Thursday, December 13, 2007

Calling Out Ben Witherington

Dr. Ben Witherington III wrote a post on Wednesday morning attempting to reconcile his own support for strong gun control laws with Sunday's halt of a killer in Colorado Springs by an armed civilian. As I had a final exam to complete, I decided to go after only one of Dr. Witherington's erroneous points:

This much I know. I have lived in countries with much stricter gun control laws, and it certainly helps in regard to this problem, though it does not prevent them altogether.

In the comments, I wrote:

Statistics and sources, please. This is a big assertion. You need to back it up.

And Witherington responded:

Hi John:

I have lived in the U.K. for various years of my life, and so my experience is largely from England and Scotland. I have read the statistics taken over long periods of time and they seem very clear on this. I do not have them ready to hand, but we have blogged on this point last year, and someone did kindly provide the data-- a Mennonite if memory serves. It really isn't disputable.

What is interesting is that in a more pagan country like Canada, which nonetheless has a less Rambo heritage, being part of the Commonwealth, there is less violence even with somewhat similar gun control laws. I put this down to the greater civility and humane-ness bred into that culture, whereas what we are seeing in America is the coarsening of the culture in many ways (shock jocks and increasingly ugly politics are just two bad examples of this phenomenon).

I wrote a response with actual evidence. It should have been the 32nd comment. It fell into the moderation queue, but was not approved. There are now 46 comments in the thread.

Working from memory, this was the content of my comment:

I dispute it.

The UK:

Gun crime is just part of an increasingly lawless environment. From 1991 to 1995, crimes against the person in England's inner cities increased 91 percent. And in the four years from 1997 to 2001, the rate of violent crime more than doubled. Your chances of being mugged in London are now six times greater than in New York. England's rates of assault, robbery, and burglary are far higher than America's, and 53 percent of English burglaries occur while occupants are at home, compared with 13 percent in the U.S., where burglars admit to fearing armed homeowners more than the police. In a United Nations study of crime in 18 developed nations published in July, England and Wales led the Western world's crime league, with nearly 55 crimes per 100 people.

In Australia:

Unfortunately, these new firearm regulations do not appear to have made the streets of Australia safer. Consider homicide rates. Homicide involving firearms is declining but the total homicide rates have remained basically flat from 1995 through to 2001 (Mouzos 2001). However, early reports show that the national homicide rate may have begun climbing again. Mouzos (2003) reports that homicides in 2001/02 increased by 20% from 2000/01. She also reports that, despite the declining firearm homicides, there is an increase in multiple victim incidents. Homicide rates remain at a historic high. Shortly after World War II, the Australian homicide rate was around 1 per 100,000. Since then, it has climbed until it peaked at 2.4 per 100,000 in 1988 (Graycar 2001).

The decline in homicide rate in the United States stands out against the flat—or even rising—homicide rate in Australia (figure 7). The divergence between Australia and the United States is even more apparent when one considers violent crime (figure 8). While violent crime is decreasing in the United States, it continues to increase in Australia. Over the past 6 years, both assault and robbery show no signs of decreasing (Australian Institute of Criminology 2003) (figure 9). It is too early to tell whether the gun ban has exacerbated the problem or simply not had any effect.

In Canada:

Crime was not supposed to rise after handguns were banned. Yet, since 1996 the serious-violent-crime rate has soared by 69 percent; robbery is up 45 percent, and murders up 54 percent. Before the law, armed robberies had fallen 50 percent from 1993 to 1997, but as soon as handguns were banned the robbery rate shot back up, almost to its 1993 level.

There's my evidence. Now where, Dr. Witherington, is yours?

What I wonder is why Ben Witherington did not see fit to approve this comment from the moderation queue. Could it be that he does not wish to be presented with evidence contrary to his opinions?


DaveW said...


% can be misleading. When the totals are tiny small changes show up as big numbers.

