Streetwise Professor

August 9, 2019

Damn That Parson Bayes and His Cursed Theorem: Red Flagging Red Flag Rules

Filed under: Guns,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 3:20 pm

In the aftermath of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, “red flag” rules are all the rage. Identify people who are at high risk of committing such atrocities, and prevent them from buying weapons.

Most of the arguments in favor of this rely on statements like “many mass shooters have characteristic X (e.g., mental illness), so let’s prevent those with characteristic X from buying guns.” As appealing as these arguments sound, they founder due to a failure to understand fundamental probability concepts which imply that for extremely rare events like mass shootings, red flags are extremely unreliable.

Most of the arguments in favor of red flags rely on estimates of P(X|M), i.e., the probability that someone who committed a mass murder (“M“) had characteristic X. For example, “70 percent of mass shooters present evidence of mental illness.” Or Y percent play violent video games or post racist rants online.

But what we really need to know in order to implement red flags that do not stigmatize, and deny the rights of, people who present a low risk of committing a mass shooting is P(M|X): “what is the probability that someone with characteristic X will commit a mass shooting?” Although most people argue as if P(X|M) and P(M|X) are interchangeable, they are not, as Thomas Bayes demonstrated in the 18th century when he demonstrated something now called Bayes’ Theorem.

As Bayes showed, P(M|X)=P(X|M)P(M)/P(X) where P(M) is the unconditional probability someone is a mass shooter, and P(X) is the unconditional probability that someone has characteristic X.

The problem with attempting to determine whether someone with X poses a risk is that mass shooters are extremely rare, and hence P(M) is extremely small.

USA Today estimated there were 270 odd mass shootings between 2005 and 2017. A Michael Bloomberg-funded anti-gun group counts 110. Given a population of around 300 million, even using the higher number a rough estimate of P(M) is 9e-7: a 9 with six zeros in front of it. Therefore, even if P(X|M)=1 (i.e., all mass shooters share some characteristic X) , for any characteristic X that occurs fairly frequently in the population P(M|X) is extremely small.

Consider a characteristic where there is fairly good data on on P(X): schizophrenia. It is estimated that 1 percent of the population is schizophrenic. Plugging .01 for P(X) gives a value of P(M|X) of 9e-5, or about 1 out of 10,000. Meaning that the likelihood a random schizophrenic will commit a mass shooting is .001 percent.

This actually overstates matters, because P(X|M)<1. Indeed, since mass shootings are in fact quite heterogeneous, P(X|M) is likely to be far less than one for most characteristics.

Things get even worse if one broadens the scope of the characteristic used to define the red flag. If instead of using schizophrenia, one uses serious mental illness, by some measures P(X)=.2. Well, if you increase the denominator by a factor of 20, P(M|X) falls by a factor of 20. So instead of a probability of .001 percent, the probability is .00005 percent.

And again, that is an exaggeration because it assumes P(X|M)=1.

Meaning that putting a red flag on schizophrenics or those who have experienced some mental illness will be vastly overinclusive.

Of course, life is a matter of trade-offs. One must weigh the costs imposed on those who are wrongly stigmatized (“false positives”) with the benefit of reducing mass shootings by imposing restrictions based on an overinclusive, but at least somewhat informative signal (i.e., a signal with P(X|M)>0).

For some there is no trade-off at all. For those primarily on the left who believe that guns are an anathema and have no benefit whatsoever, even a 99.99995 percent false positive rate is not at all costly. However, a very large number of Americans do think bearing arms is beneficial, these false positives come at a high cost.

That’s where the debate should really focus: the rate of false positives and the cost of those false positives vs. the benefits of true positives (which would represent mass shootings avoided). What Bayes’ Theorem implies is that for an act that someone is extremely unlikely to commit, that false positive rate is likely to be extremely high. It also implies that debating in terms of P(X|M) provides very little insight. P(M) is small, and for any fairly common characteristic, P(X) is fairly large, so P(X|M) has relatively little impact on the rate of false positives.

