On Firearms, Reporting Obscures the Truth

There is no subject on which reporting is so consistently poor as firearms. Most reporters are anti-gun; as a result, even when reporting is not overtly biased it is generally so murky as to obscure rather than reveal basic facts. A case in point is this Minneapolis Star Tribune story with the ambiguous headline: “As gun-carrying permits reach historic levels in Minnesota, related crimes remain in check.” Which I guess is another way of saying that crime rates haven’t risen.

The article notes that there are now 200,000 carry permit holders in Minnesota, or around five percent of the adult population. It also points out that 19% of permit holders are women. In Minnesota, as in a number of other states, carry laws have been liberalized by requiring local authorities to issue permits to applicants who are not disqualified by virtue of, e.g., a felony conviction. The result has been a steep increase in the number of permit holders since the law was changed in 2003.

Whether this has been a good thing or a bad thing is what readers of the article want to know, but the Strib reporter isn’t telling:

Opponents had feared that the law would lead to a surge in shootings and gun deaths. But Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension data show that fatalities involving permit holders are rare. In the past five years, there have been five deadly or nonlethal instances of justifiable use of a firearm by permit holders.

“Deadly or nonlethal” would include all firearm usage, so there must have been more than five instances. In any event, all five instances described in the article are cases of self-defense, and none led to charges against the permit holder. Still, the vagueness continues:

The debate over carrying guns has varied little since permit-to-carry laws became the norm more than a decade ago. Both sides can present statistics and reports to prove their points.

Well, not really. When shall-carry legislation was enacted by the Minnesota legislature in 2003, liberals unanimously predicted that it would lead to a bloodbath. Violent crime, they told us, would skyrocket. But it didn’t happen; on the contrary, the incidence of homicide and other violent crimes dropped steadily.

In the five years ending in 2003, the homicide rate in Minnesota averaged 2.6 per 100,000. In the ten years since the law was liberalized, the rate has averaged 2.0 per 100,000, a 23% decline. Moreover, the rate has dropped further as more carry permits have been issued. In the last five years, the rate has averaged only 1.7 per 100,000, a 35% reduction compared with the 1999-2003 average.

This isn’t opinion, it is arithmetic. The liberals were wrong. Yet it is rare to see this basic fact acknowledged in news reports. The Strib says that “both sides can present statistics and reports to prove their points.” We know what the statistics are on the pro-gun side, and they appear to be conclusive. So what can the anti-gun side offer?

Meanwhile, research by the Violence Policy Center in Washington found that individuals with permits to carry handguns in public have been responsible for at least 568 fatal non-self-defense shootings since 2007. Twenty-nine of those incidents were mass shootings (with three or more victims), resulting in the deaths of 139 victims. And since May 2007, at least 17 law enforcement officers have died at the hands of killers with permits to carry.

The calculation to which the reporter refers is here. I have no idea how accurate the Violence Policy Center’s count is, but the “568 fatal non-defense shootings” include 222 suicides. Does the remainder–346 instances from 2007 to the present, if we take the report at face value–constitute a large number or a small number? It works out to 43 incidents per year in a country where, the same article tells us, there are now 13 million permit holders. This is an astonishingly low rate of .0000033, or .33 per 100,000.

The anti-gun case continues with bare assertion rather than argument, let alone data:

When proponents campaigned for the state’s permit-to-carry measure, they argued that being able to carry a loaded gun in public would deter crime, said Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, a gun safety and education group. She doesn’t buy it, saying permit standards aren’t strong enough because people who have multiple DWIs can receive one.

“People behave differently when they have a gun,” she said. “If you are trying to keep people safe, you don’t make guns easily accessible.”

What about that 35% drop in the homicide rate? No comment.

Firearms are not the only topic on which our news media would rather obfuscate facts than explicate them, but they are an obvious example of that phenomenon.