Thursday, May 05, 2011

Rep. Cornish deserves a cut

While proponents and opponents of the "Stand Your Ground" / "Shoot First" bill trade anecdotes, the debate about the bill is doing its intended work - selling guns.

This March, Minnesota set a record for the number of NICS firearm background checks, with 35,730. The first three months of 2011 have even outpaced the Obama's comin' to get my guns frenzy of early 2009. At that time, there was significant media coverage of the buying spree. Nowadays, there's not so much as a peep. The National Rifle Association is a trade association masquerading as a citizen's group. One purpose of their legislative strategy is to increase sales of guns and ammo, and they've been wildly successful here in Minnesota. Over the last decade, firearm background checks have increased 60%, from 185,100 in 2000 to 297,390 in 2010. The first three months of 2011 saw 85,502 checks, more than double the 40,074 in the first three months of 2000. Like I said, wildly successful.

The debate over HF 1467 has predictably focused on a escalating series of silly anecdotes of self-defense and reckless gunplay. The reality is that the substance of the bill is splitting hairs on an epic level. Proponents of HF 1467 are hard-pressed to produce a single example of an unjust conviction that it would have prevented. Spot's done a fine job of illustrating the absurd potential results if it were to become law, but these are largely hypothetical as well. It's a virtual replay of the 2003 debate over the "shall issue" law. In the wake of the MCPPA, violent crime has not ceased nor has there been a return to the wild, wild west. What has happened is a steady increase in gun sales after a sharp gain in 2003. (Note: While NICS background checks are not directly equivalent to gun sales, they serve as a useful proxy.)

Debate over legislation and election campaigns have caused several short-term spikes in sales. In Minnesota, there is a strong seasonality to background checks, with a bump in spring and fall.

To control for this seasonality, I took the 2000-2010 NICS background check data, created an average percentage of annual checks for each month, then looked for periods that were higher than the 10 year average. This resulted in the following spikes:
August-October 2000 | Before the Bush-Gore election (+.73, +2.53, +1.59)
September-October 2001 | After 9/11 (+2.14, +2.79)
May-July 2003 | After initial passage of the MCPPA (+.51, +1.11, +.75)
November 2008-May 2009 | After election of Obama (+1.89, +.07, +1.38, +1.23, +2.00, +2.40)
It's hard to pin down causality on changes in gun sales. While the increase in sales after the MCPPA is logically connected to a specific change in behavior (carrying), HF 1467 isn't likely to lead to a rush to acquire a new "home protector" gun. But it's another in a series of NRA bills that push gun ownership and bring free publicity and advertising for gun manufacturers.

And that's the dangerous aspect of this whole charade. Higher rates of gun ownership correlate with higher rates of suicide, especially among teenagers. Teasing out the many strands of causality and correlation between guns and crime is extraordinarily difficult, all political bombast to the contrary. But I believe that the notion that we are more safe when there are more guns is false. And that's why I think HF 1467 is bad policy, not because it will change the outcome of one criminal case in a generation.

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