What is worse? That the Violence Policy Center continues to promote brutally flawed “research” on “concealed carry killers”? Or that the New York Times’ editorial board publicized it?
I am leaning toward the latter.
We expect an advocacy group to do whatever it takes to promote their cause. The Violence Policy Center, its name notwithstanding, is not concerned with violence per se. Even though it claims to do “research, investigation, analysis, & advocacy for a safer America,” its driving concern is banning private ownership of most guns.
Knowing the VPC was founded in 1988 by Josh Sugarmann helps. Sugarmann is well-known for: (1) working as the communications director for the National Coalition to Ban Handguns (which became the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence); (2) his book, Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns; and (3) his 1988 memo on Assault Weapons and Accessories in America, in which he wrote: “The semiautomatic weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semiautomatic assault weapons — anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun — can only increase that chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”
So, there is ample reason to be skeptical of “research” produced by the VPC. And, in fact, year after year when the VPC publicizes its “Concealed Carry Killers” “data,” people of the gun jump in to poke holes in the “research.” Clayton Cramer already effectively criticized this work 2.5 years ago. It was more recently taken down by Bob Owens on Bearing Arms and Miguel Gonzalez at Gun Free Zone.
The last systematic administrative (as opposed to advocacy) data I saw on concealed carry permit holders in Florida and Texas showed they were many times less likely to commit crimes (violent or otherwise) than the general population, and perhaps even less likely to commit crimes than sworn law enforcement officers.
So, the blame here goes more to the New York Times Editorial Board, which bought into the VPC “research” completely — lock, stock, and barrel, so to speak. To quote the opening of the editorial, “Concealed Carry’s Body Count”:
In America’s endless debate about gun rights versus public safety, there should be no disputing the hard facts in a new report on gunshot fatalities showing that at least 722 nonself-defense deaths since 2007 were attributable to individuals with legal permits to carry concealed weapons.
No disputing the hard facts, LOL!!!!!!! And the editorial concludes:
…the policy center’s gathering of just some of the hard facts of gun deaths at the hands of licensed shooters is more than valuable. It should be received as an alarming check on all the swagger about the woeful phenomenon of more citizens packing more guns.
Woe unto those 11 MILLION+ citizens licensed to carry firearms in public as blood runs in the streets due to the liberalization of concealed weapons laws in America! Seriously!?!? Nothing has lessened my confidence in the media more than getting involved in the study of guns (see posts about problematic reporting here and here and here and here and here). Naively, after the New York Times ran a story changing its tune on “assault weapons,” I thought maybe things were getting better there.
For me, as a social scientist, there is also a broader issue here. Whether people should be allowed to carry firearms in public is an issue on which honest people can disagree. But dishonestly introducing “data” into that debate is something I cannot tolerate because it taints everyone who, like myself and others, works very hard to gather and analyze data as systematically and objectively as possible.
Of course, there is no perfect standpoint of objectivity (“Punctum Archimedis”). As philosopher Leszek Kolakowski once observed, “there is no well so deep that leaning over it one does not discover at bottom one’s own face.” But this does not mean that everything is completely relative and the quest of objectivity should be abandoned. To the contrary, it means we should redouble our efforts to recognize and distance ourselves from our biases. Personal efforts at critical reflection can help, and so can participating in a community of science as individuals with different personal starting points engage in dialogue that can surface their biases.
Of course, if everyone in a scientific community shares the same starting points, then the biases never get surfaced, as seems to happen among public health scholars studying guns and violence.
In the end, I recognize that for the Violence Policy Center, unbiased collection and analysis of the data isn’t the point. But the New York Times Editorial Board ought to be able to recognize that, too, before it gives whatever legitimacy it still has to this advocacy “research.”