Academic articles typically end with an admonition that more data and research are desperately needed to resolve the question under study. That’s where this article begins.
Professional gun controllers cry out that there is an epidemic of deaths from gunshot wounds in America. In the next Supreme Court session or two we are apt to see confirmation of the right to carry by lawful citizens, thereby overturning the May Issue laws of about 10 highly populated states. Soon, we should expect predictions of a veritable pandemic of gunshot wounds and deaths caused by licensed carry.
Activist researchers claim there is a consensus among researchers that gun control is desirable. That was easy to conclude, since their survey group included mostly pro-control authors, without ensuring that they even did peer-reviewed research. The group was mostly composed of medical and public health academics, without the large number of economists and criminologists who recognize far better the value of armed citizens. John Lott, PhD pointed out other faults in the survey and contrasted it with another recent one by Gary Mauser, PhD that was better designed and came to the opposite conclusion.
Gun owners, who are frequently arm chair statisticians, point out that 100 million Americans lawfully own 400 million guns. More than 17 million of these are permitted to carry in public. Still more carry in states requiring no permit. They casually observe that if these gun owners and carriers were causing a problem we would have noticed by now. Not good enough—this is anecdote. We need to know hard facts, not speculation. Moreover, gun culture varies greatly from state to state. Vermont shares long borders with Massachusetts and New York but Bostonians and Manhattan dwellers know nothing of the training to arms taken for granted by Green Mountaineers.
Criminal justice researchers should develop a common report form intended to be implemented nationwide. To this end, data from the current 40 or so Right-to-Carry states would be needed as a benchmark for comparison with data from May Issue states.
Virtually all gunshot suicides, homicides, and non-fatal gunshot wounds come to the attention of local police departments. The difficulty will be getting uniform background data compiled and reported to a centralized database. Sometimes there will be no more evidence than a few brass cartridge cases found in the wake of a report of gunshots heard. Other cases will produce a wealth of evidence produced at trial.
We need demographic data about the shooters. Sex, age, place of residence, criminal background (or lack thereof), training in gun safety and law of self-defense. Prohibited-person indicators, if any. Circumstances of the incident and legal disposition. Victim(s) and their relationship to the shooter. Often, police can identify the victim but not the shooter. In such cases, tentative conclusions about the shooter might be inferred from similar cases in which the shooters have been identified (e.g., gang or domestic violence cases).
Suicides are, by far, the largest number. There will be less difficulty in acquiring relevant background data. Did a life-long gun owner kill himself with a gun lawfully acquired in his youth? Did a child come upon a parent security guard’s carelessly stored gun? Was the child a resident or visitor in the place where the gun was stored? Without such background information there is no way to know whether waiting periods or safe storage practices provide any efficacy whatsoever.
With homicides it’s critical to distinguish between lawful vs unlawful gun possessors. Are there any sympathetic cases among the latter? (A pregnant Krissy Nobal killed a home invader using her husband’s lawfully-owned gun. She has been exonerated on the homicide but charged for felony possession due to a prior pot charge.) More important, to what extent are lawful gun possessors charged and convicted or exonerated of unlawful use of lethal force? Are the incidents accidents or deliberate? Are these inexperienced or knowledgeable gun owners? Are they well or little trained in gun safety, self-defense law?
Assumptions might be sustained or refuted. Suppose we discovered that charges and convictions are disproportionately found among experienced male gun owners who are untrained in the law of self-defense? Or, recent female gun owners who are untrained in gun safety practices but well trained in the laws regarding self-defense? Suppose we discovered that patterns in misdemeanor crimes (disorderly conduct, simple assault, traffic violations and the like) correlate strongly with gun incidents. Any patterns emerging from research on such data would inform public policy for state carry laws.
Congress cannot mandate that states gather this information, but could fund it. Most states should be eager to learn what they collectively can. Data would probably show significant differences in the urban and rural environments affecting the risks of shootings.
The cost of collecting and compiling such data should be relatively trivial. There are only 30,000 some gunshot deaths and 70,000 or so injuries in the United States each year. Not a lot of paperwork (compared, for example, to the number of tax returns or crime reports of all types).
Also, valid extrapolations can be made from substantial, though incomplete, samples. Suppose, for example, that only 25 states holding half the nation’s population participated. Very likely, the demographics of these states and their counties would be useful in illuminating non-participating states’ corresponding demographics. It should be sufficient to sample representative cross-sections of large samples. For instance, public health officials could select representative cases from sex/age/occupation cross-sections to investigate for background information (e.g., medical conditions, history of gun-ownership, recent traumatic events such as death of a spouse).
The gun control side probably imagines that better research could disprove the efficacy of most of their legislative agenda. They should fear that the data will not support waiting periods, age limits, background checks, or any other so-called “common sense” “gun safety” laws, and will probably fight gathering data which would reveal that evidence. But criminologists are well aware of the human and economic costs of ignoring defensive gun uses, too. (Gary Kleck recently confirmed from secreted CDC data that there are likely more than 1 million DGUs each year).
Gun rights advocates shouldn’t expect any surprises, so we have the most to gain from such research. We have every reason to expect that good data covering all firearm uses will prove conclusively that there is no efficacy or any economic justification for most forms of gun control. Although any constitutional right deserves “strict scrutiny”, this would enable judges to conclude that most gun control laws fail even intermediate scrutiny or the rational basis test.
In any case, the public will become informed as to what works in promoting responsible gun-ownership, and what is superfluous—even counterproductive. What role does education in gun safety or self-defense law play? What role do experience and practice play? What about live-fire training? What exercises and scores correlate with “good shoots”? And, for anything, how much is enough?
Do violent misdemeanors or drug violations correlate with bad shoots? Which antecedents (crimes, mental illness) do not correlate with bad-shoots? Should non-violent felons be designated prohibited persons? Should people who can’t balance their checkbooks be so designated?
We are rational people who want to enjoy liberty consistent with public safety. We should want to know what works—what makes for responsible gun ownership and what indicates unacceptable risk. The default presumption should always favor liberty. When a liberty is declared an enumerated right, every limiting law must meet strict tests of necessity. Failing that, popular opinions are just guesses based on hunch and emotion.
—’MarkPA’ is trained in economics, a life-long gun owner, NRA Instructor and Massad Ayoob graduate. He is inspired by our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and holds that having the means to defend oneself and one’s community is vital to securing them.