Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Shooting in Little Rock

I used to live in Little Rock,  so waking up this morning to the news of the shooting in Little Rock was a bit of a shock.  Fortunately, the expletive expletive who did the shooting was a bad shot and nobody got killed.

I don’t even know how to comment on this, though, so I’m going to just to put it up… This is a screenshot I just took from the night club’s website which shows the act that was performing last night. I guess what with the events of the last few hours it didn’t occur to anyone to take it down:
power lounge screen shot 1


Click to embiggen.

There’s a video floating around (look for it yourself) showing the shooting.   There were an awful lot of shots fired very, very quickly.  No innocent bystander with another gun could have stopped the shooter before he killed quite a few people; the only saving grace is that the shooter was incompetent.

I don’t have much to add except that there must be some happy medium, some better outcome for a country than where we are now.  We need to arrive at a point of where there are fewer guns that can shoot as quickly, or fewer such guns in the hands of people who would use them, or fewer people who would use them floating around.  I suspect all of the above is the best option, but I have no practical ideas how to get there.



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The Murder Rate – A Regression with Many Variables

In this post, I want to look at the murder rate, by state. I ran a regression with the state murder rate for 2015 as the dependent variable, and literally threw the kitchen sink at it: demographics, weaponry, income, education, population density, etc. Basically, if its something some reasonable percentage of the population believes matters, and I could find data for it, I threw it into the hopper.

I also included variables relating to immigration status. The latter stems from some from some debate in the comments section to other posts in which I stated my belief that illegal immigrants drive up the crime rate. Several detractors insisted that illegal immigrants have lower, not higher crime rates than the rest of the population, and that I am racist to boot. Before presenting results, I will note – I am not too proud to admit the regression results did not fit with my preconceptions. I am also not too proud to admit the regression results did not fit with the preconceptions of my detractors. Finally, while I am always interested in whatever the data has to say, I suspect my detractors will really, really not the results.

So… without further ado, the output from R:

r output 20170402a

What does this all mean? Simply put, only two variables are statistically significant at the 5% (or even 10%) level: percent of the population made up of non-Hispanic Whites, and population density. The greater the share of the population made up of non-Hispanic Whites, the lower the murder rate. On the other hand, the greater the population density, the higher the murder rate. To those who don’t use statistics very often, remember – this is taking into account all other variables.

Now, there are a few variables that come close to being statistically significant at the 10% level. In other words, it is possible (not necessarily likely, just possible) that under other circumstances – with a better defined model, or more precise variables – these variables would prove to be statistically significant as well. These variables are:

1. Percent of the population made up foreign citizens here legally. That variable would have a negative effect on the murder rate if it were statistically significant.
2. Percent of the population that is Asian. This variable also would have a negative effect on the murder rate if it were statistically significant.
3. Percent of the population age 18 to 64. Obviously, most of the murders are committed by people within a subset of this range – probably around 18 to 30. If I had the data to separate out this cohort, I believe we would find that the more people in this cohort, the greater the murder rate.

So… what doesn’t matter? First, the percentage of the population made up of illegal immigrants. Ditto the percentage of the population made up of naturalized citizens. These did not increase the murder rate nor lower it. If the murder rate parallels the crime rate in general, then the media narrative that illegal immigrants have lower crime rates than the population as a whole is not supported and to some extent contradicted by the data.

Second, race & ethnicity don’t matter, at least once you pull out non-Hispanic Whites and maybe Asians. Holding all other variables (including education and income) constant, it doesn’t appear that the murder rate differs in a statistically significant way from one non-Hispanic White or Asian racial/ethnic group to another.

Median income doesn’t matter. Neither does the percentage of the population with an income under 20K. Or the percentage of the population with an income over 100K. Or education level. The murder rate is not affected by these variables.

Another thing that doesn’t matter is the degree to which the population happens to be armed. And Lord knows, there are all sorts of variables here. These include “destructive devices” (think grenades, rockets, missiles, mines, poison gas, explosives, or incendiary devices – apparently all these and more are registered by the ATF), machine guns, silencers, short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns, or other. The innocuous sounding other group includes your garden variety revolvers and pistols.

So essentially, in summary – accounting for education, income, nativity. immigration status, the regression suggests that having more non-Hispanic Whites decreases the murder rate, and having a greater population density increases the murder rate. No other variables in this regression are statistically significant.

Anyway, I can babble on about the results. For example, it would be interesting to see immigrants (both legal and illegal) broken up with enough granularity to see if the results of non-Hispanic Whites and Asians apply to immigrants as well.

But enough of my prattling. What are your thoughts?

As always, if you want my spreadsheet, drop me a line. If you contact me within a month of the publication of this post, I will send it to you and possibly make some sort of witty remark. Since I am adorable, I probably will send you my spreadsheet after that date as well, but I reserve the right to have a file crash, lose my computer, acquire dementia, or die if too much has elapsed. My contact info is my first name (mike) and a dot, then my last name (kimel – only one m there) at gmail dot com.

Links and details to the data are in my spreadsheet.  But if you want to replicate it yourself (it was a pain in the butt, but who am I to stop you?) the data are listed below. Where possible (which was the case for only a few exceptions, as noted below), I tried to use 2015 data to match the murder rate.

