Carl Bogus's Unpersuasive Comments on Heller.--

I have been reading the exchange at the Federalist Society website on the Heller case.

I found the post by Carl Bogus at best uninformed and (unintentionally) misleading. Bogus wrote:

A careful study that compared the nine year period before the ban was enacted with the nine years following enactment, and then compared what happened in D.C. with the immediately surrounding areas in Maryland and Virginia, found that the handgun ban reduced gun-related homicides by 25% and gun-related suicides by 23 percent. Colin Loftin, Ph.D., et al., “Effects of Restrictive Licensing of Handguns of Homicide and Suicide in the District of Columbia,” 325 New Eng. J. Med. 1615 (Dec. 5, 1991). The law did not turn Washington into the Garden of Eden, and crime rates fluctuated, particularly during the last few years of the study when the use of “crack” cocaine was increasing and homicides increased dramatically. Nevertheless, the effect of the law was both immediate and sustained, and things would have been worse without it.

From what I've seen, the Loftin study that Bogus points to should not be taken seriously. A simple Google search would have revealed why. According to Dean Payne’s re-analysis, if you use Loftin’s homicide and suicide data, adjust for population changes (as you must), and use per capita rates (as you must), the DC ban is associated with more deaths after the ban, not fewer. While Payne does not argue that the opposite effect is present, the problems that he points to in the Loftin study should render it useless for answering the question that Bogus wants to answer.

Here is part of the devastating 1994 analysis of the Loftin paper by Dean Payne:

Loftin suggests that the District's 1976 restrictive handgun licensing, effectively a ban on new handguns, prevented an average of 47 deaths per year. Inexplicably, the report fails to mention the rapid shrinkage of the District's population, or the rising population of the surrounding community in Maryland and Virginia. When homicides and suicides rates are expressed as per-capita rates, any apparent post-1976 benefit enjoyed by the District vanishes.

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The core data of the report shows that the average monthly number of gun-related homicides and suicides dropped significantly in DC after it imposed its handgun ban, whereas non-gun deaths in DC and gun and non-gun deaths in the surrounding MD/VA communities did not drop.

Let me restate that data, but combining gun and non-gun deaths:

Mean numbers of homicides and suicides Loftin, et al. data

.

before ban

after ban

change

Homicide

District of Columbia

20.3

16.7

-18%

Maryland and Virginia

8.8

9.1

+3%

Suicide

District of Columbia

7

6

-14%

Maryland and Virginia

19.1

20

+5%

Note that these are deaths per month, not per-capita rates. The study assured us that there were no significant changes within either group, but did not mention actual population sizes or any growth or shrinkage.

I averaged the populations listed in annual FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and Census Bureau reports, and found substantial changes in the study areas:

Mean population before and after DC ban

.

before ban

after ban

change

District of Columbia

740,800

639,200

-14%

Maryland and Virginia

2,197,400

2,596,400

18%

I also added up the homicides reported in the UCR. My pre-ban numbers matched Loftin's figures, but the post-ban numbers show a large discrepancy. I find about 100 fewer homicides within DC and about 80 more in MD/VA than are evident in Loftin's numbers. Here are both sets, but expressed as per-capita rates:

Mean annual homicide and suicide rates per 100k residents

.

before

after

change

My homicide count

District of Columbia

32.9

29.9

-9%

Maryland and Virginia

4.8

4.5

-6%

Loftin's homicide rates

District of Columbia

32.8

31.3

-5%

Maryland and Virginia

4.8

4.2

-12%

Loftin's suicide rates

District of Columbia

11.3

11.3

-1%

Maryland and Virginia

10.4

9.3

-11%

Loftin suggests that DC's handgun ban saved 47 lives per year — 3.3 gun-related homicides and 0.6 gun-related suicides per month. This view collapses when the per-capita rates are examined. Some lives were saved by the overall death rate decline visible in both groups, but the body count dropped mostly because many people moved out of the District of Columbia. Body counts in neighboring areas didn't drop simply because the declining death rates were outpaced by a rapidly growing population.

