The New York Times recently ran a lengthy editorial entitled, “What 130 of the Worst Shootings Say About Guns in America.”
The answer, of course, should be, “Nothing.”
One hundred and thirty shootings don’t begin to paint the full picture of the firearms controversy in the United States. It’s impossible with such a small sample size to say anything definitive about guns in America, much less recommend policy changes.
But did that stop the good folks over at the New York Times? It did not.
The authors claim that a review of the 130 “worst shootings” in the last year offers a “panoramic view of some of the gun control debate’s fundamental issues.” They go on to describe eight individual instances of multiple-victim shootings and attempt to demonstrate how stricter gun laws would have stopped each tragedy.
The authors hesitate to state their recommendations outright, but their position is clear by the conclusion of the 5,000-word article: based on this anecdotal evidence, they imply, Second Amendment rights should be restricted at the state and federal level.
The key here is “anecdotal evidence.” Anecdotal evidence is founded upon single, isolated stories rather than general trends. Obviously, lawmakers can’t make public policy decisions based on anecdotal evidence. They need to know macro-level trends before they can responsibly change the law, especially when that law affects constitutional rights.
The authors cite a number of studies, but the focus of the article—those 130 shootings—doesn’t offer any useful evidence in favor of stricter gun laws.
To their credit, the authors admit as much. “In more than half the 130 cases,” they note, “at least one assailant was already barred by federal law from having a weapon.” Additionally, “64 percent of the shootings involved at least one attacker who violated an existing gun law.” In other words, even within their small sample size, they couldn’t find compelling evidence that strict gun laws keep criminals from breaking the law.
They also admit that the furor to pass a new “assault weapons ban” isn’t likely to do anything to reduce the number of crimes committed with guns:
“Only 14 [of the 130] shootings involved assault rifles, illustrating their outsize role in the gun debate. Nearly every other assailant used a handgun. That is in line with a federal study that concluded that reviving a 1994 ban on assault weapons and ammunition feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds would have a minimal impact, at best, on gun violence.”
None of this evidence, unfortunately, keeps them from moving forward with their anecdotally based emotional appeal. “A stronger law,” they argue at one point, “could arguably have made it harder for at least one gunman to find a willing seller.”
That’s the best they can do.
They include with each story pictures of the victims in a clear attempt to appeal to their readers’ sympathies. But while each horrific crime ought to produce sympathy in the reader, gun control laws cannot be based on emotion. Eight stories from a group of 130 crimes can’t dictate what laws should govern the use of firearms in the United States.
It’s a valiant attempt, but, ultimately, this latest offering from the Times does nothing to further the gun control industry’s cause.