Culture Affects Our Beliefs about Firearms, but Data Are Also Important

Transcript

1 CULTURE AFFECTS OUR ABOUT BELIEFS FIREARMS, DATA BUT ALSO ARE IMPORTANT DAVID B. MUSTARDt INTRODUCTION Dan Kahan Braman's Donald and analysis provocative contends that because people's about beliefs firearms are formed primarily by cultural values, empirical data are unlikely to effect much have on the debate. gun Their proposed solution to this quandary scholars that is who want to help resolve controversy the gun identify should precisely the cultural visions generate that this dispute and formulate appropri- ate strategies enabling for visions those to reconciled in be law. response In Kahan to and Braman's challenge to empirical re- search, that I argue while culture influences beliefs, is one of it but factors. such several Alongside culture (and presumably other factors as empirical well), evidence a powerful has influence beliefs on about control. In gun the of first Part Commentary this I how discuss cul- beliefs tural significantly can affect individuals' beliefs about firearms and discuss strategies for helping people overcome their bi- cultural more honestly ases to evaluate evidence. empirical second The Part provides examples have of how data important an played af- role in fecting individuals' beliefs about conclude I firearms. by urging re- newed attention to empirical research inform to the control gun de- bate. ROLE OF CULTURE I. THE INFLUENCING IN ON GUNS BELIEFS Are individuals' about firearms beliefs influenced strongly cul- by ture? Do some citizens possess attitudes about firearms that will not be affected regardless of how Much empirical evidence forth? set is Kahan and Braman's analysis the suggests that both to answer ques- 1 tions is I "Yes." that agree can culture play very important a role in t Assistant Professor of Economics, Teriy College of Business, University of Geor- gia. Dan M. Kahan & Donald Braman, More Statislics, Less Persuasion: A Cultural The7- oy of Gun-Risk Perceptions, 151 U. PA. L. REV. 1291, 1311-12 (2003) (arguing that "cul- (1387)

2 1388 UNIVERSITY IAW REVIEW [Vol. 151:1387 OFPIENNSYLVANIA people's defining beliefs about my writing guns. In speaking and firearms about I shocked was learn how many to both on people sides of the debate ignore virtually that undermine data views. their This cultural toward bias ignoring evidence extremely be could when costly formulating public on policy firearms because so many be at lives may a as stake result policy. of the from will I draw experiences my lectur- ing about gun control to illustrate how simultaneously to penetrate individuals' cultural biases and challenge more them to honestly con- sider that evidence may not be consistent with their cultural world- views. In my own lecturing guns, I often on people ask whether data any or evidence could them to lead change their minds the on issue of gun control. Often who those respond "no" forced to are reflect on their unwillingness to listen to evidence. extent the To this re- that sponse conflicts with their self-images as thoughtful persons, they are often willing renew to a discussion of issue with the to an openness the data. With those who respond to the question I affirmatively, follow up with another question: type of "What evidence would you to lead change your mind?" This often generates productive lines of inquiry into it would what really for listeners take to change their minds. Oc- casionally the evidence they would that change to require their minds already in exists empirical studies. talk, one At such student a said she was utterly repulsed by the idea of allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons, because she thought this would lead to wholesale chaos and "wild west gunfights." When asked about the of evidence type would she need change her to indicated mind, she she would that need overwhelming evidence with that people con- cealed-carry permits used their firearms responsibly. I described to her some of published the studies about the low incidence of crimi- nality permit among holders (parts of which I include in the next Part). After the talk she said that she to examine intended this issue more honestly to see if she be persuaded. could not that talk A I have titled Guns-Just the Facts, Guns: or A Policy-Free illustrates Discussion, another I have way that to encourage tried peo- ple put to aside their cultural biases and think about their willingness to be open to empirical evidence. In the lecture's introduction, I tural orientations strongly affect individual attitudes on gun but control," that "nu- studies merous havC that found neither actual crime rates [nor] perceived crime rates correlate [] .. public with opinion toward gun control"). 2 David1 B. Mustard, Guns--just the Facts (unpublished lecture notes, on file with author).

