Former FiveThirtyEight Writer: After I Got The Data, Support For The Gun Control Policies I Liked 'Crumbled'

Posted: Oct 04, 2017 1:15 PM
Former FiveThirtyEight Writer: After I Got The Data, Support For The Gun Control Policies I Liked 'Crumbled'

I’m sure FiveThirtyEight isn’t held in the highest regard among conservative circles. They said Obama would be re-elected in 2012. That happened. The site’s creator, Nate Silver, also took some flak from the Left when he said the Republicans would have a good 2014 midterm year, specifically the GOP takeover of the Senate. So, in a way, the data-crunching site can entertain and annoy those on either side of the aisle. For the die-hard Trump supporters, yes, FiveThirtyEight was totally wrong in their 2016 projections; Trump won. Yet, on gun violence, the site and its writers have been nuanced. They haven’t taken the ban all guns, more background checks, and prohibit so-called assault weapons route that other celebrities, pundits, politicians, and nutjobs have taken recently after the tragic Las Vegas shooting.

Fifty-nine people were killed, with another 527 wounded when Stephen Paddock decided to open fire on the 22,000 attendees, who were enjoying the last night of Route 91 Harvest country music festival. It’s the worst mass shooting in American history. Yet, the site noted that mass shootings are rare, they don’t constitute the majority of gun crimes or deaths, and viewing policies to reduce gun crimes solely through mass shootings is a way to conjure up some really bad policy on the subject. Specifically, more background checks as a policy initiative probably won’t stop future mass shootings. Over at The Washington Post, a former FiveThirtyEight writer, Leah Libresco, said she supported pretty much what the anti-gun Left wants on gun policy. But when she analyzed the data, support for those positions “crumbled.”

In all, she found out that there’s no such thing as an assault weapon, and that most gun deaths are the result of suicides. Still, she says she doesn’t want to own a gun and is probably viewed as anti-gun for those of us who support the Second Amendment.  Yet, she also said that reducing gun violence is going to be a long, tedious work of personalized and highly targeted interventions that involves, for example, disarming at-risk youths in gangs individually, not some blanket ban—which is what Democrats want to do with some long guns. Disarming gang members, saving lives, and keeping kids away from a life of criminality through an algorithm that can determine and find these kids—who isn’t for that. The Left probably won’t like that. It’s too small-scale. It doesn’t attack the concept and principle of gun ownership, or look for inroads to chip away at this constitutional right at the legal or legislative level. In short, it’s a policy that could work, which would shield any future attempt at banning guns in America and give conservatives a victory. On principle, the Left can’t support this method. Libresco said New Orleans is trying it out in combating gang violence.

Last, she also found that Australian and United Kingdom gun laws, which the anti-gun Left salivates over, were ineffectual. Mass shootings over there were still rare, and gun violence did not decrease as a result of the gun ban and buyback legislation that was passed.

…[M]y colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way. We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence. The best ideas left standing were narrowly tailored interventions to protect subtypes of potential victims, not broad attempts to limit the lethality of guns.

I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.

When I looked at the other oft-praised policies, I found out that no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos.

As for silencers — they deserve that name only in movies, where they reduce gunfire to a soft puick puick. In real life, silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don’t make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer. Magazine limits were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless.


I found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions. Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.

Older men, who make up the largest share of gun suicides, need better access to people who could care for them and get them help. Women endangered by specific men need to be prioritized by police, who can enforce restraining orders prohibiting these men from buying and owning guns. Younger men at risk of violence need to be identified before they take a life or lose theirs and to be connected to mentors who can help them de-escalate conflicts.

When you get the data, you see the liberal gun agenda for what it is: a massive soup of bad social policy that only chips away at our rights. I would have more respect for them if they just came out in unison and said that they want to ban guns, but they won’t. they’re too cowardly and deep down they know this battle has been won by us.