The Unstudied Study

In September, three researchers from the University of Maryland and University of Michigan released a study that examined eleven years of data on the date and location of “every” gun show in the states of California and Texas, the nation’s two most populous states. They combined this with information on the date, location, and cause of every death occurring in these same two states during the same period. They then attempted to determine if the gun shows had an effect on gun-related deaths, with “two important caveats.” They only examined deaths that occurred within 25 miles of the gun shows, and in the four weeks immediately following their conclusion.

They concluded that the results of their study “suggest that gun shows do not increase the number of homicides or suicides and that the absence of gun show regulations does not increase the number of gun-related deaths as proponents of these regulations suggest.” The inference was that the 87% of Americans who want to close the Gun Show Loophole—which allows private individuals to sell guns at these events without conducting background checks on purchasers–are misguided.

The National Rifle Association was ecstatic, and claimed that the study “obliterates Anti-Gunners’ claims” that gun shows are “totally unregulated arms bazaars.”

The NRA’s victory dance might have been a tad premature, however. Just last week, researchers from five universities across America sent the study’s authors a formal and public letter. They had examined the study’s methodology and found it deeply flawed. Two of their main criticisms were as follows:

The geographic and time restrictions in the study reflected a poor understanding of illegal gun markets. The study only looked at gun-related deaths within a 25-mile radius of a gun show, despite evidence that a large portion of crime guns recovered are purchased either out-of-state (19.3% and 27.7%, respectively, for Texas and California in 2007) or in-state but not in the immediate vicinity (For Dallas and Los Angeles in 2000, only half of traced crime guns were recovered within 25 miles of their point of initial sale). Furthermore, the study only looked at gun-related deaths in the four weeks immediately following a gun show. In Texas and California, however, the average time from a gun’s sale to its recovery following use in crime was 9.8 and 12.9 years, respectively, in 2007.

The study failed to account for every gun show in California and Texas. The study used just one publication, theGun and Knife Show Calendar, to identify gun shows in the two states. Additional listings in publications like the Big Show Journal, however, indicate that the study’s authors failed to identify roughly 20% of the gun shows that occurred in California and Texas during the study period.

The NRA might have also missed a story that came out of Texas just two weeks ago. Gregorio Martinez, a convicted felon, was arrested at the Bell County Gun Show in Texas after attempting to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle. Criminals don’t shop at gun shows? Martinez didn’t get the gun lobby memo. Nor did the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which has confirmed that gun shows are the second leading source of illegally diverted firearms in the United States (behind only corrupt federally licensed dealers).

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