Again, what Bayes’ Theorem tells us is that for a rare event like mass shooting, vastly more innocent people than true risks will be red flagged. The costs of restricting those who pose no risk must be weighed against the benefits of reducing modestly the risk of a very rare event. Further, it must be recognized that implementing red flag rules are costly, and in these costs should be included the invasions of privacy that they inevitably entail. Yet further, red flag rules are certain to be abused by those with a grudge. And yet further, many of those with characteristic X will escape detection, or will be able to evade the legal restrictions (and indeed have a high motivation to do so).

In the aftermath of mass shootings, there is a hue and cry to do something. The hard lesson taught by Parson Bayes is that there is not a lot we can do. Or put more precisely, those things that we can do will inevitably stigmatize and restrict vastly more innocent people than constrain malign ones.

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  1. I can tell you what the solution is but it would require a constitutional amendment. But of course all people of goodwill …

    Anyway, here it is. They slaughter because they’ve seen that it brings publicity and thereby meaning into their loonie lives. So stop the publicity. In other words, give the federal government the right to abolish freedom of the press on this one topic. Of course, it wouldn’t be abolished for killings by arms of government, just mass killings by ordinary citizens. Do y’all want to pay that price? If it were tried as a ten year experiment and it worked, would y’all let the amendment lapse or would you prefer to have it renewed? Moreover, how would the distinction be drawn – if it should be – between terrorist attacks of the 9/11 variety, and ordinary let’s-shoot-up-a-school stuff? I leave that to the infinite wisdom and disinterested judgement of your legislators.

    The idea may seem extreme but at least it’s more practical than trying to confiscate firearms by the hundreds of millions.

    Comment by dearieme — August 9, 2019 @ 3:38 pm

  2. Commentary about mass shootings here in the US ignores the fact that Europe has the very same problem. A few come to mind, one in Germany:

    And two in Finland, rated the happiest nation on earth:

    And who could ever forget Anders Breivik’s rampage in Norway?

    The fact that gun control laws are quite stringent in Europe seems to suggest that such laws are useless if someone simply has the will to commit mayhem.

    What ails the western world is ultimately a cultural problem, one aided and abetted by a left-leaning, liberal Hollywood culture that profits from the celebration of violence. If strong measures are to be called for, censoring most Hollywood shows (and their brethren in the video gaming world) would be the ideal place to start.

    Comment by I.M. Pembroke — August 9, 2019 @ 6:18 pm

  3. A general rule of American political ethics is that abuse of a right by a few does not justify abrogation of that right from all. That is pretty much the conclusion stemming from your Bayes analysis, too.

    Anyone who’s read John Lott’s “More Guns, Less Crime,” knows the answer to the mass shooting problem: a more fully armed populace.

    After reading the book, I’ve researched the question further in the scholarly literature. As one can imagine, the question generates a lot of political heat and heavy-breathing among the left-coterie of academic sociologists. A number of studies have claimed to refute Lott’s work, but none of them (to my current knowledge) were found to have succeeded when they, in turn, were examined.

    Lott’s statistics further show that gun owners are generally more law-abiding than the non-owner population.

    Comment by Pat Frank — August 9, 2019 @ 8:36 pm

  4. @I.M. Pembroke. I will add another from Japan:

    35 dead in a country with draconian gun control. They even have sword control here. The killer just used arson instead of a gun.

    Comment by An American in Japan — August 10, 2019 @ 12:34 am

  5. Meanwhile, the Russkis have decided to supplement their normal disaster August with blowing up something nuclear. The location being conveniently far from Moscow, there is not much information available, but at least there are no reports of radioactive rain in Sweden as yet.

    Comment by Ivan — August 10, 2019 @ 12:59 am

  6. My wife asked whether I used Bayes’ Theorem as the basis of my prediction that Mr Epstein would never stand trial onaccounta being murdered. I said no, but maybe I should use it as an aid to understanding whether he is actually dead or has been successfully smuggled out of jail.

    Comment by dearieme — August 10, 2019 @ 11:39 am

  7. I would surmise that the false positives are a feature, not a bug, for some of the proponents of these laws.

    Comment by Christopher L Hunt — August 10, 2019 @ 1:52 pm

  8. @Christopher–Definitely!

