A Brief History of Firearms Policy Fraud

The Heller vs. D.C. ruling affirming that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms was a major civil-rights victory building on 15 years of constitutional scholarship. Accordingly, we owe a great deal of thanks to principled and dedicated legal academics including Don Kates, Dave Kopel, and the blogosphere’s own InstaPundit (aka Glenn Harlan Reynolds) for their work on the Standard Model of the Second Amendment.

But there was another trend at work; the beginning of public recognition, after the year 2000, that anti-firearms activism has been founded on systematic errors and widespread fraud in the academic literature on gun policy.

The scholar we have to thank most for this awakening is Michael Bellesiles, the author of Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (September 2000). In looking back on the public debate that led up to the Heller ruling, I can think of no other single person who did so much (even if inadvertently) to change the political climate around gun rights.

Bellesiles sought to to show that the bearing of civilian firearms had not been a central feature of life in the first century of the U.S’s history; that American gun culture had been founded on a myth, and the “truth” denied it political legitimacy. His book got a favorable reception (the Bancroft Prize, glowing reviews, near-unanimous praise in the national press) because it told the media-political elite what most of it wanted to hear, that the Second Amendment was an anachronism being defended by dupes and frauds.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the punchline: it was Bellesiles himself who was the fraud. His conclusions were unsupported; his ‘evidence’ was a tissue of deliberate misconstruction and outright fakery. His Bancroft prize was eventually withdrawn for “scholarly misconduct”

The exposure of that fraud sent shock waves through academia and the media, gave the civil-rights advocates who took him down exposure and new legitimacy, demoralized anti-Second-Amendment propagandists, and destroyed the ability their side had previously developed to largely control the terms of the gun-policy debate.

Thank you, Michael Bellesiles, for overreaching. The Heller ruling is the just reward of the skeptics (led by an uncredentialed amateur) who dug and thought and argued their way to a public hearing. But what the public doesn’t fully understand yet is that Arming America was no exception. Bellsisles was the visible end of a long and dishonorable history of manipulation, sloppy practice, and apparently deliberate deception in the anti-gun-rights literature, a pattern of flim-flam and axe-grinding that stretches back decades.

Now that the Heller ruling has come down and administered another salutary shock to a lot of people who thought they could dismiss the Second Amendment and its defenders, I think it’s time that civil rights advocates follow up by exposing the history of junk science and dishonesty in anti-firearms studies before Bellesisles.

Let’s hit a few high spots:

Noel Perrin’s 1979 book Giving Up The Gun. Perrin argued that Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s 1543 ban on firearms was successful and a key factor in the Tokugawa pacification of Japan. Implicitly he proposed this as a model for emulation. But, as an eminent historian of Japan once explained to me, it is known for certain that the great daimyos continued to equip the retainers with firearms after the ban. The truth is that the shogunate merely pretended to abolish firearms and the daimyos pretended to obey, a very Japanese face-saving maneuver. To support his conclusion, Perrin must either have ignored or outright suppressed the most obvious kind of primary documentary evidence — the actual weapons inventories from the Tokugawa period.

The 1986 Kellerman & Reay study Protection or peril? An analysis of firearm-related deaths in the home is the source of the widespread myth that home-defense weapons are 43 times more likely to kill or injure family members than a criminal. Dave Kopel’s refutation, devastating as it is, fails to mention that Kellerman has refused to disclose his entire primary data sets to peers so his statistical analysis could be checked. Kellerman was later a vocal defender of the Arming America fraud; perhaps his data sets are swimming with Bellesiles’ nonexistent probate records?

Kellerman and Reay are nothing if not consistent. Two years later, their 1988 Handgun Regulations, Crime, Assaults, and Homicide: A Tale of Two Cities blatantly manipulated and misrepresented data from Seattle and Vancouver in an attempt to argue for the effectiveness of Vancouver’s firearms restrictions. Among other failings, it omitted to control for socioeconomic and ethnic differences between the cities, and it ignored the actual 25% increase in Vancouver murder rates after the law.

Colin Loftin’s 1991 paper Effects of restrictive licensing of handguns on homicide and suicide in the District of Columbia failed to control for population changes between 1976 and 1987 and fraudulently ignored a doubling of D.C’s murder rate after 1978 that earned it the sobriquet “Murder Capital of the World” even as gun-ban advocates were citing the Loftin study as evidence of the success of their policy. Refutation here.

The 1992 Koop and Lundberg paper, Violence in America: A Public Health Emergency advocated stringent gun control and registration with the claim that claim that “One million US inhabitants die prematurely each year as the result of intentional homicide or suicide”. This could not have been other than outright fraud; there is no honest interpretation of national mortality statistics that can come anywhere close to supporting this 35-fold exaggeration.

