Thursday, June 19, 2003

The staff at Reason goes after the NY Times and UCLA over a recent study on gun dealers. The NYT headline screamed "50% of Dealers Willing to Sell Handguns Illegally, Study Says". But, as Jacob Sullum writes, reality is a bit different...
The question of an illegal straw purchase was broached with a different, much smaller sample:

The researchers also made 20 follow-up calls to randomly chosen dealers and said they needed to buy guns for girlfriends or boyfriends because they were not "allowed to."

In 16 of those cases, or 80 percent, the dealers responded with unequivocal "nos," indicating that the purchases would clearly be illegal. In the remaining four cases, the dealers agreed to sell the guns, even though they indicated that they knew that would be illegal, the researchers said.

In other words, the percentage in the headline for "Dealers Willing to Sell Handguns Illegally" was off by a factor of two and a half, and that's assuming the sample of 20 dealers adequately represented gun retailers nationwide.

The original study from UCLA doesn't make the headline's claim, but the abstract can easily leave one with that impression. It does make the statement "Most dealers were willing to sell a handgun regardless of the end user", but one has to go digging to find out that in most cases, the dealer was being asked if they'd make a legal sale. Only a small percentage were asked about blatantly illegal sales. And of those, most in the small sample said "no".

Of course, one can brush off the Times as being only a little more reliable than the World Weekly News. When they start reporting on Bat Boy, let me know. I am, however, disappointed with the study's primary author, Susan Sorenson. I know Dr. Sorenson. And while we may not agree on firearms policy, I would have hoped for better. The study is sloppy and the results misleading. The study compared dealer behavior across jurisdictions. What's shady for one dealer may be perfectly legal for another. And in most cases, the dealers were asked if they would be willing to make legal transactions. (What a shocker; they were willing to do so!) Larger samples chosen on a per jurisdiction basis would have been revealing. Also, though I don't know what difference this would make, the study limited calls to dealers in large cities with more than 10 dealers. Los Angeles is mentioned as just such a large city, but there aren't 10 dealers in the city limits. Thus L.A. dealers should have been excluded. Should the handful of dealers in the nation's 2nd largest city have been included? Perhaps so, but the paper doesn't make it clear if they were or weren't.

All in all, the study confirms that gun dealers are willing to sell guns. Some, though we cannot say with any confidence how many, will sell guns illegally. In the same fashion, we can also guess that tobacco dealers will sell cigarettes; and that some small percentage will sell to minors. In short, some part of any population, like the population of gun dealers or tobacco dealers, will break the law. Most, however, do not. The study's claim that a Federal gun registry would solve the problem is unwarranted. Tracking transactions between law-abiding parties will not do anything to affect the behavior of those who break the law.

Separated at birth??

Heh, heh, heh... Ralph Nader is thinking of running for President again.

Go, Ralph, go!

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

An incendiary temper is one thing, but this is ridiculous...

Monday, June 16, 2003

Have you ever know a person who goes out of their way to be offended? I'm sure that we all know someone like that; the person who thumbs through dirty magazines looking for pornographic pictures. The person who stands next to a smoker and coughs loudly. The person who reads the L.A. Times opinion page on the look out for naked liberalism. You know the type. They seek out that which gets their dander up. Well there's just such a person who found offense on a dirt road in the middle of the California desert. The source of their displeasure? A cross.

Out in the Mojave Desert, on what's now public land, is a cross. The cross was erected in the 1930's by a group of WWI veterans. They built it as a memorial to their fallen comrades. Back then, the rocky outcrop was in the middle of nowhere. Decades later, it's now part of the Mojave National Preserve. According to the ACLU, that makes it a Federal establishment of religion in violation of the 1st Amendment.

Why did this story catch my eye? Because I know the area where the cross is located. I had never seen it so I did a little research to find out where it is. It turns out that it's on a stretch of road that I've travelled before, though I never noticed it. There is, however, an individual who did, somehow, spot it from this obscure road. And this individual was "deeply offended" by the sight of it.

At this point, you might think that the "deeply offended" party is a local resident. That would explain how they noticed something that I so easily missed. That's not the case, however. The guy who filed suit to have the cross torn down lives about 3 hours away. He reportedly saw it while driving from Rialto, CA to Las Vegas, NV. But as I said, I know the area. He would have driven miles and miles out of his way on a dirt road to see the 6' tall cross in the Mojave.

For the moment, the cross is covered with a tarp. There was a Federal judge who ordered it torn down, but that order has been stayed pending appeal.

This morning, Dennis Prager had an interesting thing to say about Mr. Deeply Offended and his allies at the ACLU. He compared them to the Taliban. And he compared their wish to destroy this cross to the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afhganistan. He said that both the Taliban and the ACLU were motivated by the same thing: Religious radicalism. And he's correct. Both are radical adherents to their respective religions; The Taliban to Islam and the ACLU to Secularism. Both seek to destroy anything that offends their religion. (And neither shrinks from vandalism, which is why I haven't said exactly where the cross is!)