    Comment by cpirrong — August 10, 2019 @ 8:58 pm

  9. @dearieme–Bayes’ Theorem is amazingly powerful. Go for it!

    Comment by cpirrong — August 10, 2019 @ 8:59 pm

  10. @Ivan–I’ll write about that when I get a moment. The only explanation I have is that Putin’s insane nuclear cruise missile had an oopsie. The fact that 5 Rosatom people died pretty much seals it. The Russians are now telling the truth slowly, as is their wont. There’s a very Kursk-like vibe.

    Comment by cpirrong — August 10, 2019 @ 9:03 pm

  11. I mean, that’s the armed lunatics everybody should be worrying about. But the sanctions again Nord Stream 2 seem to be progressing too slow to actually stop it rather than, erm, tax it. This will not end well.

    Comment by Ivan — August 11, 2019 @ 2:19 am

  12. An interesting aspect that the media chose to ignore is that the El Paso shooter’s father had some tell-tale philosophical viewpoints of his own.

    This is an excerpt from a video he made:

    And this is the father’s book:

    Comment by I.M Pembroke — August 11, 2019 @ 9:16 am

  13. This Bayesian effect is also the reason airport security is so persistently stupid: The number of airline passengers is very large and the number of hijackers is very small. A rational security process would, y’know, look for places where terrorists actually are, instead of focusing on the building entrance where literally millions must pass.

    A similar statement can be made for the Bank Secrecy Act, where less than one SAR (suspicious activity report) in 10,000 is useful in a criminal investigation (and among transactions hitting the $10000 reporting threshold…can’t be more than one in a million), and campaign finance law, which entangles the innocent while the real corruption works around the reporting requirements. And automated speeding tickets, which have no salutory effect on traffic safety. And so on for nearly every government systematic reporting requirement.

    As for @dearieme’s suggestion, if a causal link can be established for a copycat effect, an after-the-fact ban on mentioning the name of the killer for 5 years, under penalty of a fine, is not obvious to me as being inconsistent with current constitutional caselaw. It is the least restrictive means, tailored in time, manner, and place. We do something similar with judicial gag orders, copyright violation, and juvenile administrative records.

    As others have mentioned, “gone postal” mass killings are a global phenomenon. The erosion of local, comprehensible, community values has been happening everywhere. The corrosive effects of today’s invasive and monetized social media platforms is happening everywhere.

    Comment by M. Rad. — August 11, 2019 @ 7:02 pm

  14. @I.M. Pembroke: Your conclusion is not supported by your own data. The population of the EU (which now has a common firearms law, albeit more restrictive in some countries than others) is 508 million while the USA’s is 327 million. Yet you can only point to a handful of examples for the EU, whereas there are too many to list for the USA, despite the smaller population. Quite obviously, something in Europe is being done correctly, and though not perfect (there are indeed still SOME shootings), it is far from useless.

    But don’t take my word for it, Wikipedia has a list of gun homicides per 100k capita: USA = 4.46. The next European country is Ukraine at 1.36 (and I assume a result of being at war). Germany is an outlier at 1.01 and the rest of the EU is at 0.53 or lower. Therefore a combination of better mental health screening and gun control correlates very well with reduced gun homicides.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that gun control will work in the USA: I believe that there are simply too many guns out there now. That horse has already bolted from the stable. But I can point to where I live in France: It takes about a year to buy a semi-auto (less for non-repetition arms) and the police, your doctor and your shooting club have to sign-off on it. Plus, the French healthcare system is excellent. Unsurprisingly for me, the gun homicide rate is 0.21, despite having one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world (In fact, may French people are surprised that you can buy semi-auto assault rifles, 50cal snipers, all kinds of dangerous things, here but the system keeps those arms relatively safe).

    As far as I can tell, Violent movies and video games, while a convenient scapegoat, don’t correlate with anything of note. In fact, violent crime in both the EU and USA are declining even as games get more realistic and violent. You’re just substituting one pointless, illiberal, confiscatory idea for another.

    @Pat Frank: Not a good prescription for every country for sure, but in the situation the USA finds itself in, I’m not sure what other avenues they have open to them…

    Comment by HibernoFrog — August 12, 2019 @ 3:59 am

  15. somehow, all the shrill screaming by libs – on anything – always brings to mind the “perfect solution” === “burning down the barn in order to kill the rats.”