Edgar Suter’s 1994 article Guns in the Medical Literature — A Failure of Peer Review documents a longstanding pattern of “the inflammatory use of aberrant and sculpted data to reach illogical conclusions”. It refutes both of the Kellerman & Reay papers cited above, the 1993 Koop & Lundberg paper, and notes flaws in several other less-well-known but equally biased and fraudulent studies.

A 1983 review article, Willam Tonso Social Science and Sagecraft in the Debate over Gun Control, discussed a pattern of particularism, deception, and questionable methodology amounting to a form of class warfare against gun owners. While the authors refrain from making specific accusations, the paper valuably illuminates the context in which these frauds take place since as early as the late 1950s, and explains why they are so difficult to combat.

I described the errors as “systematic” before the jump because there is a pattern of distortions in the anti-gun literature that have been repeated over decades even though they violate known good practice in the social and medical sciences. These include but are not limited to:

  • Failure to control for socioeconomic differences between star and control groups, even when the differences are known to correlate with large differences in per-capita rates of criminal deviance

  • Choice of study periods that ignore well-documented trends that run contrary to the study’s conclusions immediately before or after the period.

  • Selective use of suicide statistics, counting them only in star but not control groups and/or ignoring massive evidence that would-be suicides rapidly substitute other methods when firearms are not available.

  • Tendentious misapplication of Uniform Crime Report data, for example by ignoring the fact that UCR reports of homicides are entered before trial and therefore fail to account for an unknown but significant percentage of findings of misadventure and lawful self-defense.

And I described this pattern as “fraud” before the jump because the magnitude of these errors would be too great and their direction too consistent for honest error, even if we did not in several prominent cases have direct evidence that the fraud must have been intended.

A further and very disturbing pattern is that conventional academic peer review has largely failed to point out errors that were later readily apparent to uncredentialed amateurs. Arming America is only the most prominent such case; very often, the earliest and most forceful refutations of bad research have come from civil-rights defenders working nights and weekends. It is shameful that these refutations have been so frequently ignored by the academy.

Civil-rights advocates have an opening to shape the terms of future debate now, but I think it needs to be exploited before the Heller ruling becomes old news and the Bellesisles fraud fades from public memory. We need a history of the flimflam more detailed than this one, we need it to be available on the Web, and we need it to be written in language accessible to journalists and the public.

UPDATE: Thanks to ricketyclick for pointing out that the anti-Heller brief for the District of Columbia and Justice-Stevens’s dissent were both riddled with factual errors — see here and here. Honest error, or fraud? Either way, it is telling that the anti-Heller position relied on it.

33 thoughts on “A Brief History of Firearms Policy Fraud

  1. One thing that has not been discussed, in regards to anti-gun fraud, is the issue of motive. Clearly, Bellesiles, Kellerman, and the others of their ilk have seen enough evidence that they KNOW the pro-gun side to be right.

    Let me reiterate that: virtually all anti-gun researchers know that they are on the legally, criminologically, and morally wrong side. They know that we are on the right side.

    And yet they continue to spout their lies. Why?

    In a limited number of cases, it could be explained as job protection. Somebody who has never had a job outside of HGI/Brady might be reluctant to admit that his life’s work was of no value. Yet most anti-gun activists have other means of support. Probably all of them, really; for all their positive media attention, most anti-gun groups are pretty much on-the-fly operations, not anywhere near the organizational level of the NRA or even the GOA.

    One can be tempted toward a conspiracy theory here. Perhaps these people really do intend to disarm the American people in preparation for a Communist, or other totalitarian, takeover? Yet I really don’t like to resort to John Birch-type theories; they seem to fly in the face of Occam’s Razor. Besides, although gun controllers nowadays tend to come from the extreme left, it was not always so. Many people commonly associated with the Right, such as William Buckley and George Will, have supported draconian gun control laws. (Buckley’s anti-gun bias disappeared from NATIONAL REVIEW after his retirement, and Will now largely avoids the gun issue, except for commenting on its political ramifications, as opposed to the right or wrong of the issue).

    To the extent that there is a divide, it isn’t a Right-Left divide. Nor, as some have claimed, is it an urban-rural divide; while big city mayors are almost invariably anti-gun, no one has yet detected a reliable anti-gun voting bloc in the cities. Many Democrats were surprised to see post-election polls in 2000 that showed not only that anti-gun rhetoric cost them votes in largely rural swing states, but also showed that it failed to gain them votes even in most big cities.

    In fact, almost all the anti-gun activism comes from very small, but influential groups: lawyers, academics, politicians, and (surprisingly) at least a large minority of big businessmen. Note that all of these groups (except, perhaps, academics) tend to be people who exercise great power and frequently deliberately ruin people’s lives for their own benefit. Lawyers, for instance, have been known to urge women to get better divorce settlements by accusing their husbands of child molestation. It’s not surprising that scum such as these want their victims disarmed.

