Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Washington Post Article: Who are you Going to Believe? Us or Your Lyin' Eyes?

image from pagunblog.com

The Washington Post published an article meant to convince the American people that their perceptions of gun ownership in the United States are wrong. They attempt to convince people that surveys showing lower numbers are goodthink.

The article admits that gun ownership numbers are hotly disputed. They admit that ownership numbers are difficult to determine. Then they make the claim that ownership rates are falling and that  "In reality, only about 25 percent of Americans own a gun." From the Washington Post:
As some 70,000 people attended the NRA’s annual convention last week, nearly three months after the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Fla., the reignited national debate on guns seems to be at a stalemate.

But the discussion lacks some basic facts about guns in the United States. For example, how many people in the United States own a firearm? As with most gun issues, the answer is hotly disputed. Perhaps just as important, what do Americans believe to be the percentage of their fellow citizens who own guns — and will that increase or decrease in the coming years?

Our research finds that Americans substantially overestimate the gun-owner population — and that what they believe about gun ownership is related to what gun policies they support.
Notice the glaring error in the very first sentence?  "As some 70,000 people attended" (bold added) the NRA annual meeting in Dallas. Attendees have been over 80,000 for the last three meetings. The meeting in Dallas had 87,154 members attending.  The writers of the Washington Post article did not have the actual numbers, because the attendance numbers were only totaled and released yesterday, after their article was published. There was no reason to believe the numbers would drop lower than the last two years.

This shows a bias on the part of the authors, and a likely problem with their research. Everyone tends to see what they want to see. The authors of the Post article seem to want to see lower gun owner numbers because lower gun owner numbers translate into less support for the Second Amendment, and make it easier to pass more restrictive gun legislation.

Selection bias is difficult to overcome for all researchers. The authors of the Washington Post article are no exception.

As the authors point out, most people see the numbers of gun owners increasing. It is easy to see why. In the vast majority of states, infringements on the right to bear arms are being reduced or eliminated. The number of guns in the United States increased by over a hundred million in the last decade. School shooting teams are on the rise. People trust the government less and are concerned about social unrest. The number of women and minority gun owners is rising.

All of these things point toward increased gun ownership. What is the actual number of gun owners in the United States? No one knows for sure. Given the rising distrust of government and increased talk of gun bans, it is easy to understand how polling could substantially underestimate the numbers of gun owners.

As the authors of the Post article emphasize, more gun owners means less support for restrictive gun legislation.

Members of the public who see their friends and relatives buying guns in record numbers, who see more gun ranges being built, shooting clubs prospering, and carry permits soaring, may have a better understanding of the dynamics involved than the Authors of the article.

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

Gun Watch

1 comment:

Wireless.Phil said...

You & I know its not the firearm that kills, its the mental idiot fireing it.
Guns don't point and fire themselves!