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Don’t Read the Fine Print

Friday, October 27, 2017

Don’t Read the Fine Print

Imagine this scenario:

You want to push your anti-gun worldview. You’ve seen the failed efforts to cast freedom-infringing legislation as reasonable and common sense. People aren’t falling for the baseless claims. Legislators and government officials have gone on record admitting that more or tougher gun control laws wouldn’t stop the high-profile massacres that always lead to the introductions of new gun control proposals. You need a new approach, one that utilizes the brightest minds and novel methods to deliver irrefutable proof that guns are bad from the hallowed halls of your Ivy League white tower.  

At least that’s how we imagine these efforts begin. We know the latest round ends with researchers from Harvard Business School advocating for handgun waiting periods based on questionable models.  This team revisited an approach from 2000 that did not succeed in advancing the gun control cause. The rehashed effort won attention from a friendly media but left other researchers with more questions than answers. 

The Harvard Business School team found that poverty, urban areas, and younger age cohorts were not associated with homicides. Even a first-year graduate student would sit back and wonder why this model isn’t showing any connection between these known factors and homicide rates.  

What the researchers left out of their models is just as concerning. They excluded measurements of educational attainment, crime rates, police resources, incarceration rates or corrections resources. Virtually every other researcher uses these controls, but they were left out of the Harvard model. Why?  

Sure, these exclusions and findings are cause to question the validity of the study. The gun control groups and their allies in the press won’t bother with such questions…especially when the favorable finding is used as the title of the research article and the dubious findings are stashed in the supplemental material. “Handgun waiting periods reduce gun deaths” doesn’t have an asterisk for the odd results about the other findings or for the known factors in homicides that were excluded. 

In the interests of good research, it should. For the purposes of pushing gun control, the details don’t matter.

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