Saturday, November 19, 2016

Is Everytown About to Target Law Abiding Gun Owners in New Mexico?

 NOTE: As reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the background check bill described below has been introduced as SB 48 and HB 50.

“…The seeming inanity of the D.C. law* is all too common in the gun rights debate more generally. Gun control advocates seem ever willing to adopt any gun regulation no matter how unlikely the law is to actually accomplish its objectives….the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, and other gun rights groups oppose closing the secondary market loophole. Their position seems to be “Let’s keep guns out of the hands of criminals, just don’t pass any laws that make it harder for criminals to get their hands on guns.” Welcome to the great American gun debate….” -UCLA Constitutional Law Professor Adam Winkler, in "Heller's Catch-22"
* overturned by SCOTUS in District of Columbia v Heller

 On a 9 November entry on its web site, Moms Demand Action states "Everytown and New Mexico Moms Demand Action Declare Victory in Creating Bipartisan Background Check Majority in State Legislature", specifically calling out legislators Nate Gentry (R), Bill Soules (D), Liz Stefanics (D) and Elizabeth Thomson (D).  We can therefore expect that at minimum, a background check bill will be introduced by the Democratic majorities in both houses.

The purpose of a background check is difficult to argue against, i.e., we all have a moral and legal obligation to not transfer firearms to prohibited persons, i.e. those with a felony, legal finding of mental defect, protective order, or other disqualifications on their record. Hence, polls repeatedly show majorities, even majorities of gun owners, support them in principle. A straightforward bill that facilitated background checks for gun owners transferring weapons via the secondary (i.e, private sales) market to those whom they cannot personally (and, perhaps, in a legally binding manner) vouch for in high confidence is a good idea, as long as the State ensures these can be done without due financial or time burdens on gun owners.  Indeed, it would be reasonable to provide tax rebates or other incentives to pay for these as the government provides for other actions (such as green energy, bicycle commuter, home mortgage, and other tax credits) it wishes to encourage for the public good.

Where Everytown runs into trouble is when it tries to hide onerous gun controls in the guise of background checks. The recent Everytown endorsed ballot questions in Nevada (where it barely passed) and Maine (where it was defeated) are examples of gun control overreach that spell doom for any cooperation between law abiding gun owners and gun violence prevention organizations.

Buried in the ballot questions in both NV and ME were toxic "temporary transfer" prohibitions that would criminalize many normal, safe, and legal activities that gunsport enthusiasts take for granted. Any transfer not explicitly listed as exempt is illegal unless a gun owner legally transferred title of a gun to another person at a licensed dealer (FFL). So, the following would be illegal without literally transferring ownership via an FFL because Everytown makes no distinction between temporary transfers between long term gunsport buddies and putting a gun for sale on something like

• Letting a buddy handle and shoot your firearm anywhere but at a designated shooting range unless you are in that person's actual presence (better not duck off to "water a tree" unless that tree is close by). 
• Leaving a gun with a friend who does light gunsmithing, adds accessories, or has the tools to do repairs and upgrades.
• Loaning a pistol to a friend unless the friend is in imminent jeopardy, i.e., " immediate and significant threat of serious harm to human well-being".
• Storing your firearms in a friend's safe while out of town.
• Loaning a friend a gun for a hunting trip unless you are in proximity to the borrower.
• Storing firearms for a friend who may be temporarily despondent due to personal hardship (unless you can legally demonstrate it is "only as long as necessary to prevent such imminent death or great bodily harm"). Recall that about two thirds of all gun deaths in the US are suicides.

12 of the 16 sheriffs in Maine and 16 of 17 in Nevada opposed these ballot initiatives. Further, enforcement would be a nightmare or downright impossible unless guns are registered to owners. Would that be the next step and if so, it needs discussion. So it is extremely important for the gun owning community to examine, as soon as possible, any bills prefiled or introduced during this legislative session, read the fine print, and call your representatives with input.

The gun owning community should endorse reasonable actions that reduce gun violence. A straightforward law that mandated background checks for transfers to someone you cannot, in good faith, legally vouch for, or for permanent transfers between most buyers and sellers (with exceptions for family members and long term close friends, etc) is a good idea. For example, I could, in high confidence, transfer a firearm to someone I know who goes through the same Federal investigative hoops I go through, without fear of any surprises.

