Accuracy in Media

There are headlines too embarrassing even for Salon to keep running. This one started out as:

“When Ronald Reagan’s racism saved lives: Armed black men meant immediate gun control.”

It’s possible to check that by looking at the URL itself. Even at Salon this has now been changed to the marginally better:

“Ronald Reagan’s moment of massive historical irony: How armed Black men led to gun control”

The argument is that the Black Panthers turned up to the California legislature fully armed and so gun control laws were swiftly passed. This is indeed one way of telling the story and yet:

“The state went on to ban private gun sales, closing the notorious ‘gun show loophole’ that pours weapons into other states. California requires all gun dealers to be registered and licensed by the state, mandates background checks and even outlawed the manufacture and sale of cheap ‘Saturday Night Special’ handguns in the state.

Well, OK, but:

“As a result, according to New York Times correspondent Shawn Hubler, by 2019 (the last year for which we have statistics) California’s gun deaths were around seven per 100,000 people, one of the lowest rates in the country.

“‘So there was a huge differential by 2019,’ Hubler told Sabrina Tavernise on the Times’ podcast The Daily. ‘The chances of dying from gun violence in California were about 70 percent lower than they were in the rest of the country.’”

That’s where the switch is taking place, the pea moved in the three-cup game. Because gun deaths and gun homicides (or deaths by gun violence) are not the same thing. Gun suicides and gun homicides make up deaths by guns. We have no particular evidence to show that suicide rates change very much given the availability of guns or not – the method does, but the numbers, not so much. So, the thing we’re interested in about the availability of guns is the gun laws, of course, combined with the gun homicide rate.

Which, in California, isn’t anything very much out of the ordinary. California ranks No. 28 in the rate of gun homicides. Given that there are 50 states being tracked that’s not impressive for a place which – it is claimed at least – has the strictest gun controls in the nation. Strictest controls and halfway up the list?  Despite the absence of easily available guns, the state’s suicide rate is well above national averages – in fact, California is fourth from the top.

If gun control were such a slam dunk to beat violent deaths and suicides then people would give us the correct numbers to prove the point. That we are – as here with Salon – presented with gun deaths but not the correct numbers, the suicide rate plus gun homicides, shows the weakness of the argument.

Salon is in the top 50 media sites for law and government. It gains some 9 million visits a month from that position.

Originally insisting upon Reagan’s racism as a reason for California’s gun control is something that Salon did get around to correcting – too much even for them. But we should also be holding them to that useful standard of proof – has gun control actually saved any lives? Given that the gun homicide rate is middle of the pack, the suicide rate is toward the top, there’s not actually that much evidence, is there?




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