Misleading Anti-Gun Headline from Associated Press

I was surprised to fire up Twitter yesterday and see lots of buzz from anti-gun groups about a syndicated Associated Press story that ran with headlines like “Experts back NYC’s link of gun laws, lower crime” and “Bloomberg Says Gun Control Responsible For Lower New York Crime Rates, Experts Agree.” As an empirically-minded social scientist, I was excited to see what the experts had to say about what was going on in New York City.

Superstorm Sandy

Sadly, when I read the actual article (syndicated even in non-liberal media like the Wall Street Journal), I was surprised to find that, in fact, EXPERTS DO NOT AGREE that gun control is responsible for lower New York crime rates.

To be sure, some experts did find that New York City had some effective POLICING efforts in place to cut down on the number of criminals possessing and using guns. Here is what the article says, “But leading criminologists around the country say Bloomberg is right, for the most part. While acknowledging policing isn’t the only factor in reducing gun violence, they cite the all-time low number of slayings in a city where most people are killed with guns.”

Here is what the experts said:

“New York is showing the way for some good strategies in policing,” said Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

Getting a thin layer of guns off the streets matters, said Franklin Zimring, author of “The City that Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control.”

“Gun policing in New York got much more effective as every kind of street policing got more effective,” he said.

These EXPERTS are speaking not to strict GUN LAWS but to strict POLICING of those who illegally carry and use guns. I maintain that most people who say “gun control” do not mean stricter policing.

Another expert was cited this way:

Mark Kleiman, a professor who studies crime policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that by enforcing laws, authorities in New York are keeping people off the streets who are more likely to be committing serious crime.

“There are clear consequences for having an illegal gun,” he said.

Here again we are talking about policing ILLEGAL GUNS, but many of the most recent gun control proposals have nothing to do with policing illegal guns. “Assault weapons” bans and magazine capacity limits simply make the vast majority of law abiding citizens who own and use these guns into criminals, but criminalizing the law abiding does nothing to make the streets of New York (or any city) safer.

Oh, yeah, and most egregiously, anyone who reads to the end of the story will find that NOT ALL EXPERTS AGREE with Bloomberg’s self-serving statements. Here is a political scientist quoted more than half-way through the story who says that Bloomberg’s claims are inflated:

And criminologists cautioned against giving the city and department too much credit — other factors, such as the economy and education, play a role in the rise and fall of crime. Plus, nonviolent incidents like auto theft that don’t involve guns at all are also down.

“Gun control has a mitigating effect on the crime rate, but you can’t say it’s one of the major factors; it’s more complicated than that,” said Jamie Chandler, a political science professor at Hunter College in New York.

Columbia University criminologist and law professor Jeffrey Fagan — presumably also an “expert” — is quoted later saying, “The murder rate goes down, and shootings are stable, so there is also a question of whether medical care has improved.”

And those are just the experts that were quoted in the story. Had the author sought out other experts the story would have grown even more muddled. Obviously, primary blame goes to whoever wrote the sensationalist and misleading headline. But the very structure of the story was also biased toward the Bloomberg side, AND the substance focused not on gun “control” as it is commonly understood, but policing.

If the focus of the story were shifted to policing, we would probably see more of a common ground open up, since law enforcement is something people on both sides can agree on more. Of course, “policing” in a headline draws less attention than “gun control.”

I say all this as someone who: (1) favors a reduction in gun violence, and (2) believes that the regulation of firearms to reduce gun violence is an acceptable within limits, and (3) hopes that experts will bring facts to bear on the debates over guns that are going on right now, and (4) prays that the media will do its job of objectively reporting the news and not trump up sensational headlines and skew reporting to favor one side or the other.


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