Thursday, December 27, 2012

At What Cost? (Part II)

In looking at decisions, we should examine the costs.  Not just the monetary costs but other implications as well.  Banning and confiscating guns might result in less people killed and injured by guns - depending on the extent of number of guns affected. Unfortunately, we can't look at just the number of gun deaths and gun injuries, unless one believes that this is the sole cause.  If on the other hand people are the cause, then a fraction of the gun deaths and gun injuries will be replaced with other deaths and injuries.

Defensive uses of firearms need to be taken into account.  This area of research is very hazy.  There are no police reports that have a checkbox for defensive uses of firearms.  So now easy statistics to gather.  Several groups (including government agencies, pro-gun groups, and anti-gun groups) have done studies and surveys to determine the number.  The only thing they agree on is that defensive gun use happens.  Numbers vary from 100,000 per year to 2.5 million per year. One clear problem with all of these studies is that defensive gun use is not universally defined.

Obviously if someone discharges their weapon in deterrence of a crime, this should count.  Drawing a weapon on a crime in progress should count (although, then what may have been a murder might now just be an assault - the murder rate goes down, but the overall violent crime rate does not). What about drawing a firearm on a crime that has not been committed? Say someone pounding on your front door in the middle of the night? Maybe it is a criminal, maybe it is just the drunk guy from next door who forgot his keys. Has a crime been averted?  What about walking down the street and your jacket gets blown by the wind, exposing the concealed weapon at your back? No one sees this except the perp who was trailing you and planned on asking for your wallet in a couple minutes.  He decides to bother someone else. Is that a defensive use - one that you didn't know happened?

Murder is the one crime statistic that can be reliably compared between countries.  England has decent records to show what the homicide rate has been historically. Starting back in 1200, England had a homicide rate that dwarfs what is found in America today, and this is before guns were invented. This in no way is to imply that guns were the only thing that decreased the crime rate, but it is a starting point to counter the idea that guns are causing the high murder rate.  The same source traces the homicide rate through the centuries.  The development and proliferation of firearms does not appear to affect it.  There is no uptick in murder when the rifles or handguns are developed.

England's foray into gun control did not really begin until early in the 20th century.  Homicide rates continued to decline in England throughout 1800 (as shown on page 99 Table 1 of that source).  By 1970, the UK gun laws looked drastically different from the US gun laws. There was very little firearms ownership, and firearms were tightly regulated. So comparison between the UK and the US is informative.
 Using the sources from this wikipedia page, I plotted a comparison of the US and UK with the addition of a multiple line which represents the magnitude of difference between the US and UK rates. The first thing that should be noticed is that England has ALWAYS had a much lower homicide rate than the US. Furthermore, it has remained very stable up until the last 40 years.  Major gun control legislation was passed in 1920, 1937, 1968, 1988. and 1997. Anti crime legislation in 2006 dealt with airpowered weapons since real firearms were already regulated to as close the maximum extent possible. There is no decrease in 1921 or 1938.  The years following 1968, 1988, and 1997 all saw increases in crime. In particular, this study shows that from 1997-2007 gun crimes, went up. The gun control that the UK has implemented over the last 100 years has not affected the murder rate (at least not in a good way) at all.

For the US, major gun control legislation was passed in 1934, 1968, 1986, and 1994.  Additionally, one piece of legislation expired in 2004.  The years following 1934 and 1994 saw a decrease in the murder rate, however, the decline started in the year or two before the passage of legislation. The years following 1968 saw and increase in the murder rate, but again, the rate had been on the rise for several years.  1986 is interesting since rates had been stable for the couple of years before 1986, the rate dipped for one year in 1987 and then rose above the previous rates the the following years. 2004 fell in the middle of several years where the rate stayed level, and then it fell some more.  Once again, gun control legislation (less draconian than the UK) appears to have had no affect.

Finally, the last thing to notice is that the multiple between the US and UK has been falling and is at the lowest levels in the last 100 years.  In other words, the US is becoming less homicidal compared to the UK. (That isn't to say they ARE less homicidal yet, although if the trend continues for the next couple of decades it very well could be.)

Using sources from Eurostat and the FBI, the trend in violent crime and total crime can also be compared.  The actual rates shouldn't be compared since the definitions of crimes differ between the countries.

Since the early to mid 90s, the US has seen a steady decline in both violent crime and total crime.  The UK has not been so fortunate.  Total crime overall has declined, but it appears that violent crime is on an upswing.  This could be related more to how the crime is reported.  One thing remains clear, the % decrease in crime (total and violent) in the US has been more than in the UK.

Gun control has enforcement costs.  If it is ineffective because it doesn't lower crime, then what justification is there for it? Less people killed by guns (even though there aren't necessarily less people killed in total)?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

At What Cost?

