You Know Less than You Think About Guns
More guns do not necessarily mean more homicides. More gun laws do not necessarily mean less gun crime. Finding good science is hard enough; finding good social science on a topic so fraught with politics is nigh impossible. The facts then become even more muddled as the conclusions of those less-than-ironclad academic studies cycle through the press and social media in a massive game of telephone. Despite the confident assertions of the gun controllers and decades of research, we still know astonishingly little about how guns actually function in society and almost nothing at all about whether gun control policies actually work as promised.
The Duke economist Philip J. Cook put the knowledge problem well in a 2006 Journal of Policy Analysis and Management article. “Policy analysts are trained to critique evaluation evidence, pointing out potential flaws,” Cook and co-author Jens Ludwig wrote, “but are perhaps not so well prepared to judge whether the preponderance of the evidence points in one direction or another.” In other words, the most convincing element of any gun study tends to be the part where one scientist is explaining why another one’s causal conclusions don’t hold up. The parts where they claim strong or definite policy-relevant causal knowledge tend to be much more questionable.