According to my count [but not Loftin’s], the District experienced a 3% better post-ban homicide rate reduction than did the neighboring communities. This is the only portion of the reduced homicide rate that could be attributed to DC's more restrictive handgun control, and amounts to about 6 lives per year. This is too small to be statistically significant.

According to Loftin's numbers, adjusted to a per-capita basis, the District's post-ban benefit vanishes altogether. Its proportionate rate reductions are smaller than those achieved by its neighbors.

It may still be true that the fractions of homicides and suicides related to guns were reduced. This must not be mistaken for a reduction in the actual homicide and suicide rates. Concerning suicide in particular, Loftin's suggestion that this example supports the Zimring-Cook weapons-choice theory over the substitution observed by Sloan-Rivara is directly contrary to the data.

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Loftin's report dismisses a number of confounding factors, but fails to present adequate justification for doing so. Despite claims to the contrary, the presented measure of lives saved by the District's restrictive handgun policy is structured such that it is inherently contaminated by:

- lives saved by a region-wide drop in homicide and suicide rates from other causes, affecting both study areas;

- lives saved by the population exodus from the District;

- killings in which non-firearms means were substituted for firearms.

My analysis suggests that essentially all of the benefit perceived by Loftin is the result of this or similar contamination.

Finally, the study period ends in 1987, just as Washington DC began suffering a continuing homicide wave that earned it the dishonor of being the Murder Capital of the United States. It is doubtful that many opponents of restrictive handgun controls will be swayed when a city experiencing a doubling of its already horrendous homicide rate is simultaneously heralded as a successful example of such controls.

That the New England Journal of Medicine would publish a time-series article that did not account for population changes over roughly a two-decade period is embarrassing, but then peer review seems to suffer when gun control articles are involved.

I must confess that, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Carl Bogus has had trouble with inconvenient evidence. I remember during the dispute over Arming America that Bogus was writing a review and sought my permission to cite one of my unpublished drafts. Before I called him, I confirmed that his own university library’s special collection had a copy of the published Providence Probate records that Michael Bellesiles had used – and grossly misrepresented in Arming America. I called Bogus, gave him the name and number of the reference librarian I spoke with, and tried to get Bogus to spend an hour in his own university’s library confirming that there were major problems with Bellesiles’s account before Bogus finalized his review. Bogus refused even to look at the contrary evidence I urged him to examine, a decision that in part led him to seriously misjudge the work he was reviewing.

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"The Islam of Democracy":

An odd-sounding phrase I saw in a late 1700s American polemic, Columbian Centinel, June 18, 1791:

We are told, that the copy from which an edition of this work [Paine's Common Sense] was reprinted at Philadelphia, was furnished by the Secretary of State [Jefferson], and was accompanied by a letter, from which the following extract has been published in most of our newspapers. "I am extremely pleased to find that it is to be re-printed here, and that something is at length to be publicly said, against the political heresies which have sprung up among us. I have no doubt our citizens will rally a second time round the standard of Common Sense."

I confess, Sir, I am somewhat at a loss to determine, what this very respectable gentleman means by political heresies. Does he consider this pamphlet of Mr. Paine's as the canonical book of political scripture? As containing the true doctrine of popular infallibility, from which it would be heretical to depart in one single point? The expressions, indeed, imply more; they seem, like the Arabian prophet, to call upon all true believers in the Islam of democracy, to draw their swords, and, in the fervour of their devotion, to compel all their countrymen to cry out, "There is but one Goddess of Liberty, and Common Sense is her prophet."

The author was Publicola, which is generally thought to be a pseudonym for John Quincy Adams (see, e.g., N.H. Gazette, Sept. 10, 1827), then just shy of his 24th birthday. Also, according to Robert J. Allison's The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World 40 (2000), the "heretic Jefferson had in mind" was Jefferson's rival and John Q. Adams' father, John Adams.

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Carl Bogus Responds:

Prof. Carl Bogus passed along this response to Jim's earlier post criticizing Prof. Bogus, and updated it in light of Jim's further post this morning:

On June 26, 2008, James Lindgren attacked me personally on this website. His attack had two prongs.