    To a large extent, guns act as a social thermostat, tending to break a circuit on sources of extreme injustice. So it’s not surprising that those sources are willing to lie to promote their cause.

  2. The pattern of overreach and backlash is indeed notable. I am most intrigued by what the result will be if, as I expect, in twenty years or so Climate Change has still failed to materialize. The key question is whether the backlash will be against science itself, or against the media-political-academic establishment.

  3. Visiting your page from Google Reader throws these errors:

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  4. Item: it’s “Bellesiles” with two S’s, not three.

    Item: I’ve read NR for forty years or so, and never noticed any great enthusiasm for gun control in it,

    Ken: don’t underestimate the power of self-deception. The results the anti-gunners report are what they truly believe the truth is, if they could only find the right way to discover it.

    ESR: One question that would be important to answer: What did Bellesiles know and when did he know it? When and how did he decide to lie? Because, clearly, he did.

    Final point: this shows the need for auditing. You may have noticed the recent hooraw over Kennedy v. Louisiana, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for child rape is unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy, in the majority opinion, stated that only six jurisdictions in the U.S. had this penalty – which was factually wrong. Only six stateshave it, but it’s also in the UCMJ – Federal law, which Kennedy specifically states did not have it. Louisiana may ask for a rehearing on the basis of factual error.

    Clayton Cramer (one of the heroes of the Bellesiles affair) noted a recent report that 3% of footnoted references in scholarly papers in the social sciences can’t even be found.

  5. >Clayton Cramer (one of the heroes of the Bellesiles affair) noted a recent report that 3% of footnoted references in scholarly papers in the social sciences can’t even be found.

    I’m frankly surprised the percentage is that low.

  6. I don’t think you can implicate dastardly motives to all of these errors; as someone who perversely (but I hope scientifically) enjoy finding the mistakes in arguments made in favor of my own causes as well as arguments against, you see them on every side, especially on something as emotionally invested as the US gun debate. I genuinely wonder if you picked a random area of sociological study and swamped it with fact-checkers exercising the same kind of enthusiasm and brio as advocates in this space, you’d see similar results.

    I know it’s a bit of a tangent, but I tend to take Kennedy assassination buffs as the control in this sort of situation. Given the utter ambiguity of the concrete data, and the huge variation in people’s own conspiracies inclination, it’s amazing how much apparent (and mutually contradictory) “academic research” gets done.

  7. >I don’t think you can implicate dastardly motives to all of these errors

    Right. I know Hanlon’s Razor too: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. But my question for you is: if you think these are all incompetence, how would malice look any different? That is, at what point do the two become operationally indistinguishable?

  8. Surveillance sat recordings of a secret cabal of liberals, planning their next escapade from the Hillary Clinton Memorial Hollowed-Out Mountain?

    More practically, if the outward behavior is for all intents and purposes indistinguishable, how does your presumption one way or another affect how you would respond to it? Most libertarians are aware of the paucity of the left/right division. I wonder if a more useful one these days is how you perceive those who oppose your views. Are they useful fools? Malicious fifth-columnists? Misled? Culturally blinkered? I love Ken’s position that his Loyal Opposition actually *know* he’s right, but cannot agree with him because of threats to their job security.

    We pose these questions idly, but it’s important. It’s going to be a long, and inefficient road to victory if you don’t have an accurate model of the inner psychology of your opponent. I think there’s a real need in humans to presume that the other side in any argument has lower, baser motives than ourselves, which seems at least probabilistically unlikely.

  9. >More practically, if the outward behavior is for all intents and purposes indistinguishable, how does your presumption one way or another affect how you would respond to it?

    Predictions of future behavior. If Kellerman and Reay, for example, were merely mistaken, then it is reasonable to suppose that on having their errors pointed out they would retract their work and do better work in future. On the other hand, if they have been engaged in deliberate fraud for what they regard as a higher purpose, they will instead do things like refusing to make their primary data available for auditing. Which, in fact they have done.

  10. This round-robin debunking of the arguments via statistics for the pro and con gun lobby groups gets pretty fruitless. Both groups haplessly grab on every log that slips by in the river of data they proceed to bludgeon their opponents with it. If you are down to star and control groups, well you’re out.

    Nobody cares about that stuff, its meaningless no matter what side its coming from as long as the other side disputes the data or the analysis.

    The sensible approach is to derive stats that both sides can agree on and move the argument on from that point.

    Like thats ever gonna happen with the hair splitters approach.

    Ken:

    There are sincere people on both sides of the argument and there are frauds as well. Nobody has a mononpoly on the truth. Eric is picking a specific group that may or may not “know they are wrong”. However apart from Bellesiles nothing discussed here could be said to infer that the other authors “must know the gun lobby is right”.

  11. >However apart from Bellesiles nothing discussed here could be said to infer that the other authors “must know the gun lobby is right”.

