Firearms / My Experience

On Pro-Gunners Unfortunate Dismissal of a Good Piece of Research on Gun Shot Victims

Miguel Gonzalez of the (pro-gun) Gun Free Zone blog recently posted on news coverage of a recent academic study of nonfatal gunshot injuries in Chicago. The lead author of the study, published in the academic journal Social Science and Medicine, is Yale University sociologist Andrew Papachristos. Having previously written favorably about Papachristos’s argument that violence is “tragic but not random,” I was excited to see it picked up on in the gun blogosphere.

My excitement faded, however, when I saw Gonzalez’s brief comment on the study: “So basically the investigators found out that if you hang out with stupid people at stupid places during stupid hours, you win stupid prizes. We never heard this before, thank God we have the Intelligentsia to protect us and save us.”

Papachristos: Co-Offending network of high-risk individuals in a Boston community, 2008. Red nodes represent the victims of fatal or non-fatal gunshot injuries, and these are clustered within the network. http://yins.yale.edu/illustrative-projects/social-networks-help-explain-gun-violence

Papachristos: Co-Offending network of high-risk individuals in a Boston community, 2008. Red nodes represent the victims of fatal or non-fatal gunshot injuries, and these are clustered within the network. http://yins.yale.edu/illustrative-projects/social-networks-help-explain-gun-violence

In my earlier post about Papachristos’s work I acknowledged this connection with John Farnham’s dictum, writing that it “is more than a scientific gloss on the old saw to not go stupid places or do stupid things with stupid people, though the work does reinforce that wisdom.”

But this post seemed dismissive of the study to me, so I commented on Gun Free Zone to that effect. Gonzalez claimed he was not dismissing the study, but making fun of it – a distinction without a difference if I ever saw one. He repeated the idea that the article was only telling us what we already know, citing three principles of personal security articulated by Roger Phillips of Fight Focused Concepts (avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation). He then asked, “Why do they keep making the studies? Because they are desperately seeking a different answer that conforms to the political narrative. It is never crime, it is never drug trafficking, it is never poverty, it has to be guns so we can ban them.”

From this comment I knew that he had not seriously looked at the study, since the entire point of the work is that your odds of being a gunshot victim is dramatically increased precisely by being involved in a social network that is involved in criminal activity. There is nothing in the study or in the Chicago Sun-Times story that Gonzalez references suggesting the implication of the study is guns should be banned.

I suggested that Gonzalez had not accurately represented the study, and expressed my hope that “the pro-gun contribution to the debate is not simply to be an un-intelligentsia with a bone to pick.” Gonzalez’s response: “Actually what pisses you off is that colleagues are being mocked because they discovered, after extensive analysis, that water is wet.”

So, much like the anti-gun groups who call me names when I raise questions about their data or conclusions, here pro-gun Miguel Gonzalez resorts to attributing motives to me rather than engaging the ideas. (I have never met Andrew Papachristos, by the way, though I did exchange emails with him once.)

Other commenters on the blog made the same point as Gonzalez in suggesting that the study just puts “in pretentious language” what everyone already knows:

  • A small group of idiots makes a lot of trouble for everyone
  • Your are going to get in trouble if you hang out with the wrong people
  • Birds of a feather get shot together

In fact, it doesn’t upset me at all (much less “piss me off”) for someone to say that the study amounts to “the painful elaboration of the obvious” or “common sense made difficult” or “bursting down open doors.” I am a sociologist. I’ve heard all of the mocking. I begin my introduction to sociology class with these sayings. But I also tell the students that sociology is actually opposed to common sense. Or, at least, it does not assume that our common sense or folk wisdom is always correct. Good sociologists need to keep their minds open to all possibilities when they conduct empirical research.

So, in my final comment in the thread (I could see that no one’s mind was going to change), I wrote that the closed-minded response to Papachristos’s article, simply because it came from “the intelligentsia,” is unfortunate. If pro-gun researcher John Lott was the author Gonzalez and his readers would have been falling all over themselves saying, “See, we told you so! He is a genius.”

Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel recently (and stupidly) Tweeted that “Chicago’s crime problem is a gun problem.” Much like David Kennedy in his work, Papachristos and his co-authors in fact show the truth is the inverse of what Emanuel says: Chicago’s “gun problem” is a crime problem. The implication of this work, like Kennedy’s, is that instead of targeting guns, the focus should be on the behaviors that are the problem.

Kennedy Don't Shoot

To be sure, this is not news to readers of Gun Free Zone, but that doesn’t make the study unimportant. Our common sense understandings and conventional wisdom can be wrong. “What everybody knows” is sometimes just what “what everybody believes.” What if we were talking about the world being flat rather than water being wet? After all, everyone knows the world is flat, right?

Of course, people have known for a long time that the sky is blue and water is wet, but thanks to scientists we know much better why that is now than before. With this paper on what affects the likelihood of being shot in Chicago, we have a better idea of the extent, density, and likelihood of exposure to violence within these networks. We have a better idea of why the sky is blue and water is wet, as I will discuss in a future post on the article itself.

