Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Feeling Safe Vs Being Safe

As we all know, in 1997, the UK banned private ownership of handguns. And they really meant it -- the UK Olympic shooting team has to travel overseas to practice.

Additionally, Parliament imposed additional rules and limitations on the ownership of shotguns and rifles.

I'm sure the population breathed a huge sigh of relief. Everyone felt much safer! Even though the bad guys don't follow the laws against murder or rape or theft, they'd instantly tug their forelocks and toe the line when THIS legislation went through.

Except of course, they didn't, as this Daily Express article from April of 2008 shows:

THERE has been a huge increase in being people shot, stabbed and even kicked to death since [the] Labour (sic) [party] came to power.
....Statistics show a 14 per cent increase in murder and manslaughter in England and Wales between 1998 and 2007.
There was also a 28 per cent increase in deaths from bladed weapons. Those killed by shootings increased by the same figure.
Most shockingly, there was a 57 per cent increase in deaths caused by punching and kicking.

I have a running argument with my mom about gun control, and I've asked her to find me an example of a gun control law that works.

Mom, if you were thinking of using England as an example of a gun control law that works, I think you should keep looking.

HT to Howard Nemerov


cnick said...

These statistics are meaningless without understanding what would have happened in the UK if the 1997 ban had not been enacted. It is entirely possible that the murder rate would have been even higher, and that therefore the law "works". It is also possible, as you imply, that the ban had no effect or made things worse. However, one cannot logically draw either conclusion from the above statistics.

MeatAxe said...

As I recall from our discussion of spooky interaction at a distance, if you can't tell, then the answer is no.

On a more pedestrian level, I guess I'm saying that if the citizens of the UK thought these steps would be powerful enough social engineering measure to reduce crime, they were wrong.

Anonymous said...

You're missing the whole point: thugs will always find weapons, and, if there is any consistency with America, there would thenbe millions of crimes de-escalated by armed citizens. It is what is not reported that tells the story. Police turn in crime reports to the FBI every year; among those are rpeorts of individuals who stopped a crime in progress, armed. There are about 2.5 million annually in the U.S., according to police who turn those figures in. Every country ought to have similar figures, if they were armed. Non-crimes.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they are wrong. The fear of trusting citizen sis what prevails, evidenced by the impaired view that it would have been worse if they hadn't taken guns. They HAD guns when they elected to confiscated them;l now it's worse. Clear enough?

MeatAxe said...

Hi Anonymous,

Well, actually, I was making a separate point about the efficacy of gun control laws.

It is related to the point you are making about armed citizens being a deterrent, but not exactly the same thing.

In case you were wondering, I happen to agree with you. (With a few quibbles here and there about the UCR data that police departments turn into the FBI.)

There are a lot more good citizens than criminals, and I'd like us to have every advantage we can get.

Best wishes, and thanks for reading.


MeatAxe said...

I'd just like to add, on the subject of gun control laws, there seem to be 3 distinct schools of thought in the USA, anyway.

The first one represented by John Lott -- author of 'More Guns, Less Crime' says that the more citizens with CCW permits we have, the less crime there is.

The second, represented in my mind by Gary Kleck, author of Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America. His research (and Im probably doing him an injustice here) seems to say that when the numbers of armed citizens goes up, crime can stay the same, or go down but it doesn't go up.

The final school -- the Brady Campaign and their ilk is represented by a bunch of ill-informed shrieking, and they can all go piss up a rope for all I care.

cnick said...

I'm not sure if the two anonymouses are the same person, but in any case I stand by my original point: the statistics cited provide no justification for or against the 1997 UK law.

Maybe crime got worse in the UK because of socioeconomic issues having nothing to do with gun control. Maybe some of the increase was simply increased reporting due to the widespread increase in use of surveillance cameras during that time period. The statistics cited are completely orthogonal to such factors.

The only way to use such statistics to "prove" that a law works or doesn't work would be in a controlled scientific study of two identical countries at the same point in time. You then introduce such a law in one, and not in the other.

Of course, this experiment is impossible in real life.

I have seen many examples of people on both sides of the argument using such statistics to justify their beliefs, when in fact the statistics do no such thing. Mostly, the beliefs (again on both sides) appear to be crossing over the line from "scientifically supported" to "faith-based reasoning."

If guns make you feel safer, fine. Just don't try to use statistics to justify it.

MeatAxe said...

Off on something of a tangent here. One of the Anonymous posters mentioned the reporting of crimes to the FBI by police departments.

What he/she probably refers to is the UCR data. UCR stands for Uniform Crime Report. Every month, each police department in the USA sends their crime stats to the FBI.

One of the problems with the UCR is that the stats are compiled based on the most serious crime in an incident. So if I beat you up, steal your car and shoot your friend at the same time, the offense gets counted as a murder, not assault, grand larceny and murder.

Here's a quote from the FBI's UCR Handbook on this particular issue:

"The Hierarchy Rule requires that when more than one Part I offense is classified, the law enforcement agency must locate the offense that is highest on the hierarchy list and score that offense involved and not the other offense(s) in the multiple-offense situation."

(Part I offenses are things like murder, assault, larceny, arson etc)

Also, as you are probably aware, police departments country-wide are under pressure to show reductions in crimes. This involves them sometimes reporting felony assaults as misdemeanors etc.

Combine just those two problems -- there are others -- and you end up with an incomplete picture of the crime rate in the US, statistically speaking.

There is a new reporting system that the FBI has cooked up called NIBRS - the National Incident Based Reporting System.

Without boring you too much with the details, NIBRS would fix some of the problems with the existing UCR, which means that any department using it will see an increase in the crime rate.

Polictically, this is a very hard sell, as you can probably imagine. Also I don't think the FBI or the fedgov supplied any funds for the individual departments to make the switch.

And even if everyone did it, we'd still see the same political pressure to cut the crime rate and the same massaging of the data by individual departments.

So, statistically speaking we are up the creek.

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