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Another of Klein’s 12 Facts About Guns. Fact? Not so Much. January 18, 2013

Posted by geoff in News.

A month ago I wrote about Ezra Klein’s terribly misleading post: “Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States.” He presented these facts in an effort to shape the gun control debate:

What follows here isn’t a policy agenda. It’s simply a set of facts — many of which complicate a search for easy answers — that should inform the discussion that we desperately need to have.

Perusing his list, you eventually come to #9:

9. States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.

Last year, economist Richard Florida dove deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive:

And here’s the graphic Klein & Florida use to support this point:


You can see from his map that the North and Northeast are more light orange and yellow, compared to the South, which is dark orange and red. Since the South has fewer gun restrictions than the other regions, QED, yes?

But Florida’s “deep dive” into gun deaths is embarrassingly shallow, and Klein’s naive acceptance of his dive is embarrassingly true to form.

First, take a look at what Richard Florida really chose to plot. He uses all firearm-related deaths, and compares it to 3 gun control criteria:

  1. Assault weapons bans
  2. Trigger locks
  3. Safe storage

“All” firearm deaths includes deaths from suicides, homicides, and accidents. And as you can see, suicides dominate the firearm death statistics:

In the U.S. for 2010, there were 31,513 deaths from firearms, distributed as follows by mode of death: Suicide 19,308; Homicide 11,015; Accident 600. This makes firearms injuries one of the top ten causes of death in the U.S.

When 3/5 of your data is completely irrelevant to your point, I don’t think your case is well supported.

Then, of course, you have no causal mechanism for the link he’s trying to make. Suicides and homicides are not prevented by trigger locks and safe storage; those help prevent accidental deaths. And the assault weapons bans have no effect on the vast majority of firearms used in homicides. The FBI tells us that of the 8583 firearm-related homicides in 2011, only 323 involved rifles, let alone assault weapons.

So Florida’s plot is complete nonsense. His supposed correlation (the one Klein called “suggestive”) is based on only 1 – 2% of the firearm death data he’s using.

In the interest of being constructive, I’d suggest that Florida make 3 plots:

  • Trigger locks/safe storage vs. Accidental deaths
  • Assault weapons bans vs. Assault weapons homicides
  • Concealed carry laws vs. Handgun homicides

Apples to apples, oranges to oranges. Fair and meaningful.

But I don’t suppose that was ever really his goal.


1. Travis - January 18, 2013

You nailed it; bizarre that the guy didn’t include concealed carry laws in his metrics.

2. Retired Geezer - January 18, 2013

Thanks, Geoff, for another excellent post.

3. J.Parker - January 18, 2013

The reason that the gun control organizations cite DEATHS vs. SHOOTINGS is because it’s deceptive. Is it any surprise that the more rural, less populated areas have a higher death rate? No. It is entirely expected. Rural areas have far fewer Level I and Level II trauma centers. The ones they do have may be hours away, instead of mere minutes like in heavily populated urban areas. Those Level I/II trauma centers in the urban areas get daily practice dealing with gunshot injuries and have become, due to this hands on experience, very adept in saving the lives of shooting victims.

Therefore it is reasonably expected that strict gun control cities such as Chicago, with its plethora of highly skilled Level I/II trauma centers and reduced response time, would have less deaths per shooting than the more rural areas. Just on 1/05/13 Chicago had at least 10 people shot but just 2 fatalities. For a city with 500 plus people killed each year, what does that tell you about the number of people actually shot while living under strict gun control?

4. Hightower - January 18, 2013

To summarize J. Parker’s bit, it still isn’t apples to apples comparison unless you chart shootings, NOT homicides.

In the same vein, suicide rates are higher in red states, but suicide attempts are higher in blue states (the stats on attempts are bit squishy, but Rhode Island and Connecticut seem to lead in attempts, while Alaska and Montana lead in success). Therefore it is possible that guns increase death rates of suicides simply by increasing success rates. Alternately higher levels of success in suicide might be attributable to less immediate medical assistance (you shoot yourself in a remote Alaska village, you are much more likely to die than in Rhode Island).

Also a critical bit left out is who is killing who. For example, I suspect most stats include police and/or innocent victims killing criminals. There are 2,000 people killed by police each year. Should we count that, given no proposed or actual gun law would change that outcome? Is death by cop evenly distributed, or are some states cops more likely than others to use deadly force?

People protecting themselves from assault or robbery kill about twice as many criminals as do police. Should that number be included? How about the fact that guns are used for self-defense 2.5 Million times every year, but in the vast majority of those self-defense cases, the citizen will only brandish the gun or fire a warning shot. In less than 8% of those self-defense cases will the citizen will even wound his attacker. Over 1.9 million of those self-defense cases involve handguns. Almost 10% of those self-defense cases are women defending themselves against sexual assault or abuse.

And of course, studies show burglars are more than three and a half times more likely to enter an occupied home in area with strict gun control not. So do less shootings with guns simply translate into more or every other type of crime?

It’s funny – there are actual people who study this that Klein could ask rather than make up his own misleading statistics. Almost every criminologist and beat cop in the country is opposed to gun control. I wonder why?

5. Vercingetorix - January 18, 2013

Klein is a propagandist posing as an investigative journalist. Excuse me, “JournoList”…

6. digitalbrownshirt - January 18, 2013

J.Parker nailed it. Our rural hospitals don’t have trauma care so any shooting is more likely to be lethal. As far as homicides go here in Oklahoma the vast majority of them are in Tulsa and OKC and involve gangs shooting each other, many of them are already illegal to be in possession of firearms in the first place.

7. Michael - January 18, 2013

Aside from the availability of trauma centers in urbanized areas, we also need to adjust for the fact that red-staters in the south and west are more likely to know how to shoot, as opposed to those pansies in the northeast. Somebody should teach them how and where to point the gun if they want to kill someone or commit suicide. Sheesh. They should be embarrassed by their low success rate.


8. daveintexas - January 18, 2013

My first CIO, I heard from a friend years after I left the company, tried to kill himself with a .22

He parked his car at a shopping mall in Addison, and shot himself in the head. He was instantly blinded, but not killed. He shot another round in his head that had no effect he could sense. Blind and frustrated, he took his pocketknife out and stabbed himself in the stomach, which didn’t kill him either.

He called his wife and told her where he was, and she called EMS.

Don’t know what happened after that, but it sure was a bizarre story.

9. Pupster - January 19, 2013

10. No Correlation Between Gun Laws and Gun Crime « Innocent Bystanders - January 25, 2013

[…] week I pointed out that Richard Florida’s analysis of gun control laws vs. gun violence was all wet. He was the guy from the Atlantic who made a bogus map of the US purporting to show that the […]

11. CTD - January 26, 2013

I’ve always suspected that many, if not most, gun “accidents” that get reported are, in fact, botched suicide attempts.

12. Sam - January 26, 2013

I wish everyone would stop calling these “ASSAULT RIFLES” they are not! They are self loading rifles! Don’t use a forced term.

13. oudbob - January 27, 2013

those of us in the northeast, who grew up on farms and served inthe military resent the comment that we are more likely to have a gun accident. Just be careful who you hunt with.

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