First, he said I revealed myself to be “at best uniformed” because I cited a peer-reviewed study, namely, Colin Loftin, Ph.D., et al., “Effects of Restrictive Licensing of Handguns of Homicide and Suicide in the District of Columbia,” 325 New Eng. J. Med. 1615 (1991). Lindgren said that study “should not be taken seriously.” He wrote: “A simple Google search would have revealed why. According to Dean Payne’s re-analysis, if you use Loftin’s homicide and suicide data, adjust for population changes (as you must), and use per capita rates (as you must), the DC ban is associated with more deaths after the ban, not fewer.” Lindgren provided a link to this critique, which did not identify Dean Payne or even make clear whether “Dean” is a first name or title. As far as I know, Payne’s critique was never published by anyone other than himself. Lindgren added: “That the New England Journal of Medicine would publish a time-series article that did not account for population changes over roughly a two-decade period is embarrassing, but then peer review seems to suffer when gun control articles are involved.”

In fact, Loftin and this team did two analyses, one using per capita rates. The original study states: “As a check against possible effects of changes in the population, we conducted a similar analysis using annual mortality rates. …[T]here was an abrupt decline in both suicides and homicides by firearms that coincided with the implementation of the restrictive licensing law. The reductions were specific to fatalities involving guns in the District of Columbia. No similar reduction was observed in homicides and suicides committed without guns, nor were there reductions in the adjacent areas of Maryland and Virginia, where the provisions of the law were not in effect.... [T]he analysis of mortality rates indicates that the declines in homicides and suicides by firearms were not due to changes in characteristics of the resident population. The population estimates are, of course, subject to error, and complex changes in high-risk groups are also possible. Nevertheless, the population at risk was the same for both gun-related and non-gun related mortality. Therefore, the differences between the rate of mortality by firearms and that of mortality due to other causes cannot be attributed to a failure to study the appropriate population.” Id. at 1616, 1618, and 1619.

Some researchers have raised other questions about whether the Loftin study should have been designed differently, and Loftin and his team have defended their methodological choices. The bottom-line is that many knowledgeable researches consider the Loftin study valuable and continue to cite it.

Here is the second prong of Lindgren’s attack: “I must confess that, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Carl Bogus has had trouble with inconvenient evidence. I remember during the dispute over Arming America that Bogus was writing a review and sought my permission to cite one of my unpublished drafts. Before I called him, I confirmed that his own university library’s special collection had a copy of the published Providence Probate records that Michael Bellesiles had used – and grossly misrepresented in Arming America. I called Bogus, gave him the name and number of the reference librarian I spoke with, and tried to get Bogus to spend an hour in his own university’s library confirming that there were major problems with Bellesiles’s account before Bogus finalized his review. Bogus refused even to look at the contrary evidence I urged him to examine, a decision that in part led him to seriously misjudge the work he was reviewing.” The book review I wrote stated: “A potentially damaging attack on Bellesiles probate data has been launched by James Lindgren and Justin Lee Heather. Lindgen and Heather argue, first, that probate records may not be a reliable reflection of how many people owned guns, and second, that Bellesiles has underrepresented the number of guns in the probate records. As of this writing, the Lindgren-Heather paper has not been published and Bellesiles has not responded in writing.” I provided a web address where Lindgren and Heather’s study could be obtained, and added: “Though they restrict their analysis to probate data, their criticisms about Bellesiles’s methodology are sufficiently serious to have potentially broader implications. A rush to judgment at this stage, however, would be unwise and unfair.” Carl T. Bogus, “Shootout,” 79 Texas L. Rev. 1641, 1652 (2001).

My apologies for the delay posting the original version of Prof. Bogus's message, which he sent July 3; there was a bit of a miscommunication here on our end.

