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.”
In my earlier post about Papachristos’s work I acknowledged this connection with John Farnam’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 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.
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.