Thursday, August 8, 2019

Loose gun laws predict mass shootings as shown by a state-by-state analysis

2” is a significant digit with respect to Trump’s claims about what he’s done to combat gun violence. You’ll see why toward the end of this post.

Wired.com reviews the evidence for this research finding: The looser a state’s gun laws, the more mass shootings it has. The country is splitting into the gun law-haves, and the gun law have-nots, and deadly statistics are now revealing the impact those policy decisions have on people’s lives.

In a paper published earlier this year in BMJ (previously the British Medical Journal), epidemiologists at Columbia University looked back at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s crime database from 1998 to 2015 to calculate annual rates of mass shootings in each state. Then they matched that up against each year’s edition of the Traveler’s Guide to the Firearms Laws of the Fifty States—an annual report that tracks any changes to gun laws in all 50 states and rates each one on their permissiveness. Published by a Kentucky attorney and arms dealer for a gun-toting audience, the guide is frequently promoted by the National Rifle Association. States are scored zero (for completely restrictive) to 100 (for completely permissive) based on 13 factors, including the right to carry guns in the open, limitations on the types of guns state residents can own, and whether out-of-state gun permits are recognized.

What the researchers found was that over time states have dug themselves into a bimodal distribution. That is, they’ve self-clumped into two distinct groups—a smaller one made up of eight states scoring between 5 and 25, and another, much larger, one clustered around scores from 70 to 100. “One of the most interesting things about this data is that we aren’t seeing a full spectrum, because there just aren’t that many states directly in the middle,” says Paul Reeping, the study’s lead author.

When they compared those scores to mass shootings per million residents, they found that for every 10-point relaxation in a state’s gun laws, the rates of mass shootings in that state increased by 11.5 percent. This trend showed up even after the models were adjusted for population demographics like household income, unemployment, poverty, education, incarceration rates, and race. The eight most restrictive states include Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, California, Illinois, and New York. Leading the pack in both permissive laws and mass shooting rate were Vermont, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Arizona. (Florida, where the Parkland shooting took place last year, was the only state not included in the analysis because it doesn’t participate in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.)

Most relevant to the recent killings in El Paso and Dayton, … is the fact that the semiautomatic weapons used to carry out the attacks can be purchased legally. Only six states and the District of Columbia have enacted bans on these types of military-style firearms. Texas and Ohio are not among them. Both states also allow large-capacity magazines like those the gunmen in both El Paso and Dayton appear to have used to fire dozens of rounds in seconds without having to reload.

It’s worth noting here that while living in a state with strict gun laws does appear to confer some significant public health advantages—fewer gun-related suicides and homicides; one recent study found it cut rates of premature deaths in half—those laws only go so far. Motivated individuals will find ways around them, either over the internet or across porous state borders. …

… according to Reeping’s analysis, the trend of more permissive laws being linked to more mass shootings is actually gaining momentum. Starting around 2010, the data begins really diverging—mass shooting rates dropped in states with restrictive laws as they accelerated in states with more lax ones.

The associations are strong, though Reeping shies away from suggesting any causality in the data. “There’s so much going on and we can’t control for everything,” he says. But as an epidemiologist he gets frustrated that the American public is willing to believe every study that suggests coffee is associated with living longer or that eating chocolate is linked to lower rates of depression but view the data linking gun laws to gun violence with suspicion.

"Right now we can only do associational studies because there isn’t the money to do the larger, more prospective studies that could answer these questions definitively,” he says. “But even now we have very, very strong indicators based off the number of studies published that more permissive gun laws really do have an effect.”

Full disclosure: correlation does not imply causation.

The reason the reason why Reeping is cautious about causality is that these results, the “associations”, are correlations. While a correlation between A and B is a necessary precursor to causation, it is not sufficient to conclude that A causes B. Why? There might be some other variable[s] (X, Y, Z, …) that cause both A and B.

For example, let’s look at political party affiliation of the states mentioned in the wired review. Restrictive states’ party affiliations were all blue states: Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, California, Illinois, and New York. Permissive states’ party affiliations were mostly red: South Carolina, Louisiana, and Arizona. (Vermont was an exception - a blue state with permissive gun laws.) So this third variable, party affiliation, might cause variations in gun laws and variations in gun violence.

Finally, look back at the title of this post. I said that loose gun laws predict mass shootings. Prediction is one of the uses for correlations like those reported in the Wired.com review.

That aside, the associations are strong and, with reasons for alarm, with respect to mass shootings, the difference between permissive and restrictive states is increasing.

And, even more generally, the Trump administration has been expanding access to guns.

Roving Reporter Sherry found this report at politico.com by Anita Kumar: Trump quietly used regulations to expand gun access. The president said he has taken tough action on guns. His administration has mostly focused on expanding gun access through little-noticed regulatory moves.

This week, after two mass shootings 13 hours apart killed at least 31 people in Texas and Ohio, Trump took credit for changes he said are helping cut down on gun violence …

Federal agencies have implemented more than half a dozen policy changes — primarily through little-noticed regulatory moves — that expand access to guns by lifting firearms bans in certain locations and limiting the names in the national database designed to keep firearms away from dangerous people. …

This president has in a very intentional, sweeping way made it easier for people to access firearms, not more difficult,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a vice chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. “He’s systematically gone and undone all the protections that were put in place to try to limit the ability of dangerous people to access firearms.”

We have done much more than most administrations,” Trump said in his first public remarks on the shootings Sunday. “It’s … really not talked about very much, but we’ve done, actually, a lot. But perhaps more has to be done.”

But those changes were narrow, lengthy and, in the case of the bump stock ban, could be reversed by the next president because it is not written into law.

William Vizzard, who spent nearly three decades at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, described the restrictions as modest. “On a scale of 1 to 100, they’re about a 2,” he said.

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