Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pioneer Press Goodness: Guns and Pies

The Star Tribune announced on Sunday that they were adding Hilary Price's "Rhymes with Orange" to their comics page, and the first thing I thought was, One less reason to read the Pioneer Press.

But then that day's PiPress had two stories that made my subscription worth it.

First was a longish article by Megan Boldt on the state of research on gun violence and deaths. It was very fair, with primary sourcing from people like Arthur Kellermann, who co-authored one of the best known studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993. That study found that for "every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 suicides or suicide attempts."

Kellermann's study was condemned by the NRA and led to the 1996 law that scared the Centers for Disease Control into not funding any research on guns as a public health issue. Kellermann, who practiced and taught emergency medicine for 25 years, was labeled "politically slanted" and anti-gun by the NRA in a post-hoc fashion: If you find that guns have negative effects, you are anti-gun.

He now works for the Rand Corporation, which isn't exactly known as a bastion of liberal thought.

Boldt, like Maggie Koerth Baker's two-part article last week, points out that not much is known for sure. Yes, gun deaths from crime have declined while the number of guns has gone up, but no one really knows how many guns there are, and the number of nonfatal gun injuries have increased over the last three years. Suicides are also at a high point. Yes, background checks won't stop every crime, but there is evidence to indicate that they help somewhat, which is better than nothing.

A 2013 study published in the journal Injury Prevention surveyed prison inmates in the 13 states with the weakest gun laws to see where they got their guns and whether they would have been prevented from getting them if laws were stricter.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers found that nearly three of every 10 gun offenders would have been prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm when they committed their most recent offense if their states had more restrictive laws in place.

However, stricter gun laws would not have prevented the majority of gun crimes, the study found. About 34 percent of the inmates got their guns from family or friends and another 30 percent got them from drug dealers or other black-market sources.

"We are uncertain about the degree to which stricter legal standards for firearm possession might deter criminal gun possession and use," the researchers wrote. "But, adding barriers for the acquisition of guns by high-risk persons is an underused potential intervention."
The other excellent piece from Sunday's paper was by one of my favorites, Ed Lotterman. When a Cartoon Can Be a Problem critiqued a political cartoon by Michael Ramirez that ran in the PiPress a week or so ago.

A letter-writer the week before had pointed out the visual duplicity in the cartoon. J.M. Hamilton wrote:
Perhaps [Ramirez] has forgotten the formula for determining the area of a circle: pi times radius squared. Mr. Ramirez's 2007 pie is 1 inch in diameter; its area is 0.785 square inches. A 40-percent-larger pie would contain 1.099 square inches. Yet, Mr. Ramirez's 2013 federal budget pie has an area of 2.40 square inches -- three times the size of 2007.
That is the most outrageous problem with the cartoon, but Lotterman's column points out its economic weaknesses. As Lotterman put it,
There are two problems with the cartoon. The first is that the core of the cartoon is post hoc fallacy reasoning that would get an F in any logic class. The implicit message is that because Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress, the result is higher deficits. But if one looks at actual data, that argument is hard to sustain.
And then there is that darned data: That much of the deficit increase was "baked in" because of demographics (increased spending on Social Security and Medicare), or comes from things that Republicans are not willing to cut either, such as defense, or from extending unemployment benefits because of the economic crash.

So the PiPress reprieved itself with me. And, after being called out by several other letter-writers in addition to J.M. Hamilton in the past month, it seems as though the cartoons on the editorial page have been just a bit more balanced lately. Maybe it's my imagination, though. We'll see.

No comments: