My View: Insist on evidence, not just stats

By Jon Bouwhuis

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Feb. 1 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

In this photo three variations of the AR-15 assault rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

I remember one of my high school teachers making a tongue-in-cheek comment that you can prove anything with statistics. Recently, several writers to the Readers' Forum have quoted statistics to support their position on the subject of gun control, both pro and con. Unfortunately, most have presented statistics in somewhat general terms without citing the source of their data.

One recent example was the statement that the number of gun related homicides in this country is now equivalent to the number of traffic deaths. My curiosity led me to the Internet. The most recent data I found on traffic fatalities was a report by NBC on Dec. 10, 2012 that put the number of U.S. traffic deaths for 2011 at 32,367. The FBI Uniform Crime Report lists the number of gun-related deaths in 2011 as 8,583. These numbers are hardly equivalent.

Another general statement that is often espoused is that the U.S. has the highest murder rate in the world. Yet the international homicide rates compiled by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime show the U.S. in the 101st position. When confronted with this contradiction, proponents for gun control qualify their claim by saying they mean to compare only civilized, industrialized or advanced nations. Do those who make these assertions assume that the 100 countries with higher murder rates, which include Russia, Mexico and Brazil are uncivilized, not industrialized or somehow retarded?

Other statements that are freely quoted are that mass murders and gun-related homicides are increasing. Both claims are unsubstantiated. Numerous web sources show that firearm deaths have steadily decreased in recent years, and that public random shootings, where the shooter did not have a prior personal relationship with the victims, have not increased and remain a rare occurrence.

Both those for and against gun control also use glittering generalities (i.e., angels are men, therefore all men are angels) to postulate a conclusion. One writer recently asserted that the decrease in gun-related deaths in Australia was due to that country banning assault rifles (no supporting data were cited), which would lead the casual reader to assume that banning assault rifles in other countries would have the same effect. Yet the Canadian Center for Justice and Economic Factors, which compares the murder rates of countries that have gun control laws with those that do not, reports that Luxembourg, which prohibits gun ownership, has nine times the murder rate than Germany, which does not restrict ownership. Of course, both situations are merely statistics, and by themselves prove no rational conclusion.

Unfortunately, recent tragedies have resulted in much clamor to "do something" to prevent similar occurrences in the future. One of the proposed actions is to ban assault rifles, although there is no clear definition of what an assault rifle is. To see how effective this action might be, let us return to figures reported by the FBI. In 2011, the numbers of murders using rifles of all types (not just assault rifles) was 323. Since this is a small number, one quickly realizes that banning assault rifles will have little impact on reducing total gun-related deaths.

One has to also wonder the logic of banning assault rifles when there is no outcry to ban the weapons used in the 4,081 non gun related murders of the same year. Nor is anyone seemingly interested in taking action to reduce the 26,631 deaths in 2011 caused by falls. Should we not use logical perspective when proposing actions, especially when such actions might infringe upon our personal freedoms?

While any death is a tragedy, we consumers must insist on evidence that data used to support actions are factual, and that predicted results are realistic and achievable. Otherwise we are using statistics to prove nothing.

Jon Bouwhuis is a former Air Force pilot and is currently retired and living in Bountiful.

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