5 Problems with the New Study ‘Proving' that More Background Checks Lowered Connecticut's Gun Murder Rate by 40 Percent. Article Excerpt from Reason.com
By Brian Doherty
Reason.com –-(Ammoland.com)- A new study in the American Journal of Public Health purports to show that a 1995 tightening in Connecticut's gun permit laws led to a 40 percent reduction in gun homicides over the next decade—nearly 300 fewer gun homicides than their counterfactual construction of a Connecticut without those laws would have had.
Despite its immediate adoption by gun control advocates, the study may not actually deliver what's advertised.
If you are eager to tie together various gun-violence-related items in one messy stew of proposed restrictions on gun possession rights, do note that Charleston mass murderer Dylann Roof would not have been prevented from obtaining a weapon by Connecticut-style background check laws (whose details are given at more length immediately below).
The study was conducted by researchers Kara E. Rudolph, Elizabeth A. Stuart, Jon S. Vernick, and Daniel W. Webster under the aegis of the John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. A press release from that Bloomberg School of Public Health sums up the findings of the study and the nature of the law whose effects it purports to chart:
[the study] compared Connecticut’s homicide rates during the 10 years following the law’s implementation to the rates that would have been expected had the law not been implemented. The large drop in homicides was found only in firearm-related killings, not in homicides by other means, as would be expected if the law drove the reduction…..
The Connecticut law requires all prospective handgun purchasers to apply for a permit in person with the local police regardless of whether the seller of the handgun is a licensed dealer or private seller. It also raised the handgun purchasing age from 18 to 21 years and required prospective purchasers to complete at least eight hours of approved handgun safety training.
“Permit-to-purchase laws, which require prospective handgun purchasers to first obtain a license from the police after passing a comprehensive background check, appear to reduce the availability of handguns to criminals and other people who are not legally permitted to buy guns,” says study author Daniel Webster….
Note that “appear to reduce” from Webster, a matter we'll revisit later.
Curiously for a paper that purports to be a work of objective social science and not a pure tool of politics, the press release announcing the study wraps up like this:
Public opinion survey data from Webster and his colleagues recently published in Preventive Medicine show that the majority of Americans (72 percent) and gun owners (59 percent) support requiring people to obtain a license from a local law enforcement agency before buying a handgun to verify their identity and ensure they are not legally prohibited from having a gun.
Weird, huh? Science that its institutional sponsors believe is somehow made more important/valid by public opinion regarding aspects of its conclusion? (Here's a site, by the way, dedicated to Connecticut's permit process.)
Gun rights enemies in the media leapt upon the study eagerly, painting it as a killing blow to supporters of relatively unrestricted Second Amendment rights; it was dubbed “The NRA's worst nightmare” by Salon.
Politicians have also used the study's release as a hook to introduce a new bill to establish a new federal grant funding program for states that institute their own “permit to purchase” gun regulations. Such regulations would have to emulate Connecticut's allegedly powerfully death-reducing ones, applying to all sales (not just those from federally licensed gun dealers), and include no sales to under-21-year-olds, fingerprinting, background checks, and licensed permission from a local law enforcement agency.
Does the study prove what it claims to prove?
Given the amazingly complicated set of causes and incentives feeding into any human decision—and every gun homicide is the result of a human decision—establishing that the change in background check laws that “led to” a reduction in gun homicides “caused” them (even in that one Connecticut case, much less concluding that such laws can be relied on to have that effect in other places and times) is likely beyond any final authoritative conclusion via the usual methods of the social sciences.
There's a whole lot to unwind when it comes to what we reliably know about how the presence of guns or gun laws affects public safety—it's not an area where the “science is settled” by any means—and most of it should be of near-zero policy relevance for anyone who respects either constitutional rights or the right to self-defense.
Other people's misuse of a tool in either crimes or accidents has no clear bearing on our legal attitudes toward those tools. All “facts of reality” are hugely underdetermined by any singular supposed cause. And how many people would have been killed by guns in Connecticut from 1995 to 2005 absent the gun law change isn't even a fact; gussied up in the methods of the social sciences as it is in this paper, it is a guess.
Read the complete Article, “5 Problems With The New Study ‘proving' That More Background Checks Lowered Connecticut's Gun Murder Rate By 40 Percent” at Reason.com: http://tiny.cc/xu3rzx