Thursday, March 6, 2014


So, recently Mike has been thinking about the second amendment. No surprise, but it's not doing any better than the first amendment. Here's and article about Maryland confiscating guns from criminals who have registered firearms.

Sounds like a great idea, right? I agree 100% with you that criminals should not have guns. But if you do the math and look at the real numbers, things are not as they seem.

One of my favorite books on computer programming philosophy is Programming Pearls by Jon Bentley. In one chapter, he asks a bunch of people to estimate how much water out of the Mississippi River in one day. They all use different methods, and come up with similar, reasonable answers, which is a measure of how reasonable their methods are. So let's see, if we assume the claims in this article to be accurate, what we can derive about gun owners and crime using several different methods of estimating. Will our answers be reasonable?

So let's assume the numbers in the article to be accurate. That means Maryland has 1.1 million gun owners (since they say that 110,000 is 10% of them). That's out of a population of 5.8 million, or 19% of Marylanders own a gun. Sounds reasonable, as it is similar to the rate in other states.

California has a population of 38 million and 22.5% of them own guns, for a total of 8.55 million gun owners. According to the article, there are 50,000 "disqualified" gun owners in the state of California since 2007, which is about 7,000 a year, or 0.08% per year. And note that California isn't just disqualifying people based on committing crimes, as Maryland is proposing. In California they are also illegally using supposedly private medical data (protected under HIPAA) to disqualify people who have sought psychiatric help.

Therefore, one would expect the disqualified rate in Maryland to be less than that in California. So why is there such a high percentage of disqualified gun owners in Maryland? Are Maryland people evil? I don't think so. I think the numbers are inflated to scare the public into supporting bad legislation. The numbers just don't seem reasonable.

If you look at it different ways, it's still fishy (or even fishier). In the absence of hard data I'm going to make some reasonable assumptions. You can change the numbers one way or the other, but you will still get results that are fishy.

Let's assume that the average first time gun buyer is in his 30s, and will live another 40 years. If 1% of Maryland gun owners "turns evil" and gets disqualified for owning firearms every year, then over that 40 years, 33% of all gun owners will commit felonies (1 - 0.9940). Sorry, but that is orders of magnitude over the average for the population in general, and even more so for legal gun owners (remember, these are people who have had a clean record up until now - what are the odds that after 35 years of being an upstanding citizen someone decides to rob a liquor store?)

Let's try a third method. 95% of gun crimes involve illegally obtained guns. So if 11,000 (1%) of these legal guns are being used in crimes (yes, I know the gun owners could become felons for crimes not involving guns, but if they are not using guns illegally, then the whole argument for keeping the guns away from them vanishes), then the crime rate in Maryland must include 220,000 gun related violent crimes per year. That number is higher than the total number of crimes committed in the state in a year (which is 189,816) and way higher than the number of violent crimes committed (28,079).

No, these numbers make about as much sense as claiming in 2003 that Iraq had nuclear missiles that could reach the US.

The other thing the article speaks about is closing the background check "gap," whereby a person could purchase a gun without a background check if it took more than a week. Folks, there is no such gap. That law was made back when background checks had to be done by people walking around looking through files by hand. Background checks are done in real time over the phone, via computer. The longest I have ever heard of a background check taking is 2 hours, and that was because some equipment was down.

It's ridiculous to think that felons are walking out with guns because background checks are taking more than two weeks. In fact, it is ridiculous to think that felons routinely submit themselves to background checks. They know they're going to be denied, so why waste the money going to a gun store and trying to purchase a gun legally? As noted above, 95% of them obtain their guns illegally.

I will note that eliminating a time limit is a good way for the state to stop sales of guns to legitimate buyers, however, by intentionally slowing the system. This whole thing is just a way to sneak in permission for the state to confiscate weapons from or deny weapons to law abiding citizens.


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