The “terror gap”: terror suspects legally permitted to buy guns

nra gun control terror loophole

Francis Clines, “The Terror Loophole”:

The law that requires background checks on gun buyers is full of loopholes, some big and some small, but the most egregious loophole of all may be the fact that people on the F.B.I.’s terrorist watch list are legally entitled to buy firearms and explosives. And they have been doing so at an alarming rate. Between February 2004 and December 2010, individuals whose names turned up on the list were cleared to purchase firearms or explosives a total of 1,321 times, according to the General Accounting Office.

Who could possibly be against stopping this? Oh right, the NRA:

[A proposed measure] would give the Attorney General authority to stop a firearm or explosive sale when a background check reveals the buyer is a known or suspected terrorist who the Attorney General reasonably believes may be planning mayhem. The National Rifle Association opposed the measure in the past because the terrorist watch list has been shown to contain errors.

That’s right – we have to let terrorists buy guns so that the small percentage of people who might not be terrorists can bear arms to their heart’s content.

Your probability of dying from a firearm (or, how to manipulate statistics)

probability of dying from a firearm

The above is a line chart of your probability of dying from a firearm each year from 2003 to 2010 (it would have included more years, but finding death statistics is a pain for some reason). I made it to demonstrate how easy it is to manipulate numbers in order to tell a specific story. The numbers work out – I found the probability of dying in the United States, found the probability of dying of a firearm given you died, and multiplied them together. 

The chart would lead you to believe that your chances of dying from a firearm have fallen. The problem is that this chart doesn’t include anywhere near enough information to tell a full story. You have to look at the actual year-by-year statistics to see the full story. That means looking at the number of deaths, the number of firearm deaths, and the probabilities involved.

When you look at the actual numbers, the number of gun deaths per year had indeed fallen from 2003 to 2010. However, the difference to the final probability of dying from a firearm was in reality negligible, falling from 0.0038% to 0.0032%.

(Also, the number of deaths from firearms last year was higher than in 2003, so the trend didn’t continue.)

Keep this in mind when looking about statistics and graphics about political issues.

How The Glock Became America’s Weapon Of Choice

glock pistol

How The Glock Became America’s Weapon Of Choice : NPR:

One early advantage for police departments, says Barrett, was that Glock gave them large discounts when purchasing the gun for their departments.

“This was smart, because the point was to get the police departments to adopt the gun, and that would give the gun credibility in the much larger, much more lucrative civilian market, where you can charge full price and get your full profit margin,” says Barrett. “So this was … a very crafty strategy.”

Another strategy, says Barrett, was to get the Glock screen time in Hollywood. In 1990, the Glock began to appear in the hands of police officers in Law and Order and other police procedural shows. It was also used by Bruce Willis in the movie Die Hard 2. Willis’ character gave a long soliloquy touting the advantages of using a Glock.

Listened to the entire story on NPR last night. I can’t believe how brilliantly the Glock was marketed. Later in the piece, Barrett describes how the initial Glock was mostly plastic, which combined with its popularity led to fears of terrorists and criminals being able to sneak guns past metal detectors. This eventually caused a fuss in Congress, which ended up being a big embarrassment for gun control advocates because their fears were actually pretty stupid – the gun still had several metal parts, and any bullets a potential terrorist would need to shoot someone would be metal as well. In the end, all they did was give Glock attention at a national level, making it a household name.