Firearms / Media / My Experience

Further Discussion of Dismissal of Research on Gun Shot Victims

As I was writing up my (promised, forthcoming!) analysis of a recent article on nonfatal gunshot injuries that was treated dismissively on the Gun Free Zone blog, Miguel published a follow-up, Again (and final) on the Yale study.

Tragic but not random article

I could see that he had tired of discussing the issue on his blog, so decided to post my response here rather than in his comments section. To his points:

  1. Why is a study necessary? Even the simplest of low-information voters know that hanging around with a bad crowd will lead you into trouble. That admonition has been told since time immemorial by mothers everywhere and proven over and over. Why is a study necessary is beyond me.

For purposes of personal safety, it is not. For purposes of better understanding how society works, conducting rigorous research is good in itself. Sometimes research confirms conventional wisdom, and sometimes it does not. We can only know whether it does or not by doing the research. The anti-intellectualism that crept into the last series of comments was unfortunate, as thankfully some other commenters suggested.

The study may also be helpful (if not necessary) for formulating efficient and effective policies aimed at controlling or reducing crime. For example, don’t waste your resources on Constitutionally problematic policies like stop and frisk but instead focus on people who exhibit certain behaviors.

  1. This study will be ignored by most politicians. Not only because it may shine a good light of Gun Owners, but mostly because it is a demonstration of failed social policies in general. For Chicago that would mean that the Liberal would have to go Mea Culpa and discard decades of “social revolutions” and they rather see more bodies piling up in the morgue than admit failure. What needs to be done in Chicago? Way beyond my pay grade, but certainly what they are doing now is not working.

Possibly. Even probably. But this doesn’t make the study “lame” or a “waste of time and money.” IF the purpose of the study was to influence politicians, then Miguel might have a point here. But the purpose of the study was to better understand how society works. And better understanding can become the basis for better efforts to control or reduce crime. If politicians refuse to make evidence-based policies — as criminologist David Kennedy says happened to his efforts to implement a proven violence reduction strategy in various cities (see his book “Don’t Shoot”) – that is the fault of politicians not the authors of this study.

Disparaging the authors because of bad politicians is somewhat akin to disparaging all gun owners because of criminals.

  1. Till when are we going to treat ourselves as second class citizens? Why do we need to go after every lame study to show the people “Looky here! We are good! This study says so! Love me please!” If anybody needs numbers, there are two places to send them: NICS Background checks and FBI UCR and point out the obvious: We have a shitload more guns now and the violent crime went down. The stupid argument that more guns equal more crime is void and null. Time to Man/Woman up.

I 1,000% agree that law-abiding gun owners should not be treated nor treat ourselves as second class citizens. People who drink alcohol are not socially stigmatized because some drink and drive, and I do not personally feel guilty for drinking because some people drink and drive. Drinking and driving should be socially stigmatized, just as improper use of firearms should be – AND IS! – socially stigmatized. Banning guns will only make things worse, as was the case with banning alcohol in American history.

But connecting this good point to a blanket condemnation of “every lame study” – which really means every study is lame – is not right. To be sure a growing number of guns in American society along with the declining rate of violent crime in the past 20 years suggests any simple causal argument that more guns necessarily leads to more crime is “void and null.” But that does not mean the opposite simple causal argument — that more guns leads to less crime — is true.

It may be that more guns in the hands of the wrong people leads to more crime, or not. Or more guns in the hands of the right people leads to less crime, or not. I wrote previously about a promising study I saw presented at the American Society of Criminology which looked at homicide in New Orleans. The authors set out to move the guns and crime debate forward by distinguishing between the effect of legal and illegal guns on homicide. They hypothesized that presence of legal and illegal guns affect homicide rates, but in different ways. Legal guns reduce gun homicide rates (supporting Lott’s more guns, less crime argument), while illegal guns increase gun homicide rates (supporting Cook’s more guns, more crime argument). Their analysis found this to be the case. If there are no flaws in the study (it was unpublished at the time), then this work goes beyond stupid arguments on both sides.

Again, law-abiding gun owners do not need studies saying we are good, upstanding citizens. But understanding the precise empirical relationship between guns and crime is a different issue than that.

