Journalists Should Be A Lot More Skeptical Of That New Gun Study

Journalists Should Be A Lot More Skeptical Of That New Gun Study

Gun owners lie to pollsters. All the time. Often in extremely creative ways. People who actually know gun owners know this.
Sean Davis
By

There’s a new gun study out about gun ownership, and progressive gun controllers are really excited about it. Its results have been breathlessly reported by progressive outlets like NPR, Time, Slate, Mic, and even The Onion.

According to this new gun study, half of America’s guns are owned by only 3 percent of people in this country, and that excites progressives because it must mean that their radical anti-gun public policy agenda — its dramatic, multi-decade failure to be enacted notwithstanding — is way more popular than the Second Amendment. “There are totally more of us than there are of them” is a comforting lie that adherents of an unpopular agenda often tell themselves, especially when each new month brings news of record-breaking gun sales.

If you’re pretty psyched about that new gun poll, however, I’ve got some bad news for you: its results are almost certainly garbage. Here’s why.

Gun owners lie to pollsters. All the time. Often in extremely creative ways. People who actually know gun owners know this. Sure, some people who own guns might be honest with the random stranger claiming to be a pollster who wants to know precisely how many guns these people own. But there’s a pretty good chance that a huge chunk of gun owners will never in a million years be honest with the guy on the phone asking how many guns they own. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, guns are an expensive item highly coveted by violent criminals. The Department of Justice (DOJ) estimated that 1.4 million guns were stolen in home burglaries between 2005 and 2010. In St. Louis, where violent crime skyrocketed in 2015, reports of gun thefts were up nearly 70 percent last year. Gun owners know that a great way to become a burglary target is to advertise that you’re a gun owner with an arsenal that’s there for the taking. All a canny burglar would need to do is wait until nobody was home, and then he could go on a free gun-grabbing spree.

So how do gun owners respond to the ever present threat of gun theft? By refusing to reveal to random idiots on the phone whether they own any guns or precisely how many they own. Because of the risk of home invasions and burglaries by those on the prowl for guns they can use in other crimes, you can assume with an extremely high degree of confidence that public polls drastically understate the true level of gun ownership in the U.S.

Second, gun owners are constantly on the lookout for politicians who want to take their guns. While many gun controllers dismiss this as tinfoil hat paranoia (“Ugh, nobody wants to take your guns, you gun-humping, toothless, inbred moron!”), the fact of the matter is that a lot of progressives really do want to take your guns. We know this because these gun grabbers literally tell us how much they want to grab everyone’s guns. Every politician, including the current president and one of his potential successors, who favorably references Australia’s gun confiscation regime and calls for its enactment in the U.S. is, in fact, endorsing some form of gun registration or confiscation in the U.S.

It turns out that when you constantly tell people you’d love to come and take their guns away — actually, that you’d love to force other people to come and take your guns away (gun control is great, but certainly not worth the risk of the gun controllers putting themselves in danger) — those gun owners tend to believe you. And when they believe you’re serious about trying to take their guns, the last thing they’re going to do is help someone build a nice list of every address where guns might be found. Registration, after all, is the first step towards confiscation.

This very dynamic was recently demonstrated in Connecticut, which required gun registration throughout the state. Compliance rates were about what you would expect: industry experts estimate that only 15 percent of those required to show up and register their guns actually did so. If only 15 percent of gun owners are going to comply with an actual registration law that carries penalties, what percentage do you think will be honest with a random caller on the telephone?

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It’s no coincidence that “tragic boating accidents” in which every gun someone owns ends up at the bottom of a large body of water are so common among gun owners. Here’s a representative example of that phenomenon:

As Dr. Gregory House, the main character in the medical drama House was fond of saying, “Everybody lies.” When it comes to potentially hostile outsiders demanding to know how many guns someone owns, gun owners lie early and often.

Which brings us back to that fancy new poll everyone’s talking about. Perhaps a review of the raw data used in the poll could give us some clues about the reliability of its results. Maybe its response rates could help us understand how many people pollsters had to call before getting a straight answer from anyone.

Unfortunately, that data is not available, nor will it be made available any time soon. The researchers behind this new poll, who generously leaked its topline results to major global news organizations, did not see fit to make that data available for public review. No, according to those researchers, that raw poll data will remain under wraps until fall. Of 2017:

The full results of the Harvard/Northeastern gun ownership study are undergoing peer review and are slated to be published in the autumn of 2017 by the Russell Sage Foundation. While the full peer review is not complete, Azrael said, the current results have gone through an initial round of comments and revisions from a group of leading firearms researchers.

This type of behavior raises all kinds of troubling questions about the underlying data, as well as the motives of the researchers who put it together. If peer review is incomplete, why on earth are the study’s conclusions already being released? And if these reviewers are widely respected experts in the field, why must they remain anonymous, even as the study’s conclusions are being broadcast to the world? And finally, on what planet does it take more than a year to review the results of a simple poll?

None of the likely answers reflects well on the people who put this study together, because this is not how scientists conduct themselves. This is how political actors conduct themselves. This is how people with political motives and political objectives conduct themselves.

When it comes to random strangers demanding answers from gun owners on how many and what kinds of guns they own, gun owners are going to lie, they’re going to do it with extreme prejudice, and they’re going to do it for sound reasons. As the coverage of this poll demonstrates, nobody who calls your home asking how many guns you own has your best interest in mind. Most gun owners knows this. It’s a shame the gun controllers won’t just admit it.

Sean Davis is the co-founder of The Federalist.

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