Gun Control Misinformation

Terry McKiernan

In the Beachcomber letters section [March 30, 2018], Robert Van der Upwich claimed that his rebuttal of a pro-gun control letter was based on research in which he cited John Lott and his pro-gun group the Crime Prevention Research Center. John Lott’s “research” is extremely flawed and has been widely discredited. Lott’s studies have been found to have serious statistical and methodological errors, and he was found to have fabricated an entire survey. The study of mass shootings in Europe done by Lott, which Mr. Van der Upwich cites in his letter, has numerous holes and has rightly come under serious and widespread criticism.

There isn’t enough room in a letter to the editor format to detail all the problems with Lott’s study, but I would like to highlight a couple key failings. First, Lott only compared the U.S. to countries in Europe that experienced a mass shooting rather than compare the U.S. to all European countries, very many of which did not experience a single mass shooting in the time period of the study. Another issue is that Lott used the mean, rather than the median, to calculate the annual death rate from mass shootings, leading to skewed results that give more credence to outlying data than is warranted. The median would provide a much more accurate sense of the typical annual level of mass shootings in the countries studied. The data below show this and make it clear why Lott deliberately and deceptively chose to use the mean rather than the median: he wanted to obfuscate the reality that the U.S. is indeed an outlier when it comes to mass shootings. Nowhere else in the industrialized world do mass shootings occur with the frequency with which we see them in the United States.

Average (mean) Annual Mass Shooting Death Rate,
2009-2015 (per million people)

Typical (median) Annual Mass Shooting
Death Rate, 2009-2015 (per million people)

1. Norway — 1.99

1. USA — 0.058

2. Serbia — 0.38

2. Albania — 0

3. Macedonia — 0.34

3. Austria — 0

4. Albania — 0.2

4. Belgium — 0

5. Slovakia — 0.19

5. Czech Republic — 0

6. Switzerland — 0.14

6. Finland — 0

7. Finland — 0.13

7. France — 0

8. Belgium — 0.13

8. Germany — 0

9. Czech Republic — 0.12

9. Italy — 0

10. USA — 0.09

10. Macedonia — 0

11. Austria — 0.07

11. Netherlands — 0

12. Netherlands — 0.05

12. Norway — 0

13. United Kingdom — 0.05

13. Russia — 0

14. Germany — 0.02

14. Serbia — 0

15. Russia — 0.01

15. Slovakia — 0

16. Italy — 0.01

16. Switzerland — 0



Sources: CPRC, World Bank population statistics


Moreover, in his letter Mr. Van der Upwich writes that, “If an anti-gun person cannot prove that banning guns results in there being ‘no illicit guns in the hands of criminals’, their entire argument is baseless.” In what other case is 100 percent adherence to a law required to justify that law’s existence? If we were to abide by such specious logic, we would live in a society without any laws—no speed limits, no stop signs, no drinking age, no laws against child abuse, homicide, etc.

Finally, Mr. Van der Upwich ends his letter with a claim that supporters of gun control “ignore a right guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.” The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, much beloved among conservatives for his originalist interpretation of the Constitution, ruled that gun control legislation was constitutional as did a majority of the Supreme Court. The notion that gun control legislation is a violation of the Constitution is not supported by those who are most knowledgeable of the document.

Our nation has endured one episode of mass gun violence after another with no substantive changes to the way firearms are controlled and regulated. Sadly, the discussion of how best to address gun violence often devolves into partisan bickering and is frequently peppered by misinformation and misleading studies and statistics like those put forth by Mr. Van der Upwich. Addressing gun violence should be a priority for all Americans, regardless of political party and regardless of whether one chooses to own a firearm or not. Ronald Reagan supported the Brady Bill. The majority of gun owners in the U.S. support more stringent controls on firearms. It is time for us to act in a rational, bipartisan manner to meaningfully address what has become a national disgrace.




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