    That much I agree with. I think the anti-gun academics fake data because they’re so convinced they must be right that fabricating evidence to prove it seems not only excusable but their actual duty.

    >There are sincere people on both sides of the argument

    Agreed. But the situation is not symmetrical, because reality isn’t either. Their “sincerity” leads them to tell lies and propose a collective-rights reading of the Second Amendment that is actively perverse. This tells you everything you need to know about the value of their sincerity.

  12. Eric,

    Again apart form Bellesiles, you call them lies, they call them the truth. Nobody can agree and nobody will agree because to agree is submit in this winner takes all approach to the debate. Instead of polarising the whole issue, the debate would be better served by people attempting some kind of rapproachment. Calling people liars because you don’t agree with them is not going to move the game forward. Did you think you would change their mind that way? Do you think the dyed in the wool anti-gun lobby is going to read you blog and suddenly see the light? Unlikely. Sure the gun lovers will lap it up, but so what?

    Now I’m no fan of dispassionate argument but ad-hominem attacks on the other side are never going to achieve your goals and the “embattled minority” pose gets old pretty quickly.

    Tell me something new about gun control, that isn’t old data wrapped in new paper. Are their *any* comparative studies that both sides accept? Or are we doomed to a never ending spiral of death by statistical sleight of hand from both sides.

  13. >Nobody can agree and nobody will agree because to agree is submit in this winner takes all approach to the debate.

    That’s why it’s a good thing there are such things as facts. The universe — not any of the contending sides — gets the final say.

    >Calling people liars because you don’t agree with them is not going to move the game forward.

    No, but calling them liars because they can be shown to be liars very well might. You don’t think I’m writing to persuade the likes of Kellerman & Reay, do you? It’s the rest of the population, not those already committed to a position, that is worth trying to reach.

    >Are their *any* comparative studies that both sides accept?

    As near as I can tell, no, there aren’t, because the anti-gun side is in the grip of a “noble lie” that they’ll never let go of. Compromise is not really an option in this situation.

  14. There have been two meta-studies of all of the available research on gun control available. The first was performed under a directive from the Carter administration, published in 1983 as Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime, and Violence in America by Wright, Rossi and Daly. The second was performed by the National Academies of Science under directive from the Clinton administration, published in 2004 as Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review.

    Unsurprisingly, both reports – twenty years apart! – concluded that all the research done so far proved inconclusive. “Gun control” laws could not be shown to have reduced violent crime, accidents, or suicide with any statistical certainty, and relaxing gun control laws (shall-issue concealed carry primarily) could not be shown to have had any effect on crime, either. Even the 1994 “Assault Weapons Ban” (that wasn’t) didn’t have any statistical effect.

    Of course, both studies concluded that what was needed was more studies!

    But I was most struck by the conclusion of the 1983 Wright-Rossi piece, Under the Gun, when the authors wrote this:

    The progressive’s indictment of American firearms policy is well known and is one that both the senior authors of this study once shared. This indictment includes the following particulars: (1) Guns are involved in an astonishing number of crimes in this country. (2) In other countries with stricter firearms laws and fewer guns in private hands, gun crime is rare. (3) Most of the firearms involved in crime are cheap Saturday Night Specials, for which no legitimate use or need exists. (4) Many families acquire such a gun because they feel the need to protect themselves; eventually they end up shooting one another. (5) If there were fewer guns around, there would obviously be less crime. (6) Most of the public also believes this and has favored stricter gun control laws for as long as anyone has asked the question. (7) Only the gun lobby prevents us from embarking on the road to a safer and more civilized society.

    The more deeply we have explored the empirical implications of this indictment, the less plausible it has become. We wonder, first, given the number of firearms presently available in the United States, whether the time to “do something” about them has not long since passed. If we take the highest plausible value for the total number of gun incidents in any given year – 1,000,000 – and the lowest plausible value for the total number of firearms now in private hands – 100,000,000 – we see rather quickly that the guns now owned exceed the annual incident count by a factor of at least 100. This means that the existing stock is adequate to supply all conceivable criminal purposes for at least the entire next century, even if the worldwide manufacture of new guns were halted today and if each presently owned firearm were used criminally once and only once. Short of an outright house-to-house search and seizure mission, just how are we going to achieve some significant reduction in the number of firearms available?

    They also asked another pretty pertinent question no one seems to have taken up:

    American progressivism has always taken a strong and justifiable pride in its cultural pluralism, its belief that minority or “deviant” cultures and values have intrinsic legitimacy and are therefore to be at least tolerated if not nourished, and certainly not be suppressed. Progressives have embraced the legitimacy of many subcultures in the past, including tolerance for a vast heterogeneity of religious beliefs, regional diversities, a belated recognition of the rights of American Indians, and tolerance for immigrant peoples. And more recently, progressives have hastened to affirm the legitimacy of black culture, Hispanic culture, youth culture, homosexuals (and, for that matter, nearly every other subculture that has pressed its claim for recognition.)

