Four Times more Lies

By Richard Upstanding

Origins of a falsehood

All too often we hear the claim that research shows that you are four times more likely to have your gun stolen from you than to use it in self-defence. This fallacy originates from the spokespeople at Gun Free South Africa, and it has become so widely propagated through the media that many members of the public have grown to accept it as gospel. This happened despite the origins of the claim never being revealed, or any statistical evidence in support thereof supplied for scrutiny.

As time progressed the fallacy took on a life of its own, metamorphosing into different versions each as untrue as the original. “Four times as likely to have your weapon stolen” rapidly mutated into “four times as likely to have it used against you.” A baseless lie yes, but none the less an effective one.

Fortunately GFSA revealed the source of their alleged factoids as being two studies done in 1999 and 2000 by Mr Antony Altbeker, the famous author of A Country at War with Itself, so doing making it possible to further investigate their claims.

This is is exactly what I did.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

At the start I wanted to ascertain the quality of the data and the study itself, and whether or not reports made as a result had a solid statistical and factual base. Even a well written report is completely useless if the information it uses as a base is not sound in the first place. I was also aware that Mr Altbeker has been queried along similar lines before, but I was not part of that process. Although I was satisfied with the source of the information, I have seen no verifiable evidence of the claims and so thought it best to exclude that from this article.

I would also like to add that Mr Altbeker may have been responsible for the collection and interpretation of the data, but he has no control over the manner in which those organisations and individuals who cherry-pick from his studies conduct themselves. Any statistical interpretation can be misused to further an agenda. Therefore I do not wish to focus on Mr Altbeker, but rather the data and how others have chosen to use it.

Likewise I am aware of associations between Mr Altbeker and members of GFSA, and that they commissioned his second study. Be that as it may, I feel it has little bearing on the answers to my questions. This article is focused solely on a specific claim by GFSA and its alleged foundation, and not on crime or firearm use as a whole.

Questions and Answers

In an attempt to investigate the origins of the “four-times” claim by GFSA, I perused various reports to gain an understanding of how the studies were conducted, and what the general response to the research and its conclusions were.

After having read the reports which presented a balanced argument, I contacted Mr Altbeker to ask him two questions. I had thought it best to pursue the man who conducted the original research, seeing as he would know better than any as to how it should be interpreted.

  1. Does he think that the research he conducted supports the “four times more likely” claim made by GFSA?
  1. Does he think that the conclusion reached by some regarding that the findings are “not generalisable and give little or no indication of the prevalence or effectiveness of defensive gun use in South Africa” is a reasonable one?

Mr Altbeker wished to stay out of the gun debate, but he was kind enough to answer my questions by sending me some of his work in Guns and Public Policy in SA, which provides satisfactory answers.

I quote directly from this work, as well as from another by him, Are South Africans Responsible Gun Owners – A.Altbeker et al (2000).

With regards to the 1999 study:

  • “That said, in the nature of things, the cases we are looking at here are self-evidently ones in which the victims have been unable to defend themselves. They tell us, therefore, only part of the story about the likelihood, or otherwise, of defending oneself with a firearm” – Are South Africans Responsible Gun Owners – A.Altbeker et al (2000)
  • “The methodology of the study militates against drawing the conclusion that armed victims are much more likely to lose their weapons than to use them successfully” – Guns and Public Policy in SA – A.Altbeker

With regards the 2000 study:

  • “Once again data quality issues – in particular, the possibility that people who lost their weapons might have lied about the circumstances in which they did so in order to avoid a charge of negligence – mean that it is impossible to draw unambiguous conclusions” – Guns and Public Policy in SA – A.Altbeker

With regards the Hennop et al 2001 study:

  • “Given the breadth of the crimes covered, the representivity of the dockets of the population of incidents of gun-related crime is rather weaker than the other studies, therefore, the results of this work must be viewed as inconclusive. This inconclusiveness is worsened by ambiguities and inconsistencies in the reported
    findings” – Guns and Public Policy in SA – A.Altbeker

After working through the material supplied by Mr Altbeker I decided to look at international studies on the same subject. Having read through more reports I concluded that almost all of them suffered from the same problems highlighted by Mr Altbeker’s studies.

“There are, however, more such studies from other countries. Unfortunately variations in the quality of these empirical studies, as well as uncertainties about their applicability, make it difficult to be sure how relevant these are to South Africa” Guns and Public Policy in SA – A.Altbeker

In Conclusion

I believe that the quotations present a fair response to my questions. Given that Mr Altbeker was responsible for the studies conducted in 1999 and in 2000, I cannot imagine anybody having a better understanding of the data and its uses, hence my contacting him directly.