    Or, if one prefers – “using a cannon to swat a fly.”

    no facts or logic needed – we don’t need no stinkin’ Bayes Theorem, or anything else.

    but it’s so much fun for liberals and media idiots

    so much pontificating and virtue-signaling to do – so little time ……

    Comment by elmer — August 12, 2019 @ 8:26 am

  16. @HibernoFrog: Your view seems very faulty.


    “Because of faulty research, it is widely believed that a disproportionate share – 31% – of the world’s mass public shooters occurred in the United States,” said Professor Paul Rubin, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Economics, Emory University.

    “In fact, John Lott’s careful analysis of a very large data set – 437 – pages – shows that the proper number is about 2%, less than the U.S. share of world population. One can only hope that this important research will correct the record. … [W]orldwide since 1970 there have been 58,445 mass firearm attacks. Of these, 402 have occurred in the United States. The US is, according to the [Global Terrorism Database] responsible for less than one percent of all mass shootings (0.69 percent) since 1970.”

    Or this one:

    “Every place that has banned guns (either all guns or all handguns) has seen murder rates go up. You cannot point to one place where murder rates have fallen, whether it’s Chicago or D.C. or even island nations such as England, Jamaica, or Ireland.”

    And here’s an eye-opener:

    “Murders in US are very concentrated: 54% of US counties in 2014 had zero murders, 2% of counties have 51% of the murders.

    “In 2014, the most recent year that a county-level breakdown is available, 54% of counties (with 11% of the population) have no murders. 69% of counties have no more than one murder, and about 20% of the population. These counties account for only 4% of all murders in the country.

    “The worst 1% of counties have 19% of the population and 37% of the murders. The worst 2% of counties contain 28% of the population and 51% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 68% of murders. But even within those counties the murders are very heavily concentrated in small areas.”

    Comment by Pat Frank — August 12, 2019 @ 8:33 pm

  17. @Pat–The last sentence is particularly important. Consider Cook County, Illinois, in which Chicago is located. The vast bulk of the murders take place in a handful of neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, e.g., Austin, Englewood, Lawndale, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park. In terms of population and area, these represent a small fraction of Cook County.

    It would be fascinating to see the data by Zip Code. Even county-level data is too coarse to show how concentrated murders are. You hear talk about cancer clusters. They have nothing on murder clusters.

    Of course, the more localized the phenomenon is, the less likely that something that is common across both affected and unaffected localities, such as gun laws, is a causal factor. Gun laws are the same in Edison Park and Englewood, the same in Wildwood and West Garfield Park. The murder rates are vastly different.

    Comment by cpirrong — August 12, 2019 @ 9:24 pm

  18. @Pat Frank:
    Your problem with my logic seems to be that, in the USA, places with similar gun control laws have vastly different gun-crime rates and that therefore the gun control laws cannot be a factor in crime rates. This is dubious because poverty correlates strongly with crime. So where gun laws are similar but poverty is different, then of course there will be differences in crime rates. But actually, that’s a bit obvious, so I’m not entirely sure what your point is…

    But when you compare countries of similar culture, wealth, education, morals, high gun ownership, etc. and find that they have vastly different gun homicide rates, you have to question why this is. So what are the major differences between Canada (0.75 gun-homicides per 100k capita), France (0.21) and the USA (4.46) in this respect? All I can think of are the gun control laws and the healthcare. I’d be interested to hear what others believe are the differences. Policing? (‘Cos France appears to have very little of that, much to my annoyance…).

    I will agree though that mass shootings are over-reported in the USA. I believe that the standard criteria for US law enforcement is any shooting where three people are killed, which describes lots of ordinary crimes (well, in the US anyway) which I think most people wouldn’t intuitively describe as a “mass” shooting. But you just have to watch the news for a few months to see that there are more mass shootings (in the sense of “lone wolf guns down multiple innocents”) in the USA per year than in the next closest international grouping, the EU (I count 10 in the USA for 2018 vs 2 for the EU, with only a fraction of the deaths per event). Again, what are the differences between these places?