Likewise, the gun violence prevention community must not destroy the required trust needed to reach common ground. Indeed, if the gun violence prevention community would spend more time studying gun culture (for example, as studied by sociologist David Yamane of Wake Forest University), some of the colossal misreadings of gun enthusiast's motives and activities that lead organizations like Everytown to support bad legislation could be avoided.

Published in edited form in the Santa Fe New Mexican and Los Alamos Daily Post.

NOTE: As reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the background check bill described above has been introduced as SB 48 and HB 50.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Trying to Dissect the Center for American Progress Gun Report (America Under Fire)

The Center for American Progress, a progressive and liberal think tank, recently released a report "America Under Fire" that claimed a strong correlation between state gun law strength and reduced levels of gun violence. Their main correlation chart is shown below. To get this chart, CAP researchers tallied up ten variables on gun violence, took the average, and plotted it against gun law strength (an admittedly qualitative and subjective measure) as defined by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

From what I can tell so far, most of this correlation can be traced to two variables, suicides and gun traces to where crime guns were originally sold. The rest of the correlations are very low in significance.

The ten variables used by CAP are:
Rate of overall gun deaths per every 100,000 people, 2005-2014
Rate of gun suicides per every 100,000 people, 2005-2014
Rate of gun homicides per every 100,000 people, 2005-2014
Rate of fatal gun accidents per every 1 million people, 2005-2014
Rate of mass shootings per every 1 million people, 2006-2015
Rate of intimate partner gun homicides of women per every 1 million women, 2005-2014
Rate of gun deaths among people younger than age 21 per every 100,000 people younger than age 21, 2005-2014
Rate of law enforcement officers feloniously killed with a firearm per every 1 million people, 2005-2014
Rate of fatal shootings by police per every 1 million people, 2015-2016
Crime gun export rates per every 100,000 people, 2010-2015

Here is their chart, widely reported in the popular press,
For starters, the linear correlation is a piss poor fit to the data points

 I had several problems with this study. First, the report had a very thin section on methodology. If one looks at the ten variables, one sees they vary widely in frequency from several parts per hundred thousand (suicides range from about 14 to 2 per 100,000 population in various states and homicides from about 10 to 0.5) while other categories are measured in less than a part per million (mass shootings) so may occur rarely. Police shootings were only reported for one year. It would appear to me that all of these variables are weighted equally even when they are rare or poorly known events and this is done for subjective and politicized reasons. We know that gun crime and violence are not homogeneous on the state level. Illinois, for example, has a few homicides per 100k but some parts of Chicago have rates, given current trends, likely exceeding an order of magnitude higher than that while other parts have rates approaching zero (see figure). Crime must be looked at on a scale defined by the problem, not by arbitrary units convenient to advocates. Finally, the authors give lip service to correlation not being causation but nonetheless implicitly state that it is by basing recommendations for gun control on their study.
Homicide by police district, from Wikipedia

So with these caveats, I tried to look at simpler questions in the CAP study to see if strong gun laws make us safer. Here are some charts. Click on them to see in full scale. To make these, I used the fatality rates in the CAP report, converted the Smart Gun Laws rankings of A to F (where F is a weak set of laws and A is a strong set, obviously subjective and defined by a gun control advocacy organization) to a zero to 4 ranking on a plus vs. minus scale, i.e. A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, etc, and used a Kalesan study of gun ownership as reported in Business Insider for gun ownership rates.

Looking at homicides, homicides show no correlation with Smart Gun Law rankings or frequency of gun ownership (data taken from the CAP report except where otherwise noted). I'm not surprised at the lack of a gun correlation because with over 300 million guns in America and about 10000 gun homicides per year (round numbers), one would expect about one in 30,000 guns to be used in a homicide if each gun only caused one homicide. Such small numbers are lost in the weeds. The lack of a correlation with gun law strictness (as defined by LCPGV) suggests these laws are ineffective at curbing gun homicide.  Further, one would surmise that restrictive gun laws might stop criminals from buying guns on the legitimate market but as I recently posted on this blog, a survey of jailed criminals, when asked in a recent study,  said they obtained guns on the black market or stole them.

