6-27-14 – Lies, Damn Lies, & Gun Statistics

Posted by Rob Roper

There is very little violent crime in Vermont, and even less involving guns. Many believe this is because Vermont adheres to the Second Amendment more stringently than most if not all other states. And because we have no gun crime problem of our own to speak of, there is no compelling reason for Montpelier to pass legislation to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

This lack of gun violence is an irritant for Gun Sense Vermont, an anti-Second Amendment organization that wishes to pass sweeping restrictions on the ownership of firearms, so they came up with another line of rhetorical attack. We in Vermont are being “bad neighbors.” Criminals from other states are abusing our freedom here in Vermont, purchasing guns here and taking them back to their home states to commit crimes. It is a “second hand smoke” argument for gun control.

However, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) recently released a report  stating that the total number of firearms used in crimes in other states traced back to Vermont was a total of 147. WCAX got the obvious story here and reported it in a straight forward manner: Vermont Not A Major Source of Guns (June 10, 2014).  “…In 2013 there were 1,571 guns recovered in Massachusetts. Of those guns, 29 came from Vermont– far fewer than other states.”

There you have it. Case closed.

Or, at least it should have been closed. The spin-machine at Gun Sense Vermont went into double overtime in a desperate attempt to put a bad face on what is truly a positive story for Vermont. They were unfortunately aided and abetted by a Vermont Digger story, More Vermont Guns Linked to Out of State Crime, but Sample Remains Small (June 24, 2014), which has been picked up by at least a handful of local papers.

Notice the headline author writes, “More Vermont Guns.” More than what? Not more than other states, in fact, quite the opposite. Her use of the obscure qualifier, “Sample Remains Small,” is odd and misleading. No, the total number remains miniscule.

The body of the article is even worse in its deception, relying on totally irrelevant “per capita” statistics to make what is not a problem at all appear to be somehow meaningful. The story leads off with the claim:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) found that in 2013, adjusting for population, Vermont has the highest rate of guns traced and recovered in other states after being used for criminal activity. [emphasis added]

The study found that 23.5 guns per 100,000 Vermont residents — 147 total — were recovered in crimes committed outside the state.

First of all, how is a Vermont based per capita statistic relevant at all to this issue? All it reveals is that Vermont has a small population. Why would Massachusetts or New York care about the populations of the places from which illegal guns are entering their states? They care about the number of guns.

So, looking at Massachusetts as an example, 29 of 1,571 guns seized came from Vermont. But, 121 (417% more) came from New Hampshire and 91 (314% more) came from Maine, yet the insinuation is that Vermont is somehow Massachusetts’ biggest problem? The story also points out ominously that 61 Vermont guns were traced to New York, “…the primary destination for Vermont guns.” But it fails to mention that that was 61 out of 8,539 guns traced in New York, or 0.007%.

If per capita statistics have a relevance in this issue at all, it is in this way: The number of Vermont  guns (29) traced by ATF in Massachusetts (pop. 6.6 million) represent 0.0000046 per capita, and the 61 in New York (pop. 19.57 million) represent 0.0000031 per capita.

Clearly, Vermont is not a problem. But this kind of reporting is.

– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Eddie Cutler June 27, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Thanks for this report Rob. As you know we at the Gun Owners of Vermont have been keeping an eye on gun-nonsense and there lies since they formed here. Not only is there statistics wrong but the A.T.F.E. is partially misleading. For one thing there trace data does not mean that any real violent crime has been committed. It means that the state of Mass. has traced a firearm for other reasons as well. As an example if you wander across the Mass. boarder and are stopped and you have a hunting rifle during dear season without a Mass. firearms permit you are in violation of there laws. Although you were perfectly legal in Vermont and had no intention of going into Mass. there was no signage that you were entering another state. Some of those traces are for reasons similar to this. No violence, drug deals or other illegal reasons.

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Patrick Cashman June 27, 2014 at 11:02 pm

I appreciate you publishing this. I tried to address several of these issues, and question Vt Digger’s editorial policies in publishing the story in the form they did but unfortunately Ms. Galloway’s hand hovers right over the “Delete” button for any comments questioning her operation. So much for being “committed to open debate”.
If you don’t mind I’ll post the initial comment Ms. Galloway expunged here:

The below comment was deleted by Ms. Galloway for questioning her editorial choices
“The bigger issue is the fun with numbers that appears to be going on and why, beyond just misrepresenting the nature of the data. It appears the story was deliberately written to imply that a particular opinion had factual backing that has not been shown to exist.

