In an October, 2017 article for The Washington Post, statistician and former writer at FiveThirtyEight Leah Libresco wrote that once upon a time, she was pro-gun control.
She used to support “common-sense” gun control legislation that would ban “assault” weapons, restrict suppressors (also known as silencers), and even shrink magazine sizes. Then, she started to look into the data in order to figure out which policies would actually make a difference.
She said that broad-based legislation isn’t going to solve the problem, but that targeted, small-scale interventions at victim and perpetrator levels might be more beneficial. Gun violence is a symptom of more serious pathologies that gun control cannot solve. Libresco eventually discovered that no restrictive measure would actually have prevented the 33,000 gun deaths she analyzed.
If the real data related to gun deaths in America was made available and people were able to put two and two together on their own, perhaps more of us would get to the same conclusions that Libresco reached. But, news outlets spin the news. They also misinterpret the news. Sometimes, willingly. Sometimes, simply because they don’t know any better and because mass shootings are extremely emotional topics and responses are fear-driven. The result is an explosive cocktail of misinformation that often leads to bad policies and yes, more gun deaths.
In an article also from last year, economist Ryan McMaken explained that gun death rates tell a very misleading story.
Because news outlets like to keep it “simple,” they will focus on national gun rates. But the United States is a large country with states that are as diverse and unique as they are (somewhat) independent. Each state has its own set of gun restrictions and laws. And as expected, each state has a different homicide rate. When analyzed independently, McMaken demonstrates, we are able to tell a very different story.
The nationwide homicide rate in 2016, the FBI reported in 2017, was at 5.3 per 100,000 while in 2015, it was 4.9 per 100,000.
But when you look at individual states, homicide rates ranged from a low of 1.3 per 100,000 in New Hampshire while in Louisiana, they ranged from 11.8 per 100,000.
Gun policies primarily restrict the freedom of law-abiding citizens, and they ignore the real issues and reasons that are likely to coincide with gun violence—mental health, gang activity, drug abuse, and poverty—to name a few.