Radical Gun Nuttery!
A collection of tips, tricks, and hints for gun-rights advocates
(or rather, it will be, eventually.)
Why can't they think?
Why do they turn off their minds?
Why do gun-control advocates lose all capacity for critical thinking when exposed to gun-control propaganda?
We've all seen it. Some otherwise rational person, who wouldn't dream of buying a used car without taking it to a mechanic to have it checked out, will accept the most outlandish claims, without the slightest question or hesitation, so long as it reinforces their anti-gun prejudices.
Some time back, I was involved in a conversation in which someone claimed that:
teens in homes with guns are 75 times more likely to kill themselves than teens in homes without guns.
I didn't know where this factoid came from, but I didn't need to to understand that it was absurd. It was so far beyond the range of possibility that only the most critically inumerate could consider it as even remotely plausible.
I've since researched the claim a bit, and it had much the
background I'd expected.
David Kopel has a write-up on it in his 1993 opinion piece
"Children and Guns: Sensible Solutions":
The original article in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) compared homes where teens committed suicides to teens who had attempted suicide or been admitted to psychiatric hospitals. It didn't address the general population. And it found the homes of teen suicides were committed were twice as likely to contain guns as those of teens who had merely attempted it.
That's worth repeating: the study addressed only teens who had attempted suicide, not teens in general. And that's "twice as likely", not "seventy-five times". The "seventy-five times" claim came from an accompanying editorial by three CDC employees.
JAMA later printed a retraction,
but that doesn't keep the writers of the anti-gun literature
from repeating the original claim.
In the Washington Post column by Richard Reeves that inspired
Kopel's response, for example,
or on the Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles
Or more recently, in James LeMesurier, MD's article
"Children Without Guns: An Idea Whose Time Has Come",
in "Sonoma Medicine":
But in some ways, that's all beside the point. It doesn't matter that we can track down the history of the "75-times" claim, and demonstrate how it was based on lies and misconceptions. The claim is absurd on the face of it, and no rational person should accept it, regardless of its source. All it takes is a little back-of-the-envelope math to demonstrate it's lack of correspondence to reality.
The trick, when faced with a new piece of information, is to compare it to what you already know, and see if there are any inconsistencies. It's something most educated do as a matter of course. In many ways, it's the primary purpose of an education.
Warning! Mathematics ahead!
The assertion is that teens in a home with guns are seventy-five times as likely to commit suicide as teens in homes without guns.
What do we know?
From the numbers above, we know that if we have p teenagers at risk of suicide. 0.35*p live in a home with a gun, 0.65*p live in homes without. The claim is that if the likelihood that a teen at risk of suicide in a home without a gun is 1*r, the likelihood that a teen at risk of suicide in a home with a gun is 75*r. This gives us:
0.35*p*75*r + 0.65*p*1*r = 4135
I won't bore you with the algebra, but that means:
0.65*p*r = 99.92
That is, if the 75-times risk were correct, given that there are guns in 35% of homes, then with 4135 teen suicides, only 100 would have occurred in homes that did not have guns. It's a direct consequence of the claimed increased risk. If households with guns were 75 times as risky, finding that 40 times as many suicides occurred in them as in households without guns should surprise no one.
The problem with this result should be obvious. In 1998, we had 1625 teen suicides that did not involve guns. Which meant that 1525 of these non-gun suicides would have been in households with guns.
So let's compare the risk of committing suicide without a gun between gun-owning and non-gun-owning households:
0.35*p*x*r = 1525
Again a bit of algebra, and we find:
x = 28.32
In other words, the claim that kids in home with guns are 75 times more likely to commit suicide as kids in homes without guns is equivalent to claiming that kids in homes with guns are 28 times more likely to commit suicide using something other than a gun than are kids who live in homes without guns.
Can anyone even start to hypothesize some mechanism that would cause this to be true? Yes, you could assume that kids in households with guns are more likely to kill themselves with a gun, simply because they have easier access. But why would a kid in a household with a gun be more likely to kill himself by hanging, poison, or by jumping off a bridge?
Maybe it's those evil mind-control rays that guns emit.
Now, some of the numbers we started with were estimates. Maybe 50% of households own guns, or only 25%. Or maybe the percentage is different for households with teens than for the general population. And maybe some of the kids who lived in households without guns committed suicides with guns. It doesn't matter.
You can, if you like, rerun the calculations using any reasonable numbers for percentages of households with guns, or of the number of teen gun and non-gun suicides. The result will differ a bit, but it will always be absurd. Because the initial claim is absurd.
In truth, you shouldn't need to run through the numbers. The 75-times claim is so obviously absurd that it should raise immediate flags in any educated person who heard it. It's the equivalent of claiming that the Mississippi River could be redirected to Mexico through a garden hose.
Yet we continue to see the anti-gun people quoting numbers such as this.
They can't really be that stupid, can they? After all, a great many of them have medical degrees, and I'd like to think that they learned at least the rudiments of rational thought.
But they show precious little evidence of it.
It's a puzzlement.
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