4 The Numbers Debate and Crime


Chapter 1 – Introduction (continued)


To discuss these issues carefully requires having accurate facts and statistics – along with accurate interpretations. However, Dr. Lott notes that “the debate over crime involves many so-called ‘facts’ that simply are not true” (page 7). To get to the actual interpretation of statistical information, we need to peel away faulty understandings of how the data were sorted into categories, and other misinterpretations.

For instance, supposedly a total of 58% of U.S. murders were committed by family members (18%) or those who “knew” the victims (40%). It turns out that “knowing” the victim does not mean a close friend in most cases. Actually, the category of “murderers who are acquaintances of the victim” includes nonfriends and friends. “Nonfriend acquaintances include drug pushers and buyers, gang members, prostitutes and their clients, bar customers, gamblers, cab drivers killed by their customers, neighbors, [and] other nonfriend acquaintances.” (Page 8.) Many people have not paid attention to such details and so misuse the information found in otherwise accurate research.

News media contribute to misinterpretations of how prevalent gun-related crimes are. The sum of regular national reports on such crimes can easily be interpreted as applying to every location in the nation, when the particular kinds of more extreme or violent crimes reported are actually not that prevalent.

“For instance, children are much less likely to be accidentally killed by guns (particularly handguns) than most people think. [He then gives statistical facts from 2006 on deaths of children from various kinds of accidents.] Almost three times as many children drown in bathtubs each year than die from all types of firearm accidents.” (Pages 9-10.)

We need to consider how cause and effect works as a system. Let’s assume that both sides – gun rights and gun controls – want to save lives. Unless we look at the data, we can only guess at the effects new controls would have on reducing some deaths versus reducing the ability of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves. Many gun-related issues could stand to have the terms and statistics receive more scrutiny before attempting to dialog about gun controls and their potential effects – both intended and unintended. For instance:

  • Gun locks to reduce accidental childhood deaths due to shooting accidents. “Gun locks require that guns be unloaded, and a locked, unloaded gun does not offer ready protection from intruders.” (Page 10.)
  • Banning guns to reduce homicides. “[J]ust because a law is passed to ban guns, it does not automatically follow that the total number of deaths will decline.” (Pages 10-11.) What unanticipated alternatives might arise for criminals if guns were banned? Different weapons? Attacks on more vulnerable victims (e.g., elderly)?
  • Banning guns to reduce suicides. The absence of guns does not remove the spectrum of other deadly options at someone’s disposal.

Also, we don’t always use “logical” examples to test our theories. For instance, how relevant to considering gun control in America are international incidents of mass public shootings? But research can help identify important factors and facts for relevant questions. Page 11 notes that “This book attempts to measure this trade-off for guns.” Dr. Lott’s primary questions inlcude the following:

  • Will allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns mean that otherwise law-abiding people will harm each other?
  • Will the threat of self-defense by citizens armed with guns primarily deter criminals? Without a doubt, both “bad” and “good” uses of guns occur. The question isn’t really whether both occur; it is, rather: Which is more important?
  • In general, do concealed handguns save or cost lives? Even a devoted believer in deterrence cannot answer this question without examining the data, because these two different effects clearly exist, and they work in opposite directions.

In concluding this section, Dr. Lott uses mini-case study examples from various U.S. states to illustrate questions about the impact of concealed-handgun laws, the “fundamental issue of self-protection,” and the views of U.S. police and sheriffs on whether law-abiding citizens should be able to purchase firearms for self defense.



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