I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.

By Leah Libresco - Washington Post ! Opinion 10-3-17

Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me. I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly.

Then, my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way. We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence. The best ideas left standing were narrowly tailored interventions to protect subtypes of potential victims, not broad attempts to limit the lethality of guns.

I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.

When I looked at the other oft-praised policies, I found out that no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos.

As for silencers — they deserve that name only in movies, where they reduce gunfire to a soft puick puick. In real life, silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don’t make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer. Magazine limits were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless.

As my co-workers and I kept looking at the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference. Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides. Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them. I couldn't even answer my most desperate question: If I had a friend who had guns in his home and a history of suicide attempts, was there anything I could do that would help?

However, the next-largest set of gun deaths — 1 in 5 — were young men aged 15 to 34, killed in homicides. These men were most likely to die at the hands of other young men, often related to gang loyalties or other street violence. And the last notable group of similar deaths was the 1,700 women murdered per year, usually as the result of domestic violence. Far more people were killed in these ways than in mass-shooting incidents, but few of the popularly floated policies were tailored to serve them.

By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them. Policies that often seem as if they were drafted by people who have encountered guns only as a figure in a briefing book or an image on the news.

Instead, I found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions. Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.

Instead, I found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions. Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.

Older men, who make up the largest share of gun suicides, need better access to people who could care for them and get them help. Women endangered by specific men need to be prioritized by police, who can enforce restraining orders prohibiting these men from buying and owning guns. Younger men at risk of violence need to be identified before they take a life or lose theirs and to be connected to mentors who can help them de-escalate conflicts.

Even the most data-driven practices, such as New Orleans’ plan to identify gang members for intervention based on previous arrests and weapons seizures, wind up more personal than most policies floated. The young men at risk can be identified by an algorithm, but they have to be disarmed one by one, personally — not en masse as though they were all interchangeable. A reduction in gun deaths is most likely to come from finding smaller chances for victories and expanding those solutions as much as possible. We save lives by focusing on a range of tactics to protect the different kinds of potential victims and reforming potential killers, not from sweeping bans focused on the guns themselves

Leah Libresco is a statistician and former newswriter at FiveThirtyEight, a data journalism site. She is the author of “Arriving at Amen.”


Gun Control After Las Vegas

Anyone who disagrees with the liberals’ default position on guns is deplorable.

By Daniel Henninger - Wall Street Journal 10-4-17

A senior lawyer for CBS destroyed her career after the Las Vegas massacre by posting on Facebook that “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans often are republican gun toters.” Naturally, CBS kicked her off the mother ship.

Consider the logic of her reductio ad absurdum conclusion. She justifies her withdrawal of sympathy by reasoning, “If they wouldn’t do anything when children were murdered I have no hope that the Repugs will do the right thing.”

The right thing, of course, is gun control. Indeed, the unrepulsive half of her Facebook post aligns her views with the editorial page of the New York Times , though I don’t think the Times is referring yet to Republicans as the Repugs.

Gun control is by now the oldest, most sterile, wheel-spinning issue in American politics. It has nowhere to go, but it keeps coming back. Even Democratic politicians have concluded that trying to push gun control beyond federal legislation already on the books is a waste of the party’s energies.

Nonetheless, on Monday night’s edition of “Democrats After Dark,” virtually every comedian— Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah —made pleas for more gun control.

A podcast host for the Center for American Progress asked Hillary Clinton a rhetorical question about whether the National Rifle Association is complicit in gun violence. She outputted: “Of course they are. This is nothing but pure unadulterated greed motivated by people who want to sell as many guns as they can.”

Put differently, anyone who disagrees with the absolutist liberal default position on banning guns is deplorable.

Once again—this may be among the reasons the Democrats lost the 2016 election, have lost control of most state governments and could lose Senate seats next year.

The NRA and pro-gun sentiment doesn’t defeat them. What defeats them is that their compulsive moral condescension impedes their ability to see the country clearly.

Because this debate comes up every time a male brain convinces itself that it should murder masses of people, the opinion polls frequently plumb American opinion about it. The findings are more complicated than what passes for public debate about guns.

A Pew research headline in January 2011: “No shift toward gun control after Tucson shootings. Most point to troubled individuals, not broader societal problems.”

Pew found this in 2014: “Two years after Newtown, a shift in favor of gun rights. More say guns do more to protect than put people at risk.” This summer Pew published another significant survey that again reveals complex division and ambivalence about controlling guns.

The Roper Center has also compiled data on public attitudes toward gun control after incidents such as the Las Vegas massacre. For liberals, the results run counter to their expectations: “Although high-profile incidents can increase support briefly, the cumulative effect of the increasing number of mass shootings does not appear to be higher support for restrictions on guns.”

The highest support ever recorded for banning handguns was 60%—in 1959. As publicity for high-profile shootings rose, the pro-ban number ran downhill, landing at 26% in 2014. I used to think letting people carry a personal weapon was a bad idea. After Orlando and the Bataclan theater massacre in Paris, I don’t think that anymore. 

Roper reports one other startling development. Most people no longer think the government is capable of doing anything about this sort of violence: “In a 2014 AP/GfK Knowledge Networks poll, just 8% of the country were extremely or very confident that the U.S. government can effectively minimize the threat Americans face from mass shootings, while 25% were moderately confident and 63% were not too or not at all confident.”

Why do progressives and the media keep plowing this ocean? Years ago, there was a best-selling book called “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” Borrowing the book’s title, if not its theory, one may posit: Republicans are from Mars, Democrats are from Venus.

This is not to suggest, as former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger once did, that Democrats are what he called “girlie men.” It is to suggest that gun control is really a proxy for a political and social divide on the broad, bedrock issue of security.

Whether that security applies to one’s person, home, neighborhood, city or the nation, progressives and conservatives see humankind and the world it inhabits through a different mental lens. Progressives embrace the benign, while conservatives fear the malign. Liberals say, give peace a chance. Conservatives say, Annie get your gun.

But on this issue, the center in the U.S. has shifted. Conventional Democratic liberalism admitted the reality of security needs, an accommodation being displaced by a progressivism that is largely disdainful of security. So the division is more acute. No matter: The chance that the American people will ever disarm remains zero. Spin on.