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November 22, 2010

There’s Lies, Damned Lies, And Carefully Researched Washington Post Articles.

The Washington Post dedicated a team of reporters to a yearlong investigation into the sources of guns used in the killings of police officers.  The Post presumably focused on police officers as there were not enough data available for a more sympathetic demographic, say, nuns, or orphans, or small fuzzy bunnies, or small fuzzy orphan nun bunnies.

Unfortunately, once they compiled all the data, it turns out that not only were 100% of these heinous crimes traced back to the act of an individual and not the spontaneous act of the firearm itself, but also that the vast majority of firearms used by these criminals had been obtained illegally, as has long been the argument of activists who support the legal ownership of firearms.

However, just because the facts were insufficiently compelling didn’t mean the Post had to abandon its preferred narrative.

Here is the chart they prepared for the print edition of the Sunday paper:

Gun Stats

You see, guns were not just “stolen” but also “taken” from friends (stolen), otherwise seized from officers (stolen), or secured through various other illegal means.  What does breaking down all the guns that were obtained illegally into several subcategories while lumping those that were legally acquired into just one accomplish?

The Post gets to claim:

“Legal purchase was the leading source of weapons used to kill police officers.”

Now that's pretty impressive.  Sure, you could technically claim that the leading source of weapons was “unknown,” since 170 guns couldn’t be tracked.  You could also point out that a careful reading of the statistics reveals that police officers are at less peril from gun show sales than from the guns they have in their holsters when they go to harass gun shows, but that’s not what’s important.

What’s important is that you can use the Washington Post’s professional approach to statistical analysis in your own life. 

Let’s say your girlfriend complains that you blow all your money drinking.  Just prepare this handy chart for her:

I Spend Most Of My Money On Food


"Food is the leading source of your personal expenditures."



Welcome William M. Briggs readers ("Statistician to the Stars!"). Please make yourselves at home, just keep in mind that I will be counting the silverware. 

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November 22, 2010 at 03:23 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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234 Illegally obtained
107 Legally obtained
170 Unknown

Does this mean that 107 officer lives would have been saved if only gun ownership had been made illegal? Doesn't seem likely. Or does it mean that criminals are more likely to shoot police officers? We'd have guessed that but these numbers don't tell us that, only that 511 officers were killed by people who were or had just become criminals.

What *do* these numbers tell us? Other than being a cop is a risky job and we ought to respect people prepared to do it.

Posted by: Rich | Nov 24, 2010 9:03:55 AM

Good one. To lull you into a false sense of security – I only use plastic-ware; leaving silverware for aristocrats like you ;-)

Posted by: DEEBEE | Nov 24, 2010 7:38:53 AM

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