Researchers Gauge Gun Policy
Two UC Irvine mathematical scientists published research considering the effectiveness of gun control policies in the scientific journal, PLOS ONE, late last month.
For their paper, lead author and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Dominik Wodarz and his co-author and wife, Department of Mathematics Professor Natalia L. Komarova, use data on gun policies spanning as far back as World War I to create equations to compute the success of policies.
“This debate cannot be settled satisfactorily by verbal arguments alone, since these are often driven by opinion and lack a solid scientific backing,” said the authors.
The researchers found that stricter reduced legal firearm availability is likely to decrease common domestic and one-on-one crimes, while more widely legal gun availability improves the chances of lives being saved, given that armed citizens are sufficiently trained to use their firearms.
“What is under debate is essentially an epidemiological problem: How do different gun control strategies affect the rate at which people become killed by attackers, and how can this rate be minimized?” said the researchers.
The mathematicians suggest that several parts of their equations should be studied further, including the number of offenders who illegally possess firearms, the number of people who legally carry guns when being attacked and the statistical degree of protection provided by legally owning a firearm.
The two also believe that missing data can influence their research, as their research provides a model that defines what needs to be measured.
Homeowners who possess and use firearms to stop a robbery and defend their homes are not likely to report their actions to the authorities.
Furthermore, “stand your ground” laws, which are currently being debated in the George Zimmerman case, may also influence their research.
“Whether such laws better protect the public or increase deaths needs to be determined statistically,” Wodarz said. “Do you have a greater chance of dying if you run or if you face your attacker with a weapon?”
Federal funds became available for research in gun control earlier this year when President Barack Obama declared firearms deaths a public health crisis. This was preceded by the deaths of 20 children and eight adults in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of December that initially reignited debate over gun control policy.
Peer reviews of their findings expressed a wide range of opinions.
On one extreme, a couple of reviewers were very positive, while on the other, a peer stated that scientific methods had nothing useful to contribute to the gun debate.
The authors of the paper were aware that their work may be criticized severely, but believe that their work must be published for the public so that further research can be carried out.
“If the current discussion could be steered toward science, rather than having a heated debate without much of a logical foundation, a big step forward toward saving lives would be achieved.”