As I will also discuss in future posts, those who are pro-gun have good reason to be skeptical of research on gun violence. A major summit on gun violence that opens with Michael Bloomberg calling for gun bans and that includes “research” conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns is certainly suspect. But in addition to considering the source of the research, some thought should be put into what the research actually says.

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9 thoughts on “On Pro-Gunners Unfortunate Dismissal of a Good Piece of Research on Gun Shot Victims

  1. From this comment I knew that he had not seriously looked at the study, since the entire point of the work is that your odds of being a gunshot victim is dramatically increased precisely by being involved in a social network that is involved in criminal activity. There is nothing in the study or in the Chicago Sun-Times story that Gonzalez references suggesting the implication of the study is guns should be banned.

    I am really confused, it seems as if you are deliberately misconstruing what Miguel and the others said. They don’t have a problem with the study it is how the anti-rights cultists use the study

    I say I’m confused because you show a Rahm Emmanual Tweet that directly supports what Miguel is saying.

    The implication of this work, like Kennedy’s, is that instead of targeting guns, the focus should be on the behaviors that are the problem.

    And yet when was the last time you saw the Brady Campaign or Mayors against Illegal Guns ( isn’t that called a clue as to their focus), or any other group call for stricter laws on criminals except for those using firearms?

    We gun owners want to focus on the behaviors that are the problem We gun owners know we have to look at the factors that cause crime.

    With this paper on what affects the likelihood of being shot in Chicago, we have a better idea of the extent, density, and likelihood of exposure to violence within these networks

    I haven’t read the paper myself yet but does it really tell us that? Does it tell us why some people in the same neighborhood, exposed to the same factors, the same pressures never get involved in crime? Because knowing that violence is associated with drugs or gangs and to what extent isn’t exactly breaking news.

    Bob S.

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    • More in a separate post detailing the study itself, but to your point that they do not dismiss the study, they absolutely dismiss the study. They dismiss the study for telling us what we already know.

      In addition, they also are obviously concerned with the political conclusions that can be drawn from the study. I do not suggest that there are not people who are for gun control who will use any study they want for their own purposes. But that fact in itself does not make this particular study useless. Conclusions like Rahm Emanuel’s are not supported by the study and my point of including that was to say as much.

      I have said before that the debate over gun rights verses gun control is not fundamentally an empirical issue. But trying to understand how society works is. And understanding studies of how society works may also be useful to people in arguing their positions about gun rights. Then again, maybe not. But I still feel the dismissive tone was not helpful.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts as always.

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      • David,

        What does the study tell us that we don’t already know?
        If it is nothing, then why shouldn’t we dismiss it?

        Conclusions like Rahm Emanuel’s are not supported by the study.

        And that, not dismissing the study, is what Miguel was pointing out. The study coul tell us that anyone with Characteristic “X” easily identifiable and tested for would be a criminal and no one else would ever been a criminal — and still gun control advocates would push for restrictive laws regarding guns instead of addressing Characteristic “X”.

        Now I’m not saying we should ignore the study but we should dismiss it as stuff we already knew. Reference it to show others, use it to educate the fence sitters as to what we know. But let’s not push it as the greatest thing since slice bread, right?

        Bob S.

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  2. David, a major problem I have with the study — and one that I suspect other pro-gunners will have as well — is that it focuses on “gun violence.” To only focus on the tool puts the researcher’s attitudes and opinions about guns in play. Cynics (like me) may detect an agenda.

    “Young, minority males between the ages of 18-24 are the most likely victims of gun homicide, with rates of gun homicide more than fifty times higher than the overall U.S. average and ten times higher than white men in the same age range. Gun homicide also concentrates in small geographic areas within major U.S. cities, especially socially and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

    All of that is true if you remove the word “gun” from the passage. So why is the modality of murder the issue?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Chris. On the one hand, I agree that the fundamental problem is violence and not the modality. (Relatedly, I have no patience for those who see suicide using firearms as “gun violence.”) That is why I think the best approaches are those that focus not on the guns but on the behaviors. I don’t know if you’ve seen the documentary “The Interrupters.” Don’t know if you would like it, but it focuses on Chicago and how people there are trying to “interrupt” the chains of violence that are plaguing some parts of the city. The focus is entirely on changing behaviors not getting rid of guns.

      On the other hand, there may be reasons to focus on guns and violence that have nothing to do with gun control (in theory — practice is another thing as I will show in my long-promised posts on gun violence research). In the areas with the highest concentrations of lethal violence in the United States, guns are the most common modality (and handguns by far). Which is not a surprise to anyone in gun culture because every gun trainer I have ever heard (from Ayoob and Farnham to the local guy at the VFW) recognizes that a gun is a force intensifier. So if we are interested in criminal lethal force encounters, it can make sense to focus on the most common and the most lethal modalities.

      All the best,
      DY

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Further Discussion of Dismissal of Research on Gun Shot Victims | Gun Culture 2.0

  4. Pingback: More on Dismissed Research on Gun Shot Victims in Chicago | Gun Culture 2.0

  5. Pingback: The Problem with Averages in Understanding Guns, Violence, and Crime (Take 2) | Gun Culture 2.0

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