3 2003] DATA AI ALSO IMPORTANT 1389 state that during my presentation will I discuss issues about which scholars broadly agree on the answers, that and will I not explicitly discuss any laws policy or proposals. I then ask how many audience members think they that have firmly held beliefs about gun policy. interest My is in not their particular viewpoints, but rather in in- how tensely they hold those viewpoints. Typically about of 90% audi- the ence indicate that they have very strong beliefs about gun I laws. pro- ceed to ask how many think that they if believe something strongly they at should least have some basic understanding of underlying the data. Virtually everyone raises hand her response. in I then distribute a questionnaire. Consider following the examples from among the series questions: of How many accidental deaths as oj a result firearms are there year in per the United States? How accidental many of deaths children under five as result a firearms of are there in per year United the States? has How accidental the death rate (deaths Per popnlatiou) result a as of firearms changed since (i.e., 1970? increased decreased or X by percent) How many times are year Per used guns to commit in crimes United the States? How times many per year are guns used for self-defense in United the States? What the is ratio crimes of to self-defense uses? Even when using a charitable grading policy that grants credit to any answer about within 200%, rarely does anyone answer than more about one quarter of the questions correctly-regardless of where they stand on the gun issue. This experiment suggests that even when individuals are strongly committed to a certain belief and agree that it important is ardently for held convictions buttressed to be evi- by dence, most people little have understanding the of evidence neces- sary to develop an informed view of the costs and benefits gun of con- trol. In presentation, my conclude I by generalizing this point stat- and that ing if a person passionately believes something, be it about abor- tion, environment, the social policy, firearms, or sh2 needs carefully to consider the evidence in forming her convictions. Cultural worlviews that close one's mind to new sources of evidence certainly affect views on gun control. In response to such views, it is especially important

4 1390. UNIVEIRSITY IAWI RVJEW (Vol. 151:1387 OFIPENNSYLVANIA educators develop that pedagogical encourage methods people to to recognize cultural lack of receptivity to their biases and own data. REALLY MATTER? DATA II. Do contend that Kahan the role and Braman because in of culture guns is so determining toward attitudes strong, "empirical analyses of of the control on violent crime are unlikely to effect gun much have ' Although impact. Kahan and Braman's agree that with I contention cultural beliefs I strongly are with their conclu- important, disagree that neither elucidate issues data persuade sion nor Kahan people. Braman's use of statistical analyses and show that statistical analyses to do help explain peoples' beliefs about firearms is clearly not ironic. Kahan overstate the and Braman cultural to the ex- of role factors other factors. For example, their clusion of of measures chosen cul- (hierarchy-egalitarianism ture and individualism-solidarism) explain only between 1.5% 7% of peoples' attitudes on firearms (based and the on two in R 's in the reported sets of regres- difference their Although statistically significant, these variables account sions).' for relatively of the variations in individuals' few about beliefs firearms. 2 Furthermore, the total R 's for all four regressions are fairly low, sug- gesting that other may also important for explaining peo- factors be ples' viewpoints believe data to be one I these firearms. on of other factors. people may Although unwilling to consider data in de- some be their termining beliefs, many peoples' viewpoints have undoubtedly influenced by data. For been data have compelled me to instance, significantly my viewpoints on change issues. When gun-related I I research guns my 1995, on passionately disliked started in firearms fully accepted and conventional wisdom that increasing the gun- the ownership rate would necessarily raise violent crime and accidental deaths. My views on this subject were formed primarily by media ac- of firearms, counts to systematically empha- which me unknowingly costs of sized while virtually ignoring their benefits.' I the firearms thought obvious that passing laws that permitted law-abiding citizens it to concealed weapons would create carry problems. many It is now Kahan & Braman, sulnro note 1, at 1292. Id. at tbl. I. 1306 5 JOHN R. l.O', JR., THE BIAS AGAINST GUNS: Wiy ALMOST EVERYII[ING YOU'VE HEARD the ABOUT CONTROl, IS WRONG 23-48 (2003) (discussing how GUN media fo- cuses on the negatives of guns).

