Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I Sometimes Wonder If I Just Don't Enjoy Amateur Astronomy Enough

Especially when I see an ad like this one:
am selling my DarkStar 22" f/4.5 Dobsonian telescope. She sets up with absolutely no tools or ladders whatsoever in less than 15 minutes. (Although you will need a ladder for viewing at zenith, as she is 8 foot high at the eyepiece!) Unlike other big dobs, she nests together for just one easy trip from the truck to the field. She comes with high resolution digital setting circles and hardware (bring your own computer), 6' wheel barrel handles, 10" tires, black rip-stop shroud, and a Telrad finder. Pegasus primary and secondary. $6000 US dollars, if using paypal, add the customary 3%. Scope is located halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor Michigan.

Before I get 100 emails asking, I have found a 30" dob, thus I must sell my baby to fund my further exploration of space.

Friday, October 3, 2003

Part of Why I'm Skeptical of the Claims Against John Lott's Work

It's because his opponents are clearly fierce anti-gun advocates, and not above a few tricks of their own. You read their work outside of the statistical area, and it's clear that the are either not very careful thinkers, or are playing fast and loose. As an example, consider this recent presentation by John J. Donohue III, one of Lott's strongest critics. The paper is ostensibly about the rise of non-discretionary concealed weapon permit laws (what Donohue calls "Right To Carry" or RTC). Donohue points to the recent example of actor Sean Penn, who has a California concealed weapon permit (apparently issued in violation of California law), and how two of his guns were stolen from his car. While Donohue acknowledges that Penn "succeeded in getting one of the relatively few gun permits in the non-RTC state of California," raising this issue as part of a discussion of RTC laws makes no sense at all.

Donohue also points to the now thoroughly discredited Violence Policy Center claim that in Texas, "41 permit holders were arrested for murder or attempted murder...." While admitting that some might have been falsely accused, Donohue never acknowledges that it is routine for Texas district attorneys to charge anyone engaged in a defensive shooting, and that many of these "arrests" never turn into criminal charges, because the grand jury refuses to indict. Donohue makes the claim,
During the first 5 and one-half years of the Texas RTC law, the Violence Policy Center was able to identify that 41 permit holders were arrested for murder or attempted murder (the number would be too low if the researchers didn’t capture every permit holder in their count or if some permit holders committed murder and didn’t get arrested, and would be too high if some were falsely accused). The Violence Policy Center, License to Kill IV (June 2002), http://www.vpc.org/studies/ltk4cont.htm. The current murder rate in the U.S. across all groups is roughly 5 per 100,000, so if one takes 150,000 as the average number of permits over the first five year period, one would expect roughly 7.5 murders per year from gun permit holders (if they killed at the same rate as the average American today), which totals 41 murders over the full period.
There are a number of misleading aspects to this statement. The VPC study claims 41 permit holders "arrested for murder or attempted murder" which Donohue then compares to "41 murders over the full period." Donohue's apples and oranges comparison is either a sign of carelessness, or dishonesty. Which does he want to cop to?

The VPC report also neglects to tell us how many of those murder and attempted murder charges involved guns. Doubtless, a majority, but what relevance would a murder committed with a knife, poison, or a blunt object have to the Texas concealed handgun license? Donohue has to know this. Where's the qualifying explanation?

Donohue acknowledges--parenthetically--that the VPC's number of murders and attempted murders "would be too high if some were falsely accused" but doesn't bother to look at the readily available evidence on this. Examining Texas statistics shows that as of May 17, 1999, there were 22 murder charges filed. Of these, 2 were convicted, and 4 were dismissed. The rest were still pending. Even making the unlikely assumption that every remaining charge would result in a conviction or guilty plea, this still means that VPC's "41" charges are going to be 33 or 34 convictions, and most likely, a good bit less than that. For the year 2001, there was one murder conviction of a licensee, and 157 convictions of non-licensees. This also suggests that the VPC's "41" charges overstates the actual number of murders and attempted murders committed by Texas licensees (unless, of course, 2001 was a very unusual year).

There are other problems with the VPC report that Donohue seems to have missed. The VPC report lists at least two murders that took place on the property of the killer (Jack Reynolds and Daniel Meehan)--where a concealed weapon permit makes no difference whatsoever.

The VPC also lists a kidnapping where no gun was involved, until the victim tried to get away from the kidnapper's home--at which point the kidnapper used a rifle. A license to carry made no difference in this case at all.

Some of the cases that the VPC points to seem to have left no tracks after the arrest. They list a Randy Phil Allen II who was arrested in 1999 for a 1988 murder (which would have been before the Texas RTC law took effect). But whatever happened? There is a Randy Phil Allen II who lives in Texas, but while he responded to my email, he refuses to answer my email inquiry if he is the same Randy Phil Allen II arrested in 1999.

1. It seems a bit hard to believe that this exact match of name is a coincidence.

2. If it is a coincidence, and he is not the guy who was arrested in 1999, why not respond with, "No, I am not the same guy."

3. If this is the same Randy Phil Allen II who was arrested in 1999, he clearly could not have been convicted, or he wouldn't be out of prison already.

If the claim is that John Lott has violated professional standards in how he has presented his information, Donohue is in no position to cast any stones. Using VPC's information, while not discussing its serious shortcomings, is clearly misleading. To quote Donohue:
It is also important for the political and scholarly audiences to be sensitive to signs of over-zealousness on the part of researchers as this may give clues that something more than the search for truth is motivating the research.