SFWeekly writer Nuala Sawyer starts out her article on gun violence rates in San Francisco on a good note. She laments the fact that most people in Babylon on the Bay only know about the city’s crime rates from what they read in social media; i.e. anecdotal evidence. She then goes on to cite the FBI’s data from the Universal Crime Reporting program. In this program, the FBI (Now under new management!) collects and reports crime data from across the US. San Francisco, which actually is part of the United States, is included in this database. Violent crime there, like the rest of the country, is down. Crimes involving firearms, however, have seen a recent uptick…
But one area where crime did not decline was rates of gun violence. In 2016, homicides by firearm increased by 15 percent, people shot non-fatally increased by 27 percent, and 12 percent more firearms were seized from people than in the year prior. In 2016, 451 people were arrested for having a firearm. And in a depressing turn, the city’s gun buyback program — where SFPD offers cash for the public’s guns — dove a dismal 36 percent, with only 212 guns being taken off the streets last year.
But here’s where she goes off the rails. The very next paragraph reads…
While San Francisco’s gun trends appear to be on the rise, it isn’t just us. In 2016, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives released data from U.S. gun-makers that firearm production doubled between 2010 and 2013. In 2013, the year after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, 11 million guns were produced. Gun ownership nationwide has doubled since 1968, with more than 300 million guns estimated to exist in the U.S. alone. But this doesn’t mean everyone has a gun — only one in three households.
She then concludes that “it’s only natural that firearm-related crimes will also grow” with all of these firearms out there remaining unconfiscated. But the UCR data say the exact opposite of this! Violent crime, of which gun related violent crime is but a subset, is down nationally. Looking at homicides, of which gun related homicides are a subset, the rate in 2014 is less than half of what it was in 1980; 10.2 per 100,000 versus 4.5 per 100,000. (2014 is the last complete data set.) The overall violent crime rate in 1980 was 596.6 per 100,000. In 2014 it was 375.7 per 100,000. All of this is despite, some would argue because of, vastly increased rates of gun ownership in the US.
This information is nothing new. John Lott and David Mustard first published in 1997. Their study focused on concealed carry laws, but also looked at overall gun ownership. The very least that can be said, given the publically available data they used, is that increased gun ownership neither increases nor decreases rates of gun violence. So why didn’t Ms. Sawyer seem to know this?
Because it didn’t fit the narrative.
To her, it was simply obvious that increased gun ownership translates to more gun crime. The thought of verifying this with actual data never occurred to her. To those with this type of bias, looking up the real data on gun crime versus gun ownership would be like checking a compass in the morning to see if the sun is really rising in the east. So rather than seeking out uncomfortable truths, she wrapped herself in the warm blanket of anecdote.
(H/T: Chuck Michel)