March 1, 2018

Tribalism and Virtue Signaling

On the heels of the most recent school shooting, a number of companies have taken steps to eliminate discounts for members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and others have elected to stop selling certain firearms.

Wal-Mart and Dick's Sporting Goods have said that they will no longer sell firearms to anyone under the age of 21. Dick's Sporting Goods also reported that they were "immediately ending its sales of military-style semi-automatic rifles."

Delta, United Airlines, Metlife, Symantec, Simplisafe, Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis Budget announced that they had ceased offering discounts to members of the NRA. First Bank of Omaha elected to stop offering an NRA-branded VISA card. There may be others now which I have missed, and others which will do the same in the future.

The constitutionality of halting sales to anyone under the age of 21 is somewhat questionable, though that may be a question for state law. Certainly, one would have difficulty imagining that a store which stated that a person was "too old," if otherwise legally qualified to own a gun, would be on firm legal ground.

However, this aside, it is clear that what is going on here is virtue signaling to the internet mob.

Let's consider the following statistics for a moment:

1. The NRA has between 4 and 6 million members, give or take. While they say "over 5 million," rough estimates from various internet sources (such as here) seem to think it's 4 - 6, give or take.

2. The amount of gun violence committed by NRA members appears to be quite small; smaller than the general populace. For instance, it is statistically unlikely that every owner of the 270 million to 310 million guns (or more - since that is 5 years old or so), is a member of the NRA. And, it is difficult to glean how many members of the NRA commit gun crimes, or what percentage of overall gun crimes are committed by NRA members.

However, suppose we look at gun crimes committed by those who have concealed carry permits (CCP). The author estimates that there were 14.5 million CCPs as of July 26, 2016. Then, the author looks at Florida (1.4 million CCP permit holders) and Texas (1.05 million CCP holders) - both states which collect data on licenses revoked for gun crimes. The author reports:
Concealed carry permit holders are even more law-abiding than police. Between October 1, 1987 and June 30, 2015, Florida revoked 9,999 concealed handgun permits for misdemeanors or felonies. This is an annual revocation rate of 12.8 permits per 100,000. In 2013 (the last year for which data is available), 158 permit holders were convicted of a felony or misdemeanor – a conviction rate of 22.3 per 100,000.
Among police, firearms violations occur at a rate of 16.5 per 100,000 officers. Among permit holders in Florida and Texas, the rate is only 2.4 per 100,000. That is just 1/7th of the rate for police officers. But there's no need to focus on Texas and Florida — the data are similar in other states.
Let's assume, for a moment, that 2.4 / 100,000 is a similar rate of firearms violations for the general NRA population, and that 12.8 / 100,000 is the number of annual revocations of CCPs for NRA members. Now, if my math is correct, this would mean that 144 NRA members (of 6 million) have firearms violations each year, and that 768 (of 6 million) have their CCPs revoked each year for misdemeanors or felonies. Relatedly, further reading seems to indicate that in cases of gun crime "in approximately 8 out of 10 cases, the perpetrator was not a lawful gun owner but rather in illegal possession of a weapon that belonged to someone else."

So, the question is, given the (apparently) ridiculously low rate of gun crime among NRA members (taking this data as a loose proxy), the companies ending their affiliations with NRA members can only have in mind their marketing and tribal affiliations. No step they could take in making NRA members pay more for their services will likely change deaths, shootings, or any other crime statistic. Nor will it likely reduce membership in the NRA, nor make the NRA change its stance on gun control.

The question of ceasing sales of certain firearms is a bit more complex, but (in the end) will likely result in the same outcome. Statistics of gun crimes committed each year reveal that "Handguns are used in about nine times as many murders and eight times as many nonfatal  violent crimes than rifles, shotguns, and other firearms combined." In fact, one op-ed writer has said:
The only thing unique about assault rifles is their menacing name and look, and it is these elements that make them such an appealing — if not particularly sensible — target of gun control advocates.
The same writer added:
Little wonder then that a 2004 study commissioned by the Department of Justice found that the federal ban [on assault-style rifles from 1994 to 2004] didn't lead to any decrease in gun crime or gun deaths. For starters, rifles, assault or otherwise, are rarely used in gun crime. Notwithstanding the two rifles used in San Bernardino (and a few other memorable mass killings), rifles account for only about 3% of criminal gun deaths. Gun crime in the United States, including most mass shootings, is overwhelmingly handgun crime.
So, while ceasing sale of "assault-style" rifles feels good, because the guns look like military fully-automatic weapons, it is truly only good in feeling.

As for raising the age to purchase firearms to 21 - it sounds good, but of crimes committed, how many people under the age of 21 had actually purchased the guns for themselves, and how many had stolen them from lawful owners or obtained them in other ways? While I am out of time to continue these thoughts, I hazard that more gun violence from people ages 18 - 21 is committed with stolen or gifted weapons (given the cost of purchase of weapons) than with those purchased by the criminals themselves.

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