    A critical issue in modern America is whether the doctrine of cultural pluralism should or should not be extended to cover the members of the gun subculture. Is this cultural pattern akin to the segregationism of the South that was broken up in the interest of the public good? Or, is it more akin to those subcultures that we have recognized as legitimate and benign forms of self-expression?

    Somehow I don’t think that was the report the Carter administration was expecting when they commissioned it.

  15. Ok, let me pose it this way (and I may well be wrong). The pro-gun lobby is all about the “right to bare arms”, a fundamental constitutional right and if we are defending that fundamental right we are defending the American constitution.

    The anti-gun lobby is (again I may be wrong here) trying to prevent people killing other people with guns in America. I don’t know but lets get a statement. These are not contradictory goals as a see it, and thats the kind of rapproachment that I think will move the argument forward.

    Maybe the pro-gun lobby is just against the anti-gun lobby and vice-versa, I don’t know. But if it is just X against Y, fuck it, just play tiddly winks. I do think there is a debatable issue here, but what is it? Freedom, Death? I don’t know.

    Here’s a question for the anti-gun lobby, is it some lower level of deaths by gun that satisfies you?

    Here’s a question for the pro-gun lobby, Can I fly to LA as a foreign national and buy a gun, is that the level of gun ownership you want?

  16. Kevin, those are both fascinating quotes, and echo my own feelings. I continue to be amazed at the belief that gun culture in the US can easily be mapped onto cultures elsewhere (a mistake that both sides make), and that the kind of gun control that many advocate for the US won’t (and has not already) alienate and intrude on many sub-cultures.

  17. >The anti-gun lobby is (again I may be wrong here) trying to prevent people killing other people with guns in America.

    I think you are wrong. The movement’s footsoldiers believe this, but its leaders and theorists seem unbothered by gun violence as long as it’s the police or military doing the committing. I therefore conclude that what they really want must be something else. The least damning alternative I know of is that gun control is a form of class warfare against rural conservatives (not my private theory, the Tonso paper I cited suggests it); all the other potential explanations are much more sinister.

    >Here’s a question for the pro-gun lobby, Can I fly to LA as a foreign national and buy a gun, is that the level of gun ownership you want?

    Yes. I think it would be a better world if every civilized person were routinely armed, not just American citizens.

  18. >There have been two meta-studies of all of the available research on gun control available.

    I’m familiar with the Wright, Rossi & Daly study. It made the error of assuming the anti-firearms studies were honest. I doubt their findings would have been so inconclusive if the true extent of fraud were known and those studies discounted accordingly.

  19. Eric,

    The reason I read your blog is it is uncompromising and this line (which I know will alienate your more liberal allies) is just perfect,

    “Yes. I think it would be a better world if every civilized person were routinely armed, not just American citizens.”

    As regards this comment,

    “I think you are wrong. The movement’s footsoldiers believe this, but its leaders and theorists seem unbothered by gun violence as long as it’s the police or military doing the committing. I therefore conclude that what they really want must be something else.”

    Well, firstly your putting words in the mouths of your counterparties, “the movements footsoldiers believe this”, we don’t know what anybody believes. Secondly I there is an ongoing debate about the use of violence by the state that is well documented and debated by a group that I will wager has at least some overlap with the anti-gun lobby. I will admit that they rarely campaign on the same platform but I would attribute that to the general principle in the US that to win majority approval of any argument you don’t set yourself against the local gods (e.g. the federal and/or local government).

    Final point, (for I must go to bed, but will revist this post in 12 or so hours) does the everbody owning and carrying a gun arguement not fall into the realm of the theatre goers dilemma? e.g. If the row in front of me stands up, I have to stand up, so everybody behind me has to stand up. So we all stand up to get the same view and our seats are wasted?

    Goodnight. More tomorrow.

  20. Eric, I’d have to dig through the book pretty thoroughly again (it’s been a while since I read it), but I believe the authors do take note that almost all of the research done has been partisan on one side or the other. I think one of the things that resulted in Wright and Rossi stating that they used to share “the Progressive’s indictment” stemmed from this realization – and the fact that the data had to be cherry-picked and manipulated to show statistical significance. In short, both sides lied to make their arguments look good. The actual data proved nothing.

    And if the anti-gun side was right, they’d have easily proven their argument.

    It’s a point I’ve made on numerous occasions: If the worst thing you can say about, say, shall-issue concealed carry is that it might not be responsible for a reduction in violent crime, then the anti-gun argument has lost. They realized this. And it’s the point you make above. Honest researchers know the facts. To continue to insist otherwise indicates that they are deliberately lying. The question then is “Why?” This question – and anger about being so blatantly lied to with little to no recourse to challenge those lies – is what made me an advocate.

