Bureau of Justice Statistics Reports Firearm Homicides are Down 39% Since 1993; Continues to Severely Under-report Defensive Gun Use
Yesterday, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a special report, Firearm Violence, 1993-2011. Not surprisingly, at least for those who follow crime statistics, the report shows that firearm homicides went down 39% between 1993 and 2011. The report also reconfirms many things that gun-rights supporters have been saying for decades: that less than 2% of prison inmates in 2004 bought their firearm from a “flea market or gun show,” and that “2% of state inmates and 3% of federal inmates were armed with a military-style semiautomatic or fully automatic firearm.”
Also not surprising is that very few people know about the dramatically reduced crime rate. Also released yesterday was a Pew study on Americans’ perceptions of the crime rate. Despite cutting the murder rate nearly in half in less than twenty years, only 12% of Americans believe that gun crime has dropped in the past two decades. Fifty-six percent believe it has increased, and 26% believe it stayed the same. This is not new. People often don’t realize how much better things are getting, and this fact can push public policy in misguided directions.
Many have tried to explain this precipitous drop in crime, including one study that connected it to the decreased amount of lead in the environment. Whatever the cause, one thing is clear: there are about 50 million more guns in America now than in 1993 and crime did not go up.
Now, I will not oversell that statistic, not only because it does not prove the thesis “more guns, less crime,” but also because overselling statistics is a big problem in the gun control debate for both sides. For example, to take another statistic from the BJS report: the number of times per year people use guns to stop or curtail crime.
Despite the fact that the BJS is quite good at some things, it is uniquely bad at measuring the level of defensive gun use (DGU) in America. And despite the fact that I can easily demonstrate this to anyone with even the slightest inclination to allow their minds to be changed, I am not optimistic that the gun controllers will listen.
Gun controllers are constantly accusing gun-rights supporters of over-estimating the instances of DGU, and their primary source is the data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which they rely on unquestioningly. The disparity between the BJS statistics and other studies is stark, as much as 30x. For example, yesterday’s BJS report claims that, between 2007-2011, crime victims used guns to stop or curtail crime 235,700 times. This aligns with the general tendency for the BJS to record between 60,000 and 100,000 DGUs per year. By contrast, Florida State’s award-winning criminologist Gary Kleck has found there may be as many as 2.5 million DGU instances per year. Gun-controllers almost always dismiss Kleck’s data as wildly inaccurate, if not NRA-funded propaganda (it is neither), and instead unquestioningly accept the BJS numbers. See, for example, this study by the Violence Policy Center, which simply regurgitates the BJS numbers, and this discussion of the VPC report at Mother Jones. This New York Times post on the VPC report sneeringly offers this observation on the disparity between Kleck’s and the BJS’s numbers:
Readers can judge for themselves whether the V.P.C. or the N.R.A. is likely to have better numbers. The V.P.C. used data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The N.R.A.’s estimate is the result of a telephone survey conducted by a Florida State University criminologist.
I accept the Times’s invitation, and I will judge for myself:
Six Reasons to Distrust the NCVS on Defensive Gun Use
1) As you can see from the NCVS survey questions here, the survey is non-anonymous. Although respondents were given guarantees that the results will remain confidential, many respondents would certainly be uneasy about answering questions about gun use after giving their names and addresses. This is a well-known effect of non-anonymous surveys.
2) Respondents were told from the outset that the survey is conducted by the government, specifically the U.S. Census Bureau. Coupling this with the survey being non-anonymous and you have a perfect recipe for withholding information. This is all the more true if the respondent had reasonable concerns about whether an instance of DGU was legal, either because they themselves were not allowed to have a gun or to be carrying a gun (perhaps because of a felony conviction), because carrying a gun or having a gun is essentially illegal in their area (e.g., DC, NYC), or because of the obvious legal gray-area around the act of threatening someone with a gun, much less firing it at them. In essence, those who unquestionably trust the NCVS data on DGUs believe that the question, “hi, I’m from the government, please give me your name and address and tell me if you’ve used a gun to protect yourself in the past year” will yield accurate results.
3) Respondents were only asked about DGU after they had given the location of the crime. If the crime occurred outside the home, as did 78.1% of violent crimes between 2007-2011 (table 7), and some respondents were unauthorized to carry a gun outside the home, then they were being asked to admit to a crime.
4) But respondents were not just told that the U.S. Census Bureau is conducting the survey, they were told that the survey is sponsored by the Department of Justice. They were then asked to volunteer information about possibly illegal activities to the chief law enforcement agency of the United States.
5) Respondents were not directly asked about DGU because the NCVS is not primarily designed to uncover instances of DGU. They were first asked whether they have been victims of a crime and only then were they asked follow-up questions about the incident. But the NCVS under-reports crime, particularly domestic violence and rape, and if it under-reports crimes where DGUs are particularly common then it would of course under-report DGUs.
