Rebutting NRO: Intellectual Dishonesty Taken To A New Level

A friend sent this NRO article as an “interesting explanation of what happened at Sandy Hook.”

It’s a great example of lies, damn lies and statistics. It also contains a textbook example of dishonesty via anecdote. Combined, the article becomes a testament to intellectual dishonesty.

First, lying with statistics.

Incidents of mass murder in the U.S. declined from 42 in the 1990s to 26 in the first decade of this century.

The author doesn’t define mass murder. The FBI does. According to the FBI, mass murder is four or more murders with no cooling off period.

He also doesn’t define what he means — 42 for the entire decade?

I looked at mass shootings from 2005-2012 and 1997-2004; the cut-off marks the expiration of the assault weapon ban.

  • 1997-2004: 14 instances in this seven-year period; 189 killed and injured
  • 2005-2012: 26 instances in this seven-year period; 421 killed and injured

There have been seven mass murders in 2012. There were eight for the three-year period 2009-2011. The decade of the ’90s? A total of 23 (that’s 2.3/year). And the first decade of this century? 19.

Lying by anecdote

Here, we’ll see the line that the NRA would take later in the week, and one explored by another NRO writer who also wrung her hands over the fact that there were no men around to, you know, protect the helpless females.

“Guns are already banned in schools. That is why the shootings happen in schools. A school is a ‘helpless-victim zone,’” says Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. “Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,” Jim Kouri, the public-information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me earlier this year at the time of the Aurora, Colo., Batman-movie shooting. Indeed, there have been many instances — from the high-school shooting by Luke Woodham in Mississippi, to the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo. — where a killer has been stopped after someone got a gun from a parked car or elsewhere and confronted the shooter. (emphasis added)

Let’s look at these two examples. If there are “many instances” can we safely assume that these would be the “best” ones?

October 1, 1997, Luke Woodham, Pearl, MS

Not a mass murder. Woodham, 16, killed two students and injured seven in an 11-minute rampage at his high school, using a 30-30 hunting rifle. “He was walking along, thumbing fresh rounds into the side port of the rifle.”

The school’s assistant principal, Joel Myrick, a US Army Reserve commander, retrieved his .45 pistol from his truck. “Woodham got into his car and tried to drive away, but he lost control and came to a stop as Myrick raced up to him. Myrick detained Woodham until the police arrived.

Imagine how many people might have died had he owned a Bushmaster XM-15?

He was convicted of these two murders as well as the murder of his mother.

December 9, 2007, Matthew Murray, Colorado Springs, CO

Not a mass murder. Murray, 24, killed two at the New Life Church in Colorado. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. However, Jeanne Assam, a volunteer security guard at the church and former police officer, “identified herself to him and then fired.”

Why did the church have an armed volunteer security guard?

Security had been tightened at New Life Church after it was warned about the shootings at the Youth With A Mission training centre in the Denver suburb of Arvada, in which Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, were killed and two men wounded.

Either 12 or 13 hours earlier (conflicting news reports), Murray had killed those two people. His weapons stash: a Bushmaster XM-15; an AK-47 assault rifle; a Beretta .40 cal. semi-automatic handgun; a Beretta .22 cal. handgun; and a Springfield Armory 9mm semi-automatic handgun.

Then there’s this:

The attacks came just four days after a 19-year-old man killed eight people and himself at a busy shopping centre in Omaha, Nebraska.

So, in the first instance, the use of the gun was secondary. The killings had stopped; the killer had been identified. In the second instance, the former police officer was acting as a guard because the church was on high alert. Typical? Not even close.

And then there are these facts:

In the 62 mass-murder cases over 30 years examined recently by the magazine Mother Jones, not one was stopped by an armed civilian. We have known for many years that a sheriff’s deputy was at Columbine High School in 1999 and fired at one of the two killers while 11 of their 13 victims were still alive. He missed four times.

Lott and Landes Study

NRO continues:

Economists John Lott and William Landes conducted a groundbreaking study in 1999, and found that a common theme of mass shootings is that they occur in places where guns are banned and killers know everyone will be unarmed, such as shopping malls and schools.

If I may: mass murders occur in shopping malls, theaters, restaurants and schools because that’s where people congregate. Not unlike robbing banks because that’s where the money is.

Lott and Landes published a working paper in 1999. Lott had published More Guns, Less Crime in 1998.

This might be why the paper remained in work: in 2004, the National Academy of Sciences published Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review:

[D]espite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime, and there is almost no empirical evidence that the more than 80 prevention programs focused on gun-related violence have had any effect on children’s behavior, knowledge, attitudes, or beliefs about firearms. The committee found that the data available on these questions are too weak to support unambiguous conclusions or strong policy statements. (page 2, emphasis added)

This week, Lott told Soledad O’Brian that Germany had “two of the three worst public school shootings.” He then upped this to “three of the five worst public school shootings.”