  21. >It’s a point I’ve made on numerous occasions: If the worst thing you can say about, say, shall-issue concealed carry is that it might not be responsible for a reduction in violent crime, then the anti-gun argument has lost.

    Oh., I agree. I still don’t think Wright, Rossi & Daly twigged to the actual scope of anti-gun fraud, though. It’s not a strong enough description of reality to say “both sides have been biased” when Second Amendment advocates routinely discover gross errors and manipulation, but anti-gunners can’t even plausibly make that claim.

  22. If I may jump in. I’ve twice now jumped to your blog recently and found the quality of argument refreshingly civil and intelligent, by comparison to much of the ‘Net, which has unintentionally proved the theorem wrong that “an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of keyboards could reproduce the works of Shakespeare.” Maybe it would be right if they were Shakespearean monkeys.

    On to gun-control: People (you seem to fall into this camp, Joe) who are of the moderately liberal belief that “we’re all good people” and want some type of “rapprochement” always want to exclude “malice” as a motive and want to “advance the dialog”. Eric makes a point that ought not to be forgotten or glossed over: just because there are two sides to an argument doesn’t mean there are two equally meritorious positions.

    (>There are sincere people on both sides of the argument<
    Agreed. But the situation is not symmetrical, because reality isn’t either.)

    In some cases, there are equally meritorious positions and we have to make policy choices, plain and simple. This is occasionally what judges must do in statutory interpretation, when the available evidence produces no real answer as to how the particular case should be decided. But in many cases, arguing that there are “sincere” people on both sides is flawed logic – it’s a non sequitur of epic proportions. I am quite certain that Joe Stalin was sincere in his beliefs, as were many, many ardent communists (including those of American stripe who wanted to take down the country through any means necessary.) Having served in Afghanistan recently, I can tell you that many Al-Qaeda supporters are incredibly sincere. This has nothing to do with being right, however.

    Anti-gun activists always remind me of the line from Holmes about the 14th Amendment and “can’t helps”. He noted that we all have things that we simply “can’t help” believing to be true. Anti-gun activists simply cannot envision guns being helpful because a gun may be used to take a human life. It’s therefore malum in se (I won’t bother showing why that is simply stupid). That’s why they tend to be (in principle, even if they don’t know it) leftist/liberal fruitcakes because they imagine a Utopian world after the abolition of the handgun. They’re certain of this and so the data MUST be right, statistically methodology be damned. And if it isn’t conclusive, well, dammit, it SHOULD be. “I know it. And I’m a good, sincere, nice guy.” And thus does a little smudging and fudging occur. Call it a malice or call it self-deception, but I find no way of “reasoning” with people like this. Even try this – try asking them what would falsify their argument. In other words, they believe certain things to be true – A, B, and C, and that leads inescapably to the conclusion they argue for. Ask them which one or what things if opposite would make them change their conclusion. You will get a completely blank stare. Guaranteed. Because they can’t imagine – they are intellectually incapable of telling themselves – that the opposite of their propositions could be true. Even when it is.

    By the way, I don’t own a gun and never have and I’m a defense attorney by trade (I am certain the ad hominem will be coming).

  23. this pattern is a lot bigger than just gun-control: it’s endemic to every field where someone seeks membership of a group whose aim is to alter others’ behaviour. smoking, time&motion studies, drink-driving, climate-change: the meme’s required results shape the chosen data/analyses.

  24. I’m still sceptical: I’ve seen blatant cherry-picking by pro-gun advocates before, but generally speaking pro-gun advocates don’t [get to] publish in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, so don’t get the analysis and exposure they deserve, either positive and negative.

    I think that gun control academics are often content to dismiss as irrelevant obscure-outside-their-constituency pro-gun papers, while pro-gun groups rather relish destroying their highly-publicised opponents’ errors. If you’re in a minority, your strategy differs from the majority.

    (I don’t have any citations for any of this, so feel free to dismiss it. I’ll humbly look into it more.)

  25. does the everbody owning and carrying a gun arguement not fall into the realm of the theatre goers dilemma? e.g. If the row in front of me stands up, I have to stand up, so everybody behind me has to stand up. So we all stand up to get the same view and our seats are wasted?

    No. When the front row stands, I have lost something of value, and must in turn stand to regain it, causing those behind me to lose something of value. Drawing a parallel between this and carrying a gun implies that the mere act of carrying causes those around us to lose something, so they must carry, and so on. ( This of course causes the anti-self-defense folks to believe we lose the inherent safety we would enjoy were we defenseless. ) When law-abiding people go about armed, I lose nothing. If they carry concealed, I may even be unaware. Either way I stand to gain something of value should the need arise for me to defend myself from the non-law-abiding, as someone nearby may be equipped to help me.

