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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Lies, Damn lies and Statistics

It almost seems like a weekly occurrence that some new academic study comes out claiming proof that guns are bad things - they either lead to more police deaths, or their easy availability leads to mass shootings.  I'm not an statistician and was never good at math so thankfully there are people smarter than me that can get into the details of studies and find out just what these so-called academics did that led to the conclusions they reached.  Such is the case with a new study by Adam Lankford, Criminal Justice Professor at The University of Alabama, that purports to show mass shootings are caused by the "easy access" to firearms.  Author and blogger James Visor explains how Lankford arrived at his conclusion:
For example, correlating gun availability with the number of mass shootings is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is like saying there is a correlation between obesity and large waist lines. In other words, it makes perfect sense that if there are more guns in circulation that there would be statistically more opportunity for a mentally ill person to buy or steal a gun and then commit a horrific crime. Let’s not forget that every mass shooter purchased their weapons legally, stole their guns or skirted the law by using a straw purchase.

Critics will jump on that previous paragraph and say “Ha! You admitted that a society with guns is more dangerous that one without them! Hypocrite!” Stay with me, folks, there’s more to this story.

Thoughtful observers know that correlation does not equal causation. Bivariate analysis, one involving only two variables, can be compelling because it offers an easy, linear way of looking at complex issues. That some difficult math is involved gives the technique an appearance of having scientific validity and objectivity. The weakness of using only two variables, however, is that the technique can oversimplify too much, and gloss over real world complexities and variables that potentially offer more explanatory power.
In other words, when the availability of firearms becomes the sole focus, it excludes all other variables, and falls back on the ideological approach of gun control.  Visor was on NRANews' Cam and Company yesterday to discuss the "study" and its flaws more in depth.

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