For example these stats seem to stand against your position. (hope formatting works)

Gun deaths per 100,000 population (for the year indicated):

USA (2001)
Homicide 3.98
Suicide 5.92
Other (inc Accident) 0.36
England/Wales (2002)
Homicide 0.15
Suicide 0.2
Other (inc Accident) 0.03

Gord said...

I question your Canadian stats. THey are teh opposite trending of my memory. BUt I don't have the articles at hand to link to.

THe reality of course is that the more guns that are out there the greater the chance someone will be shot--simple math and law of averages shows that.

Anonymous said...


What people who look at stats for a living say on this topic (e.g. John Lott Ph.D. from Univ. of Chicago in Economics) is quite elucidating. Lott has argued in professional papers (see here: This peer reviewed paper entitled "Multiple Victim Public Shootings, Bombings, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws: Contrasting Private and Public Law Enforcement" was done by Professors John Lott and William Landes. It is over 100+ pages and comes to the conclusion that legally armed individuals prevent more crime than has been previously thought.

In addressing statstics people who love them trot out England and Canadian stats but what they either forget or never learned is that when dealing with a signinficantly smaller sample size you have to adjust to per captia rather than simply quote a stat. For example if I argued that stritct gun control worked (e.g. Cuba) but did not account for the sample size I could make a straw argument look good. However, when you take into account per capita then the percentages in England and Canada go way up.

Second, sample size and makeup are crucial in understanding what stats tell us. For example in the US if we are going to examine homicides and our sample size starts at say 15 and goes to 26 do we note in the finished product which of the "youths" were active gang members? Do we account for how many were killed by police?

So contra davew (and his bias for Gun-Control Inc) I believe that the academic literature such as the above peer reviewed materials will support John's contention.

One last item. When I was in Israel this last summer and in Switzerland a few years back - EVERYONE had not just a pistol but machine guns! Yet the deaths by gunfire in these two countries even by UN Stats is almost non-existent. How can that be if guns are the problem?

Best Regards
Dr. Joe

Brett Royal said...

I enjoy reading Dr. Witherington's Blog. 100% of people who have an agenda can pull statistics to back up their point of view. I know this because it took me 3 tries to pass business statistics in college.

John said...

Dave, it may be that there are more per capita gun deaths in America than in the UK, but as this study shows, the homicide rate in the UK jumped 50% in the 1990s. Is your goal to decrease violent deaths in general, or only gun deaths? I would hope the former.

John said...

Gord wrote:

THe reality of course is that the more guns that are out there the greater the chance someone will be shot--simple math and law of averages shows that.

Really? There was only one gun present at Virgina Tech, and 33 people died. There were two guns present in Colorado Springs, and only 7 people died.

~c. said...

So our best bet is to return to the wild, wild west? What about the prophecy against Judah in Isaiah? They were relying upon their military might ("chariots") instead of God and that according to Isaiah that was their undoing. Perhaps this boils down to a question of trust. The call to armed pulpits seems to suggest that trusting God is not enough.

Gord said...

THe reality of course is that the more guns that are out there the greater the chance someone will be shot--simple math and law of averages shows that.

Really? There was only one gun present at Virgina Tech, and 33 people died. There were two guns present in Colorado Springs, and only 7 people died.

ANd if there were no guns present no one would have been shot. THanks for proving my point that having guns around increases the chance that someone will be shot.

John said...

And how can you ensure that no one will have guns? All gun laws do is disarm people who obey gun laws.

Stephen said...

VT argument should be reframed this way: Should the shooter have been allowed to buy a gun legally?

Statistics are moot because everyone has different statistics depending on who you ask...NRA has one set and Gun Control people have another set. Doubt this? Do a google search.

Earl said...

It is not possible to begin with a preconceived idea of what is "the answer" and then by statistics to come up with anything but a flawed result if one insist that these statistics can only prove your preferred answer. A dispassionate review of the data leads to the inescapable conclusion that a armed society is a safer society. For further information a review of "More Guns Less Crime" by John R. Lott, Jr would be useful.