On Gun Laws: It’s the DATA, stupid.

Paul Krugman wrote an interesting op-ed this week exploring the GOP’s makers-v-takers meme, and how it just might be complete bullshit. Yes, Bobby Jindal looked sassy while he spouted a sound bite about the GOP being the party of stupid, but wink-wink he is pushing to eliminate his state’s income tax and increase sales tax to make up the difference.  Who might that benefit? So Bobby has a point. He will be a lot better off if voters are stupid enough to think that his tax plan is a good thing.  Certainly his millionaire friends think it is.

As humorous as the hijinks of the Republican party are, I couldn’t help thinking that their playbook seems to have more traction than any playbook built on stupidity should rightly have.  Whether it is selling regressive tax plans that shift tax burdens from the haves to the have-nots, or talking about enforcing existing gun laws while handcuffing the government in their efforts to enforce those laws, there is a common thread: Good Data is the work of the debbil.

See, basing your decisions on facts, non-partisan data, or as some call it, reality… that is the way “they” trick ya! See, you know you need your AR-15 to defend yourself against some revenuer aimin’ to take your AR-15 away!  You need your gun to protect your right to guns, and so on, and the fact that the GOP has stonewalled the effort to name a head of the BATFE, or that they have backed and passed legislation preventing the BATFE and the FBI from collecting, analyzing, and publishing gun-crime data?  Well, that is just a distraction from the proven fact that President Blackula wants to suck your freedom out of your goddam neck. Lernin’ is for losers, son.

And of course it is easy to make fun of the current situation, and mock the people that rely on stupidity while claiming to decry stupidity.  But the real fact of the matter in my own life is that while I am not anti-gun, I am pro-reality. In the real world there is a proven reality that bad decisions spring from bad information. In government you can equally show that bad legislation springs forth from bad data, lack of data, or just outright misinformation.  So while I think it is great that our nation is having a long overdue conversation about access to guns, it is taking place on a tissue-thin membrane of bad information. No matter how well intentioned the action, it will be based on crappy data and what is essentially folklore. While there is force behind the current “gun-control” movement, driven by an urge to strike while the iron is hot, the result will not live up to the intention of its authors.

In short, the best first step would be to get the BATFE under solid leadership with a full-time Director, with sufficient staffing and funding, and repeal the barriers to its effective operation. What we have now is an abundance of emotion and a paucity of information.  Balance needs to be restored in that equation before any truly effective legislation, or even an effective change in public attitudes, can happen.

I will let Jon Stewart drop some knowledge on this topic, while again noting that a show on Comedy Central continues to be a better source of news and analysis than any of the many networks without the word “comedy” in their name.

There is a good summary here, and this excerpt goes right to the issue:

Since 1986, federal law has prohibited a database containing gun registration information or gun permit holders from being maintained. There’s a provision in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) appropriations bill that keeps the agency from spending any money on such a thing.  The Washington Post reported that the National Rifle Association, one of the nation’s most powerful special interest and single issue groups, not only co-wrote the 1986 legislation that first made maintaining records about gun ownership illegal, but also considers a national database of gun registrations a violation of the constitution.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I bailed on the NRA not because they are pro-gun, but because they are desperately anti-science. I have read a ton of their legislative action literature and it is consistently emotionally charged fear-mongering, relying heavily on the concept that firearms are “exceptional” in the world of manufactured objects.

Of the many things I find offensive as a citizen, gun owner, and scientist:

Tiahrt Amendment

Tiahrt is the author of the Tiahrt Amendment, which prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation. Additionally, any data so released is inadmissible in a civil lawsuit.[5] Some groups, including the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, believe that having further access to the ATF database would help municipal police departments track down sellers of illegal guns and curb crime. These groups are trying to undo the Tiahrt Amendment.[6] Numerous police organizations oppose the Tiahrt Amendment, such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).[7] Conversely, the Tiahrt Amendment is supported by the National Rifle Association [8], and the Fraternal Order of Police (although it allows municipal police departments only limited access to ATF trace data in any criminal investigation).

If you want to see more, a simple Google query on “atf appropriations nra” nets some excellent resources. It is not just dumb luck that the automobile, the airplane, TNT, nuclear weapons, the steam engine, etc… were not available for the founding fathers to cogitate on. The NRA demands that GUNS are exceptional and their availability must not be restrained. Firearms technology is so sacred that we can’t even collect data on its manufacture, usage, safety, storage, ownership, or sale. That would be wrong. As a result we have a self-reinforcing system where we have bad laws with minimal or no enforcement, laws prohibiting better information on which to base policy, yielding more bad laws, etc… I have been trying to find an equivalent and am currently at a loss. I am not at a loss to feel dishonored that in the land of “freedom” we have a prohibition on the collection and publication of firearms data. Who does that protect? And, from what?

What I am continuing to explore is how, and why, and by whom, we are being deprived of publicly available information on which to base public policy. I remain a strong advocate for constitutional rights. I remain sick to the pit of my soul over the number and variety of gun-related deaths in my country. And I look to many chapters in our Nation’s history where the public has felt compelled to action and came away better informed, better able to direct their desire for sound public policy, and better people for their effort.