  1. If you are expecting that the Media will pick the study up and go “Oh God we were wrong! It is not the NRA but Gangs and assorted criminals the reason for the murders” get a comfy chair and lots of patience. The Narrative needs to be maintained even when it is a glaring mistake, but it is their lifeblood. And if you think I am kidding, yesterday the New York Times had a nice butt kissing editorial on the Violence Policy Center’s Concealed Carry Killers report. This “study” is so flawed on itself, it makes anybody with a half a brain and a calculator go “WTF were they thinking?” It shall be fisked at a later time.

Nothing has lessened my confidence in the media more than getting involved in the study of guns. I have posted about problematic reporting here and here and here and here and here. So, I do not expect the media to change its narrative entirely based on this study, but it is the case that in the original Chicago Sun-Times story about the study in question, no blame was placed on the NRA, gun culture, gun owners, etc. Similarly, in a Chicago Magazine story from December 2013 on Papachristos’s work, no blame was placed on the NRA, etc.

After the New York Times ran a story changing its tune on “assault weapons,” I thought maybe things were getting better there. The editorial cited here by Miguel is pathetic, and it is sad that the NYT puts so much stock in the Violence Policy Center’s “research” (which Clayton Cramer effectively criticized 2.5 years ago and was more recently taken down by Bob Owens).

So, I can’t argue with Miguel here, though equating of Papachristos’s research with that of the Violence Policy Center is not fair. I keep promising to say more about research on gun violence and its flaws, and I will do so. Soon.

In fairness, I will give Miguel the last word, since he makes many good points (and I wouldn’t follow his blog if he didn’t):

Now, you may disagree with me and that is fine. But to quote Patton (from the movie) “I don’t like to pay twice from the same real estate” and the Yale study and placing any hopes that it will help us, does that.

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8 thoughts on “Further Discussion of Dismissal of Research on Gun Shot Victims

  1. David,

    I wasn’t certain as to why I disliked your approach until I read this sentence:

    The study may also be helpful (if not necessary) for formulating efficient and effective policies aimed at controlling or reducing crime. For example, don’t waste your resources on Constitutionally problematic policies like stop and frisk but instead focus on people who exhibit certain behaviors.

    Oh my so much packed into that. First and foremost you seem to be encouraging people to be profiled based on behaviors instead of illegal actions. Criminals like to keep large amounts of cash – well so do many other people. Criminals structure deposits in banks to avoid reporting requirements — so do many other people and some aren’t doing anything wrong but it looks that way.

    How do we protect the innocent from being targeted based on behaviors?

    And given the constant over reach of governmental restrictions; should we be encouraging action based on behaviors?
    Isn’t California issuing restraining orders to keep ‘gangs’ from gathering? No evidence that the people involved are plotting a crime, no evidence of a conspiracy; just belong to a group the government doesn’t like and POOF — your right to peaceable assembly is gone.
    What happens when they don’t like bloggers or gun clubs?

    Disparaging the authors because of bad politicians is somewhat akin to disparaging all gun owners because of criminals.

    Unless the authors had a motive for producing the study eh? Perhaps they knew exactly how politicians would react and they wanted to move legislation in that direction. Wouldn’t be the first time a study was produced that based on preconceived notions.

    And let’s talk about the entire hang around with bad people; how do you influence someone’s life if you are not in someone’s life. So this study could be used to limit the ability of social workers, former gang members, activists to effect change in the groups.
    Shouldn’t the authors of a study take into consideration how the results are likely to be used as one of the ethical considerations to do it or not?

    Drinking and driving should be socially stigmatized, just as improper use of firearms should be – AND IS! – socially stigmatized

    Except that isn’t entirely accurate. On two points.
    First and foremost there are subcultures that glorify the ‘improper use of firearms’ — they don’t go to the police and they don’t seek peaceful means. Through music, through film, through social media; they idolize those who use violence to solve problems. Not as a last solution but the first.

    Second, gun control advocates do not distinguish, on the whole, between proper and improper use of firearms. They will point to this study and say “See — hang around with people with guns and you’ll likely to be shot. So we need to reduce the number of guns in the country”. Never mind some of us hang around with SASS Cowboy shooters and skeet shooters and the study was talking about something completely different. Miguel has already pointed out at least two incidences like this. Again — shouldn’t there be a consideration of how the study will be used part of the decision making process?

    So i do see a reason to heap scorn on how the study is being used, how it is being perceived and questioning why it was made in the first place. Especially when it isn’t ground breaking; surely a couple dozen other studies have trod the same ground.

    Bob S.