  26. I think that gun control academics are often content to dismiss as irrelevant obscure-outside-their-constituency pro-gun papers…

    But they had a bit of a problem with Sanford Levinson’s Yale Law paper The Embarrassing Second Amendment (1989), and Clayton Cramer’s The Racist Roots of Gun Control (1993), followed by a long string of other papers that (I believe) eventually led to Lawrence Tribe’s revision of the portion of his textbook American Constitutional Law on the Second Amendment in 1999. Tribe, a self-described liberal and supporter of gun control, “relegated the Second Amendment to a lengthy footnote” in the first two editions, according to one source. But in the third he wrote this:

    “Perhaps the most accurate conclusion one can reach with any confidence is that the core meaning of the Second Amendment is a populist / republican / federalism one: Its central object is to arm ‘We the People’ so that ordinary citizens can participate in the collective defense of their community and their state. But it does so not through directly protecting a right on the part of states or other collectivities, assertable by them against the federal government, to arm the populace as they see fit. Rather the amendment achieves its central purpose by assuring that the federal government may not disarm individual citizens without some unusually strong justification consistent with the authority of the states to organize their own militias. That assurance in turn is provided through recognizing a right (admittedly of uncertain scope) on the part of individuals to possess and use firearms in the defense of themselves and their homes — not a right to hunt for game, quite clearly, and certainly not a right to employ firearms to commit aggressive acts against other persons — a right that directly limits action by Congress or by the Executive Branch and may well, in addition, be among the privileges or immunities of United States citizens protected by §1 of the Fourteenth Amendment against state or local government action.”

    By the year 2000 the “Standard Model” understanding of the Second Amendment had a large and growing consensus among lawyers and historians. The fact that this scholarship existed is the reason that U.S. v Emerson was decided the way it was in Texas federal court in 1999, and in the 5th Circuit in 2001. As Tribe himself said, “Do you persist in digging and taking the risk that you won’t like what you find? I guess that’s what I did.” I think that Bellesiles’ book was a reaction to that growing scholarship – an attempt to head it off, roll it back, discredit it. Instead, it, along with Emerson, catapulted the topic out of the halls of academia and into the public spotlight. I know that my epiphany came in 1993 when I met the woman who would be my wife and was exposed, for the first time, to someone who knew guns and gun owners only through what she saw and read in the media. The 1994 “Assault Weapons Ban” cemented, for me, the need to act. By the time Bellesiles’ book came out, I was ready to counter it. Obviously, so were hundreds of others – many of them very well placed in academia, where their opinions would be heard.

    One other very important factor – the internet. Our growing connectivity gave millions of people access to these discussions, and all the relevant source information. When someone said something, we no longer had to accept it as fact – someone knowledgeable could comment, refute, support and post or link to the source materials. This is what Clayton Cramer and Jim Lindgren did to Bellesiles, and through the History News Network and dozens of gun boards and blogs their information spread as it never could before. I don’t think anyone on the anti-gun side of the argument ever expected there to be such a massive response from a (literally) grass-roots level. As one wag put it, “They’ve been playing on astroturf so long that they don’t know grassroots even when fed a mouthful of divot.”

    And it didn’t end there. I myself, lowly gun-blogger, have had public exchanges with the likes of Saul Cornell and David Hemenway. I have responded to op-ed articles across the country, and had public exchanges with their authors. Now these people know that when they write or say something, it will no longer be accepted as gospel, it won’t go unchallenged in public. An excellent example of this is Chicago Tribune writer Laura Washington and the blogosphere’s “People of the Gun” website.

    But the most emphatic example was what I call the Great Zumbo Incident of 2007. As that aforementioned wag described it, “On Friday evening, a gunwriter who was apparently tired of his 42-year career put his word processor in his mouth and pulled the trigger.”

    Yes, there are literally millions of us out there – aware, informed, and angry. And not only does the gun industry hear us, academia hears us and the government hears us. Perhaps not as clearly as we’d like, but they know we’re out here, we’re connected, and we’re paying attention.

    Bellesiles may have been the key to bringing in a previously oblivious population, but the groundwork was already done, and the battlefield is vastly different from any that has come before.

  27. hi danny. (weird timing — looks like i was looking in on your blog at the same time you were leaving this comment.)

    think you might have hit this post at a bit of a tangent. eric’s points were not related to inconsistencies BETWEEN papers, but to serious methodological flaws WITHIN papers. his examples from contradictory research were merely in the nature of Sizing the Magnitude of the errors being introduced.

    that is, the methodological flaws are Internal to each research paper; they stand regardless of reference to other papers.

    and, frankly, taking eric’s post here at face value, they’re appalling. they indicate either that the researchers had very little experience designing research or working with data/econometric-tools, or that they were flat-out incompetent, or that they were, consciously or subconsciously, seeking out justifications for pre-existing positions.

    eric’s of the opinion the last is the case. i haven’t personally examined any gun-ownership research, but in general: i’ve over the years reluctantly come to the conclusion that a HUGE amount of even thoroughly peer-reviewed research in EVERY field falls into the last case. all too often you learn more about the researcher and his/her need for social status (via group-identification and influence over others’ behaviour) than about the topic.

    eric further believes the researchers in question were mendacious. i’m not familiar enough with the topic, its research, or its researchers to comment materially on that.

