“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
American news haunts the gun debate in Canada. Canadian media like to use horror stories about mass shootings, such the recent shootings in Texas, to delegitimize citizen firearms ownership. Public health activists particularly delight in titillating the Canadian public with fake “studies” that portray guns as too dangerous for civilians. Typically, these studies are based on shoddy research methods, cherry-picked data sets, and topped off with exaggerated claims about the findings. Thanks to anti-gun billionaires, a near-continuous flow of pseudo-scientific studies making the same errors appear in the supine Canadian media again and again; each time being trumpeted as “new.”
It’s often difficult to know how to evaluate these claims. News reports seldom include links to the original study; and even when they do, the study is often hidden behind a “pay wall” so the methodology cannot be known unless the inquisitive reader is willing to pay $100 USD, or more. This leaves Canadians vulnerable to inflammatory headlines. Debunking these studies takes time and when criticism is finally published, it does not command the same media attention.
Here are a few tips for criticizing these studies: How are the key terms defined? Is this a cross-sectional study or a time-series? What is the evidence for the conclusion?
Dig down until you find definitions for the key terms. A “shooting” is not the same as a “gun murder.” A “school shooting” may mean a security guard had an accidental firearm discharge on school property, not a suicidal attack by a berserker who killed a number of students. “Gun deaths” do not mean murders. In Canada “gun deaths” are typically 75% suicides and 20% homicides and 2% firearms accidents. (The remaining 3% is a mix).
The word “linked” is not the same as “caused.” It’s just a tricky way to say we can’t show causality but we will imply it without proof. CBC flogged one recent study that claimed they had found the number of “people getting shot” had increased after a well-publicized school shooting. Of course, they claimed that this “increase” was “linked” to the surge in gun sales after the shooting. Unfortunately, both CBC and the article were vague about definitions. When I found the original study, I discovered that the authors used the phrase, “people getting shot,” to exaggerate the count by deliberately confusing assaults with firearm accidents. As well, focusing on the number of people getting shot allowed the authors to duck the key question of whether the rate of firearms injuries per 100,000 gun owners increased, or just the raw count. It’s not a real increase if the rate stays the same (usually around 1% in both Canada and the US) even though the number of firearms accidents increases along with the number of gun owners.
The headline implies that more guns causes more injuries, but the study doesn’t show that. The “link’ is an invention of the analyst.
It is necessary to wade through the ‘buzz words’ to find out what is claimed to cause what, and how the authors tortured the data. One study I found in a public health magazine that was widely publicized claimed to have found that higher levels of gun ownership in a state were causally linked with higher rates of gun-suicide. Even if true, this ducks the “substitution” question, does increased availability of guns cause total suicide rates to increase.
An even worse mistake was lurking. Digging into the definitions of these terms I discovered the author had used gun-suicide rate as a “proxy” for gun ownership rates. No wonder there was a correlation or “link.” The study had simply found that gun-suicide rates were highly correlated with gun-suicide rates. Another bogus anti-gun study used to confuse the public.
The Lankford study
Unsurprisingly, the Canadian media have picked up on the bogus Lankford study to bolster their continuing effort to demonize civilian firearms ownership. In his cross-national study of 171 countries, Lankford claims that: “The global distribution of public mass shooters appears partially attributable to cross-national differences in firearms availability…” Shockingly, Lankford still refuses to release his data or to fully explain his definitions.
Lankford’s key claim is, “Despite having less than 5% of the global population, it (the United States) had 31% of global public mass shooters,” which he attributes to widespread gun ownership. Of course, cross-national studies can’t determine causality. There simply are too many difference between countries to know which differences are important.
To debunk this claim, it is necessary to dig into the definitions of key terms. However, Lankford’s study only became partially available years after his claims were first reported by the media. When information became available, two key problems were found with the Lankford study. First, his definition of “public mass shooter” differs from the standard one in that he excludes any shooting that is related to terrorism, and second, his ‘global’ survey is highly selective, excluding 95% of public mass shooters.