Law Center gun law strictness ranking vs homicide rate
Gun ownership in a state vs. homicide rate
Looking at gun ownership and laws, one sees less gun ownership in states with strong gun laws. Not sure this means people are deterred from buying guns by the hassle and red tape of gun laws or if it is easier to pass onerous gun laws in states where fewer own guns. New York State, for example.
Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence rankings vs. gun ownership
 There is a correlation between suicide rate and gun ownership and therefore, restrictive gun laws. Suicide by gun is pretty much guaranteed, so if one is suicidal and armed, there is a pretty good chance of success should the urge overwhelm someone. As Dr. Dan Nolan said on, there are states like Alaska where gun ownership is high but so are factors contributing to suicide (seasonal affective disorder and a strong asymmetry of male vs. female population) so the tendency to suicide may be high and there is a gun present to get it done. But clearly gun ownership does not control suicide as Alaska and Hawaii have high ownership rates (62 and 45 percent, respectively) and differ by close to an order of magnitude in suicide rate (14 and 2 per 100k population, respectively). For that matter, Japan's suicide rate is 50% higher than ours in the U.S. in a virtually gun-free society. I don't know much about Alaska but worked in Honolulu for 14 years. Hawaii has its social ills but also has a strong sense of ohana which may give people in despair resources other than a bullet to the brain, thus ohana, as well as a latitude at the tropics rather than nearer the North Pole and thus without huge seasonal swings in daylight, may have more control over suicides than gun availability.
Gun ownership per state vs. suicide
As far as other variables, I have not looked at all of them but did some preliminary calculations on how one could come up with a strong correlation by lumping all these variables together, since one is counting the same thing over again in some cases (total gun deaths, suicides and homicides) and weighting extremely rare events equally with more common ones. For example, there is  a low correlation between gun ownership and domestic homicide  of women.
Gun ownership vs. domestic homicides

But if we count homicides and domestic homicides of women per 100,000 we get no correlation as domestic homicide of women is a rarer event compared to homicide.
homicides plus domestic homicides,both per 100k, vs. gun ownership in a state

If we weight domestic homicides by 10x as the study authors may have done, i.e., add domestic violence of women gun homicide in parts per million as an equal variable to homicides in parts per 100k and add suicides, we get this, which is a correlation approaching that reported by CAP.
Combined fatality (homicides, 10x domestic homicide, plus suicide) vs gun law rank

I think its worth continuing to try to figure out what CAP did but  in spite of a request for information, it has not been forthcoming. I think CAP proved that strong gun laws are present in states with fewer guns and therefore fewer gun suicides. The study also confirmed that stronger gun laws don't prevent gun homicide, which could potentially be a good proxy for gun crime.
Unemployment v Suicide. From Huffington Post
Guns in the US from Azreal et al, preprint (2016)
Suicides are a major problem but a mental health, economic, and social problem, not a crime problem. Studies that purport to make Americans safer from gun violence need to point out the difference and direct crime reduction at crime and suicide reduction at suicide. Furthermore, cutting edge work by Andrew Papachristos and other sociologists gives us a better idea of who is committing violent crime and why. As Professor Papachristos' web site tells us, "...Most recently, Papachristos was awarded an NSF Early CAREER award to examine how violence spreads through high-risk social networks in four cities. He is also currently involved in the evaluation and implementation of several violence reduction strategies, most notably the Project Safe Neighborhoods and the Group Violence Reduction Strategy in Chicago..."  Such studies and directed efforts, including the New Mexicans To Prevent Gun Violence work with youth in Santa Fe in pledging to renounce gun violence, need to be integrated into violence prevention strategies rather than simply looking at suspiciously defined correlation analysis that may tell us nothing about causation or prevention.

Added over the weekend. Here are some more plots out of the CAP report. Sources of data in are in the CAP report. Most of these correlations are quite weak.

Traces of crime guns to origin of sale

Law Enforcement shootings of civilians

Law enforcement officers killed in action

CAP uses a USA Today source on mass shootings, in which 4 or more people are shot regardless of reason. So this conflates gang shootings, drug shootouts, family violence, and random acts

I summed up all of the above variables to get this correlation.