So many decisions are made in our lives without asking the question "At what cost?". Sure we may put a monetary value on many things, but rarely do we spend the time to look beyond that.  Time's of crisis are notoriously bad for doing something without looking at the costs.  America is at that point now, with the shooting rampage in Newtown, CT, emotions are high. People are horrified. Something must be done!

Lots of  causes have been bandied forth: guns, video games, movies, mental health, etc. Unfortunately, there are too many people who are "experts" in all of these categories and not enough sensible talk from experts in any one of these categories.  So just a quick reminder, it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert in something.  That is roughly five years working full time.  I am not an expert in anything. A quick idiot check to perform is take someone's age, subtract 20, and then divide by 10.  This is the most number of subjects they can be an expert in. If they tell you otherwise, they are probably lying.

At what cost are the decisions we make going to have? Monetary costs are easy to figure. Alan Gottleib has proposed that we remove the "Gun Free Zone" in schools, thereby letting people with carry licenses the ability to carry on school property.  This costs no money.

The NRA and have proposed putting police officers in every school. I have seen estimates of the cost of this at $5 billion per year (but if this is in response to our children being more valuable than power plants or banks - are we going to expand this to putting a police officer in every day care? What about field trips, do we need a police officer on every field trip?)

Diane Feinstein is proposing a renewed assault weapons ban. If this is the same as the one we had from 1994 to 2004, then it essentially has zero cost.  Of course, several studies (including by the Department of Justice and the CDC) could either not make a conclusion for lack of evidence or found that the ban was ineffectual when it came to crime rates. So some have proposed not having weapons grandfathered and the definition expanded.  Assuming this would affect 100 million weapons, and the government was going to pay a fair price for the confiscation of private property, and all owners turned their weapons in, this would have a cost of upwards of $50 billion.

Finally, some people want the confiscation of all guns.  This has basically been done in the UK and Australia.  Once again assuming a fair price and all guns get turned in, we are looking at a $150 billion.  These are all direct economic costs.  Money that would have to be outlaid immediately.

What about indirect costs? Banning guns (in any amount) will result in reduced economic activity for that industry.  4-5 million new firearms are sold each year, the vast majority of this is in the civilian market in the US. Cutting this number from a ban is going to result in lost jobs in the firearms industry. Do we ignore their plight because this is for the children?

Putting police in every school is going to require hiring of approximately 100,000 new officers.  That is 100,000 people who now cannot be used to make widgets, serve your dinner, answer phones, etc.  Right now in our economy, this isn't a problem with unemployment as high as it is, but what about when the economy is doing good?

Allowing teachers to go armed could have an increase in accidental deaths and injuries.  How much? Well, we know what the current numbers are, and the vast majority of them happen while hunting or target shooting.  Which makes perfect sense, getting injured in a firearm accident is only going to happen when you are manipulating a loaded firearm.  Since any armed teachers wouldn't be fiddling with their firearm, it would be sitting snugly in their holster, I would guess that the increased injury and deaths would be approximately equal to what you find at any sheriff's office or police station (not the shooting range), in other words near zero.

Would any of the policies above do anything? Letting teachers go armed would allow for a greater chance that an armed responder was on site in the first seconds of the shooting.  This doesn't necessarily prevent any shooting from happening, but the statistics show that less people die when an armed responder is there. Plus it would remove the "Gun Free Zone" target from our schools, where almost every mass shooting has occurred.

Putting police in the schools would have nearly the same effect as above. Although now you have a visible armed target (probably the only one in the school). So, he will be the first one targeted by a mass shooter (he'll also be the best prepared to defend himself). Unfortunately, if he dies, the school is once again at the mercy of the shooter.

The AWB will do nothing without confiscation.  CT had an AWB, the weapons used complied with it. Complete confiscation would probably just turn the incident from a shooting to a stabbing, explosion or fire. Defenseless victims (particularly children) are no match for lightly armed, young males.

Are you willing to protect your children at any cost? If you answered yes, you're lying. It is evident in the decisions you make everyday.  The car you drive, the cleaning products you use, even the home you live in.  All of them are filled with risks that injure and kill children daily. The fact that you don't wash and disinfect your hands after coming home from work, the gym, or even your friend's house, has the potential to spread germs that could kill your kids.  The simple fact is, there are risks in life, we accept them. We even accept them on behalf of our children. The child who dies from drinking cleaning fluid is no less dead than the victims of Newtown, CT.  And certainly to the families involved, it is no less tragic.

Before you advocate for doing something, ask yourself, "At what cost?" Then after examining things beyond just money, ask whether it should be universally applied (after the next mass shooting of kids in a park, are we going to have police stationed at every park in America?). If the answer is no, then look back and justify why it should be done for this narrow situation. Finally, don't ever be so pretentious as to think the problem will be solved.  Evil people know no bounds.