Virtually no official counts of “public mass shootings” exclude terrorism related events. However, international authorities do exclude any deaths due to insurgency, state actors or lack of intentionality. According to Lott and Moody:
The agreed upon definition of public mass shootings includes shootings where the shooters’ actions did not appear to be related to another criminal act (whether domestic, drug, or gang related), and that result in killing four or more people.
Including murders related to acts of terror makes a huge difference. By excluding such shootings, Lankford drastically reduces the number of public mass shooters outside the United States. Examining fewer years than Lankford (1998-2012 vs. 1996-2012), Lott and Moody found 45 shooters in the US, compared with at least 10,699 shooters outside the United States. The US has under 1% of the world’s mass public shooters, even though it accounts for almost 5% of the world’s population. Another bogus study finally discredited.
Don’t fall for headlines. Dig into claims to uncover the definitions. Do your research. Don’t rely upon Google searches. Google is biased towards left-leaning sources. Don’t be satisfied with finding one source that back you up. Be sure to check out a variety of independent or libertarian sources such as thegunblog.ca, justiceforgunowners.ca, nfa.ca, crimeresearch.org, or drgo.us.
Once informed of the facts, don’t be shy about going public. Don’t be content to share your gripes with like-minded friends at the range or on Facebook. Be sure to write letters to the editors of your local newspapers. Complain to ombudsmen [ombudspersons?].
Guns have been thrust back into the national discourse recently, in the wake of the mass shooting in downtown Toronto and the federal government’s plans to explore a potential “full ban” on handguns and assault weapons. But is gun crime actually on the rise? And exactly how often are Canadians getting shot – and why?
Are anti-gun public health activists as statistically ignorant as they appear, or do they think their audiences are? They may be right about the journalists who parrot their parodies of scientific research. A recent article in The Trace, “Ten essential facts about guns and suicide”, reminded me of a pungent saying by the famous comedian, W.C.
After Sandy Hook, over 36,000 people in California bought handguns-a surge now linked to a 4% increase in people getting shot
Researchers have found a link between a spike in handgun purchases that took place following the Sandy Hook shooting and the re-election of President Barack Obama, and injuries caused by firearms in California. Between November 6, 2012, when Obama was elected to a second term as U.S.
Last week, in the latest U.S. mass shooting at a local St. Louis high school’s football jamboree, eight-year-old Jurnee Thompson was shot and killed. The child was described in the media as “an innocent bystander” and in a public statement the local police chief said “she had done nothing wrong.”
For Adam Lankford, it “isn’t rocket science” to explain the leading factor in mass shootings. “By definition, firearms are needed for people to commit mass shootings,” the University of Alabama researcher wrote in a March paper.
How a Botched Study Fooled the World About the U.S. Share of Mass Public Shootings: U.S. Rate is Lower than Global Average
34 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2018 Date Written: August 25, 2018 A paper on mass public shootings by Adam Lankford (2016) has received massive national and international media attention, getting coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, plus hundreds of other news outlets spanning at least 35 different countries.
Crime Prevention Research Center in the News: Newsweek, PBS News Hour, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Daily News, Orange County Register, and much more – Crime Prevention Research Center
The Mercury News (San Jose, California), Sunday, August 11, 2019; Los Angeles Daily News, Sunday, August 11, 2019; Orange County Register, Sunday, August 11, 2019; Daily Democrat (Woodland, California), Sunday, August 11, 2019; Riverside (California) Press Enterprise, Sunday, August 11, 2019; Redlands Daily Facts (Redlands, California), Sunday, August 11, 2019; San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Sunday, August 11, 2019, …
In 2015, The Fact Checker awarded President Barack Obama two Pinocchios for a series of inconsistent and vague statements that he made about the United States and the rate of mass shootings compared with other countries. We noted that quantitative measures of cross-comparative crime statistics, especially where the crime is not consistently defined (e.g., “mass shooting”), usually end up being apples-to-oranges comparisons.