Thursday, May 14, 2015

Praise Jesus and Pass the Ammunition: Neoconservatism and Gun Control

Returning from my best friend's wedding, I pulled into a remote South Carolina gas station, to find a corpse in a spreading pool of blood. The discovery stamped into my brain the fragility of life, and its shockingly cheap price.

An open cash register told the elderly attendant's tale - he'd been murdered for pocket change, and his executioner had fled seconds before I arrived. Such moments change you forever - this one made me question the need for handguns.  

It was the impetus for my final paper in Harvard's Introduction to Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences, a preliminary attempt to establish a "pro-gun" profile based upon political leanings and gender. What I discovered is chilling - 
our country is in a state of crisis that urgently needs addressing:

PRAISE JESUS AND PASS THE AMMUNITION: Neoconservatism and Gun Control

The statistics are stunning: according to the UN, With less than 5% of the world's population, the United States is home to roughly 3550 percent of the world's civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison.”

The UK Guardian says this equals 88 guns per 100 people, the highest per-capita gun ownership in the world, far ahead of number two contender Yemen, which boasts 54.8 guns per 100 people. So just how many guns is that?

A 2012 Congressional Research Service Report says nearly 310 million guns are owned by 40% of U.S. households, and most of those households have more than one. Thats a very sizeable portion of the world's 875 million guns, used to kill 1,000 worldwide every day, according to 

he FBI's 2011 Uniform Crime Reports also show that, of 12,664 resolved murder cases, two thirds (8,583) were committed using firearms. But that’s just the proverbial tip of a very bloody iceberg: between 2001 and 2010, U.S. guns were used in approximately 20-25% of all serious crimes (those which involve robbery, aggravated assault, rape and other sexual assault) according to the 2012 Small Arms Survey.

Furthermore, notes The Atlantic’s Jonathan Stray, "...Guns are also involved in suicides and accidents. 19,392 of 38,264 suicides in 2010 involved a gun (50%), according to the CDC. There were 606 firearm-related accidents in the same year -- about 5% of the number of intentional gun deaths."

Aside from the devastating toll exacted upon family and community wellbeing and morale, gun crime also exacts a more tangible price: the 2012 Small Arms Survey adds that "...Direct medical costs for firearm injuries, including hospital stays, diagnostic procedures, surgery, and blood products, are substantial and often exceed the costs of treating other injuries and medical emergencies.”

"Research was carried out in the United States in the 1990s, when the firearm violence epidemic was at its peak, to assess the overall cost of firearm injuries. One study estimates that direct and indirect costs exceeded USD 20 billion in 1990, of which USD 1.4 billion represented direct medical costs (Max and Rice, 1993, p. 171). 

Another study, focusing exclusively on medical costs, estimates the mean cost per injury at about USD 17,000, which includes hospitalization (as victims who survive firearm injuries frequently require multiple rehospitalizations) and subsequent medical treatment spread over a victims lifetime. Based on the number of firearm injuries in the US in 1994, the study estimated a total cost of USD 2.3 billion. The study finds that approximately three-quarters of these costs were borne for gunshot injuries due to violence (Cook et al., 1999, p. 453)."

However, these are simply the most obvious deleterious consequences of America's love affair with firearms: in 2008, the World Health Organization concluded that "...a comprehensive assessment of direct costs of firearm violence would include expenses linked to policing and imprisonment, legal services, foster care, and private security (Butchart et al., 2008, p. 7, table 1)." 

"Tangible indirect costs include loss of productivity, lost investments in social capital, and higher insurance costs; a broad range of intangible indirect costs may also be taken into account, such as reductions in or limitations on health-related quality of life (pain and suffering, both physical and psychological), job opportunities, access to schools and public services, and participation in community life.

In Gun Violence: The Real Costs, authors Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig put the monetary costs of gun violence to Americans at a whopping $100 billion every year.

With so much at stake morally, ethically, politically and financially, it's imperative that we deepen and broaden our understanding of the problem. To that end, is it possible to determine a typical "pro-gun" profile, and, if so, is the pro-gun stance independent of gender and age?

100 Harvard classmates were asked politically polarizing questions about topics like abortion, military expenditures and religion, and the responses scored from 1 (extremely liberal) to 7 (extremely conservative). The responses were then tallied and compared with responses to the question "Should gun control laws be stricter?", to determine whether or not there was a correlation between political conservatism and a preference for lax gun control laws.

The sample of 100 individuals was drawn from enrollees in Harvard's Introduction to Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences. The participants ranged in age from 17 to 65 with a mean age of 29.17 and SD of 10.8 years, and there was a ratio of 66 women to 32 men, with two participants electing not to disclose their gender.

The null hypothesis posits that gun control opinions are independent of political leanings, while the alternative hypothesis states that there is a typical pro-gun profile, among the most politically conservative Americans. Our second alternative hypothesis states that there is a correlation between gun control advocacy and gender.

The political leanings of the 100 respondents formed a roughly normal distribution, ranging from extremely liberal (45) to extremely conservative (99), with a mean of 71.68 and a standard deviation of 13.37:

The first test found no significant correlation between political leanings and gun legislation preference (r=.097, n=98, one-tailed). However, SPSS automatically set the alpha level at .19, and this value was not adjustable.

The second correlation test likewise found no significant correlation between gender and gun legislation preference (r=.170 n=98, p=.01, two-tailed). However, it's important to bear in mind that this sample is drawn from a population which is highly atypical; Harvard students have a higher level of literacy, affluence and upward economic mobility than typical Americans.

For a truly representative study, respondents would need to be drawn from the American population at large, with a much larger, regionally diverse and race/gender/income-balanced sample. Given the time and resources, it would also be advantageous to add literacy and education levels as additional independent variables.

Works Cited:

Gun Crime Statistics by US State, Mona Chalabi, September 17, 2013, The Guardian

A Matter of Survival: Non-Lethal Firearm Violence, Chapter 3, Small Arms Survey Yearbook, 2012, chapter 3, Anna Alvazzi del Frate et al., Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland

Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (with 13 Concise Answers), Johnathon Stray, Feb 4, 2013, Atlantic Magazine concise-answers/272727/

2012 Congressional Research Service Report on Gun Control Legislation, William J. Krouse, U.S. Congress, November 14, 2012

Gun Violence: The Real Costs, Philip J. Cook, Jens Ludwig, Oxford University Press, 2002

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