Here they are:

  1. Sept 2004, Beslan, North OssetiaTooltip Text : 334, including 156 children, dead
  2. April 2007, Blacksburg, Virginia USA : 31 dead plus the shooter (university)
  3. May 1974, Ma’alot, Israel : 25 dead plus the shooter
  4. December 2012, Sandy Hook, Connecticut USA : 24 dead plus the shooter
  5. April 2002, Erfurt, Germany : 16 dead plus the shooter
  6. March 1996, Dunblane, Scotland : 17 dead plus the shooter
  7. August 1996 1966, Austin, Texas USA : 17 dead plus the shooter, killed by police (university)
  8. April 1999, Littleton, Colorado USA : 13 dead plus the shooters
  9. December 1989, Montreal, Canada : 14 dead plus the shooter (university)
  10. June 1964, Cologne, Germany : 10 dead plus the shooter

Before Sandy Hook, Germany was #4 and #9. Don’t you think that if you were in your third decade of studying this issue that you’d get it right on national TV?

To recap …

First, John Fund, a national-affairs columnist for NRO, does not use the FBI definition for mass murder in his analysis but he doesn’t tell us what criteria he has substituted.

Second, Fund provides two anecdotes of how “guns on site” are the answer. But neither are FBI-classified mass murders. Moreover, in each case the person on the scene was a professional. Finally, in one case, the person who helped stem the violence was on site because the venue was under high alert.

Third, Fund trots out an almost 14-year old working paper that has been discredited by the National Academy of Sciences. And its author put his own foot in his mouth this week in a TV interview.

This is the best argument that the gun lobby can muster to convince us that the status quo is working?

21 Comments

  1. I think that it is a mistake to argue that the choice is between the status quo and doing something about gun violence. The choice is between banning private ownership of handguns and assault rifles and doing something less drastic but just as effective. The status quo is untenable.

    And the argument that more guns in private hands carried in public will make us all safer obviously isn’t true, if it was this would be the world’s safest country. The exact opposite is true. And the argument that more police arresting and imprisoning more people will make us safer meets the same logical barrier. This country already has twice as many police for the population as the next most heavily policed country and already holds a full quarter of the world’s prisoners.

  2. Kathy is indeed correct that the response from people who would rather hug their guns than their children, which is how I see it, has ranged from disingenuousness to outright lunacy.

    A little perspective in a New York Times editorial:

    “In the 62 mass-murder cases over 30 years examined recently by the magazine Mother Jones, not one was stopped by an armed civilian. We have known for many years that a sheriff’s deputy was at Columbine High School in 1999 and fired at one of the two killers while 11 of their 13 victims were still alive. He missed four times.”

  3. One of the interesting things about conservative solutions to this problem is that the use of armed police officers costs money; putting people in jail where they can’t hurt people costs money. Where does that money come from? Public funds — that’s what we often call taxes here in Florida. These same conservatives see any increase in taxes at any level to be the kiss of death, but the solution is more armed police to protect our schools, and putting the bad guys in jail. H’mmmm. I’ve never known a way for us to have things both ways just because that’s what we want.

  4. Hi, Merkin – I did not know that statistic about police per capita. Can you share a source?

    Thanks, Shaun. I, too, found that NYT quote notable.

    Momzworld – good points re cost. Put those returning soldiers to work, ya think?

  5. Erfurt’s murderer belonged to a gun club and obtained his weapons legally, which included a 9mm glock with a 17 round clip. He fired 71 rounds, killing 16 people, including an armed police man. He did not stop until he was confronted by an unarmed teacher.

    Unarmed teacher.

  6. When one such discharged Marine tried to give his services standing guard at a local school, the reservists apparently think he should be fined $5,000 and serve five years in jail. Oh and have his honorable discharge changed to dishonorable — or so I read. Go figure that? Once again, exactly who would be paying these brave men?

  7. http://www.businessinsider.com.....ol-2012-12

    I see I may be wrong in my last post. I found this link on my FB news wall, and there is nothing in there about a fine, jail time or a dishonorable discharge; just that the uniform he’s wearing should not be worn in public, only his Marine dress uniform. Big difference. Using return troops to help with school security sounds like a wonderful idea to me provided they can fund the program properly and they choose soldiers who have not been traumatized to the point of instability.

  8. Thank you, Kathy.

    But one doesn’t even to go to NRO to read such obfuscating, misleading “statistics” and “anecdotes” …

  9. ShannonLee -> OK, I confess I missed that. I now need to go read that story.

    And Dorian, I know … but it’s what landed in my inbox. More than once.

