What FiveThirtyEight gets wrong about gun research

What FiveThirtyEight gets wrong about gun research
glock gun pistol handgun weapon 2424292

A recent analysis by the RAND Corporation has been making the rounds lately. We’ve already reported on it, of course, and so have a lot of other people.

This meta-analysis looked at a lot of gun research in an effort to supposedly look at what laws work and what laws don’t.


That’s the theory, at least.

However, the folks at FiveThirtyEight decided to take a look and write about this study, but they ended up saying some things I can’t help but take issue with.

So, did California’s gun laws succeed at making it one of the safest states … or did they fail to stop a string of mass shootings? Questions about the efficacy of gun laws have gotten easier to answer in recent years as changes to federal policy have helped to bring money and people back to the field of gun violence research. But decades of neglect mean there are still lots of blank spaces — policies that don’t yet have good quality data backing them up. A recent report from the Rand Corporation that reviewed the evidence behind a variety of gun policies found just three that were supported by evidence that met the report’s quality standards.1

That fact, however, doesn’t mean other gun laws don’t work — just that the research proving it doesn’t yet exist. Scientists I spoke to saw it as an “absence of evidence” problem, stemming from long-standing, intentional roadblocks in the path of gun violence research. Even the authors of the Rand report say lawmakers should still be putting policies aimed at preventing gun violence into practice now — regardless of what the science does or doesn’t say.

“I think that the goal of the lawmaker is to pick laws that they have a reasonable hope will be better than the status quo,” said Andrew Morral, a senior behavioral scientist at the Rand Corporation. “And there’s lots of ways of persuading oneself that that may be true, that don’t have to do with appealing to strict scientific evidence.”


Except there was a ton of gun research being conducted. I know, I reported on countless studies through the years, well before any supposed federal prohibition was lifted. Further, that supposed prohibition was really against using taxpayer dollars to advocate for gun control. Unbiased studies aren’t advocacy. The fact that the CDC refused to conduct any gun research because of the law isn’t an indictment against the restrictions in place, but on the CDC for viewing research as advocacy.

Yet plenty of other places conducted research. We’ve seen countless studies making numerous points. They most definitely were conducted.

So, if the RAND Corporation was unable to find where the laws work, that suggests something by itself, even if the researchers didn’t want to see it.

Further, we also know that pretty much all gun research is garbage.

If the research out there is heavily biased and RAND still couldn’t find any evidence that the laws work, this isn’t an absense of evidence issue, as FiveThirtyEight claims. No, this is a case of there being evidence the laws are useless, despite RAND researchers and their buddies in the media hoping no one will notice.


The problem is, we did.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member