A Statistician Reconsiders Her Support for Gun Control After Looking at the Data
If only politicians were so open to contradiction by reality.
With so many people insisting that the Las Vegas massacre confirms what they've always thought about gun control, it is refreshing to hear from someone who changed her mind on the subject after considering the evidence. "My colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States," Leah Libresco, a statistician who used to work for the data journalism site, writes in The Washington Post. "We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I'd lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence."
Regarding the much-touted gun control laws of Britain and Australia, Libresco found that "neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun-related crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans." Looking into bans on so-called assault weapons, she concluded that the category is an arbitrary construct with little practical significance.
What about the silencers that Hillary Clinton thinks could have raised the death toll in Las Vegas if they had been used there? "In real life," Libresco writes, "silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don't make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer."
Libresco notes that "two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides," and "almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them." But she argues that "older men, who make up the largest share of gun suicides, need better access to people who could care for them and get them help." She also recommends targeted measures aimed at protecting women from domestic violence and preventing deadly disputes among young men.
"A reduction in gun deaths is most likely to come from finding smaller chances for victories and expanding those solutions as much as possible," Libresco concludes. "We save lives by focusing on a range of tactics to protect the different kinds of potential victims and reforming potential killers, not from sweeping bans focused on the guns themselves."
Libresco says she still does not endorse gun ownership, "but I can't endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them." The distinction seems to be lost on politicians like Clinton, who define good policy as whatever the NRA doesn't want.