16 February 2013

Gun Advocates, make it hard to respect them.

Recently a friend, himself a very serious gun advocate, posted, the following picture to his Facebook status update.  (Click it to bigger it)

He must have found it compelling. I certainly did not. What follows is my response to the argument advanced by this info-graphic Facebook meme. Feel free to pick either apart, and add your own commentary below.

This is easily the most misleading info-graphic I have seen in a long time, and very revealing of one of the deep problems of letting advocates, with no grasp of statistics, and little regard for fair analysis loose in Photoshop.
Lets begin with top half of the info-graphic: Guns per 100 people. 

This tells us precisely nothing about how these guns are distributed across a country.  For all we know all those US guns could be held by 10 guys in Jacksonville Florida.  The schematic assumes that gun ownership is more or less even across country.  This is a serious problem for any future analysis. It also makes a nonsense out of the conclusion that the author intends the reader to walk away with.

In the US we know, for instance, that gun ownership is not evenly distributed across the country, that it is patchy with regard to density. The first half of this info-graphic is a coarse grain analysis at the very best. We would want to know this information for any later comparison of gun ownership to crime stats.  Without this we don’t have much to go on.

Another reason why this average number of guns per one hundred people is a useless metric, is because it leaves out the crucial detail, that is to say the laws that govern the sale, and regulation of firearms. Without that what can we really say?   [EDIT: For instance what good is it to tell us the number of firearms in, say, the Scandinavian countries, with out telling us how those guns are regulated.)

Also, there is a suspicious problem of intervals.  The first interval is 0-10, whereas the remaining are all in larger intervals (10-30, 30-50, 50-75, 75+) There may be sound reasons for this. But as this is clearly advocacy research, based here in the US, I am deeply suspicious that the intervals were chosen to make some rhetorical point that cast the US in a more favorable light (this will come up again in the second half of this ridiculous graphic, and precisely to mislead).

Looking at the second half (murders per 100,000) we have, again and more dishonestly, a problem with the intervals. Setting the lowest intervals at 0-5 murders per 100,000 persons artificially allows the US to look as if it is as safe as Western European nations (who have some of the strictest gun laws) with regard to homicide rates.  In any event the intervals invite a host of strange conclusions, and clearly tell us, despite what the designer of this info graphic would have us believe, that guns ownership is not the best predictor of homicide rates. 

Consider: The average murder rate in the US is something like 5 per 100,000 (4.8 according to UNODC), whereas the murder rate for the United Kingdom is a whooping 1.2, our northern neighbor Canada has a murder rate of 1.6, Sweden, 1, Norway, .6, Switzerland .7 Japan .4. That is just small sampling of the murder rates from other industrialized nations.  The situation is the same everywhere you look among developed nations.  The US ranks pretty poorly by comparison when looking at homicide rates. But just looking at the US as a whole is also misleading, because the US is not uniform as any average might suggest.  New England’s murder rate is much more like that of Western European industrialized nations.  If you look at violent crime generally, it is much greater in the Southern US than it is in the Northern US.  It would be interesting to see a map of gun ownership by concentration placed over a map of violent crime in the US. Given the tendency of honor culture that permeates the South (where most of the violent crime lives) I would be surprised if the gun ownership was equal between northern and southern US regions. Having artificially large intervals allows the US to seem like a reasonable country with respect to murder rates, instead of being an outlier among developed nations. And an outlier it really is.

The author, or perhaps authors, of this atrocious info-graphic want us to draw the conclusion that more guns means greater safety from murder. This is such an ill-conceived hypothesis as to not even be wrong. Even a cursory examination of this info-graphic should reveal this.

More than gun ownership, this info-graphic tells the tale of dependable governments, stability and the opposite, instability as the best predictors of homicide rates, not how gun ownership leads to lower homicide.  Note that large swaths of the 0-10 interval of gun ownership are also possessed of low homicide rates (fine grain analysis-which we have sampled- demonstrates much lower rates of homicide than the gun loving US for these 0-10 countries). Why should this be the case?  We know that almost all the developed nations have a considerably lower murder rates, lower rates of violent crime than the US, and they possess fewer guns.

The countries with the highest murder rates, are also the countries that are the least stable and dependable, shall we say least healthy,  by every metric. This conclusion must not be a welcome one for most people who fancy themselves second amendment defenders and think guns are the game changers.  But the implication is clear, its stronger governments, better social services and safety nets, the perception of sound state, and local government that are the best predictors of murder rates. That is what seems to be the key difference between states with high murder rates and those with out, not gun ownership.

Look at the most murderous lands and the feature that most characterizes these lands is deep instability, corruption, and crappy organs of state.  China, India, South Korea, Southeast Asia generally, Japan, UK, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, Germany, even Italy all have low murder rates, low rates of gun ownership.  The US has high rates of gun ownership among industrialized nations, and has the highest murder rate among developed nations.

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