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Is gun control making Vermont less safe?

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Up until 2018, deep blue Vermont was a model for sensible gun laws – meaning they had few and politicians on both sides of the aisle understood the tranquil state didn’t need any. Vermont was the original Constitutional Carry state, as the Right-to-Carry without a permit was affirmed in a 1903 state supreme court case. In 2017 Vermont ranked 49th in violent crime – ahead of only Maine.

Then in 2018, Vermont lawmakers rejected the state’s independent tradition to become just another New York satrapy. That year politicians enacted a ban on commonly-owned firearm magazines and criminalized the private transfer of firearms (sometimes inaccurately termed “universal” background checks). The legislature also instituted “Red Flag” gun confiscation orders that deprive a person of their Second Amendment rights without due process.

This year, the Empire State’s Green Mountain Colony enacted a 72-hour waiting period on firearm purchases. The move provides gun owners with further evidence that gun control advocates intend to build ever more restrictions on top of any private transfer restriction scheme.

According to CDC fatal injury data, the total number and crude rate of “violence-related firearm deaths” (which includes suicides) increased from 2017 to 2021. Both the total number and crude rate of “violence-related firearm deaths” fell during the same period in neighboring New Hampshire. In Vermont, from 2017 to 2021 “violence-related firearm deaths” among kids ages 0-26 increased 40 percent.

According to FBI data, the violent crime rate increased in Vermont from 2017 to 2020. From 2017 to the first full year of Vermont’s 2018 gun control measures (2019) the violent crime rate rose by nearly 20 percent. Over the same period, New Hampshire’s violent crime rate fell by 19 percent. Maine’s violent crime rate also fell over this period. For 2021, Vermont slipped to 48th in violent crime, with New Hampshire taking the 49th slot and Maine taking 50.

So, do Vermont’s ridiculous gun control laws make the state less safe? To the extent these laws inhibit the ability of law-abiding individuals to defend themselves, yes. Is the data presented above strong evidence that gun control is making Vermont, in general, less safe? No. At best it’s mildly indicative of what common sense would dictate – that Vermont’s gun control measures had no salutary impact whatsoever in the already peaceful jurisdiction.

The point of laying out this information is to draw attention to how political advocates and the media can manipulate data to construct whatever preexisting narrative they want. While in this case accurate statistical information was used to concoct a pro-gun narrative, gun control advocates and their media lapdogs employ the same tactics to argue the reverse.

Above is an example of bivariate analysis, where only two variables are compared. In this case, years pre- and post-gun control are compared with firearm injury and violent crime data. Such analysis doesn’t consider the myriad other variables that could be having an impact on firearm injury and violent crime. Some might include criminal justice and law enforcement practices or changes in economic circumstances.

Further, starting and ending points for statistical analysis and what variables to highlight can be cherrypicked. This is particularly problematic in smaller or more peaceful jurisdictions, as when the small total number of firearm-related incidents vary by year, the percent increase or decrease in total and the rate of such incidents per 100,000 population will vary wildly.

However, this doesn’t mean that the more sophisticated statistical modeling that comes out of the academy is of any use either. More sophisticated models offer further opportunities for cherry-picking and other manipulation.

Concocting sophisticated statistical models presents a nearly endless array of choices, and each decision leads to other different choices. This concept is sometimes presented as the “garden of forking paths.” In practice, this means that different researchers presented with the same exact data will come to wildly different conclusions.

A 2022 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled, “Observing many researchers using the same data and hypothesis reveals a hidden universe of uncertainty,” illustrated this point.

To construct their experiment, the authors assembled 161 researchers in 73 teams and provided them with the same data and hypothesis to be tested.

Explaining the results of the experiment, the authors reported,

Results from our controlled research design in a large-scale crowdsourced research effort involving 73 teams demonstrate that analyzing the same hypothesis with the same data can lead to substantial differences in statistical estimates and substantive conclusions. In fact, no two teams arrived at the same set of numerical results or took the same major decisions during data analysis.

In other words: Much of social science is of dubious value, even before trying to account for political bias. Of course, when it comes to guns the academy favors more control.

In 2022, Reason magazine did an excellent job of exposing almost all “gun violence” social science for the junk science it is by producing an accessible video explainer on the topic.

Drawing on the expertise of statistician and New York University and University of California at San Diego instructor Aaron Brown and a 2020 analysis by the RAND Corporation, the video explained that the vast majority of gun violence research is not conducted in a manner sufficient to offer meaningful conclusions. An article accompanying the video, written by Brown and Reason Producer Justin Monticello, noted,

A 2020 analysis by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, parsed the results of 27,900 research publications on the effectiveness of gun control laws. From this vast body of work, the RAND authors found only 123 studies, or 0.4 percent, that tested the effects rigorously.

Reason and Brown examined the remaining 123 studies from the RAND analysis and offered the following,

We took a look at the significance of the 123 rigorous empirical studies and what they actually say about the efficacy of gun control laws.

The answer: nothing. The 123 studies that met RAND’s criteria may have been the best of the 27,900 that were analyzed, but they still had serious statistical defects, such as a lack of controls, too many parameters or hypotheses for the data, undisclosed data, erroneous data, misspecified models, and other problems.

The gun issue aside, the problems inherent in the type of modeling presented here, the academy’s obvious political bias, and the replication crisis have led to increasing doubts about whether large swathes of the social sciences have any value at all.

So how is a normal gun owner supposed to wade through this statistical and social science “sea of trash?” Meet any data presented by gun control advocates and their servants in the academy and media with the utmost skepticism. Moreover, recognize that law-abiding Americans have a right to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that is independent of the professed benefits of any gun control measure.

Article by NRA-ILA

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