Saturday, February 21, 2015

Defensive Gun Use in Politico Magazine: What to Believe

Recently, two authors--Evan DeFillipis and Devin Hughes--published an article in Politico Magazine criticizing a two-decade-old study by Gary Kleck and Marc Getz. Kleck just published a response. (The remainder of this post assumes you've read both.)
Let's look at what DeFillipis and Hughes said and what Kleck said in response. 

D & H: 

"In 1992, Gary Kleck and Marc Getz, criminologists at Florida State University, conducted a random digit-dial survey to establish the annual number of defensive gun uses in the United States. They surveyed 5,000 individuals, asking them if they had used a firearm in self-defense in the past year and, if so, for what reason and to what effect. Sixty-six incidences of defensive gun use were reported from the sample. The researchers then extrapolated their findings to the entire U.S. population, resulting in an estimate of between 1 million and 2.5 million defensive gun uses per year."

Kleck does not refute this. 

When presented with a list of reasons why his survey respondents might have had reason to exaggerate the number of times they used guns in self-defense--social desirability bias, awareness of the political context of the questions, and "telescoping"--Kleck does not refute any of these things, either. He doesn't say they don't matter; he doesn't argue against them, or even address them. 

His approach is, instead, to criticize DeFillipis and Hughes's credentials, say he's heard all of this before, question their motives, and pooh-pooh the very idea of criticism. 

His sole argument against DeFillipis and Hughes is this: "The authors’ discussion of possible flaws in survey estimates of DGU frequency is conspicuously one-sided, addressing only supposed flaws that could make the estimates too high—but none that could make the estimates too low."

In other words, 'It may be wrong one way, but it could be wrong the other way, too!'

He also makes numerous claims about supporting evidence, mentioning the "well-documented failure of many survey respondents to report criminal victimization, gun ownership or their own crimes" and saying "at least 18 national surveys have confirmed that DGUs are very common", but unlike DeFillipis and Hughes, he does not include specific results from other surveys that corroborate his beliefs, or include links to his supporting evidence. This is not persuasive. 

Finally, he postulates that DGUs would be underreported instead of overreported, because survey respondents could be admitting to criminal activity, and people are unlikely to report their own crimes. 

This seems to me to be nonsense, because Kleck and Geis conducted a presumably anonymous phone survey to get their results in the first place. They didn't ask people to march down to the local police precinct and confess. There would be no consequences for someone saying they used their gun in self-defense, even if it was illegal. 

Obviously, we're now getting into the heads of the survey respondents, and asking whether the biases DeFillipis and Hughes pointed out would have outweighed the tendency not to report a crime. But again, it's telling that DeFillipis and Hughes point to well-understood biases that have been confirmed by studies from other organizations. Kleck does not back up anything he says with links or the names of other organizations who have conducted studies to corroborate him. 

Ultimately, however, the question is whether a sample of 66 'yes' results out of 5,000 people can be fairly extrapolated to the whole country, what those unnamed eighteen studies Kleck said confirmed his results actually said, and what to make of the Arizona study, the NCVS data, and the Gun Violence Archive data in DeFillipis and Hughes's column that all provide reason not to accept Kleck's numbers at face value. 

On the face of it, there is much more reason to believe DeFillipis and Hughes--who seem to have made considerable efforts to survey the state of research in the field of defensive gun violence and account for biases--than to believe Kleck, who does not back up what he says with supporting evidence or other organizations, and who spends much more time bad-mouthing his critics than he does actually refuting what they have to say. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Letter to Christian Schneider

Dear Christian Schneider, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Columnist,

It seems to have escaped you, in your haste to pooh-pooh the New York Times’ coverage of Walker’s attempt to rewrite the century-old Wisconsin Idea, that Walker did not make a drafting error; he made a deliberate attempt to change the University of Wisconsin’s mission from “the search for truth” to “workforce development”. This has been covered in detail by the Journal Sentinel. It is hard to see how you could continue to refer to that as a drafting error without a heavy dose of sarcasm. (Either that, or Walker has shockingly little control over his staff!)

It’s also rather telling that you seem to admire Walker’s straightforwardness (“actually practices the conservatism he preaches”, yet you mention two incidents in which he completely failed to own his beliefs. The clumsy attribution of his intent re: the Wisconsin Idea to a drafting error was one. Declining to answer whether he believed in evolution was another. And despite being on the stage at one of the world’s most respected foreign policy think tanks, he declined to answer any foreign-policy questions of consequence. That doesn’t bother you at all? (Also, you called the evolution question a ‘political question’, which puzzled me. There are questions asked of a presidential candidate that are not political?)

This is a pattern for Walker; he declined repeatedly to state his beliefs on the issue of Wisconsin’s since-overturned gay marriage ban, although he continued to order his attorney general to defend it in court. That is not very forthright behavior, nor is it in line with the image he attempts to promote. It is simply the behavior of someone who is unabashedly seeking higher office and attempting to make himself seem more electable by emitting nothing but anodyne bromides and misleading or false information. You lament liberals’ potshots on the aforementioned social issues and for taking shots at Walker’s status as a college dropout. Very well; let us examine his real qualifications.

Walker falsely claimed during his reelection campaign that he had given the state a $535M surplus instead of a $1.8B deficit, which was measured as such using the same methods that resulted in the $3.6B budget deficit he hammered Jim Doyle for after taking office. But now that that method of calculating the budget is inconvenient for him, he repudiates it entirely. He cherry-picks the numbers to make himself look good, and he is wrong, and he doesn’t appear to care. He has demonstrated that he has no considered opinions on US foreign policy in an issue as important as Syria. In seeking to validate his stance on unions as a foreign-policy issue, he made up Soviet documents that never existed.

His much-touted jobs agency has not only failed to hit its job-creation marks, but has done everything wrong that a job-creation agency can do. Per Reuters: “State legislative audits have found that WEDC has mismanaged taxpayer funds and handed out awards to companies that should not have been eligible for them. The agency also didn't follow up to ensure that jobs were actually being created and failed to track whether businesses were paying their loans back on time, according to reviews in 2012 and 2013. Lassa said the agency had improved its performance somewhat since then.” (You didn’t mention this one in your roundup of recent Walker coverage. Perhaps it hit too close to home.)

He has declined hundreds of millions of federal dollars in money to build a high-speed rail line and to expand public health care in Wisconsin. And he just kicked $108M in loan payments down the road, just like Jim Doyle did… which will hurt more in the long run, as any responsible fiscal conservative will tell you. By declining federal money, kicking debt down the road, setting up a shell of a job-creation agency, and now attempting to gut the UW-Madison system—which will be bad for state business as well as state education—he is attempting to make himself look good for primary voters at the expense of the state that is unfortunate enough to host him.

I’m glad you’ve noticed that liberals are angry about what Walker is doing to Wisconsin.

Why aren’t you?