  28. The anti-gun crowd acts exactly like a mother in denial about her precious snowflake’s bad behavior. She knows her baby is perfect, so the evidence that it is otherwise must be wrong. I’ve personally witnessed this kind of behavior and was completely floored by the parents state of denial.

    The anti-gun crowd KNOWS they are right, so the facts must be a lie.

  29. Joe Drumgoole wrote:

    “Final point, (for I must go to bed, but will revist this post in 12 or so hours) does the everbody owning and carrying a gun arguement not fall into the realm of the theatre goers dilemma? e.g. If the row in front of me stands up, I have to stand up, so everybody behind me has to stand up. So we all stand up to get the same view and our seats are wasted?”

    That’s such a bizarrely incoherent analogy that it’s difficult to know where to begin responding to it.

    First of all, no one has made an “everbody [sic] owning and carrying a gun arguement [sic]“. What ESR actually wrote was: “I think it would be a better world if every civilized person were routinely armed, not just American citizens.” And you know perfectly well that’s what he wrote, because you quoted his exact words. “Every civilized person” does not mean “everybody”. So right from the beginning, you are setting up a straw man.

    Second, it is not the case that you have to acquire and start carrying a gun if other people do. In a theatre, if the people in front of you stand, you are forced to stand as well because they are blocking your view. How does this map onto gun ownership? In what way does the possession of guns by other law-abiding citizens force you to obtain and carry one yourself? Hell, how will you even know that your neighbors have guns unless they carry them openly (something you didn’t specify in your analogy)?

    If anything, having neighbors who legally own and carry firearms makes it less necessary for you to do likewise. The presence of such neighbors reduces your risk of being the victim of a violent crime — both by deterring the criminals (who would much rather practice their trade in communities that disarm their citizens) and by enabling your neighbors to use their weapons to stop crimes that they witness.

    As for “we all stand up to get the same view and our seats are wasted”, I haven’t the faintest idea what this is supposed to mean in the context of gun ownership. If we all get the same level of reduced crime, how is that a bad outcome? What, exactly, is being wasted?

    In your theatre analogy, what represents crime? Who plays the role of the police? (Ushers?) In what way is a theatre seat even vaguely like a gun? What is the theatre equivalent of self-defense? Who is being shot, and by whom?

    No, I’m sorry. Your analogy completely fails. It makes no sense at all.

  30. Typo/omission: “…widespread myth that home-defense weapons are 43 more likely to kill or injure family members than a criminal” I believe you mean to say “43 times more likely”. Anyone not familiar with this particular lie might take your “43 more liekly” as 43 percent more likely or some such.

    ESR says: Thanks, corrected

  31. Ken: “To the extent that there is a divide, it isn’t a Right-Left divide. Nor, as some have claimed, is it an urban-rural divide…”

    Machiavelli’s Discourses, I 5.2: “In the former there is a great desire to dominate, and in the latter merely the desire not to be dominated”.

  32. If you haven’t read Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society yet, you should. He makes many of the same points ESR did in the essay, but applied to nearly all aspects of liberal intellectuals’ beliefs and claims, and documents them. The book is pretty close to being an enlarged and updated version of A Conflict of Visions and, especially, The Vision of the Anointed.

  33. “If Kellerman and Reay, for example, were merely mistaken, then it is reasonable to suppose that on having their errors pointed out they would retract their work and do better work in future.”

    Kellerman, for one, is a provable fraud.

    He is a clever person who writes papers with strictly limited claims, and then goes on TV and inflates them. His peer reviewers look at his statistical methods, and approve the paper WITH his broad caveats attached — such as the following:

    “…it is possible that reverse causation accounted for some of the association we observed between gun ownership and homicide — i.e., in a limited number of cases, people may have acquired a gun in response to a specific threat… Finally, we cannot exclude the possibility that the association we observed is due to a third, unidentified factor.”

    Once his paper has been published, and his peer reviewers are out of the loop, he then proceeds to make overly broad, causal statements to the press (in this case, a CNN interview):

    “…guns in fact increase the risk of homicide in the home almost three times over comparable homes without guns.”

    Nowhere does his paper claim or even support this statement, and only those who actually read his paper can see how he is lying. Mission accomplished: the lie is spread to the public, “based on” a “scientific” “peer-reviewed” study that it isn’t even actually based on.

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