2014 data on firearms came from Exhibit 8 from this document produced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Population from the Census. 2015 data was used for most purposes. 2014 data was used for firearms per capita data.

Population density from 2010 was obtained from the Census.

2015 median hh income came from the Census.

A number of other variables came from the Census CPS Table Creator. This was used for data on race, income, native v. naturalized citizens v. foreigner, educational attainment, age, and gender.

Pew estimates on illegal immigrants, including Mexican v. non-Mexican, were available for 2014.

Finally, the number of 2015 murders originated with the FBI, but was present in this handy dandy file compiled by the Murder Accountability Project.


Update…  April 2, 2017  4:01 PM

I forgot to mention a couple corrections to the data:

1. The Pew data on % of illegal aliens that come from Mexico included a few NAs, in each case for states with a very low percentage of the population being made up of illegal immigrants.  In those instances, I assigned the national average share (i.e., 52% of the unauthorized aliens are from Mexico).

2.  The CPS table information on race and ethnicity had a few examples where no information was given for a given combination of race & ethnicity.  In each case, it was possible to determine that the number was very small because the sum total of the other race & ethnicity combinations came close to 100%.  In those instances, I simply replaced the NA with a zero.

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Who Do You Think Can ‘Do A Better Job of Handling’ Political Poll Semantics?

Dems hold small edge in Congressional ballot matchup: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that voters support the Dem candidate in their district over the Republican by 41-37. Sixty seven percent disapprove of the Congressional GOP, versus 60 percent who disapprove of Dems. Sixty two percent say Republicans don’t care about their needs and problems; 54 percent say that about Dems. Republicans hold a small edge on the deficit and gun policy.

– Greg Sargent, Washington Post, this morning

A longtime pet peeve of mine is that so many major political polling organizations routinely phrase policy-preference questions so that the question can mean two separate, often conflicting, things, yet the results of the poll questions are reported as though the question had only one, surely-understood, meaning.

And, first and foremost among that type of question is of the “which party is better on” guns/taxes/the deficit/fill-in-the-blanks variety.  These questions almost always actually are phrased to appear to be asking which party talks more about the particular issue, or seems to care more about the issue.  Yet inevitably the pollster’s PR release represents the poll-question result as indicating the poll respondents’ preference for that party’s policy, rather than the poll respondents’ perceptions of the respective parties’ level of interest in the subject, and the news media dutifully treats it that way.

So the result from a poll question, Question 19 in the Quinnipiac Poll, that asked, “Who do you think can do a better job of handling – the federal budget deficit, the Democrats in Congress or the Republicans in Congress?,” is reported by the polling organization as indicating that voters “prefer the Republicans on the budget deficit.”  The result from a question, Question 21, in that poll, that asked “Who do you think can do a better job of handling – gun policy, the Democrats in Congress or the Republicans in Congress?” is represented by the organization as showing that voters “prefer the Republicans on … gun policy.”

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If Guns are Cheap, Criminals Will Have Guns

by Mike Kimel

If Guns are Cheap, Criminals Will Have Guns

If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. We’ve all heard that many times. But is it true? Well, it is certainly a tautology. But there is another way to ensure that outlaws have guns. Namely, keep them cheap.

From the 2009 Firearms Used in the Commission of Crimes focusing specifically on guns used in the commission of crimes in rural parts of California:

Of the 147 firearms examined, there were 120 (81.6
percent) handguns, 13 (8.8 percent) rifles, 11 (7.5 percent) shotguns,
and 3 (2 percent) machine guns.

The 2010 version of the same report paints a similar picture:

Of the 175 firearms reported, there were 158 (90.3 percent) handguns, 12 (6.9 percent) rifles, 4 (2.3 percent) shotguns, and 1 (0.6 percent) full-auto firearm.

The reason handguns are more often used in the commission of a crime than other types of weapons is not because the typical criminal doesn’t think it would be tres cool to use a belt fed machine gun or a shoulder launched missile. Its because those types of weapons are very, very hard to come by. With some digging, you can get your hands on a belt fed machine gun, but you are very unlikely to do it for less than $10K for a cheapo model. Instead, what often happens is that armed criminals are most often armed with what one can best be described as lousy guns. Don’t believe me? Here is a post from someone who clearly cannot be described as pro-gun control, commenting on the list of top ten guns used in crimes according to the ATF.

Descriptions include:

An absolute piece of crap that sells for less than $120 retail. No real shooter would even warrant this “gun” as a legitimate target to even shoot at.

Here’s another:

Another piece of shit that sells for less than $110 retail, and is worth less than the pipsqueak ammunition you can try to feed it.

And another:

The cheapest 12-guage on the market, designed for people who cannot afford a real shotgun. Not even close to being considered a “fighting” shotgun. No offense to Mossberg, but there is a reason that  these Wal-Mart grade firepoles are given away at Ducks Unlimited as door prizes. Most do (and should) end up being traded up at gun shops for real shotguns.

