January 14, 2013
Parsing PiersBy Randall Hoven
Piers Morgan is one of many people who seem to think the word "murder" must always be preceded by the word "gun," even though "gun" is not defined as an adjective in my dictionary (Webster's Unabridged, 1976). Here is what he said in his interview with Alex Jones.
"How many gun murders where there in Britain last year? ...It's actually 35 -- against 11,000 [in the U.S.]"
A video of clip from that interview, as well as a good debunking of Morgan's statistics by Reality Check, can be found here.
First, some straightforward fact-checking. Morgan said there were 35 "gun murders" in "Britain last year". There were actually 60 homicides by "shooting" in England and Wales in 2010/11 (a single year, the most recent data available). The actual number does not include Scotland and Northern Ireland, which are also part of Britain. That was an error of at least 42% on Morgan's part, even assuming no murders in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Source: Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2010/11 (Table 1.03). (The home office describes the method as "shooting" to distinguish from murders by using firearms as "blunt instruments.")
Morgan said there were 11,000 "gun murders" in the U.S. last year. In 2011 (most recent data) there were 8,583 murders using firearms. That was an error of 28% on Morgan's part. Source: the FBI's Expanded Homicide Data Table 8.
Morgan's errors were low for the UK statistic and high for the US statistic. His implied ratio of US-to-UK "gun murders" was over 314:1. The actual ratio was 143:1. That is an error of 120% on Morgan's part.
In addition to getting these simple facts wrong, the statistics he chose to concentrate on were themselves misleading. First, why the obsession with "gun murders"; why not all murders? (Do we care how many arson fires are started with Bic lighters as opposed to matches?)
Secondly, Morgan used absolute numbers, yet the population of the U.S. is about 5.6 times greater than England and Wales.
The more proper comparison is the total murder rate. The murder rate in the U.S. in 2011 was 4.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. (Source, FBI, Crime in the United States Table 1.) The rate in England and Wales was 1.15 per 100,000. (Source: Home Office, Table 1.01.)
So, yes, the murder rate is higher in the U.S. than in the UK. But the ratio is 4:1, not the 314:1 that Piers Morgan suggested on national TV. That Morgan chose to emphasize the latter ratio demonstrates that his method is sensationalism, not fact and reason.
As Reality Check pointed out, the rate of violent crime is higher in the UK than in the U.S. The U.S. rate in 2011 was 386.3 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. Conversely, "there are over 2,000 crimes recorded per 100,000 population in the UK, making it the most violent place in Europe." Source: the Telegraph, 2009, under the headline "UK is violent crime capital of Europe."
So the U.S. has 4 times more murders than the UK, but the UK has 5 times more violent crime than the U.S. But I'll play along and concentrate on murders only.
Unlike Piers Morgan, I am unwilling to simplify the cause-effect relationship of the difference in UK and US murder rates to guns. I think it is a rather complicated subject. But we do know that the UK banned handguns starting in 1998. How did that work out? As the BBC put it in 2001: "Handgun crime 'up' despite ban." Or as Joyce Lee Malcolm put it in the Wall Street Journal more recently:
"After a school massacre, the U.K. banned handguns in 1998. A decade later, handgun crime had doubled."
Below is the total murder rate (not just "gun murders") in the UK for the 14 years before and after the handgun ban. Do you see any reduction in the rate associated with the ban? In fact, you see a rapid rise in murders almost immediately following the ban. The average for the 14 years prior to 1998 was 11.4 homicides per million; the average for the 14 years since was 13.4 -- an 18% increase.
Source: UK Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2010/11 (Table 1.01)
From 1993 to 2011, the UK homicide rate rose 3.6% and the U.S. murder rate dropped 51%. In that time, the UK enacted a handgun ban. Conversely, the U.S. expanded Concealed Carry. More guns, less crime?
More generally, Morgan's claim that more gun laws would prevent murders is totally speculative. The Centers for Disease Control already looked at that. During 2000-02, a CDC task force "conducted a systematic review of scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of firearms laws in preventing violence, including violent crimes, suicide, and unintentional injury." The CDC's conclusion:
"The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes."
People have criticized me for citing that CDC study. Some say it did not include international data. I'm not sure what all the CDC looked at, but it claims it "conducted a systematic review of scientific evidence." Do the critics have better studies, ones done more systematically and more scientifically? (By the way, for anyone who follows the CDC, it had to really hurt for the CDC to admit it could not find evidence that gun control laws work.)
Others say that the CDC simply could not find the evidence that gun laws reduce violent outcomes; not that it found evidence that gun laws don't work. First, that logic didn't seem to work with liberals when Donald Rumsfeld used it by quoting Carl Sagan ("the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"). But more importantly, if you can't find evidence that a law works, why would you insist on passing it?
But I would like to help Mr. Morgan and, for that matter, Vice President Joe Biden's task force, by suggesting a few other things besides gun laws to look at regarding the U.S. murder rate and mass murders.
• Treatment and non-treatment of the mentally and emotionally ill.
• Violent films and video games.
• Lead in the environment.
• Incarcerating more criminals.
• Executing more capital offenders.
• Concealed Carry and eliminating "no gun zones."
• Armed guards in schools, as advocated by the NRA, President Bill Clinton and Moveon.org.
• Better evacuation/hiding methods in classrooms and schools.
I'm sure there's more. As I said, I think it's complicated. For people who pride themselves for their sense of nuance and their use of science and reason, a whole lot of liberals sure seem to want a simple answer based on a knee-jerk response against guns.
Here are more statistics that Piers Morgan might want to look into: more than half the murders in the U.S. are committed by blacks, who make up just 13% of the population. And the majority of those are committed by black males aged 17-29.
Let's review all that Piers Morgan got wrong.
• The statistics he cited were simply wrong, with errors of 28% to 120% on his numbers compared to solid statistics from the UK Home Office and the U.S.'s FBI.
• The statistics he cited were not only cherry-picked, but largely irrelevant. They did not account for population differences and included only "gun murders," not all murders.
• He was selective in looking only at murders and ignoring violent crime more generally. And the U.S.-UK comparisons are stark between the two: a ratio of 4:1 one way but 5:1 the other.
• His implication that gun laws explain the differences in murder rates is totally speculative, neglects a host of other potential explanations and is counter to scientific studies. The CDC conducted a "systematic" and "scientific" review and could not find any evidence that gun laws reduce violent outcomes (including violent crimes, suicides and accidental deaths, not just murder).
In his frustration, Alex Jones answered Morgan's question sarcastically: "How many chimpanzees can dance on the head of a pin?" I'm going to say "zero", which would be about as relevant as the statistics actually cited by Morgan, but probably more accurate.
P.S. There are some good data bases of murder and crime statistics as well as gun ownership available on the internet. I'm a strong advocate of looking at all data, not just data cherry-picked to reach a pre-ordained conclusion. Here are some good data bases.
For U.S. violent crime statistics, including murder, the FBI: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/violent-crime/violent-crime
For UK homicide statistics, the Home Office (pdf): http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statistics/crime-research/hosb0212/hosb0212?view=Binary
For worldwide murder statistics, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/homicide.html
For worldwide civilian gun ownership, the Small Arms Survey (pdf): http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/A-Yearbook/2007/en/Small-Arms-Survey-2007-Chapter-02-annexe-4-EN.pdf
For worldwide crime (non-murder), the Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective (pdf): http://rechten.uvt.nl/icvs/pdffiles/ICVS2004_05.pdf.
Happy hunting (data hunting, that is).
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