    Being Irish, I can definitely point to murder rates having fallen since most types of guns were banned in the 70s. It just doesn’t happen immediately or in isolation. Hell, it might take a generation. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to do it.

    That said, I don’t see any practical way to get control over all the guns in the USA, there’s just so many of them. But instead of saying that gun control doesn’t work (when it very obviously does in many countries), wouldn’t it be better if the NRA et al would say that they don’t think it’ll work well (vs. its costs, as the Prof notes) and propose some solutions instead of saying no to absolutely everything while people die?

    Comment by HibernoFrog — August 13, 2019 @ 4:07 am

  19. @Pat Frank:
    Does this mean that if that you heard tomorrow a teenager went into a school and shot say a dozen people dead, but you didn’t know if it was the US or the UK, that you’d give me evens if I wanted to bet it was in the US?

    Posting a list of terrorist attacks by the likes of the Taliban in Afghanistan is an idiotic argument. If you’re comfortable with the current situation as the price to pay for gun ownership that’s up to you. But pointing out that male American teenagers shooting up schools have killed fewer people than the Taliban is pretty dumb

    Comment by Bob — August 13, 2019 @ 3:12 pm

  20. @HibernoFrog…You have a lot of statistics, put them to use. Take the homicides in Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Memphis, Newark and D.C. Just 10 cities. Take those murders out of the numbers, then tell us what the murder rate is. Also report on the number of murder perpetrators by race, and the rate at which murders are solved in each community.
    Citizens of Texas and South Dakota, for instance, are armed as much as citizens of Chicago’s Southside, but their murder rates differ by a lot. Why is that? In Pennsylvania, for instance, citizens of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia murder at a very much higher rate than those citizens (equally if not more heavily armed) in that great Pennsyltucky in between. What makes the difference?

    Comment by Richard Whitney — August 13, 2019 @ 4:52 pm

  21. @HibernoFrog: All US major ethnic communities, of Caucasian, Hispanic, or African descent, live within the same system.

    However, Bureau of Justice Uniform Crime Statistics show that the homicide rate among US blacks is about 6 times the rate in US Hispanic communities and about 7 times that among Americans of European descent.

    See here:

    Also, quick view here:

    It’s not gun-laws, clearly then, that affect gun-deaths, but rather civic and ethical culture.

    As noted previously, John Lott’s work clearly shows an inverse relation between violent crime and private gun ownership. That unfailing relationship alone vacates your reasoning.

    This UCR table shows most murders in the US are by firearm:

    Although knives make a good showing in California and New York, where gun-control laws are generally strict.

    If you scroll down to the fourth graphic on this page: to “Murder and Gun Ownership: US and Middle Income Countries,”

    you’ll see that gun ownership in the US is a very high outlier, but murder rates are middling.

    US gun ownership is about 4 times greater than in Canada, but the murder rate is a little over double.

    The next graphic down shows that North Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho have 4-5 times greater gun ownership than Canada, but have about half the murder rate.

    Mass public shootings in the US are not specially high relative to Europe:

    Here’s a Daily Mail article giving the violent crime rates, showing that the UK, France, Belgium, and Canada all had higher violent crimes rates than the US, in 2009:

    Laws against gun ownership are not the answer to gun deaths. An ethical civic culture, is.

    Comment by Pat Frank — August 13, 2019 @ 9:05 pm

  22. @Bob: if we heard that someone went into a school and stabbed or macheted 13 people, would it be evens UK or US? How about acid thrown in the face? UK or US?

    And that’s the ultimate point isn’t it — murders and violent crime — not gun deaths.

    I didn’t mention the Taliban anywhere. Or Afghanistan.

    Comment by Pat Frank — August 13, 2019 @ 9:11 pm

  23. @Richard Whitney:
    “Pittsburgh and Philadelphia murder at a very much higher rate than … in that great Pennsyltucky in between. What makes the difference?”
    Well, if you are pointing out that gun crime correlates with race, I’ll take your word for it (I’m certainly not going to tell an American that they don’t know America). But those same races also exist in countries with very low gun crime, so I don’t see any way that race is anything other than a correlation, not a causation. Is it fair to say that poverty and inequality of opportunity correlate well with gun crime?