If the author of the body of work informs me that there are considerable problems pertaining to data quality, and that it is not possible to reach clear and unequivocal conclusions, it would surely be foolhardy to attempt such a thing.

The most striking and final condemnation of the lie propagated by GFSA and their constituents can be clearly read from Mr Altbeker’s work; “The methodology of the study militates against drawing the conclusion that armed victims are much more likely to lose their weapons than to use them successfully.”

This fraudulent and false assertion by GFSA that your own weapon is four times as likely to be used against you, is nothing more than a sad case where a blatant and baseless lie has been told frequently enough, and propagated widely enough, for it to become accepted as truth.

The lie is now exposed, let us set the truth free.

14 thoughts on “Four Times more Lies

  1. What I’ve learned over the years and Dr Kent Hovind said it best when he said “you can sell any lie to anyone if you mix a bit of truth in it”. Throw some rat poison in the roof and rats wont touch it. Put some sweet wine in the roof and they will get so addicted to it they will be waiting at the roof’s entrance for the next serving, mix a bit of poison with the wine and the result will speak for themselfs. GFSA is the same mix a bit of truth with a lie and you will be suprised how many will “take the bait” as truth.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. GFSA propagate their lies, half truths and questionable statistics at every opportunity because they are aware of the Illusory truth effect.

    The truth effect, the illusory truth effect or the illusion-of-truth effect is the tendency to believe information to be correct because we are exposed to it more times.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Four times more likely to have your firearms stolen or used against you versus someone not having a firearms in the first place? Ok, so by their methodology you’re also four times more likely to be able to successfully defend yourself from criminal attack (being armed) whether that be DV or a criminal/terrorism threat. Or alternatively, four times more likely to be a defenseless victim against armed perpetrators if you choose to not arm yourself or take responsibility for your own safety. The “magic ratio/statistic” of four as a baseline without any legitimate foundation of basis in fact is nothing more than a thumb suck. I guess we could also surmise, for e.g. that if there are 3-Million legally owned firearms that there should be 12-Million incidents over any given time period.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. GFSA made these claims in announcing the research. Altbeker held a press conference and was asked if the data was representative of all firearm owners. He specifically denied any such conclusion could be made. Adel Kirsten GFSA was present.

    It is not gun controls objective to present the truth. It is gun controls objective to win.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I still find it quite incredible that even today, few people seem to realise that there is real South Africa Academic research available, a 103-page dissertation from UCA no less, a paper which even GFSA and SAPS had a hand in, that inter-alia summarises as such: CHAPTER 9 CONCLUSION
    This dissertation has undertaken to evaluate the hypothesis that the implementation of a policy of stringent firearm control in South Africa will significantly decrease levels of violent crime…….Nonetheless, official documents, such as the National Crime Prevention Strategy, make sweeping statements about the positive relationship between high levels of civilian gun ownership and violent crime, about which it is claimed, there is no doubt.1
    It appears to the current author that the decision to adopt a policy of stringent gun control in South Africa was based on inadequate and selective evidence, rather than on well researched facts and a comprehensive understanding of all relevant factors……..However, reducing the number of firearms licensed to civilians will not necessarily decrease the general availability of firearms to the criminal population.
    While it is essential that every effort be made to eliminate the leakage of legal firearms into illegal circulation, there are a number of different sources from which arms can be acquired. There are also a large number of illegal firearms already in circulation.
    The ease with which criminals could obtain firearms from an alternative source should civilian pools dry up, is unknown. Thus, it cannot be assumed that gun control measures would necessarily deprive criminals of access to firearms.
    Finally, the alleged positive correlation between the prevalence of civilian gun ownership and the incidence of violent crime was investigated. An examination of the evidence from Southern Africa and abroad indicates that the alleged positive empirically demonstrated. Some of the most recent and reliable studies, in fact, find a negative correlation between high levels of civilian gun ownership and violent crime.
    It is essential that South Africa take cognisance of the research findings from abroad and the success or failure of gun control in other countries. All the relevant data should be reviewed to avoid squandering scarce resources and repeating the mistakes of other nations. This being said, policy makers need to remain acutely aware of the unique situation in which South Africa finds itself. It should not attempt to
    impose policies that are out of sync with South African political and social culture, resources and government capacity.
    It is also vital that extensive research be conducted into the relationship between civilian owned weapons and violent crime in South Africa, in particular the prevalence and effectiveness of defensive gun use. It is possible that the efficacy of stringent gun control measures could hinge on the prevalence of defensive gun use relative to the number of licensed civilian firearms that are illegally used in the perpetration of
    crimes. If the incidence of DGU exceeds the use of firearms in the perpetration of crimes, then stringent gun control measures could exacerbate, rather than ameliorate the crime situation.

    And that’s just two pages.

    Liked by 1 person

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