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"[D.C. Officials] Argue Handguns Are Involved in Most Violent Crime":

So says the L.A. Times. But the National Crime Victimization Survey for 2005 (PDF page 81) reports that handguns are used in fewer than 8% of all crimes of violence. This doesn't include homicide, but homicides are fewer than 0.5% of all crimes of violence, so even if one includes homicides the answer would be about 8%.

Here's my guess about what happened: The petition does say that "Handguns are the weapon most likely to be used in a street crime," a statistic that the NCVS supports. According to NCVS, handguns account for a plurality (roughly 1/3) of weapons used in the about 25% of violent crimes that the victims believed were committed with weapons (as opposed to hands and fists), which is more than any other class of weapons. The petition's statement is thus accurate, though not terribly helpful and potentially misleading. But this then got transposed into the off-by-a-factor-of-6 L.A. Times statement that "[D.C. officials] argue handguns are involved in most violent crime."

Now I should stress that handguns are indeed involved in many crimes, and the majority of homicides. I oppose handgun bans because I think they do more harm than good, but I certainly don't want to pooh-pooh the harm done by criminals with handguns. But this sort of story helps show how skeptical one should be of media reporting about statistics (and likely about other things as well).

Thanks to commenter Tom Hynes for pointing this out.

The Ace (mail) (www):
D.C. Officials] Argue Handguns Are Involved in Most Violent Crime

This is probably true for DC itself. It's not clear if that is what is being argued based on that sentence.

I posted a link to this piece the other day,


Guns were used in 63 percent of the city's 188 slayings in 1976. Last year, out of 169 homicides, 81 percent were shootings.


Though there is no cite for the source and of course murders aren't all violent crime. Food for thought though.

Also see this cite for how DC ranks for violent crime (#1 - Rate per 100,000)
11.21.2007 8:00pm
Obviously Some Racist Pig:
"But the National Crime Victimization Survey for 2005 (PDF page 81) reports that handguns are used in fewer than 8% of all crimes of violence."

And blacks commit about 20% - 30% of violent crime. (See Table 40 and Table 46 of the NCVS.

Given that gun-owner profiling is considered a "reasonable common-sense" crime-fighting technique, I leave it as an exercise to the reader to explain why racial profiling is not.

Consider the number of violent crimes committed per gun owner vs. the number of violent crimes committed per black person.
11.21.2007 8:20pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Somebody tell Patterico; he's always got the LATimes in his sights.
11.21.2007 10:23pm
Anon14:
Just as an aside, did anyone catch the glaring error in the NYTimes editorial today? It claimed that Parker affirmed a dist. court decision holding the D.C. gun ban was unconstitutional. I mean, does anyone at the Times even bother to read the judicial opinions the editorial page sounds off on? How embarrassing for everyone involved!
11.21.2007 11:58pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Bottom line is no one wants to discuss the elephant in the room which is black crime.
11.22.2007 1:10am
Vinnie (mail):
Black crime, gun crime, how about just crime. No agendas no just crime.

When I don't have to fill out a form and wait for a background check just to see if I can be trusted with something less dangerous than a car. An object I have a god given right to own by the way. Then you can choose which TYPE of crime to is more important.
Don't give me numbers, get these people off the street regardless of color or equipment.
And KNOW that when the bad guys get out of jail they WILL get a gun, regardless of the law.
11.22.2007 1:36am
Perry (mail):
Yeah, and never married males commit 45% of all crime according to table 12, so I'd suggest that we profile all of them too.

Except for that whole correlation / causation thing but hey, who ever let that stop people from spouting off some bullsh!t that they think they've discovered with a set of numbers?
11.22.2007 3:51am
davod (mail):
Lies, damn lies and statistics. Statistics are worse because you can make them say what you want and people people think the data is on your side.

Fenty Strikes Again-Or lambs to the slaughetr

"Guns were used in four out of every five homicides in Washington this year. The numbers would be even worse if Washington did not have its strict gun control law, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said Tuesday."

What Fenty leaves out of this statement is that, just maybe, the number of homicides might increase but the increase might be due to an increase in the number of criminals killed while perpretrating a crime.

This argument should take a different tone if you understand that:

a. the police cannot be in a position to stop most crimes,let alone solve the crimes after the fact;

b. a DC judge has ruled that the DC police department has no duty to come to the aid of its citizens; and,

c. Even Mace,Pepper Spray, and Tasers, are forbidden to the citizenry.

