Hiltzik mangles gun statistics

Hiltzik mangles gun statistics

ScarfaceFeb. 18, 2013

By John Seiler

In the Los Angeles Times’ continued attack on our gun rights, Michael Hiltzik writes:

“Consider the most important statistic related to California’s gun laws. In 1981, before the most stringent rules were adopted, California’s rate of 16.5 firearms-related deaths per 100,000 population was 31st worst in the nation and higher than the national average; by 2000, a decade after the laws started getting tightened, the state ranked 20th, with a rate of 9.18, below the national average. In 2010, the latest year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers figures, the state ranked ninth, with a rate of only 7.9.

“And this is a big, diverse state with not inconsiderable pockets of gang lawlessness and drug abuse, and sizable populations of hunters, target shooters and other gun fanciers. Many factors may have contributed to the downward trend in firearm deaths since 1990, but the numbers strongly indicate that regulation works.”

Notice how he mixed up the dates. He’s comparing the decline in deaths since 1990, not 1981. He should have noted that firearms deaths have decline almost everywhere in the United States since 1990. So he’s comparing two different periods.

And he doesn’t mention that the era of peak gun killings in California, the 1980s, also was the era of the crack cocaine epidemic. The Crips and Bloods were shooting up the town as if it were an Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick. The crack epidemic especially affected Califonia more than any other state. There were few, if any, gang shootouts in Minnesota or Vermont.

When the crack epidemic ended and gang shootings were reduced, if not eliminated, then naturally California’s gun homicide rate would drop faster than that in other states.

This is from a 1997 study by the U.S. Justice Department:

“Drug epidemics tend to follow a natural course. The popularity of a  particular drug–such as crack cocaine–tends to start within a limited subpopulation. Sometimes use of a drug catches on and the rate of use increases dramatically until it is widespread. At some point the drug may go out of favor, leading to a slow but steady ebb in its use.”

And this is from “The Developmental Cycle of a Drug Epidemic: The Cocaine Smoking Epidemic of 1981-1991,” an article by Ansley Hamid in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 24(4):337-348:

“The groundwork for the cocaine-smoking epidemic in low-income, minorit neighborhoods was laid when cocaine (hydrochloride) powder — for intranasal use or snorting — became popular in restricted circles around 1979. Many persons who initiated the cocaine use then remained active and central throughout the epidemic, metamorphosing as they traversed the six stages and initiating successive categories of users….

“In many neighborhoods very little regulation occurred, and a reputation for crack-related violence, crime, and incivility was won instead.”

The epidemic ended around 1991. At the same time, gun violence dropped. And gun violence dropped faster in California because it was higher to begin with from the crack epidemic, which ended; not because of California’s gun laws.

Let Scarface show why the 1980s were so violent (note: bad language in the video):

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