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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Problems With That New Harvard/Northeastern Study of Gun Owners

You may have seen stories in news outlets like NPR and The Guardian reporting the results of a new study on gun owners.   The big headline is 3% of gun owners own 50% of the guns in America.  While this new study says there are more gun owners now than in 1994, that increase has not kept up with the rate of increase in the overall population, so there are actually a smaller percentage of Americans owning firearms.  Setting aside for a moment a large number of gun owners likely aren't honest when an unknown person calls them on the phone and asks if they own guns and if so how many, a huge problem with this study is the Harvard/Northeastern University researchers anonymously released their top line findings to the media, and the actual data will not be available for people to dig into until fall of 2017.  According to the Federalist blog, the researchers said this is because it is still being peer reviewed.  So, the study's peer review has not been completed but you can go out and announce the findings?  From the Federalist:
This type of behavior raises all kinds of troubling questions about the underlying data, as well as the motives of the researchers who put it together. If peer review is incomplete, why on earth are the study’s conclusions already being released? And if these reviewers are widely respected experts in the field, why must they remain anonymous, even as the study’s conclusions are being broadcast to the world? And finally, on what planet does it take more than a year to review the results of a simple poll?

None of the likely answers reflects well on the people who put this study together, because this is not how scientists conduct themselves. This is how political actors conduct themselves. This is how people with political motives and political objectives conduct themselves.
Ask any gun shop owner or firearms instructor and you will hear about all of the first time gun owners coming in to their stores or seeking firearms training.  This study is just one more piece of propaganda intended to add to the narrative that the number of gun owners in American continue to decrease and that a relative few are holding the rest of the country hostage when it comes to passing "commonsense" gun laws.

Update: Dr. John Lott has more:
— But there is a general problem with survey data. Hard data, such a the number of permits that are required before someone can own a gun in some states such as Illinois, show a dramatic increase in gun ownership at the same time that these surveys for those states are showing a drop in gun ownership. The likely reason that all these surveys on gun ownership are biased against showing an increase is because gun owners have been relatively less willing over time to tell pollsters that they own guns.

This hard data indicates such a large increase in gun owners relative to the polls that it makes it mathematically impossible for the claim to be true that gun sales are being driven by a small group of gun owners.

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