Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gun Debate Hits New Low: A Comment on Method

As Chicago's handgun ban gets close to its day of reckoning at the US Supreme Court, we have this bizarre rant. It begins with Mayor Daley of Chicago offering to shove a bayonet up a reporter's nether end. He then goes into a weird argument that seems to be based on the premise that every gun, including the rusty antique he is holding, kills "thousands" of people. (Like many one-party states, Chicago is run by a malevolent moron.)

The reporter -- who happens to be a gun control proponent -- has just asked an honest question about Chicago's handgun ban. For some reason, the question isn't on this clip, but the reporter remembers it as "do you really think it’s been effective?"

That is a very good question. Chicago leads the nation in the stringency of its handgun control law. However, it also leads is a national leader in homicides.

Elsewhere in the news, Mexico has a murder rate more than three times that of the US. Northern Mexico has turned into a cesspool of murder and kidnapping that is overflowing into the US. And yet, strangely enough, that country has also had stringent gun control for four decades.

I once met up with a hunting party of Tarahumaras and mestizos who had just killed a deer with a .22. The reason for their otherwise-odd choice of firearms was of course that this was the only gun they could get their hands on.

That is the situation of the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Mexicans. On the other hand, as thousands have pointed out, that is not the situation criminals are in.

Criminals don't seem to be very impressed with gun control laws, and aren't any more inclined to obey them than they are laws against murder and mayhem.

Say, I just thought of something. Anti-gun scholars often base their case on correlations between rate of gun ownership and the crime rate. One number you still see tossed about is from a 1997 study that argued that in a hand-picked set of 12 countries, the correlation between incidence of gun ownership and homicide is .67 and that between handgun ownership and homicide is .84. (No, Mexico was not one of the countries studied.)

Such numbers are full of meaning if what these people are advocating is a magical, uniform reduction in the ownership rate. Of course, what they are actually advocating is the enactment of certain laws in the real world.

Well, has anyone studied the real-world effects of such laws? If not, someone should. That is, someone should: 1) figure out a plausible way to rate gun control measures for stringency, 2) collect the relevant facts about a large number of jurisdictions (ideally ones the size of Chicago, not entire countries), and 3) see how gun law stringency and homicide rate are related. I would be willing to bet that the latter would be an increasing function of the former.

To this the anti-gun people could reply, "Don't be silly. Stringent gun control doesn't cause crime. Rather, both have a common cause, which is of course violent criminals. Areas that have more criminals are for that reason more likely to impose heavy gun regulations. They are also more likely to have crimes, and for the same reason."

And the pro-gun folks could say: "Sure. And that's exactly what what we say about your gun/crime correlations. Americans have more guns because of the American character: specifically, its wild and anarchic, authority-despising streak. And it has more crime for the same reason."

Actually, I think all these timeless correlations have very limited value, but it would at least be interesting to study the right ones.

Added later: John Lott has an excellent article commenting on the Daly outburst, in which he reveals that he actually has done some of the research I wish for above. The results, at least to me, are not surprising:
Murder rates soared in D.C. and Chicago after their gun bans were put in place. As shown in the just released third edition of my book More Guns, Less Crime, before the late-1982 ban, Chicago's murder rate was falling relative to those in the nine other largest cities, the 50 largest cities, the five counties that border Cook County (in which the city is located), and the U.S. as a whole. After the ban, Chicago's murder rate rose relative to all these other places. Compared with the 50 most populous cities, Chicago's murder rate went from equaling the average for the other cities in 1982, to exceeding their average murder rate by 32 percent in 1992, to exceeding their average by 68 percent in 2002.
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