Do We Think Rationally About Guns?
Yesterday I spent a couple of minutes watching Alex Jones explain why he didn’t come out right after Sandy Hook and say what he knew to be the truth, that a horrible massacre of kids and teachers in an elementary school had taken place. Jones is being sued for defamation by some of the parents of children who died on that terrible day and he’s finally showing up to give his side of the story in that case.
If Jones didn’t invent conspiracy theories, he should be given credit for doing it anyway. This guy can turn just about any event into a contest between good and evil, with ‘good’ being all the people who tune into his Infowars website, the ‘bad’ being liberals, one-world government people, the Deep State and now his latest target which is something he calls ‘corporate media.’
So, the question is this: How do we explain the mass cognitive dissonance which is represented by people who believe what Alex Jones says, or for that matter still believe that Trump lost the 2020 election only because it was ‘stolen’ from him? A reporter from The Guardian cruised around at Trump’s Michigan rally last week and found that many of the rally-goers were still absolutely convinced that the election was a fraud.
The reason I am asking this question on a blog which is all about guns, is because when it comes to guns and gun violence, many people who own guns often believe things about those guns which are simply not true. Not only are their beliefs about guns not true, these beliefs could never be true. And yet the beliefs go on.
Example: We should all be carrying guns because it’s the most effective way to protect ourselves from crime or threats of crime. This idea of guns being used as a self-protective device was first promoted by our friend Gary Kleck, who published a paper in 1995 which, based on a national telephone survey, argued that people who defended themselves with guns were preventing more than 2 million violent crimes every year.
Several years ago, Kleck reduced his estimate somewhat of the number of crimes that were stopped each year because of Americans who walked around with guns. But in 1999 our friend John Lott published a book with somewhat different numbers but in terms of using guns to prevent crimes, he basically said the same thing.
The problem with both studies is that it is simply impossible to validate whether someone is telling you the truth in a phone interview, particularly when they are asked not to explain what they did, but why they did what they did. That’s the reason why to a certain extent we can trust telephone polls about how people are going to vote, because you can then compare the pre-election polls to the votes that come out on the election day itself.
In 2020, even before Joe was the Democratic nominee, in virtually every Biden v. Trump matchup, Biden was ahead by 7 points. There has never been a national election in which the polls were as steady and unmoving as the polls which showed Joe up by 7 points over Trump.
So even with the increased turnout for Trump, Joe ended up winning the whole thing by 7 points — gee — what a surprise!
Another big problem with surveys about guns and crime is that most gun violence is committed by younger males who live in inner-city neighborhoods and don’t own legal guns. So, if you’re going to do a ‘nationally representative’ phone survey about using guns for anything having to do with crime, you’re going to be talking to a lot of people who have never and will never be involved in serious crimes.
For that matter, claiming that the issuance of concealed-carry licenses demonstrates why people might not want to attack someone who may be armed is also not a valid analysis because the typical victim of a serious crime is an inner-city resident who won’t be given a concealed-carry license by the cops.
The problem with my argument, however, is that I am making an assumption about people basing what they believe about guns, or crime, or anything else on rational and reasonable thoughts.
If we have learned one thing from both Donald Trump and Alex Jones, it’s that such thoughts are often in very short supply.