I’ve been wondering if I should put together this post for some time. It’s been exhausting, and I don’t expect it will have much impact.
Back in December, before I wrote Unhappy Tools, I was trying In trying to figure out the real risks and rewards of gun ownership. At that point I was stymied by the fact that there has been virtually no new research since 1995, when the NRA pushed an attempt to completely defund the CDC over alleged bias. This came shortly after CDC-funded reports were released indicating that gun ownership made a person significantly less safe, and specifically in the wake of one partially CDC-funded nonprofit advocating increased gun control in it’s newsletter.
The end result was a defunding of gun violence research, and a specific ban on “advocating or promoting” gun control. Afraid that any conclusion that associated gun ownership with gun violence would be found to be in violation of this ban, no money was forthcoming for this research and researchers moved on to topics they could get grants for.
The FBI maintains statistics, but in a very specific above-the-fray way that makes it hard to tell anything beyond how much gun violence there is. There are a lot of websites giving opinions, some studded with citations of journalistic sources (a dubious and secondary means of tabulating incidents), others promoting conspiracy theories, distorting the reasonably-established facts, and engaging in a lot of rhetoric.
My best triangulation on the facts – knowing that my bias was towards gun-control - was that the research supported gun control, but was out of date.
The common flaws in pro gun-control arguments was leaning on this out of date research, and in overestimating its value.
The common flaws in pro gun-ownership sites were more varied, and far more common, but mostly took the form of:
- Attacks on the people responsible for the old studies,
- Citations of overall statistics without rigor (gun ownership up overall + gun crime down overall = guns prevent violence),
- Representation of journalism and even opinion as objective truth,
- And conspiracy theories, including, you guessed it, the idea that gun control comes directly from the Nazis, a claim with enough popular traction that even some pro gun-ownership sites feel a need to disprove the theory.
The overall picture reminds me of the debate over global warming: the NRA’s behavior, and that of many gun ownership advocacy groups, reminds me of “climate denier” arguments, specifically in their opposition to research conducted with disciplinary rigor. There is one major caveat here: climate research is still ongoing, whereas domestic (US) gun violence research is limited and outdated because of the ban.
New research about the likelihood of “climate skeptics” being adherents to conspiracy theories in general, and the response of that community to that research (hint: they devised conspiracy theories about it) pushed me to write this. The final straw was the happy news that the CDC will be engaging in gun violence research again. With the news breaking today, I figure it won’t be long before the attacks begin.
We need this research. I’m inclined, based on the old research and on the resistance of organizations like the NRA to conducting research, to think that research will show that gun ownership increases, not decreases risk.
…but I could be wrong. For one thing, there is the work of Gary Kleck, a professor of Criminology, quoted on nearly every page of guncite.com (an openly partisan but well researched and, ahem, properly cited webpage). If other researchers bear out his conclusions, that will be very important. The the bulk of Kleck’s research is from 1997 or before. We need new, independent confirmation or refutation of his and what other work there is on the topic.
We need this research. If someone tells you we don’t, they may be committed to a position that would be endangered by thorough investigation.