Policy based on bad statistics

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Policy based on bad statistics

We are always fascinated when we see policy being made based on bad statistics, particularly when the bad statistics are being used to push a political, religious, or philosophical agenda.

One recent example is the use of guns from the U.S. by drug dealers in Mexico. The claim has been made that 90% of guns confiscated from the drug lords originate in the U.S.

By our calculation, the actual number is closer to 15% (though we have seen some other calculations, which we cannot replicate, as high as 17%, so one might wonder where the 90% figure comes from. Well, of the roughly 35,000 weapons confiscated, only those that might have come from the U.S. are sent here for tracing. Of the roughly 11,000 weapons sent to the U.S. for tracing, roughly 6,000 were actually traceable, and of these 6,000 only 5,114 were found to have originated in the U.S. This is slightly over 85%, which has apparently been rounded up to 90% for mathematical simplicity.

Now, some of these weapons are likely supplied by the U.S. government as part of our support of Mexico’s army and police. Certainly actual assault weapons – by which we mean fully-automatic weapons, not merely weapons that look ugly military – are simply not available for purchase by civilians in the U.S. They are, however, available from our government, from other countries in Latin America, from China and South Korea, and from a host of other countries that we are sure would be accessible to a drug cartel with $40 billion in annual revenue. Certainly more easily available in the international arms market than buying them a few at a time in Texas!

There is no question but that American consumption of drugs has caused a serious drug war problem in Mexico. This drug war may possibly be a national security issue. Or it may not: An NPR interview, which can be heard at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102390087, presented border mayors who claim that the drug war problem is overblown.

But, national security issue or not, it is not an issue fueled primarily, or even largely, by guns from America. Because of this, any American gun policy based on the bad 90% statistic would be bad policy indeed.

More to the point, any policy based on bad statistics will result in bad policy.

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