Using the same data set the story can be written as:

“Massachusetts Shown to be Primary Point of Origin for Massachusetts Guns Traced by Law Enforcement”

“Vermont and Massachusetts Approach Parity in Guns Shared Across Border by Percentage of Weapons Traced by Law Enforcement”

“Vermont the Origin of less than 3% of Firearms Traced by Law Enforcement in Massachusetts”

“Vermont Places Fifth in Point of Origin for Firearms From Outside Massachusetts Traced by Law Enforcement, Behind New Hampshire, Maine, Florida, and Georgia”

“Massachusetts Shown to be Number 2 of 49 Other States for Guns Originating in Another State and Recovered in Vermont”

“Vermonters Prefer to Purchase Guns in New Hampshire Over All Other States, but New Hampshirites Don’t Buy Guns in Vermont – Why Not?”

“Vermont Not a Major Source of Guns” – Which is exactly how WCAX reported on the same data.

“What the Bejeezus is Going on in Montgomery, Vermont” – Seriously, look at the Vermont specific report on firearms traced by Law Enforcement. 45 in Montgomery with a population of 992. So by the above methodology that would mean Montgomery’s rate of firearms “recovered after being used for criminal activity” would be twice that of the rest of the state.

I would have to say the most important question is: who came up with the idea for this story? Was it originated within VtDigger, or the Vt Journalism Trust Board, or did someone approach VtDigger from an outside organization? And who gave editorial approval, checked the source documents, and decided this was an accurate representation of the National Trace Center data?”

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Mark Donka June 28, 2014 at 12:10 am

The anti gun groups will go to any lengths to spread their propaganda. They do not care about truth. The problem is a percentage of the populous read this info once and think it must be true and guns are bad. Our job as supporters of the second amendment and all of our Constitutional rights must be sure to educate the people with the truth.

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Robert June 28, 2014 at 11:57 am

Gun Nonsense Vermont is just one more example of a liberal special interest group wanting to force the masses to live by the rules of a shrill few. I fear even acknowledging these rabble rousers gives them more credence than they deserve.

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jim bulmer June 28, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Rob, Just another example of how facts never get in the way of the liberals in Vermont. Never have and unfortunately, under the current circumstances, never will. Thanks for setting the record straight.

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Gerard(Jerry) Mullen June 30, 2014 at 7:50 pm

There seems to be a major push by the corporate-owned media to attack gun rights. Our rep for the Bolton, Buell’s Gore, Huntington, Waterbury district, Tom Stevens, cosponsored some anti gun legislation last year, and I am challenging him in November. I got may petitions signed and into the Sec of State’s office, and my big problem now is getting my name and program out to folks. Bulk mailings are expensive in a district with 5100 voters. I took a commission in USAF back when Eisenhower was President, and swore to defend the Constitution against enemies both foreign and deomestic, so I can’t run as a Democrat or Republican. Check the FBI Uniform Crime Statistics. Vermont gun crime is down 40% in the last 29 years. Why do these people want to fix something that is not broken?

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William Moore July 2, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Rob, Nice Job! Vermont Traditions Coalition will be hounding these lies with you in the coming session. We are planning to especially fight hard against any “license” or “permit” for the exercise of our Vermont Constitutional right to self defense under Article 16. It appears to be one of the GunNonSense crowd’s priorities and I believe they have mistakenly spotted it as a “soft target” here in Vermont. Meanwhile, the rest of the country moves inexorably towards “Vermont Carry” laws…

Bill Moore

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Durwood July 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm

That’s weird I live in Belvidere That borders Montgomery and the town of montgomery has a very high concentration of old liberal hippies,probley the mosy liberal run town in Franklin county

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Alexander Anlyan January 29, 2015 at 10:25 pm

It’s nice to hear somebody put figures in perspective and confront inflammatory misdirection buy those who oppose The right of all Americans to their second amendment protection. There are no statistics on how many criminals avoid robbing Vermont citizens because they are frequently armed but I suspect that the number is significant. If people in other states are safer when only criminals can have firearms does that mean the driving would be safer in states where licenses were outlawed? It This may sound ridiculous but the logic is pretty similar. Automobiles are used in crimes and fatalities result from the use of motor vehicles far more often than either are related to firearms in Vermont.

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