6) The follow-up questions are not straightforward enough to accurately capture instances of DGU. As you can see from the follow-up questionnaire given to those who report a crime (page 12), respondents must first have answered “yes” to the question, “Did you do anything with the idea of protecting YOURSELF or your PROPERTY while the incident was going on?” before they were asked about DGU. They were then asked to volunteer information about a DGU rather than being put in a position of having to lie in order to deny a DGU.
That’s what the government did. Let’s see how “the result[s] of a telephone survey conducted by a Florida State University criminologist (Gary Kleck)” were collected:
We use the most anonymous possible national survey format, the anonymous random digit dialed telephone survey. We did not know the identities of those who were interviewed, and made this fact clear to the Rs [Respondants]. We interviewed a large nationally representative sample covering all adults, age eighteen and over, in the lower forty-eight states and living in households with telephones. We asked DGU questions of all Rs in our sample, asking them separately about both their own DGU experiences and those of other members of their households. We used both a five year recall period and a one year recall period. We inquired about uses of both handguns and other types of guns, and excluded occupational uses of guns and uses against animals. Finally, we asked a long series of detailed questions designed to establish exactly what Rs did with their guns; for example, if they had confronted other humans, and how had each DGU connected to a specific crime or crimes.
Interviews were monitored at random by survey supervisors. All interviews in which an alleged DGU was reported by the R were validated by supervisors with call-backs, along with a 20% random sample of all other interviews.
Questions about the details of DGU incidents permitted us to establish whether a given DGU met all of the following qualifications for an incident to be treated as a genuine DGU: (1) the incident involved defensive action against a human rather than an animal, but not in connection with police, military, or security guard duties; (2) the incident involved actual contact with a person, rather than merely investigating suspicious circumstances, etc.; (3) the defender could state a specific crime which he thought was being committed at the time of the incident; (4) the gun was actually used in some way–at a minimum it had to be used as part of a threat against a person, either by verbally referring to the gun (e.g., “get away–I’ve got a gun”) or by pointing it at an adversary. We made no effort to assess either the lawfulness or morality of the Rs’ defensive actions.
An additional step was taken to minimize the possibility of DGU frequency being overstated. The senior author went through interview sheets on every one of the interviews in which a DGU was reported, looking for any indication that the incident might not be genuine. A case would be coded as questionable if even just one of four problems appeared: (1) it was not clear whether the R actually confronted any adversary he saw; (2) the R was a police officer, member of the military or a security guard, and thus might have been reporting, despite instructions, an incident which occurred as part of his occupational duties; (3) the interviewer did not properly record exactly what the R had done with the gun, so it was possible that he had not used it in any meaningful way; or (4) the R did not state or the interviewer did not record a specific crime that the R thought was being committed against him at the time of the incident. There were a total of twenty-six cases where at least one of these problematic indications was present. It should be emphasized that we do not know that these cases were not genuine DGUs; we only mean to indicate that we do not have as high a degree of confidence on the matter as with the rest of the cases designated as DGUs. Estimates using all of the DGU cases are labelled herein as “A” estimates, while the more conservative estimates based only on cases devoid of any problematic indications are labelled “B” estimates.
Kleck’s study (which you can read here) was done in 1993, so there is good reason to believe that the instances of DGU have gone down with the crime rate. Also, Kleck’s study, like all studies, is far from ironclad. But I’ll leave that question to the reader: which study is likely to be more reliable?
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EDMONTON — Conventional political wisdom says the Conservatives need a firm grip on just one of the two big cities — Calgary or Edmonton — and a solid base in rural Alberta to win an election.
For 40 years, the party could count on at least two out of the three.
But for Alison Redford, that old formula is wearing thin. For the first time, her party looks ready to lose seats in two areas and is under pressure in Edmonton.
Polls show voters in the once impregnable Tory fortress of Calgary are now 41 per cent in favour of the Wildrose, with just 34 per cent backing the Conservatives. A whopping 54 per cent of rural Albertans support the Wildrose, according to Friday’s Leger Marketing poll.
Meanwhile, in Edmonton, the numbers are mixed. The Edmonton Journal-Calgary Herald Leger polls puts the Tories ahead with 37 per cent to the Wildrose’s 25 per cent. But another poll has the two conservative parties in a dead heat here at 30 per cent each.
At the halfway mark in the campaign, here’s a glimpse at ridings to watch and possible reasons for the Conservatives’ sudden decline from their strong position in February, when polls showed them positioned for a comfortable majority.
After two weeks of campaigning, there aren’t many safe Tory seats in Calgary, says political scientist Duane Bratt from Mount Royal University.
Even in Calgary West, prominent Redford ally Ken Hughes, former chairman of Alberta Health Services board, is getting a rough ride. He’s a lightning rod for criticism over health care and under attack as an example of the old style politics that have dogged the party. When Hughes failed to win the nomination the first time, the party called another vote and Hughes won, says Bratt. He’s up against formidable Wildrose candidate Andrew Constantinidis, who has close ties to federal MP Rob Anders — another sign the Harper machine is helping the Wildrose.
