The only way to stop a bad guy with a statistic is a good guy with a statistic

800px-Twain1909
Mark Twain (pic is public domain)

I’ve very much enjoyed my ongoing dialogue with pastor Doug Wilson about all things related to guns, violence, damned lies and statistics. I must say, however, that Doug keeps moving the goal posts around the field that I hardly know where to kick any more. Like when I addressed the “good guy with a gun” myth and Doug slides the discussion over to whether I would call the cops during a mass shooting if I had a cell phone. It’s a great question—indeed a sneaky one, and one that pacifists are quite familiar with. But Doug: the “good guy with a gun” myth isn’t talking about whether cops should carry guns, but whether more guns in the hands of the populace leads to less crime. I know hardly any advocates for gun control who want to de-arm the police.

So let me try to boot the ball through the most recent uprights, hoping that Lucy will keep to herself.

Now, I don’t mean to call Doug a liar, and certainly not a damned liar. It was Mark Twain who said, “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Statistics certainly have a place in the discussion, but they must be used with great caution and with studious attention to any other possible statistic that could augment or confront the statistic used to support your view. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way! (Even as recently as my latest blog, which I still need to edit.) I’m still on a journey trying to figure out when and how to use statistics, and which ones to use and where. I only want to invite Doug on the same journey with me.

For instance, Doug cited all kinds of stats to support his view that, in a nutshell, more guns means less crime. According to Doug, for instance: “When Florida passed their concealed carry laws, their homicide rates went from 36% above the national average to 4% below.” But come on, Doug. As a skilled logician, you know that correlation doesn’t prove causation. Don’t get me wrong. You may be right. But citing the stat doesn’t make you right. You’ve got to somehow prove causation—that the drop in homicide rates where directly caused by people with concealed weapons—and not just assume that correlation will do your dirty laundry for you.

I can turn around and cite a plethora of other statistics that support the view that more guns or less gun control isn’t always good for society. Like:

80% of the guns confiscated in violent, drug-cartel related crimes in Mexico come from the United States.

America owns by far the highest percentage of guns (300 million) per capita than any other nation, and it has the highest number of gun related deaths (30,000 every year).

In Texas, people with a concealed weapons permit were arrested for weapon-related offenses at a rate 81% higher than that of the general population aged 21 years and older.

And down and down we go, spiraling headlong into the rabbit hole of statistics, which are often squeezed to deliver much more juice than they contain. For instance, Doug makes mention of the well-known theory of Gary Kleck and John Lott that brandishing a gun saves millions of lives every year. You don’t need to shoot your gun, you just need to show that you have one.

One of the problems with this “statistic”—a big problem, actually—is that it’s based on self-reporting. Every Joe, Frank, and Billy the Kid, who owns a gun and thinks that his possession of a gun staved off a crime is taken at face value. But 12 million Americans have also reported to have seen a UFO and 1 million say they’ve met a space alien. And maybe they have. Or perhaps Twain was on to something.

And down and down we go.

I actually loved Doug’s theoretical scenario—more on those below—about a criminal scoping out a neighborhood where 100% of the homeowners have guns. It goes like this:

Let’s ask the burglar. Would he rather work a neighborhood where 100% of the homeowners are unarmed, or would he rather work a neighborhood a third of the homeowners have guns, and he doesn’t know which third? This is not a hard question.

Well, if these were the only options, then sure, I guess I’d prefer to ransack a neighborhood where there are no guns. Not only has Doug left God completely out of the picture, working only with strange secular assumptions. But Doug also forgot to ask the kids. What about the kids, Doug! And the women, actually. Because more than 3,200 children are killed every year by a gun. Nearly 1.7 million kids under the age of 18 live in a home where firearms are both loaded and unlocked (which is related to the previous stat). Children in America are 12 times more likely to die from a gun than the next 25 industrialized nations combined. And women are 5 times more likely to be a victim of domestic homicide when her partner owns a gun; 1/3 of all murders of American women are committed by their intimate partners—partners who are no longer living in that theoretical neighborhood, where no one owns a gun, leaving themselves open to criminals coming in and cleaning house.

Just in the last 2 weeks, a 3-year-old in Georgia, a 3-year-old in Louisiana, a 2-year-old in Missouri and a 2-year-old in Indiana fatally shot themselves. A 4-year-old in Texas shot and wounded a family member. A 16-year-old in California killed a 14-year-old friend in a shooting that officials called accidental. A 15-year-old in Texas accidentally shot and wounded a 16-year-old friend. And a 13-year-old in Indiana accidentally shot and wounded herself. And a 2 year old shot and killed her mom from the backseat of the car, after exploring the loaded gun of her mom’s boyfriend who’s a security guard. You know, a good guy. (See the recent the NY Times article.)

Stop! If you’re an anti-gun person, please stop. I know it’s tempting, but don’t latch onto these stats and use them to prove your view. Many other questions need to be asked, and my point is not to prove Doug wrong by shooting with the same ammo. Doug could cite another pile of statistics and next thing you know, we’ll be sipping tea at the white rabbit’s table. And this is precisely the problem with statistics (for both sides of the debate, BTW). You can’t keep forming your ethical statue with theoretical clay. You must take into account real life complexities before you construct a zero-sum argument, and a fanciful one at that. (It’d be nice, too, if Jesus’s resurrection and lordship were consulted once in a while when an ethic of guns and violence is brought up, but that’s for another blog.)

I don’t wish to match stat for stat, theoretical situation with theoretical situation. My point is to undercut Doug’s entire enterprise of building an ethic with stats and theoretical scenarios in his strange 2 dimensional world.

This is the problem with theoretical arguments, especially when they fall into the hands of a rhetorical wizard like Doug Wilson. They can quickly distract us away from our shared center of gravity—Jesus, whose countercultural and counterintuitive way of dealing with evil still sits on the sidelines ready to kick the ball.

You see, we need to ask not “what is the most effective method,” but “what is the most faithful means of fighting against evil.” Christians are called first to faithfulness, not perceived effectiveness. And it’s here where I remain a bit worried about the thin ice of the theological pond Doug is skating on. This was the original goal I was trying to kick at before the posts were shifted around the field.

I want to bring us back from the theoretical to the theological; from the tangential to the germane. But first, I don’t want to bow out of Doug’s theoretical world too quickly. I want to address the perennial question: what would I do if a guy comes busting down my door, ready to kill and torture and mangle my wife and kids? Next blog, folks. I’ll finally address this in the next post. Until then, here’s some food for thought:

 

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