5 1391 DA TA ALSO IMPORTANT ARE 20031 since years six over I convinced became and concluded otherwise that laws-laws shall-issue require that to permits granted be unless the applicant criminal a has record history a or of significant ill- mental ness-reduce crime violent have no and accidental impact on deaths.' My transformation is unique; not other scholars, such as Gary Kleck, have significantly changed about their views learned they firearms as about more evidence. the When I began my on guns research like 1976, in most academics, I a was believer "anti-gun" the in i.e. idea thesis, the [at] gun availability th a has net positive frequency effect on the and/or seriousness of violent acts. It seemed like self-evident then sense which common to hardly needed be empirically tested. However, as of a modest body reliable (and evidence an enormous body of evidence) not-so-reliable accumulated, of many most the able specialists area this in shifted "anti-gun" the from position more to a stance, skeptical negatively in which it was argued that the best available evidence does not convincingly consistently or support the anti- gun position. the not This is we know same as saying anti-gun the posi- tion but wrong, rather be to that there is no strong for it case being cor- The most rect. prominent representatives skeptic the of position would James be Rossi, and Wright Peter best the of scholarly authors review of literature. the [Subsequent ... has research] move beyond to me caused even tile I skeptic position. that now believe the available best currently evidence, imperfect it though is must (and indicates be), always gtin general that availability measurable no has positive net on effect of rates homicide, suicide, assault, robbery, the in burglary rape, or [United States]. One of most the startling conclusions leading my transforma- to tion was concealed-weapons that permit holders are extremely law abiding. do Rarely use their guns they for inappropriate purposes." I was surprised most evidence that from many different states and time overwhelmingly periods rejects claim that the concealed-carry laws will 6 SeeJohn R. Lott, Jr. & David B. Mustard, Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Con- cealed Handguns, 26J. STUD. LEGAL 1, 64 (1997) ("Allowing without citizens criminal histories of or records significant mental illness to carry concealed deters handguns and appears crimes violent extremely an produce to small statistically and insignificant change in accidental deaths."). 7 Gary Kleck, Submission to the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Panel on the Understanding and Prevention of Violence: Comments on Cook, Philip The of Personal Technology 1990) Violence (Apr. 3, author). with (on file See JOHN R. MORE GUNS, LOrT, JR., 219-22 CRIME LESS (2d (providing ed. 2000) studies concealed-handgun that show holders permit a risk to do not pose see others); also Lott & Mustard, sun-a at 3 (noting that note 6, were "221,443 licenses issued be- tween I, 1987, and October 1994, but only April 30, involving firearms 18 crimes were committed by those with licenses").

6 151:1387 [Vol. LA W REVIEW IFNNSYLVANIA OF 1392 UNIVERSITY Multnomah in example, For "wild west." of the era in a new usher fire- used a illegally permit holders 1 of 11,140 only Oregon, County, annual rate period-an a four-year person during another against arm in rate annual The holders."' 10,000 every for incidents 0.2 only of crimes involving 18 lower: even was period seven-year a over Florida out of 221,443 licenses, with by gun owners committed were firearms every for incidents 0.1 rate of annual an producing licenses, total 10,000 holders."' how told me citizens have general and academics, students, Many has encour- evidence empirical of quality amount and growing the star- the of most Some issue. this on minds their change to them aged who officers law enforcement from is these lines along testimony tling that now acknowledge laws and shall-issue opposed vehemently had threat." little pose and abiding law extremely are holders license lobbied twice Association, Police Dallas the of President White, Glenn passed it finally but after law, right-to-carry proposed Texas the against 2 di- executive and the The president "Um a convert.'0 remarked, he Florida of the the head Police and of Chiefs Florida the of rector problems document efforts to extensive made Association Sheriffs surprised were they However, law. shall-issue state's their from arising Ken- the of behalf on Speaking of problems." absence the by virtual ha- "'We stated, Dorsey Bill Lt. Col. Association, of Police Chiefs tucky has holder permit a (concealed-carry) where cases seen any ven't ' ' policy- and academics Many a firearm."' with offense an committed that believed officers, police the above of some including makers, tried to actively society and jeopardize would holders concealed-carry in and of evidence, in the absence However, danger. that document minds. their to change compelled were they efforts, best their of spite health mental have no citizens who law-abiding that now believe They ) Lott & Mustard, supra note 6, at 3 n.9. 3. I. 10 at 1 See David B. Mustard, The Impact of Gun Laws on Police Deaths, 44 J.L. & ECON. testimony). such of examples (documentling 638 635, (2001) of Con- Backers, Foes Permits Rise: Gun with Against Texans Charges Parks, 12 Scott 1997, at Dec. 23, MORNING NEWS, DALLAS Meanihg of Data, on Law Split cealed-Weapon AL. Al. Steve Patterson, Concealed-Weapons Opponents Law Still Searchig Am,munition, for con- Florida's of opponents that A (reporting at I 1988, 9, May FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, it). with associated effects directly detrimental for looking still were law cealed-weapons 1I Terry Flynn, Gun-Toting Ketuckians Hold Their Fire, CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, June saying as quoted also is Wuchner Jan Trooper Police State Al. at Kentucky 1997, 16, by gun a with committed to crime the state related arotnd "'heard nothing has that he of.'" Id. informed been I've that like that nothing been has There holders. permit