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Responding to Bogus on His Arming America Review.--

Carl Bogus responded to an earlier post of mine. I told this story of his behavior immediately before he published a review of Arming America in the Texas Law Review:

I remember during the dispute over Arming America that Bogus was writing a review and sought my permission to cite one of my unpublished drafts. Before I called him, I confirmed that his own university library’s special collection had a copy of the published Providence Probate records that Michael Bellesiles had used – and grossly misrepresented in Arming America. I called Bogus, gave him the name and number of the reference librarian I spoke with, and tried to get Bogus to spend an hour in his own university’s library confirming that there were major problems with Bellesiles’s account before Bogus finalized his review. Bogus refused even to look at the contrary evidence I urged him to examine, a decision that in part led him to seriously misjudge the work he was reviewing.

Bogus responded to this story, not by disagreeing with anything I said, but merely by quoting some noncommittal statements from his review.

The book review I wrote stated: “A potentially damaging attack on Bellesiles probate data has been launched by James Lindgren and Justin Lee Heather. Lindgen and Heather argue, first, that probate records may not be a reliable reflection of how many people owned guns, and second, that Bellesiles has underrepresented the number of guns in the probate records. As of this writing, the Lindgren-Heather paper has not been published and Bellesiles has not responded in writing.” I provided a web address where Lindgren and Heather’s study could be obtained, and added: “Though they restrict their analysis to probate data, their criticisms about Bellesiles’s methodology are sufficiently serious to have potentially broader implications. A rush to judgment at this stage, however, would be unwise and unfair.” Carl T. Bogus, “Shootout,” 79 Texas L. Rev. 1641, 1652 (2001).

If this is all that Bogus had said on the relevant matters covered directly and by implication in his review of Arming America, perhaps that might have been adequate. But it’s worth quoting at length from Bogus’s review in the Texas Law Review to get a feel for his opinion of the book, Arming America, and his spin on the dispute over its veracity.

Bogus opened the review with this gushing praise:

It is as if Michael A. Bellesiles has overturned a table on which rested everything we thought we knew about guns in early America. The images of the rifle hanging over every American mantle; of settlers depending upon their guns to hunt and feed themselves and protect their communities against Indian attack; of Americans becoming skilled sharpshooters on farms and in the backwoods; of the colonial militia rushing from their homes with muskets in hand to face the Redcoats; of the American founders believing in an individual right to keep and bear arms; of a "wild west" inhabited by gun-toting cowboys--all of this, and more, turns out to be myth.

Bellesiles, a history professor at Emory University, is not merely upsetting the conventional wisdom of the lay public, however. What makes Bellesiles's work so important is that his evidence--much of it from his own original research--challenges what historians have traditionally believed as well.

Bellesiles explores the development of an American gun culture by following the hardware. He relentlessly focuses on the guns themselves: how many there were, who made them, who had them, where they were kept, and how they were used. Two broad themes emerge. First, rather than being symbols of rugged individualism or liberty, guns in early America were considered community property and subject to strict governmental regulation--far stricter than anything imagined today. Second, rather than being ubiquitous in the American frontier, there were, in fact, few guns in America until after the Mexican War. . . .

Bellesiles's research sheds new light on exactly how many Americans owned firearms. Bellesiles read 1,200 probate records from the frontier of northern New England and western Pennsylvania during the period from 1765 to 1790. These records are considered highly reliable because the practice was to list everything, right down to broken cups and bent spoons. Only 14.7% of the records include firearms. Moreover, fifty-three percent of the guns are described as broken or otherwise dysfunctional.

Compare Bellesiles's discovery that only seven percent of homes had working guns at the founding of the Republic with the fact that more than forty percent of American homes have guns today. . . . Bellesiles convincingly shows that few Americans had guns until after the Mexican War.

The image of an armed civilian militia also implodes under the weight of the evidence. . . .

Bellesiles's book is widely considered a work of major significance. It has been warmly greeted by some of the nation's most distinguished scholars including Garry Wills, whose review appeared on the cover of the New York Times Book Review, Edmund S. Morgan, who reviewed the book for the New York Review of Books, and Richard Slotkin, who reviewed it for Atlantic Monthly.

Garry Wills later told me that the book is a “fraud,” and in a CSPAN2 interview, he said that "People get taken by very good con men." Edmund Morgan also wrote me a letter that was less blunt than Wills, but made clear that he no longer viewed the book as correct. (Morgan based his change of heart on the same draft article by Justin Heather and me that Carl Bogus had read.)

