On Being a Gun Advocate vs. Truth Advocate

At the end of my field work at Gunsite Academy this summer, one of the attendees of the 250 Defensive Pistol Course said to me: “It is nice to have some work being done from the pro-gun side.”

When my friend was writing up the text to accompany my appearance on the local NPR station after the Las Vegas shooting, he asked if I should be described as a “gun advocate.”

In both cases I resisted the characterization. Here’s the thing: I don’t see myself as a “gun advocate” or my work as “pro-gun.” As a social scientist, I am a TRUTH ADVOCATE and my work is PRO-TRUTH. What I write about guns is based on my search for truth, not a political position on guns. If there are political implications of my work, I will let others draw them.

By contrast, in the conclusion to my forthcoming book chapter on “Understanding and Misunderstanding American Gun Culture,” I wonder whether social scientists’ excessive focus on guns only from criminological and epidemiological perspectives is driven by a political interest in gun control, rather than the opposite.

I have spent the past 30 years (3/5ths of my entire life!) training to be and practicing as a social scientist. I am the last person who would try to undermine the credibility of social science, either from the perspective of the post-modern left or the populist right. But gun control motivated and anti-gun researchers play a role in undermining their own credibility with people who do not share their fundamental views of the role of guns in society.

Although you can’t hold scholars responsible for how their work is represented by the media, a recent story in Scientific American about guns and crime illustrates what I believe is a symbiosis between gun control motivated researchers and the media that covers them.

The author wants to establish the point captured in the headline above. Although she tries to give the appearance of objectively examining the issue (“evidence shows”), she cannot help but betray her biases throughout the story.

Consider the portrayal of research that contradicts Lott and Mustard’s work on guns and crime (i.e., the “more guns, less crime” hypothesis). I have attempted to read some of this work, and it is extremely complex and there are no definitive conclusions at this point, either way.

The Scientific American author invokes an article by Lott’s critic John Donohue. Fair enough. It provides an alternative to Lott, but is far from definitive, as A.C. Haskins has shown on his Antistupid Project blog.

What caught my eye, however, was that the Donohue article was described as “published this year.”

And yet in the credits for the figure shown above, it clearly shows that Donohue’s is a “Working Paper” posted (not published) on the National Bureau of Economic Research website. The fact that a writer for Scientific American does not know the difference between published research and posted working papers does not inspire confidence.

The bias shines through again in the section of the story on defensive gun uses (DGUs). This issue, like the “more guns, less crime” debate, is complicated and I know of no definitive research on how many DGUs there are in the United States and what they look like. I do, however, assign the article on “The Epidemiology of Self-Defense Gun Use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys 2007–2011” in my Sociology of Guns seminar and have read it closely several times.

It has some interesting findings, but it absolutely does not speak to ALL defensive gun uses. In the Scientific American author’s biased view, the NCVS does well to “weed out” DGU cases in which people might — to take just any old representative example (sarc) — “wave their gun around during a bar fight and call it self-defense.”

Well, that may be true as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. Far more common than people waving their guns around at bar fights, the NCVS “weeds out” any case in which people WERE NOT VICTIMIZED or DID NOT SEE THEMSELVES AS “VICTIMS.” Like my friend who drives a delivery truck locally and used his gun to dissuade someone from entering his truck while he was getting gas one day.

The NCVS also “weeds out” anyone who does not trust the federal government to protect their anonymity. Given the correlation between low confidence in government and gun ownership that I found in my research, those who use guns to defend themselves might be even less likely to appear in the NCVS data.

The example used by the Scientific American author is not only unrepresentative and unhelpful, it also betrays a strong anti-gun bias, one which I regret is shared by too many who study guns, who should also be truth advocates rather than gun control advocates.



  1. It’s the credulity of the press that bothers me. Although I suppose it could be simple incompetence at journalism.

    In the case of Lott, due to his (in my view) overly broad claims for carry, he makes an easy punching bag for people like Donohue to beat up on in a sympathetic press. It’s not like they are going to actually read D’s work, much less the critiques of it (except for Lott’s defenses, which can then be dismissed as self-serving). And since Donohue uniformly only cites to himself, lazy journalists are unlikely to discover the research or critiques by “non-Lott” researchers.


  2. I read the Scientific American article and was disappointed. I thought it was written in an unprofessional and somewhat naive manner and thought that the lack of scientific rigor was showing.

    Like you, I noted that Donohoe’s paper is still at the draft stage, i.e., not peer reviewed, although it is being widely cited as if it were published. I’ll not trash Jon but frankly, I would have treated this as something to be kept inside the academy until it got back from review and was published given that it is politically-relevant science. When I gave a talk on the isotopic composition of the Ontong-Java Plateau and what it said about hot spot formation it did not really affect our society. It just got feathers ruffled in the ivory tower. This work, like other socially-relevant science, has to be fully reviewed so we are as confident as possible of the validity and limits of the study before being used to set policy.

    One specific question I have is how can one do a controlled study of so many states, i.e., it seems there are no controls! The Hopkins study of CT at least looked at one state and used a number of other states to create the synthetic CT model and was clear about that. I’ve not read too much of the Donohoe study as it is over a hundred pages long but something about it worries me in terms of high confidence. Also, deciding cause v effect is different that establishing correlations.

    Jon was on the NPR show 1A a couple weekends ago with John Lott. I thought the discussion deteriorated to a certain degree.