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6 responses to “On Gun Laws: It’s the DATA, stupid.

  1. Got to disagree with you, OM. LEOs have access to gun data, federal agencies have access to gun data, and hospitals and insurers have access to gun data, and you can for advocate and win giving access to gun data to everyone and anyone who wants it, including printing all of our addresses in a KML file and handing it out at the corner store. But it’s not going to stop people from shooting each other, or killing each other in some other creative way. Everyone wants to stop psycho white suburban kids from murdering groups of people. Everyone. But the chosen paths of attack against guns, gun owners, and the Constitution are nothing short of reactionary bullshit.

    And you can’t possibly think that because the NRA has worked against funded research into gun safety and violence, such studies have not been or cannot be done. Not that such studies will mean anything to some gangbanger icing some kid on Michigan Avenue just to keep it real. Calling such lobbying activity “anti-science” is trying to equate the NRA with creationism, etc., a false equivalency that serves to make liberals feel just oh so good about themselves, because they are smart and gun owners are stupid, and the stupid must be reined in and controlled. Utter nonsense.

    But let’s look at some numbers:

    2011: There were 323 deaths by semi-auto “assault” rifles. 496 with hammers. 650 with carving knives. 12,000 by drunk drivers. 195,000 by malpractice.

    What’s the greatest risk in America today? What demands a nationwide awakening and widespread outcry to save lives? Where is the outrage that is consuming every media outlet and social media radiant point? Where are the swelling voices of my liberal compatriots on this one? No executive orders, no rush to legislate in Congress, no moms marching on DC as the medical business fills countless body bags and drunk drivers take out hundreds a week. So what’s the ranked highest risk?

    It ain’t a Colt AR-15 semi-auto, Bud.

    But yes, let’s reinterpret the Constitution based on that “assault” rifle number, in a country of 300 million people. Because the Diane Feinstein and her ilk have told us that it’s OK because there are still other weapons that she’ll let us buy – after she bans 150+ “assault” rifles that LOOK like military weapons.

    As a progressive who is probably more leftist than you, I found that smug, arrogant statement to be outrageous.

    Personally, I am tired of being called a gun nut because I believe in the Constitution first. Because among the gun control crowd, you’re either with them or you are a gun nut. Pretty fucking stupid given that the vast majority of gun owners don’t fit their insisted-upon mold of some southern hick with a confederate hat, a gun rack, and a meth lab. But virtually ever single gun control commentator either says it or snarkily infers it. It’s all so common sense to them, guns, why do you need them? How foolish are you gun nuts.

    The Founding Fathers knew what they are talking about. They faced tyranny head on. The Second Amendment is the one that guarantees the rest. And if you think it is different, because today is different, well than one could say the same thing about the First Amendment: speak all you want, write on paper all you want, but sorry, all electronic communications, etc. that were not around in 1775 are hereby illegal. Because it’s all so common sensical, right? They didn’t know about the web. So it doesn’t count.

  2. Respectfully submitted, of course.

    • Respectfully: “In government you can equally show that bad legislation springs forth from bad data, lack of data, or just outright misinformation. So while I think it is great that our nation is having a long overdue conversation about access to guns, it is taking place on a tissue-thin membrane of bad information.” is central to this blog post. Your Feinstein argument is a perfect example of how a lack of good public information has created a bad policy vector. Lack of data feeds the extremism we are seeing in this debate. The kind of extremism where a father of a slain 6 yer old is shouted down while giving public testimony. The kind where reflexive “gun ban” advocates are able to push an agenda and the public has no defense. The kind where you apologize for the limits on public access for information you would not tolerate in other areas. My opinion, backed by reams of factual information (draft legislation, testimony, legislation, public record…) is that the NRA’s policy of preventing the primary government agencies in charge of firearms control and public health from collecting, examining, and publishing (and sharing) firearms data has completely backfired in that the ignorance works both ways. Your comment about LEO’s is simply wrong. They get FBI data, and not much of that. Not to mention that leaving the information and the control over the policy debate to LEOs is not my idea of democracy. My concern is for the public, and their right to an informed climate in which to direct their political will. We The People would like to see this handled better. We The People have a primary right to be informed as we express our role in our democracy. I feel fairly confident in that.

  3. I read your blog post, Pete. Again, there is plenty of data out there. Plenty, at every scale. Then, what are you going to do with it? Is more data going to get Feinstein and the other hypocrites to not ban a gun based on looks? Nope. Few if any politicians and commentators pushing the gun control agenda cite a lack of information as a hinge pin of their positions. Because there is enough data around to drown a cruise liner full of graduate students. I cited a bunch of data about other causes of deaths … has the availability of that data brought magic solutions or some epiphany? Nope. That was my point. The bottom line is either one believes in the citizen counterbalance to the armed power of the state or one does not.

    You chose to identify AR-15 owners with ignorant rednecks – thus the rest of my response.

    Love and kisses,
    H

  4. Here’s some data for you: 60 school shootings with links to SSRI prescription drugs:

    http://ssristories.com/index.php?p=school