    [updated] Everyone should read that German incident.

  10. Kathy, I lived the next city east of Erfurt when it happened. The whole thing is branded into my head.

  11. Imagine how many people might have died had he owned a Bushmaster XM-15?

    Just for informations sake a 30-30 round has greater power than the .223

    In the 62 mass-murder cases over 30 years examined recently by the magazine Mother Jones, not one was stopped by an armed civilian.

    Well for quite a while CHL were pretty rare. Even now in a State like Texas only 3% of eligable residents bother to apply and some who have a CHL don’t always carry. There is a case for a chl holder making a real difference in the Clackamas mall shooting. The chl holder never fired but did “confront” the shooter who then when into the service passages and was stopped by police. That may not make MJ list but shows clearly that a chl can benefit public safety. Not to mention there have been several bad guys shoot over the years by civilians. Who is to say what they might of done if they had not been stopped. They have been effective in stopping other crime.

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012.....e-robbery/

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/n.....able_N.htm

    he number of justifiable homicides committed by police and private citizens has been rising in the past two years to their highest levels in more than a decade, reflecting a shoot-first philosophy in dealing with crime, say law enforcement analysts.

    The 391 killings by police that were ruled justifiable in 2007 were the most since 1994, FBI statistics show. The 254 killings by private individuals found to be self-defense were the most since 1997.

    “Clearly there is a message out there that citizens may be able to defend themselves” as well, he says.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4g1n8cmwhIY

    The guy in the link above may very well of saved at least one cops life

  12. The incident in Austin, TX happened in 1966 not 1996.

  13. @EE
    WTF Just for informations sake a 30-30 round has greater power than the .223
    The 30-30 is a hunting round used in lever action rifles, not a round used in semi-auto fire.

  14. El Zagna – thank you for catching my typo. Fixed.

    rudi – thank you for responding to the 30-30 comment (so that I didn’t have to).

    And TY, Hart.

  15. EElis – re Clackamas (in my backyard, so to speak)

    [excerpt]
    At 3:29 p.m. Dec. 11, Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, of Southeast Portland, entered Clackamas Town Center through Macy’s department store, walked into the food court and opened fire with a stolen AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. After randomly spraying dozens of shots at shoppers, unleashing pandemonium, Roberts ran down a corridor to a service stairway, where he shot himself.
    http://www.oregonlive.com/clac.....ng_76.html
    [/]

    [excerp]
    Law officers said during a Wednesday press conference that they did not know whether any member of the public carrying a concealed weapon had counterattacked Roberts. But they said they are certain that Roberts died by his own hand after fleeing down a stairwell from the mall’s upper level.

    The death rate from mass shootings has ticked up slightly in recent years, even as deaths in single-victim incidents have decreased, according to a recent analysis of FBI crime data by the Huffington Post. The worst recent mass shooting came in July in Aurora, Colo., where a gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 during a midnight screening of a new “Batman” movie.

    [...]

    In Clackamas County, Sheriff Roberts said local law-enforcement personnel had trained earlier this year for a shooting scenario at Clackamas Town Center, an exercise that involved both police and retailers. On Tuesday, arriving police, in keeping with evolving police tactics nationwide, formed small teams and quickly entered the mall to pursue the shooter. Police could not say Wednesday whether any officers saw the shooter before he killed himself.

    Dennis Curtis, the mall’s general manager, noted that police officers told him that they were amazed “how many stores were secured and people were locked in place” upon entering the mall to look for the shooter.
    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/J.....-shooting/
    [/excerpt]

  16. EElis – as far as the report in FL of the 71 year old man pulling his gun — do you really want civilians shooting in crowded public places? As some news story pointed out. recently NY cops got into a gun fight with a criminal and the cops shot NINE civilians. And they are trained to shoot under pressure.
    http://gothamist.com/2012/08/2.....ding_c.php

  17. @EE
    WTF Just for informations sake a 30-30 round has greater power than the .223
    The 30-30 is a hunting round used in lever action rifles, not a round used in semi-auto fire.

    And that effects the comment or the shooting that was referenced how? Doesn’t sound like he ran out of targets or bullets so the greater damage the round he was using seems pertinent. Especially when people seem to believe the .223 is “higher powered” than a 30-30

  18. @EE
    If the 30-30 is so much more lethal, why doesn’t the military use that or something bigger? Maybe the .233 is deadly enough and more accurate with less recoil for the range and purpose. Why not just use a ,460 Weatherby Magnum by your twisted logic. Show one military or police force that uses a 30 or 40 caliber for close order…

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