The Academic Support of the American Gun Lobby

Eric Garland Uncategorized

Further to my article yesterday about the gun lobby’s unsupportable assertions about gun violence, a reader sent me a study “from Harvard” that is touted by some as a refutation to the idea that guns correlate to higher gun violence and that gun control correlates to lower gun violence. Since I have been so deep into the data myself, I was anxious to see another data-driven perspective based on intellectual rigor instead of personal invective.

The paper is entitled “Would Banning Guns Reduce Murder and Suicide?: A Review of International and Some Domestic Evidence” by attorney and criminologist Don B. Kates (who is listed as “associated with the Pacific Research Institute,” a San Francisco-based right-wing think tank that has no mention of his work on its website) and Gary Mauser, a Canadian university professor whose publications are on political marketing and gun control. It appears in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy.

Again, this was sent to me as an example of a conclusive refutation of the idea that lower gun availability correlates to lower violence in general and gun homicide in particular. Over at and, the summary of the article reads “Harvard Study Concludes That Gun Control Does Not Prevent Murder, Other Violent Crime.”

Already, the grand switcheroo is in place: two researchers not affiliated with Harvard make a “review of international and some domestic evidence,” and it is instantly converted by the gun lobby to Harvard Study Concludes That Gun Control Does Not Prevent Murder. This is but a preview of the intellectual work that awaits you.

Download this article so you can follow along with me:

International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. Unfortunately, such discussions are all too often been [sic] afflicted by misconceptions and factual error [sic] and focus on comparisons that are unrepresentative.

So the authors’ main aim is to make sure that we are comparing the United States to the right countries. Most researchers compare the US to France and Norway to look at relative policy effectiveness, but Kates and Mauser are going to set us straight. So look at who they begin with:

Since at least 1965, the false assertion that the United States has the industrialized world’s highest murder rate has been an artifact of politically motivated Soviet minimization designed to hide the true homicide rates. Since well before that date, the Soviet Union possessed extremely stringent gun controls that were effectuated by a police state apparatus providing stringent enforcement.

Soviet minimization techniques?” It’s 2013, and the active comparator in this article is…The Soviet Union?

You get to this chart which is supposed to be the opening shot about proving that gun control has no correlation on crime:


Some observations: It’s a 2013 study referencing decade-old data that has been refreshed since then. It puts Luxembourg, a city-state with 30,000 people next to Russia with 143 million people. These are not comparable societies – and note that the dropoff after Russia in 2002 (in the midst of a major crime spree from organized crime) and Luxembourg, (where a couple gangsters shot in a hotel room skews data for the year) is precipitous. From 9.00 to 2. And note that the US is not even put on the chart – 4.8 homicides per 100,000 (correction: to compare apples to apples, the FBI reports that the US homicide rate in 2003 was even higher than today at 5.7.) Also, if we were to put the United States on this chart, it would show the number “82,700” based on the 2003 population of the US and the number of firearms available in the US at that time. How strange that the authors want to show how the US isn’t the most violent of the developed world, then fail to make a direct comparison.

They immediately go into anecdotal evidence about English gun control,  followed by a reference to US CDC meta-analysis from 2003 of 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications that “failed to identify any gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents.” The report actually says:

The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes. (Note that insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness should not be interpreted as evidence of ineffectiveness.)

Did you catch that? Kates and Mauser cite the study as if it disproved the effectiveness of gun control when all the CDC stated (back in 2003) is that they had insufficient evidence, and specifically state that they cannot say that it doesn’t work, either.

In fact, the National Academies of Science are actually interested in collecting more data to move from correlation to causation. And the gun lobby is fighting tooth and nail to keep the US government from collecting that data – because it’s “fascism.”

Read on and look for some hard evidence amidst the anecdotes about Great Britain post World War I. Page 664 is the next time you see a chart with data.

Table 2

Again, we’re looking at decade-old data from Russia, Luxembourg and Belarus, not exactly America’s peers in terms of demographics, standards of living and the rule of law. More to the point, look at the columns with “banned” versus “allowed.” This is a terribly deceptive chart. Yes, France and Germany  and Norway allow handguns – but in France and Germany only allow them in very specific cases, and you must register them with the government after thorough background checks. In Norway, you must apply for a license for all guns and declare to the federal government your reason for needing a gun – usually hunting or sport shooting. Self-defense is not an acceptable reason to own guns in Norway. Kates and Mauser are trying to insinuate that these countries have the same policies as the United States, but this is simply wrong.

The work featured shoddy intellectual technique at every turn. Much of the writing here makes a definitive claim in its opening statement, such as “That murderers are not ordinary, law‐abiding responsible adults is further documented in other sources,” but it fails to support the notion before moving on to others topics. In this case, the authors start talking about how mental illness is behind the majority of gun crimes, then they cite a single study about juvenile murders without expanding on its argument.

They make a general statement that contradicts recent work by the medical profession (cited in my piece) that shows a negligible connection between mental illness and gun violence, then make a statement about juveniles (a subset of the population) showing psychosis or psychotic symptoms (open to discussion) – and then move quickly to criminals having a prior record? In the same paragraph, they go from – “crimes are only committed with guns by the crazy” to “juveniles show psychotic symptoms” to “criminals have prior records.” Throughout the paper, they make one unsubstantiated claim after another.

Kates and Mauser talk about “defensive” use of guns. Where’s the chart filled with data, country by country? Why can’t they show in a clear fashion the number of times guns are used “for good?”

And where is the data about suicide from country to country?

Since this is a comparison to the developed world with the intention of showing the “misconceptions” about gun control being effective, why don’t the authors put up the  data about US gun violence – 9146 gun homicides a year, 19,000 gun suicides, 415,000 gun crimes – and compare them directly to the industrialized world? It could have something to do with the fact that Japan has 11 gun homicides per year, France has 37, and so on.

Page 675: A chart of all Eastern Bloc nations with data dating back a decade or more.

Table 3

I’ll stop here. This is an elaborate scam. It is to gun violence what the Exxon-funded climate deniers are to global warming, what the RJ Reynolds-funded studies were to cigarettes – an attempt to make an academic-looking cover for an idea that is obviously specious. I am in shock that Harvard looked at the intellectual work behind this and chose to publish it. Was there peer review here? How did they approve a paper that strays so far from its original thesis statement to include old data that excludes every nation which would demolish the authors’ thesis, such as Japan, France and New Zealand? In the opening of the article, the authors decry “comparisons that are unrepresentative” and then give you decade-old stats about Belarus and Moldova while insinuating that Germany and Norway are examples of US-style gun laws!

This is the quality of the academic output from the “gun control doesn’t ever work” camp. It should be no wonder why the gun lobby prefers to remain in the area of dramatic hypotheticals, because this is the level of quantitative research that underlies their public statements.