Anti Trafficking laws aimed at so called gun exporting states (see graph above) are worth looking at if these are written wisely rather than with the typical birdshot approach; the CAP report shows a strong correlation between gun laws and sources of guns traced to crime. Maybe there is room for compromise here in enacting a national standard for gun sales tracking to cut down on trafficking. To some degree, the paranoia on a national registry and tracking system is well deserved but its not clear to me how one cuts down on illicit sales without some ability to figure out how guns get from W. Virginia to New York. But first we need a better estimation of how many guns are trafficked between state lines vs. how many are stolen or acquired by other means. Let's not have a solution in search of a  problem.

But some current "common sense laws" being proposed are nothing of the sort. The Bloomberg-written ballot initiatives voted on in Maine and Nevada could, with some provisions, increase gun violence. For example, suicide is the major cause of gun deaths. Right now if a close friend told me he was suicidal and asked me to lock up his guns, I could do so. With the provisions of those initiatives, he would have to legally transfer ownership of them to me via a Federally licensed gun dealer (FFL) or it would be a criminal offense.  Then, when his urge passed, I would have to legally transfer the guns back to him at an FFL. I suspect such provisions would strongly discourage such cooperative, potentially life saving initiatives. Go figure. These are the sorts of provisions offered by those who know little about the firearms community that build walls rather than break them down.

Finally, from Dr. John Lott

"The Times incorrectly describes a study as showing that gun control laws reduce violence (“Gun-Control Groups Push Growing Evidence That Laws Reduce Violence,” October 11th). But the study — by the Center for American Progress — never examines how rates of violence change before and after gun laws are adopted. The study simply compares violence rates across states. Yet, states have a lot of differences beyond what gun control laws are on their books. The Center for American Progress does not account for any factors such as differences in law enforcement (e.g., arrest rates), demographics, and income. For example, rural states have higher suicide rates partially because the male/female ratio is so out of balance.
More useful academic research follows states over time to see how rates of violence change with the adoption of different laws. These changes are then compared to the states that did not change their laws."

John R. Lott, Jr., Ph.D.
Crime Prevention Research Center

Lott makes suggestions which are quite good but even comparative before/after studies are frought with difficulty as economic, social, and demographic changes are occurring, i.e., there is no real controlled experiment. As Lott would probably agree if I could ask him, there is no such thing as a properly controlled experiment as far as changes in law are concerned. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Is Mr. Lucero a "Constitutional Sheriff"? Why not ask him?

Stephanie Nakhleh painted a grim picture of Sheriff Marco Lucero as being part of an anti-government "...dangerous group of radicals..." called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Of course, most of what we learn from her letter is Ms. Nakhleh's opinion of CSPOA, and we learn even less about Sheriff Lucero other than that his name appears on several web sites. This tactic to discredit the man is a form of ad hominem attack referred to as the "bad company fallacy" and is reminiscent of McCarthyism. Perhaps instead of inferring the sheriff's politics, one should simply ask him. He lives here and has a phone number and email address. Not to mention, a stable on North Mesa.

As far as CSPOA, they do have a point, i.e., that there is a growing political movement that is asking whether the Federal government is overreaching its legitimate boundaries. An example of that philosophy in action was most recently seen when the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Liberation Front occupiers were exonerated, perhaps by jury nullification or at minimum, a realization that the charges were a legal stretch by the Feds. As Judge and Professor of Criminal Justice Steve Russell says in the links here, "... Take it from a judge that we have juries to protect us from both overbearing judges and crackpot legislators. When used in the limited circumstances that justify it, jury nullification is the conscience of the community. "

As far as CSPOA founder Richard Mack's philosophy of government? I don't know enough about it to comment fully, nor am I a fan, but in at least one instance, he and fellow Sheriff Jay Printz had some strong allies. When the Federal Brady Bill was passed in its original form, sheriff's were instructed to carry out Federally mandated background checks. Challenging the constitutionality of that requirement imposed on local law enforcement, the two sheriffs sued in Federal court. Their opinion, that this was a Federal mandate and could not be imposed on county officials, was upheld by the U.S, Supreme Court in Printz vs. United States. Thus, the idea that the sheriff was the highest ranking law enforcement officer when in the jurisdiction of the county was upheld, at least in that question.

As Carol Clark said in a recent admonishment to readers, let's keep it civil from now until Election Day. Ad hominem attacks are not civil.