A statistician changes her mind on gun control laws

I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise. by Leah Libresco in The Washington Post.

This is an extraordinary story and it’s also extraordinary that it appeared in The Washington Post.

Leah Libresco is a statistician and former newswriter at FiveThirtyEight, a data journalism site.

Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me. I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly.

Thinking of a gun as deadly is the mark of someone who thinks differently about guns than people who are more familiar with guns.  A gun is neither deadly nor perfectly safe, it depends on whose hands the gun happens to be in. It’s like a kitchen steak knife that can be used to slice bites of delicious tenderloin at a gala gathering of friends or it can be used to commit murder. The knife itself has no connotation one way or the other.

I have to commend Leah Libresco for having the ability to change her mind in the face of facts and evidence which contradict her previous beliefs about guns. Most people who have strong beliefs about guns don’t ever change their minds no matter how much evidence is presented to them.  In this case it was Ms. Libresco’s own findings after some research that led her to reconsider. That always makes it easier.

I found out that no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos.

As for silencers — they deserve that name only in movies, where they reduce gunfire to a soft puick puick. In real life, silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don’t make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer. Magazine limits were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless.

As my co-workers and I kept looking at the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference. Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides. Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them.

I doubt that any gun enthusiast could have changed Leah Libresco’s mind on guns by logical argument. She had to come to that on her own, and having done that herself makes her a remarkably open-minded person. Would that there were more of her kind.

There is much more in her story, do read the whole thing.

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