Dueling data? What to make of conflicting measures

Both sides of the gun control debate are throwing studies that purport to show the validity of their position. David Sherfinski takes note of how Dueling data on gun crimes put new laws in crossfire at the Washington Times.

“gun-control advocates point to figures that seem to show a correlation between stricter laws and lower crime and homicide rates. Pro-gun groups, though, say the data show just the opposite — that violence and crime drops where concealed-carry laws are allowed.

The press and the public are caught in the middle, searching for concrete conclusions that are tough to come by.”

This, like climate, is tough to measure because there are so many variables to influence outcomes and they cannot be isolated in such a way as to get an independent measure of each variable. For instance, the ban on assault rifles was based on a firearm having two or more characteristics defined in a list. Most of the characteristics in the list were cosmetic and none had an established link to gun violence. Then, when statistics are cited, the trend is to use overall rates of selected crimes rather than those that can be traced to assault rifles much less to one of the characteristics listed as belonging to an assault rifle.

Traffic crash causes provide another example. The appealing adage is “speed kills” as an appeal to obey posted speed limits. The problem is that the studies of automobile crash statistics indicates that driving over posted speed is very seldom cited as a contributing factor.

There is also the problem of diverting the issue. Gun control issues involve much more than just an attempt to prevent their use in horrific crimes. It also involves matters such as self defense and property rights. An honest debate is going to be weighing these issues as well as making proper use of measures rather than culling them to pick and choose what is convenient for one point of view or other.

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