    @Pat Frank:
    “It’s not gun-laws, clearly then, that affect gun-deaths, but rather civic and ethical culture.”
    False. You have compared several population groups with gun laws that are extremely similar (globally speaking) and argued that because their murder rates vary, then gun laws are not a factor. However, you have not made a comparison to similar groups who operate under different gun laws. So there is no way for you to infer what is the impact of gun laws, if any. You can only say that there are other factors besides gun laws that have an effect, and that those effects can possibly offset relaxed gun laws in some population groups (pending whether or not gun laws have an effect in the first place).
    But I’d ask the same question to you that I asked to Richard Whitney…

    “As noted previously, John Lott’s work clearly shows an inverse relation between violent crime and private gun ownership. That unfailing relationship alone vacates your reasoning.”
    In a country that is already awash in guns, yes, yes it does. But I’ve already noted this, and it only applies in the short and medium term. In the long term (as in, a generation) the USA could get control of all the guns if they chose to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a practical idea, nor do I believe this is what the USA’s citizens want, but other countries quite clearly prove that it can be done. And maybe some milder form of useful control could be instituted in a shorter timeframe, saving lives while keeping secondary effects to a minimum.

    Ref the article… this is simply not credible, bordering on propaganda: “Between January 2009 and December 2015 … European Union (EU) suffered 303 deaths from mass public shootings, while the US had 199.”. Looking on Wikipedia, I counted 105 deaths in 2018 ALONE for “lone wolf shoots a bunch of people in public”. The EU had 10 deaths for the same criteria, despite a much higher population. I’m not going to bother counting a full 6 years’ of data, because it is not credible to me that any representative 6 year period has 50% of the deaths in a single year (except in the case of exceptional outliers like 9/11 or the Paris Attacks. 2018 appears to have been a normal year, albeit a higher than average one for the USA).

    “US gun ownership is about 4 times greater than in Canada, but the murder rate is a little over double.”
    False. Wikipedia puts the USA’s homicide rate 2.94 times that of Canada.

    “Although knives make a good showing in California and New York, where gun-control laws are generally strict”
    1. You can kill far fewer people with a knife before you get stopped.
    2. The idea that ANYWHERE in the USA has “strict” gun laws is laughable.

    “gun ownership in the US is a very high outlier, but murder rates are middling”
    1. I agree that lots of guns do not automatically lead to crime, just look at the Swiss. But keeping crime low relies on some control, just look at the Swiss.
    2. If it were my country, I would describe the USA’s murder rate as horrifying, considering that it is a wealthy, developed country. It’s only “middling” when compared to the developing world. The USA owes it’s citizens a better performance than that.

    “Here’s a Daily Mail article giving the violent crime rates, showing that the UK, France, Belgium, and Canada all had higher violent crimes rates than the US, in 2009”:
    1. That was a decade ago.
    2. The Daily Mail is a sensationalist rag and shouldn’t be trusted by anybody on anything.
    3. Despite the smaller population, the USA has 3.46 times more homicides than the EU, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be assaulted twice than murdered once. Therefore your apparent attempt to suggest that fewer guns only shifts the same number of murders to other weapons is not supported by the current data. Something else is happening in the USA.

    “Laws against gun ownership are not the answer to gun deaths. An ethical civic culture, is”
    OK, and how does one turn that into an actionable policy?

    Sources: Nothing but Wikipedia and Eurostat (I’m afraid to put links cos that usually gets me snagged in the spam filter).

    Comment by HibernoFrog — August 14, 2019 @ 3:44 am

  24. @ Pat Frank:
    You linked to a piece of “research” to dispute the claim that the US is over represented in the statistics of “mass public shooters”. This apparently justifies the claim that the US is responsible for fewer than 1% of these shootings, have you not read it?

    You can download the 451 pages in pdf. The first 38 or so pages refer to Afghanistan, primarily by the Taliban. Then up to page 64 is Algeria and terrorism, and on it goes. That’s your source.

