Whenever I get depressed about the low quality and high incivility of debates about drug policy, I can cheer myself up by just remembering that at least I don’t do gun policy. I know a few very smart people, not all on the same side, who know a lot about guns and can discuss the policy issues like grown-ups — David Kennedy, Eugene Volokh, Phil Cook, Susan Ginsburg — but the hot-air-and-hatred quotient around the gun question is really astonishingly high, with the gun controllers acting as if they’re playing charades and the word is “phobia” and the gun-rights folks doing their best to make Freud look like a source of important insight.

[In case anyone’s curious, my own tentative view about gun policy is that if we tighten up on the leakage of guns to people not eligible to buy them by making crime-gun tracing easier and gun trafficking harder, and perhaps tighten up some on the eligibility requirements, for example by excluding those convicted of serious violence in juvenile court, we could abandon most restrictions on gun ownership and gun carrying by the eligibles without losing much in terms of crime control. If that factual claim turned out to be right, then I’d be for that combination of policies.]

Glenn Reynolds, for example, is generally reasonably level-headed and (as I have reason to know) capable of real generosity across ideological lines. So what’s a nice guy like Glenn doing writing (or at least co-signing) nonsense like this, virtually foaming at the mouth about a rather innocuous National Academy of Sciences panel looking at the data and research base underlying gun policy? (Dave Kopel, listed as first author, does this sort of thing habitually.)

Kopel and Reynolds don’t bother to supply a link to the official NAS description of the panel’s mission, from which they quote (and misquote). (They do provide a partly broken link to the National Academy website, from which the diligent reader can — though Kopel and Reynolds clearly hope he won’t — find the actual document.)

Here’s what Kopel and Reynolds say, as a preface to demanding White House interference with a National Academy of Sciences study:

“According to the NAS,

‘The goals of this study are to

1.) assess the existing research and data on firearm violence;

2.) consider how to credibly evaluate the various prevention, intervention and control strategies;

3.) describe and develop models of illegal firearms markets; and

4.) examine the complex ways in which firearms may become embedded in the community.’ “

Kopel and Reynolds add, “Conspicuously absent from these goals is any research into the benefits of firearms.”

Well, here’s a paragraph conspicuously present in the one-page NAS document:

“While it is clear that firearms are heavily involved in criminal violence, homicides, and suicides, causal pathways remain uncertain. For example, there is the unresolved question of the potential role of temperament, motivation, and circumstances that is, whether in most cases, persons who commit a suicide or homicide with a gun would, because of these other influences, find another means of doing so if no gun were available. Even if firearms contribute to lethal violence, the development of successful prevention, intervention, and control policies is a complex undertaking. Significant numbers of Americans own guns for sporting, recreational, or defensive purposes. Public officials must sort through important but competing policy objectives involving the protection of Second Amendment rights and legitimate recreational and defensive uses of guns on the one hand, and the lowering the rates of gun related mortality and injury on the other.” [Emphasis added.]

So the study assumes that guns have legitimate uses, but treats the question whether they contribute to lethal violence at all as open. Does that sound to you like a plot by the gun-control lobby?

When mere quotation out of context doesn’t work, Kopel and Reynolds just make it up:

“The panel is supposed to propose ‘new…control strategies.’ The idea of repealing ‘control strategies’ which social scientists have proven to be failures isn’t on the agenda.”

The only mention of “control strategies” in the NAS panel’s charge is in the paragraph quoted above, where it’s liked to the idea of evaluation: that is, figuring out what’s worth doing and what isn’t. It’s clear from the document that the panel is not charged with making policy recommendations at all.

Kopel and Reynolds even stoop to indirect slander. Referring to Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago, they say that he “has been described as rabidly antigun.” No mention of who did the describing, and no hint about what its factual base might be. (There’s a link, but it’s just to Levitt’s appallingly impressive bibliography.) For what one of Levitt’s professional peers thinks of him, and of the attack on him, see Brad DeLong.

Say it ain’t so, Glenn. ‘Cause what you said, or let Dave Kopel say in your name, mostly ain’t so.


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: