Lies, Damn Lies, & Gun Statistics

June 29, 2014
By Rob Roper
There is very little violent crime in Vermont, and even less involving guns. Many believe this is because Vermont adheres to the Second Amendment more stringently than most if not all other states. And because we have no gun crime problem of our own to speak of, there is no compelling reason for Montpelier to pass legislation to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
This lack of gun violence is an irritant for Gun Sense Vermont, an anti-Second Amendment organization that wishes to pass sweeping restrictions on the ownership of firearms, so they came up with another line of rhetorical attack. We in Vermont are being “bad neighbors.” Criminals from other states are abusing our freedom here in Vermont, purchasing guns here and taking them back to their home states to commit crimes. It is a “second hand smoke” argument for gun control.
However, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) recently released a report stating that the total number of firearms used in crimes in other states traced back to Vermont was a total of 147. WCAX got the obvious story here and reported it in a straight forward manner:Vermont Not A Major Source of Guns (June 10, 2014). “…In 2013 there were 1,571 guns recovered in Massachusetts. Of those guns, 29 came from Vermont– far fewer than other states.”
There you have it. Case closed.
Or, at least it should have been closed. The spin-machine at Gun Sense Vermont went into double overtime in a desperate attempt to put a bad face on what is truly a positive story for Vermont. They were unfortunately aided and abetted by a Vermont Digger story, More Vermont Guns Linked to Out of State Crime, but Sample Remains Small (June 24, 2014), which has been picked up by at least a handful of local papers.
Notice the headline author writes, “More Vermont Guns.”
More than what?
Not more than other states, in fact, quite the opposite. Her use of the obscure qualifier, “Sample Remains Small,” is odd and misleading. No, the total number remains miniscule.
The body of the article is even worse in its deception, relying on totally irrelevant “per capita” statistics to make what is not a problem at all appear to be somehow meaningful. The story leads off with the claim:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) found that in 2013, adjusting for population, Vermont has the highest rate of guns traced and recovered in other states after being used for criminal activity. [emphasis added]
The study found that 23.5 guns per 100,000 Vermont residents — 147 total — were recovered in crimes committed outside the state.
First of all, how is a Vermont based per capita statistic relevant at all to this issue? All it reveals is that Vermont has a small population. Why would Massachusetts or New York care about the populations of the places from which illegal guns are entering their states? They care about the number of guns.
So, looking at Massachusetts as an example, 29 of 1,571 guns seized came from Vermont. But, 121 (417% more) came from New Hampshire and 91 (314% more) came from Maine, yet the insinuation is that Vermont is somehow Massachusetts’ biggest problem? The story also points out ominously that 61 Vermont guns were traced to New York, “…the primary destination for Vermont guns.” But it fails to mention that that was 61 out of 8,539 guns traced in New York, or 0.007%.
If per capita statistics have a relevance in this issue at all, it is in this way:
The number of Vermont guns (29) traced by ATF in Massachusetts (pop. 6.6 million) represent 0.0000046 per capita, and the 61 in New York (pop. 19.57 million) represent 0.0000031 per capita.
Clearly, Vermont is not a problem.
But this kind of reporting is ….