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How to identify misleading statistics in the arms control debate



The academic debate on arms control consists mainly of a war of statistics. New studies emerge every few weeks and, as a result, both parties are constantly shutting themselves up for the validity or invalidity of this or that study in this or that country.

For those who are not formally trained in data analysis, this debate may seem impossible to navigate. How should lay people inexperienced interpret the results of statistical studies?

It is about resistance, not prevention

Statistics are available in all shapes and sizes, so the first thing we need to do is determine which types of statistics are relevant to the arms control debate and which are irrelevant. To do this, we need a clear understanding of what the gun control debate is fundamentally about. We can not separate the pertinent from the irrelevant if we are not clear on how to frame the problem.

If the right to possess weapons exists, it depends mainly on the fact that weapons are reasonable means resisting crime.

So, what is the gun ownership debate in substance? Many seem to think that it is discourage; that is, if the property of the gun prevents crime. The best known supporter of this view is John Lott, who claims that carry-issue laws are effective in reducing crime rates by deterring criminals. Lott's research has been corroborated by numerous other studies and criticized by others.

Regardless of whether Lott's research leads to control, I want to suggest that it is wrong to think about the weapons ownership debate especially in terms of crime prevention. On the contrary, if the right to possess weapons exists, it depends mainly on the fact that weapons are reasonable means resisting crime.

Although prevention is more socially desirable (it is better that a crime does not occur in the first place), any deterrent advantage that guns might have should to their strength benefits, so the latter is more fundamental. Guns are appreciated for self-defense primarily because of their ability to deliver lethal force, which means that resistance, not prevention, is primary. Prevention is an additional benefit, but it is secondary.

None of this means that Lott's research is wrong. Rather, the point I am making is that prevention and resistance are two very different things, and the second is that on which the debate on weapons is fundamentally based.

Even if the guns do not to prevent crime, it would not mean that weapons are not a reasonable means for resisting crime.

To illustrate the difference, suppose we meet a robber while I take a walk. I brandish my firearm for the robber, who is undeterred and rushes me with a knife. Then I shoot the robber, stopping the crime. In that situation, my gun failed to prevent a crime, but was successful a resisting a crime. The pistol was an effective and reasonable means of self-defense even though it could not discourage the would-be robber.

This is a crucial point that must be carefully appreciated. Even if the guns do not to prevent crime by reducing the overall crime rate would not mean that weapons are not a reasonable means of doing so resisting crime. Regarding the rights of arms, the most important issue is simply the question of whether the weapons do a good job when they are deployed against a criminal aggressor. Deterrence is not the key issue at stake.

The types of wrong studies

With this point in mind, we are now able to assess the relevance of empirical studies. Suppose, with good reason, that the pro-control defenders are right in considering that the ownership of weapons or the laws on the right to transport do not discourage crime. What follows from this? Nothing much, actually. Since the arms debate is mainly about the question of whether guns are reasonable means resisting crimes, the fact that the guns may not work to prevent the crime does not actually damage the case of gun ownership.

Even though studies showing that gun ownership or the law on carrying rights increase crime are fair, they are irrelevant.

The same applies even if the guns to increase crime. Let's review the previous scenario concerning the robber. Suppose that after seeing my gun brandished, the robber becomes infuriated and charges me. In that case, not only did my gun fail to prevent a crime, but it could actually have made one worse. But that does not mean that my weapon was not a reasonable means of resisting crime, nor that I was not justified in using it to defend myself.

The point here is this: even if studies show that the ownership of the gun or the laws on the right to transport increase the crime are right, they are irrelevant. It does not follow that the guns are not effective if used for self-defense. Because the merits of the guns detention center are about their strength benefits, it is deceptive to attack them by focusing on their lack of preventive benefits. The failure of a gun to prevent crime does not imply its failure to resist crime.

The weapons control advocates are therefore guilty of a subtle play of prestige when they cite studies that show that weapons lead to more crimes or that gun owners have a higher risk of being killed by a gun. Although all these studies are true (and there are many reasons to doubt it), they are totally irrelevant to what is actually at stake in the weapons ownership debate. It confuses the risk that guns generally have their effectiveness if used for self-protection.

Weapon advocates should direct their primary attention to the number of defensive uses of the gun and the effectiveness of guns in self-defense.

Now, to be honest, many defenders of the guns are guilty of having made the same mistake, as they frame the whole debate in terms of deterrence and crime prevention. Even if it is not wrong to look at these questions, they should be secondary to what really matters. Weapon advocates should direct their primary attention to the number of guns' defensive uses and the effectiveness of weapons for self-defense, as they directly address the central issue of the arms debate: resisting crime.

So, the next time you see a study showing how gun ownership can increase crime or its chances of dying, know that it's irrelevant to what's actually at stake. Being able to make the distinction between prevention and resistance will not make you an expert in data analysis, but it will help you a lot in wading through the swamp of anti-gun statistics.

The right kinds of studies

The kind of studies we should pay attention to are those studies that directly affect the effectiveness of cannons when used in a self-defense scenario. On this subject, there is a clear and overwhelming consensus that firearms are effective when used for self-defense.

A 1993 study published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology found that out of eight different forms of theft resistance, "the use of the victim gun was the most strongly and consistently associated resistance strategy to positive outcomes for robbery victims".

There is a clear consensus that guns are extremely effective in self-defense.

A 2000 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice he found that men and women resisting with a gun were less likely to be hurt or lose property than those who resisted using other means or who did not resist at all. In the case of women, "having a gun results in the parification of a woman with a man".

A 2004 study published in the journal Criminology I found that out of sixteen different forms of self-protection of the victim, "a variety of mostly strong tactics, including resistance with a gun, seems to have the strongest effects in reducing the risk of injury."

Finally, a 2010 study published at Crime and Delinquency found that resistance with a gun decreased the chances of completing the robbery and rape by 93% and 92%, respectively.

Taking stock of these points, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council concluded a 2013 literature review

Studies that have directly assessed the effect of effective defensive use of guns have found consistently lower wound percentages among victims of crime with firearms than victims who have used other self-protection strategies.

When it comes to using studies and statistics, both sides tend to focus on the impact of weapons ownership and law on the right to transport to provoke or discourage violence. These are certainly interesting issues to be examined, but deterrence (or lack thereof) is not really relevant to the key issue in the arms debate. What matters is simply the question of whether guns are effective in doing what they are designed to do. And on this question, there is a clear consensus that firearms are extremely effective in self-defense.


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