    Comment by Bob — August 14, 2019 @ 4:55 am

  25. @Bob & Frank:

    Mixing in irrelevant results to the data seems to be a common statistical trick used on both sides. There was a sensational news article in France in 2015 or 16 that said that French people had 1800 gun killings per year – a very carefully worded headline because the data was of very dubious relevance to their argument for tighter gun control. Those 1800 deaths included:
    – 1400 suicides (mostly with hunting weapons, which the proposed tighter laws would not have affected)
    – About 70 combat deaths (again, nothing to do with civilian gun laws – they didn’t even happen in French territory!)
    – 130 victims of the Paris attacks (I thought that this was a particularly shameful cashing in on a tragedy, since those terrorists used illegal guns purchased on the dark web. So that’s another data point for the “gun laws don’t work” brigade: Yes, these terrorists were still able to get guns, but it was a lot more difficult, required multiple people, international organisation and a good chunk of money).
    – Then there were miscellaneous accidents and other deaths, leaving a total of actual gun-homicides in French territory around a hundred. A far cry from the headline claim (and even then, still mostly with hunting weapons).

    @Pat: But I think I start to see your point start to emerge from the all the flawed data… Is it that most US citizens enjoy lower violent crime rates (since gun ownership increases the potential cost of same) and lower homicide rates, but at the cost of a much higher firearms death rate concentrated in certain areas and likely associated with other criminal activity, therefore lessening the blame that can be placed on gun availability?
    I concede that there is a huge logic in that idea, though I would still argue that some kind of gun regulation would help those blighted communities without unduly harming everybody else. To be clear, by “gun control”, I don’t mean preventing people from having them (nor in restricting in what the law-abiding may own). I just think that society would benefit from knowing who has them, where they have them, whether they are properly stored, whether they have a criminal record and yes, people with severe enough mental illnesses have no business owning guns…

    Anyway, I’ve taken up enough of everybody’s time, so I’ll give it a rest. Thanks to all for the respectful discussion!

    Comment by HibernoFrog — August 14, 2019 @ 6:43 am

  26. True enough, but if someone wants to go through the other side’s data with a fine tooth comb, they should do the same with their own.

    Good point that there’s maybe less of certain types of violence because of the real possibility that your potential victim may be armed, it might keep certain behaviours in check. I don’t see though how those people would have their freedom infringed very much if you had checks to stop the unhinged getting hunting weapons.

    Comment by Bob — August 14, 2019 @ 10:01 am

  27. “I don’t see though how those people would have their freedom infringed very much if you had checks to stop the unhinged getting hunting weapons.”

    I think the Americans feel that once they let the government get a little bit of control over something, eventually they’ll want to regulate it out of existence. Not being American, I can’t say if that’s a reasonable fear or not, but they also have the additional hurdle of there already being more untracked guns than people in the country… I don’t envy their situation…

    Comment by HibernoFrog — August 16, 2019 @ 2:18 am

  28. “I think the Americans feel that once they let the government get a little bit of control over something, eventually they’ll want to regulate it out of existence.”

    I think you hit the nail on the head there, HF, as that is a very palpable fear, backed by real historical evidence, whether stemming from FDR’s legacy or Johnson’s Great Society programs. Once it’s been implemented, it’s very difficult to roll it all back, even when there’s evidence that these policies and programs have failed.

    Comment by I.M. Pembroke — August 16, 2019 @ 1:34 pm

  29. Fair enough if that’s the position, that’s for American voters to decide. At least they should have the balls to say that though, rather than all the obfuscation and ‘research’.

    Comment by Bob — August 20, 2019 @ 4:39 am

  30. I like the article very much. So Bayes’ suggests that “red flag” laws are not an answer, but what does it suggest might be an answer? I’m no Bayes’ expert but it does help find “needles in a haystack,” no? And, regarding gun control and mass shootings, you don’t need Bayes’ to see that access to firearms makes it possible. Would a few mass shooters absent guns blow up a school occasionally? Sure, but you’re talking about the exceptional mass shooter. Gun rights and access in the US is historically tied to racism and white hegemony. We want guns for the race war, and that’s what it’s for today too.

    Comment by William Graham — July 6, 2022 @ 10:37 am

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