7 1393 DATA ARE ALSO IMPORTANT1 20031 histories, pay who fees and authorities give personal information, use rarely weapons their for inappropriate purposes. second A criticism of Kahan and Braman that is although they correctly highlight some disagreements the in empirical literature, they omit to mention the consensus that is building the about esti- of mates impact the of the laws-that these laws certainly not do in- crease and crime likely violent lower crime slightly. The data have al- significantly ready altered the debate. Prior the recent to explosion of gun research, many, including me, presumed that shall-issue laws would increase crime. However, even those who Kahan and Braman cite being as most critical the of Lott-Mustard findings provide little, if any, strong evidence that shall-issue laws increase crime. example, For Duggan Mark reported thirty regressions of the impact of right-to- ' carry laws on violent crime." Only one of the thirty coefficient esti- mates positive is statistically and significant (robbery one in specifica- tion)." In contrast, fourteen of the thirty coefficient estimates are negative and statistically significant, and most the of rest are negative 7 and statistically insignificant. Consequently, even this article that has cited been for calling into question original the Lott-Mustard results contains more evidence these that laws actually reduced than rather increased crime. Similarly, Black Nagin and obtain a positive and sig- nificant coefficient specification in one assaults, for but only while us- ing the problematic quadratic estimation procedure.' However, this same table reports thirteen negative and statistically significant coeffi- cient estimates, and the remaining estimates are disproportionately ' negative statistically and insignificant. These findings particularly are notable in the broader gun litera- ture because right-to-carry laws the are type first of gun to law consis- tently produce empirically an verifiable reduction in criminal activity. The empirical in work refereed scholarly journals presents much a stronger case the for of efficacy shall-issue laws in reducing crime than 15 Mark Duggan, More Guns, More Crime, 109 J. POL. ECON. 1086, 1110 tbl.12 (2001). Id. 16 7 Id. Although only twelve are designated as statistically significant in the table, rape and assault in specification (2) are also statistically significant the given reported estimates of the coefficients and standard errors. Is Dan A. Black & Daniel S. Nagin, Do Right-to-C ny Laws Deter Violent Crime?, 27J. LEGAL STUD. 209, 218 (1998). 19 Id.

8 [Vol. 151:1387 IAWIEVIEW OFPENNSYLVANIA 1394 UNIVEIRSITY if one policy perspective, From a public control gun law.) other any laws, to endorse concealed-carry evidence insufficient there believes is implementa- the oppose one must also consistent be then to logically even laws gun laws, and other safe-storage waiting periods, tion of more adamantly. CONCLUSION hold pas- people correctly contend, some Braman Kahan and As world- largely influenced by cultural beliefs guns, are about sionate cul- However, be persuaded by the data. are to and unwilling views, only about explain them, Braman define and Kahan values, tural as may people some Just firearms. about because peoples' 5% beliefs of or data by persuaded is nobody that mean does persuaded be not not laws. Many academ- gun the impacts of estimating stop we should that guns about minds their changed have and citizens ics, policymakers, the academic litera- the Furthermore, evidence. presented with when of the impacts of estimates exact unable although to point to ture, making Therefore, impacts. their on bounds placed laws, gun has attention renewed to debate will require on the firearms progress of with the development empirical research combined quality high the realize people help that methods communication pedagogical and consider to evidence. unwillingness their of implications LOT', see crime, on laws of the impact of other gun control examination an For ( 2 supra note 8, at 197-202.

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