Tuesday, February 25, 2014

John Lott: Media cherry picks Missouri gun data

With headlines claiming “Study Shows Gun Control Works,” media outlets such as CBS, MSNBC, PBS, Washington Post, and BBC were breathless over a soon-to-be-released study by Daniel Webster in the Journal of Urban Health. The claim is that when Missouri in 2007 made it easier to buy handguns, the murder rate went up relative to the U.S. murder rate.

Prior to August 2007, Missouri law had established what is known as a universal background check, closing down the so-called gun show loophole.

While it is true that the murder rate in Missouri rose 17 percent relative to the rest of the U.S. in the five years after 2007, it had actually increased by 32 percent during the previous five years. The question is why the Missouri murder rate was increasing relative to the rest of the United States at a slower rate after the change in the law than it did prior to it. Missouri was on an ominous path before the law was ended.

Simply looking at whether murder rates were higher after the law was rescinded than before misses much of what was going on. Most likely, getting rid of the law slowed the growth rate in murders.

But there are other reasons not to accept the conclusion touted by the press.
 There are currently 17 states with these background check laws, down from a peak of 19 states. Missouri is just one of them.
 If you are going to insist on looking at just one state, Missouri adopted the law in 1981 and rescinded it in 2007. Why not test if the murder rate fell after 1981 and whether it increased after 2007?
 Why only look at just the murder rate for this one state? Why not the overall violent crime or robbery rates?
The reason for this cherry picking is obvious. Only those conditions produced the desired results. For example, Missouri’s violent crime rate fell 7 percent faster than the violent crime rate for the rest of the United States from 2006 to 2012.

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