners as careless for not securing guns from children, as recklessly bloodthirsty based on a single recent anecdote of a shooting in a movie theater, and racist because they don't care that criminal thugs kill each other.

1 comment:

Borepatch said...

I haven't seen any studies that suggest suicide rates decline after gun control laws are passed. Or that suicide rates are different between locales with different gun control laws (e.g. NOVA vs. Maryland, Massachusetts vs. New Hampshire).

The whole thing is an SWPL Just So story.