Many of the claims that Bogus endorses in his review are false, including many of the ones quoted above. The sad fact is that, when Bogus published his review, many of these falsehoods had already been shown to be false by me, Clayton Cramer, Dave Kopel, Joyce Malcolm, and others. For example, I had already shown that the 14.7% claim that Bogus endorses was mathematically impossible.

Bogus begins his last paragraph of his Texas review with this bold statement:

Arming America is undoubtedly the most important historical work ever produced about guns in America. Bellesiles's thesis that there were few guns in early America and that America did not develop a gun culture until after the Mexican War challenges beliefs that the gun-rights community has long considered sacred.

Yet perhaps most important for today’s dispute was Bogus’s suggestion in his review that Bellesiles is being attacked so vigorously because he was telling the truth:

But the most telling indicia of the book's importance have come from those who have greeted it, not with applause, but with passionate attacks. Few books provoke this much hostility. It is as if the gun rights community decided that this was a book that had to be discredited. One is reminded of Plato's statement: "[t]hey deem him their worst enemy who tells the truth."

It is, however, truth that the attackers' claim is at stake. [Bogus then criticizes Clayton Cramer, Dave Kopel, and Joyce Malcolm, among others.]

So Bogus puts the truth of Bellesiles’s work directly at issue, but he was unwilling to go to his own library (after I confirmed with his librarian that they had the same records) to try to determine whether Bellesiles was, indeed, telling the truth. Then Bogus had the gall to slime Cramer, Kopel, and Malcolm (but not me) by suggesting that they were so worked up because Bellesiles was telling the truth about guns (if Bogus has ever publicly apologized to them, I’ve missed it).

As I explained at the time to Bogus, the published Providence records that Bellesiles used in Arming America had good indices. One had only to spend an hour or so looking up estates with guns to see that he had systematically misrepresented:

the condition of guns (contrary to Bellesiles’s claims, very few were listed as old or broken);

the gender of the decedents (Bellesiles claimed that they were all male estates);

the gender of gun owners in colonial probate inventories (contrary to Bellesiles’s claim that no women owned guns in probate inventories, when one Providence woman owned many guns);

the collective ownership of guns (Bellesiles claimed that many guns in Providence estates were listed as “King’s Arms” or “Queen’s Arms” and thus owned by the government, when only one of the many scores of guns was so listed); and

the existence of wills (Bellesiles claimed to have counted guns in over 100 wills that never existed because the decedents died intestate).

If Bogus had actually cared enough to check, it would have been obvious to him that Bellesiles was claiming in Arming America to have read dozens of wills that never existed, because the wills were not included in the probate files and the decedents were explicitly identified as dying without making a will. One doesn’t have to have any specialized knowledge to see that in dozens of cases Bellesiles's analysis was based on non-existent documents.

And the problems with the Providence Records went to issues central to the book and to Bogus's review: what condition guns were in, whether they were collectively owned, whether they were collectively stored, what sorts of individuals owned them, whether they were widely owned, whether they were too expensive to be widely owned, whether probate records were complete, and –- most importantly — whether Arming America was based on nonexistent or systematically misread sources.

But I couldn’t get Bogus to take even a cursory look at the evidence in his own library. Ultimately, Bogus's refusal to check caused him to write one of the most embarrassingly mistaken book reviews ever published in an American law review.

Bogus’s review not only raised the issue of the truthfulness of Bellesiles’s work, but quite irresponsibly suggested that particular pro-gun scholars were criticizing the book because it told the truth about guns, a grossly unfair position for a reviewer to adopt while he was refusing to take even minimal steps to inquire into the truthfulness of the work he was reviewing. As Clayton Cramer mentioned in comments to Bogus's response, Cramer had put scans of source documents up on his website, but law professors such as Bogus appear not to have been any more interested in them than he was in the Providence records.

Now Bogus has the nerve to complain about my recounting my efforts to save him from his embarrassing mistake, a complaint that lacks a denial of any of the facts that I accurately recounted.

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