In Calgary Egmont, Conservative Jonathan Denis, Redford’s solicitor general, faces fierce opposition over Redford’s new drunk driving legislation, which is opposed by 51 per cent of Calgarians, according to the Leger poll.
Under the new legislation, not yet in effect, drivers caught with a blood-alcohol level of 0.5 per cent (lower than the Criminal Code’s 0.8 per cent) could have their vehicles seized and licences suspended by police.
“You used to be able to say northeast Calgary would remain solidly Tory,” says Bratt. “But that organizing strength has gone to the Wildrose.”
Even prominent Tory Ted Morton is having trouble, says Bratt. His riding of Chestermere-Rockyview just outside Calgary, is definitely one to watch.
Morton carries baggage from some of the biggest hot-button issues for the Wildrose – new electricity transmission lines, property rights and land use planning — all detested in large parts of rural Alberta.
“The transmission lines are haunting him,” says Bratt. As energy minister, Morton called for a review of cabinet’s order for two new north-south transmission lines, but that review recommended the status quo. So it didn’t help mollify the dissenters.
Redford’s problem, says Dave Taras, a communications professor at Mount Royal University, is that she hasn’t been able “to get out from under the mess left by (former premier Ed) Stelmach” and that hurts her in Calgary.
Unlike Ralph Klein, who virtually ran against the previous Conservative government of Don Getty, Redford talks of change but prefers “to move by inches.” So, for instance, it took two attempts to finally reach the right decision of having MLAs repay their stipends for sitting on the no-work committee, says Taras.
Then she let the education act die.
It’s no surprise this rift in the provincial party happened in Calgary, where the right wing forces have been gathering strength under Harper supporters. “It’s the federal split coming into provincial politics.”
Redford and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith embody exactly that split.
Redford grew up in Red Tory tradition, worked for Joe Clark and Progressive Conservatives under Brian Mulroney, while Smith is a product of the Calgary school of political scientists at the University of Calgary that trained Stephen Harper.
For years, the two strains of conservatism coexisted in the big provincial Tory tent founded by Peter Lougheed. But that alliance ruptured with Ed Stelmach’s royalty review, says Bratt.
Also, the Tories are not used to fighting a strong opposition and this time it is well financed, to the tune of $2.7 million, says Bratt. “The Wildrose has a bus, not just a little red truck.”
Others say Calgary Tories started leaving the Conservatives because they’ve twice lost the party’s leadership race.
In 2006, favourite son Jim Dinning was defeated by Stelmach. Last fall, Calgary favourite and prominent front-runner Gary Mar lost to Redford.
To add insult to injury, Redford won with virtually no support in caucus and by bringing new people (some Liberals) into the Tory party at least temporarily. That didn’t sit well with the right side of the party.
In the province’s south, at the University of Lethbridge, political scientist Peter McCormick also sees this election as a “civil war in the Tory party.”
The two Lethbridge seats are definitely ones to watch, he says. (After the last election the city had one Liberal and one Tory seat). The Tories were ecstatic when popular, longtime Liberal MLA Bridgette Pastoor crossed the floor to join them this spring. That was supposed to guarantee them a second seat in Lethbridge East. But as it turns out, Pastoor is in a tight race, says McCormick.
“People who supported her as a Liberal are annoyed at her for crossing, and good staunch Tories aren’t happy because she wasn’t in their party before. It’s really an uphill battle.”
Meanwhile, in Lethbridge West, Tory Greg Weadick, former minister of advanced education, is in a tight race where the NDs are running a strong campaign with Shannon Phillips.
In Edmonton, Tory support is stronger, though the situation is volatile with five or six candidates in some ridings.
Political scientist Jim Lightbody says Edmonton is still more Redford-friendly, partly because the city traditionally shows more progressive voting patterns.
But he doesn’t rule out the possibility that Liberal and left-of-centre voters will coalesce behind Redford to stave off the Wildrose.
“But Edmonton won’t give her the government, there aren’t enough seats here,” says Lightbody from the University of Alberta.
Major battles are being fought in metro seats around Edmonton that used to be safe Tory seats, he said.
Longtime Conservative Doug Horner, deputy premier and running in Spruce Grove-St. Albert, may survive, though Wildrose candidate Travis Hughes is putting up a good fight.
But the Tories may be vulnerable in Strathcona County, where veteran Tory Iris Evans retired and the new transmission lines are a hot issue. In Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock, Tory Ken Kowalski retired after 30 years and Link Byfield, former magazine publisher is running a strong campaign for the Wildrose against former county councillor Maureen Kubineck for the Tories
So is this the election that will end the 41 years of Tory rule? Or is this 1993, when the Tories pulled things back after a major challenge by Laurence Decore’s Liberals?
Too soon to tell, says Bratt The campaign is only half over. People will start to scrutinize the Wildrose more closely some may not like what they see.
“So far, the voters’ mood is been driven by anger at the PCs. But now people will take a closer look at Danielle Smith.”
Taras agrees. “Redford has to switch the issue to Danielle Smith,” he says/
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sun Apr 08, 2012 1:03 pm
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