    You are right–this is highly politicized.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Until “gun violence” researchers start acknowledging the crime and sociological data on who is actually harming whom, which we already have from multiple sources and which is (should be) apolitical to collect and analyze, controlling for common details within the those sub-groups, instead of crunching numbers as if the problem is evenly distributed, or any given society is composed of identical generic people except for “owns a gun” and “doesn’t own a gun” (much less legally or illegally), there will always be a lot of talking past each other.

      Ironically, the best way to study, much less impact, “gun violence” is to focus less on the gun and more on the violence itself. Once you identify who is doing what to whom and why, only then you can sensibly look at how, if possible, to keep those particular groups of people, who actually matter to the problem, from getting access to a particular means.


      • Indeed. There is not one America, one rainfall zone, one time zone, or one violence level. Even going from S. to N. Chicago, the murder rate varies by almost two orders of magnitude. So sure, I can understand wanting to interdict guns from getting to gang-bangers or even for that matter, someone with a severe domestic violence problem. But we need to be honest with the stats rather than these vapid comments like “households with guns are more likely to be……”. That is nonsense and ignores the nuance. One might as well say that households with cars are more likely to experience car accidents than households that don’t own cars. Well, of course…..


      • Agree with both of your sentiments here. To begin with people need to stop lumping homicides and suicides together. Both are bad, but have different causes. Focusing on the gun mechanism as a common cause of both just confuses things.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just look at suicide. Both here and in Japan 70% are men, the majority middle-aged. I’d be willing to bet that’s damn near universal across the “developed world” (defined however one wishes).

        Now, in the US that cohort is also the most likely to be gun owners and to have the easiest access to firearms (legally or illegally), so they primarily use the firearms they have handy. But to say it is a “gun problem” in the US elides that what we apparently have is a problem endemic and universal to “modern society”. Only by studying how suicide rates have changed over time (if at all), and trying to tie the “why” to quantifiable changes in that “modern society” can we hope to address the actual driving issues.

        Chasing after some “reasonable gun restriction” that can meaningfully impact that largest single group of suicides in the US without impacting everyone else is a waste of limited resources, an unnecessary infringement. If solving the “suicide problem”, not seeking to justify restrictions qua restrictions, is actually the goal anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Click to access USAID-2016-What-Works-in-Reducing-Community-Violence-Final-Report.pdf

      Why lookie here (credit, as so often, to Stephen Wenger’s DUF-Digest)…

      “In preparation for this report, we performed a systematic metareview of 43 reviews, including over 1,400 studies, to identify what works in reducing community violence. In addition, we supplemented our findings with fieldwork in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States, visiting over 20 sites and conducting over 50 semi-structured interviews. We found that a few interventions, such as focused deterrence and cognitive behavioral therapy, exhibited moderate to strong effects on crime and violence and were supported by substantial evidence.

      Given the modest effects of most interventions, that violence generally clusters around a small number of places, people, and behaviors, and that violence is not displaced from those clusters when they are targeted, we reach the simple yet powerful conclusion that it is advisable to concentrate and coordinate anti-violence efforts where they matter most.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • From the aforementioned, and why I have such a problem with much of the output of the public health research focus on means rather than behavior…

        “One of the most powerful criminological findings from the past two decades is that violence is sticky, clustering in specific places, among specific people, and around specific behaviors. In Boston, 1% of youth aged 15-24 were responsible for over 50% of city-wide shootings, and 70% of total shootings over a three decade period were concentrated in an area covering approximately 5% of the city (Braga & Winship, 2015). In Minneapolis, in 1986 50% of 323,000 calls for police service came from 3% of addresses (Sherman, Gartin & Buerger,1989). In five Latin American cities, 50% of homicides occur in 1.59% of blocks (CAF, 2014). In Venezuela, 80% of homicides in Sucre, Caracas came from just 6% of its street segments (Beliz, 2015). In most major cities, 0.5% of the population is responsible for 75% of the homicides (Muggah, 2015).”

        “Fortunately, a robust body of rigorous evidence clearly establishes that when crime and violence are targeted, displacement is minimal and the impact to surrounding areas is more likely to be positive than negative. “[O]ver 30 years of research evidence on this topic… suggests that crime relocates in only a minority of instances. More commonly, it has been found that the opposite, a diffusion of crime reduction benefits in nearby areas not targeted by interventions, occurs at a rate that is about equal to observations of displacement” (Johnson et al., 2014). Similarly, “Since 1990, there have been five main reviews of empirical studies that report on displacement… All five reviews arrive at the same basic conclusions: there is little evidence that crime prevention strategies lead to displacement” (Telep et al., 2014).”

        Liked by 1 person

    • Khal – I had to LOL at Mike “I’ve Sold 40,000 Implements of Death So I Blog About How Bad Guns Are To Make Myself Feel Better” The Gun Guy writing: “So although we disagree strongly on many issues involving guns, our arguments are couched within accepted academic norms and never flow over into personal attacks.”

      Almost nothing he writes is couched within accepted academic norms and he constantly engages in personal attacks.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Professor Yamane I could detect you were after the truth and not coming from a political basis from the first thing I read on this blog. It’s why I keep coming back. This was the first blog I went to to catch up after being off the net over a month after my move. It’s always why I wanted to come audit your class one time as well. Keep up the good work sir.

    Keep your powder dry and your faith in God.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.