We are not allowed to defend ourselves!
11.22.2007 9:07am
davod (mail):
PS. Lambs to the Slaughter.
11.22.2007 9:08am
PersonFromPorlock:

Even Mace,Pepper Spray, and Tasers, are forbidden to the citizenry.

To me that's always been a dead giveaway; people defend gun control as being about guns but when you look at what else is prohibited in gun-control-favoring jurisdictions, it's clear that 'the authorities' don't trust 'the people' with any power.
11.22.2007 10:43am
TDPerkins (mail):
Even Mace,Pepper Spray, and Tasers, are forbidden to the citizenry.

it's clear that 'the authorities' don't trust 'the people' with any power.


They don't even trust them with the weakest of abilities to save their own lives. Is it any wonder I and so many others hold so many of out political class, to be profoundly contemptible, and have no charitable regard for the arguments and persons of whomever carries their water?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
11.22.2007 11:14am
Alex650 (mail):
Regarding this totally unnecessary and off-topic race discussion:

I believe that blacks are also proportionately more likely to be <i></i>victims<i></i> of violent crime. Since subjecting someone to a coercive encounter (e.g. Terry stop or pat-down) with the police based on his or her race violates the Fourteenth Amendment, perhaps the more useful concern ought to be making sure the police do a better job at <i></i>protecting<i></i> blacks from violent crime in this country.
11.22.2007 2:46pm
NickM (mail) (www):
It took 7 years for Washington, D.C. officials to realize that half the property tax refund money the city paid each year was blatant frauds run by a few city employees (having checks go to a company called Bilkemor should have been a hint). Expecting them to understand the mathematical definition of "most" may be asking too much.

Nick
11.22.2007 3:41pm
picpoule:
I'm a criminal defense attorney. This is purely anecdotal, but most of the homicides I've had did not involve guns. Here's a sampling of some of the other weapons of choice: hands, feet, knives, automobiles, a board with nails in it, baseball bat, chair, tossing baby out car window. Which goes to show, if a person really wants to someone, that person will find a way.
11.22.2007 10:42pm
wfjag:
Dear Prof:

Ever considered the idea that reporters and editors are simply math challenged? I regularly check stats.org, which is run under the supervision of a Professor at George Mason Univ, to find out what various statistics breathlessly reported in the "news" really mean. I find that generally the reporters have blown the story and the editors missed that.

A recent example comes from an article titled "Counting Gun Traffic", on the Nov. 11, 2007 edition of http://thestatsblog.wordpress.com/. The WaPo reported August 21, 2007 in a story headlined ""In Study of Gun Traffic, Va. Stands Out," that "Law enforcement authorities traced more than 10,000 guns [used in crimes] recovered in Virginia, Maryland and the District [of Columbia] last year -- and nearly half came from Virginia, according to federal data released yesterday." A true statement, since the WaPo reported that the figures were "Virginia 7,571 guns recovered, Maryland 7,025 guns, and DC 1,831."

However, the WaPo failed to look at populations: Virginia 7,643,000; Maryland 5,616,000; D.C. 582,000. Adjusted for population, D.C. is the clear leader as a source of guns used in crimes (which cases some doubt on the effectiveness of its gun ban that has been in force for about 31 years until overturned by the Court of Appeals).

I used to think that such lack of accurate reporting of statistics was agenda driven, or possibly driven by an "If it bleeds, it leads" mentality. However, after looking at many similar inaccuracies across a wide range of subjects I've concluded that the more likely root cause is ignorance of basic math and science by reporters and editors.

Another recent review of the "news" bungling the number is "Attack of the Killer Mattresses" found on the Nov. 6, 2007 edition of www.stats.org/stories/. Relying on a organization named "People for Clean Beds" it is claimed that "fire retardants will kill more people than the Black Death and AIDS combined". "People for Clean Beds", however, turns out to be one Mark Strobel, a mattress maker, whose mattresses do not meet federal fire safety standards, and so can only be bought with a doctor's prescription. Makes you wonder when you'll start seeing bumper stickers saying "Guns don't kill people, Mattresses kill people" or "You can have my Posture Pedic when you pry it from my cold, dead hands"?

Fortunately or not, there's no constitutional right to own a mattress, just as there's no constitutional right to an educated press (only a "free" one).
11.23.2007 11:18am
NickM (mail) (www):
CNN just showed itself to be math-challenged in another context. They reported that the town of Albert, Texas sold for $3.8 million on eBay. An examination of the actual auction revealed that the final price was 3,000,800.00.

What's a decimal point between friends?

Nick
11.24.2007 5:38pm