Some of the other descriptions are even more creative. My favorite is number ten on the list:

This one takes the cake as the “most prone to never fire, ever” firearm that was ever produced. Apparently they had a street price of $60 in Miami at one point, which would have been better spent on a wristrocket or a billyclub if you planned to actually use one in a legitimate crime. They eventually had to fight lawsuits from prosecutors and criminals at the same time because of their inherent defectiveness.

To quote that post further:

Though most teenage gangbangers wouldn’t be caught dead with a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, an old fashioned six shooter, it nonetheless claims the lead on the top ten list. That’s because there are literally millions in existence; Smith and Wesson introduced the .38 in 1899, and since then, models have proliferated, transforming the name “Smith and Wesson .38″ into a generic label for a particular style of gun, even clones that aren’t made by Smith and Wesson. Similarly, the Smith and Wesson .357 revolver, which was introduced in 1935, and the venerable Mossberg shotgun made the list based on the sheer volume in circulation.

But street criminals are interested almost exclusively in semiautomatics, preferring their superior firepower. (Semiautomatics hold at least seven and often as many as ten or twelve rounds of ammunition. –Or 18 if you can spend the extra dinero made from a 7-11 heist on a Beretta)

Gun traffickers like to peddle cheap semiautomatics to teenagers because they can tack on a hefty mark-up (of ten bucks) and still offer a weapon that costs less than an upscale gun like a Ruger or Smith and Wesson semiautomatic. That’s why inexpensive semiautomatics dominate the top ten list. As it happens, many of the companies on that list have links to George Jennings, founder of the now-defunct Raven Arms and his clan. Jennings’ son Bruce founded Bryco in 1992. According to the ATF, Jennings’ son-in-law Jim Davis founded Davis Industries, and Lorcin Engineering was launched by Jim Waldorf, Bruce Jennings’ high school friend. These companies and several others also linked to Jennings are known in the trade as the “ring of fire.”

The point is, criminals use the guns they do because they’re available, and the guns that are available are usually available because they’re cheap.

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Bring your gun to work 2005

NRA campaigns to bring a gun to work should be remembered:

Actually, the NRA’s power has been waning since at least 2005 when it declared a boycott against ConocoPhillips, a major Oklahoma employer with 3,000 workers, for blocking its bring-your-gun-to-work efforts. “ConocoPhillips went to federal court to attack your freedom,” thundered Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president and CEO. “We’re going to make ConocoPhillips the example of what happens when a corporation takes away your Second Amendment rights. If you are a corporation that’s anti-gun, anti-gun owner, or anti-Second Amendment, we will spare no effort or expense to work against you, to protect the rights of your law-abiding employees

The bring-your-gun-to-work bullying did not even fly in the “Gunshine State,” Florida. “Possession of firearms in the workplace or on company property is strictly prohibited,” said Bruce Middlebrooks of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, which has 7,500 employees in the Jacksonville area. “We’re not against the Second Amendment, but guns are inappropriate in our workplaces and workplaces include parking lots,” said Randy Miller, a lobbyist for the Florida Retail Federation which represents 12,000 businesses in the state.
Bring-your-gun-to-work efforts were so over the top, with hundreds a year already killed in workplace shootings, the American Bar Association challenged its legality.

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Silencing the Science on Gun Research

There is still a lot of headline material concerning the role of guns in our lives, and a lot of anecdotal material and thoughts abound. Also I seem to note an increase in the reporting of police in Lakewood, Washington and firemen in Webster, NY murders by gun makes the news as well. We are a site that also values data to help in policy decisions as we try to govern ourselves. Hence this article from JAMA caught my attention on the apparent lack of more specific data on injuries and deaths from media.

The Journal of the American Medical Association notes in Silencing the Science on Gun Research that basic gahering and reporting data was defunded and/or forbidden by government agencies including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Hational Institute of Health, and other Department of Health agencies. The following is an excerpt:
(hat tip reader Tom B.)

The nation might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997. But in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year. Funding was restored in joint conference committee, but the money was earmarked for traumatic brain injury. The effect was sharply reduced support for firearm injury research.

To ensure that the CDC and its grantees got the message, the following language was added to the final appropriation: “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”4

Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up. Even today, 17 years after this legislative action, the CDC’s website lacks specific links to information about preventing firearm-related violence.

When other agencies funded high-quality research, similar action was taken. In 2009, Branas et al5 published the results of a case-control study that examined whether carrying a gun increases or decreases the risk of firearm assault. In contrast to earlier research, this particular study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Two years later, Congress extended the restrictive language it had previously applied to the CDC to all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health.6

The US military is grappling with an increase in suicides within its ranks. Earlier this month, an article by 2 retired generals—a former chief and a vice chief of staff of the US Army— asked Congress to lift a little-noticed provision in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that prevents military commanders and noncommissioned officers from being able to talk to service members about their private weapons, even in cases in which a leader believes that a service member may be suicidal.9

Given the chance, could researchers achieve similar progress with firearm violence? It will not be possible to find out unless Congress rescinds its moratorium on firearm injury prevention research. Since Congress took this action in 1997, at least 427 000 people have died of gunshot wounds in the United States, including more than 165 000 who were victims of homicide.1 To put these numbers in context, during the same time period, 4586 Americans lost their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.10

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