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    • Bob –
      Appreciate your thoughtful comments. I am working on a post in which I discuss with specific reference to the actual article what I find useful about it beyond “what we already know.” Unfortunately, to study the article as well as the context within which it was written takes alot of time. So I can understand why it is easier for some people to simply dismiss the article out of hand because it was produced by “the Intelligentsia” or because it focuses on gunshot injuries rather than all violent injuries or because it uses fancy words or whatever. But to invoke my mother’s folk wisdom, don’t knock it until you try it. Don’t criticize something you don’t know about or understand. I have read this and other studies by Papachristos and do believe that they have broken new ground in our understanding of how social networks work, and no one else has trod the same ground. Whether my post-in-progress convinces you, Miguel (who obviously has no interest in what the studies actually say), or anyone else I will leave for you and others to decide.

      The question of how we protect the innocent from being unnecessarily policed is a good one – and a persistent one. It gets at the heart of policing. But to raise the question does not argue against efforts to control and punish criminal behavior. So, I don’t take this to be a devastating criticism of the issue I raised relative to this article.

      The fact that there are subcultures that glorify improper use of firearms doesn’t mean those subcultures are not socially stigmatized. There are subcultures of neo-Nazis, of drug addicts, polygamists, pedophiles, and all manner of horrific things. I hope it is not incorrect to say that we as a society stigmatize those beliefs and behaviors. Perhaps I am too generous to the American population.

      1,000% agree with you that gun control advocates do not distinguish between proper and improper use of firearms. Have made the point here a couple of times myself. So, yes, there can be consideration of how the study MIGHT be used as part of the decision making process. Part of my defense of it is that it could be used in a positive way to inform the decision making process, even if bad politicians may not do that. But note your conclusion: you “see a reason to heap scorn on how the study IS BEING USED” and “IS BEING PERCEIVED.” I have yet to see any heaping of scorn on anything other than the study itself. If you find some information on how the study is being used and is being perceived, please let me know. I am looking for that information myself.

      All the best,
      DY

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      • David,

        You seem to have left off the last part of my statement – which is I believe the heart of Miguel’s posts.

        and questioning why it was made in the first place.

        I look forward to your analysis of the study — but I feel we can not and should not separate out the why from the how — why it was made and how it is used. I haven’t seen a single article in the media or reference here where the authors are claiming the study is being used in ways they didn’t mean.

        makes me go ‘hmmmmm’.

        Bob S.

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      • The how it is used part will take a while to establish, since the work is fairly recent. And given its complexity, it may not ever be used directly. So, what will be key is how people interpret the research to those who may use it. And certainly much can be lost in that translation. Authors are not able to control the interpretation of their ideas or the use to which they are put. I had a guy argue with me for 20 minutes after a presentation one time about how gun bans were a bad idea, even though I never said they were a good idea. He heard what he wanted to hear, based on his preexisting and probably well-founded heuristic that people like me (university professor who wears a bow tie and probably uses pretentious language) hate guns. But as someone who did hate guns for much of my life, out of ignorance, I am all in favor of listening and learning, and totally opposed to dismissing people out of hand because they are from Yale or have a grant from the National Science Foundation or whatever.

        As far as why it was made in the first place, I didn’t address that because it is not necessarily accessible information (residing, as it does, in the heart of the authors). But if I had to guess I would say the study was done because the authors are concerned with crime, injury, and death, and how to reduce it.

        Having read a number of studies of “gun violence” — and posted my views on them here — I share your skepticism. I simply don’t share Miguel’s hubris in dismissing every piece of scholarship out of hand.

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  2. David,

    I simply don’t share Miguel’s hubris in dismissing every piece of scholarship out of hand.

    Unless you can show evidence that Miguel has dismissed ‘every piece of scholarship out of hand‘ you are using a straw man argument. Poor form ol’ chap.

    Bob S.

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    • I stand corrected. I cannot provide evidence that he has dismissed every piece of scholarship out of hand. In fact, one of my original points was that if John Lott had authored this study he would have been shouting louder than anyone in his echo chamber about how great it is. So, I contradicted myself in making this exaggerated claim.

      My general point of his dismissiveness of studies that he has not even attempted to understand is based on his use of the phrase “every lame study,” in combination with the fact that he characterizes this work as such without having attempted to understand it. In my world, that is poor form as well.

      So, revised conclusion: I simply don’t share Miguel’s hubris in dismissing pieces of scholarship out of hand because of the institutional location of the authors, the topic, or the funding agency.

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

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

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