Alex Hannaford is a Slippery Eel

Alex Hannaford is a slippery eel. The evidence: this column that he wrote about gun culture in the United States (Hannaford is a Brit – a writer for the Guardian).

The first misleading thing about the column is the title: “What I Discovered when I Got a Gun.” Hannaford did, in fact, buy a gun, complete with concealed-carry permit, but he doesn’t seem to have learned anything from the experience that he didn’t already know, nor does he provide any account of how the experience changed him. What he does instead is try to pass this off as research, but it won’t fly.

Let’s start with this:

According to the Houston Chronicle, 500 firearms companies, hunting outfitters and gun antique collectors will ply their trade to a somewhat captive audience. And there’s even a national prayer breakfast on the NRA’s schedule, because, let’s face it, in America, God and guns go together like hamburger and fries.

“Somewhat captive audience” is an interesting turn of phrase to describe an audience that has purchased tickets to attend. Do we typically refer to moviegoers as a “somewhat captive audience?” We do not. Would Hannaford refer to the protestors at an abortion rally as a “somewhat captive audience?” He would not. This exists to, depending on your level of intelligence, either insult it or take advantage of lack of same.

And since when to “God and guns go together?” Guns and conservatism go together, and God and conservatism go together, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone make the case that God and guns go together. Quite the contrary, I’m aware of very few churches at which it is normal to carry a gun. The number is admittedly not zero, but the point is that guns are not generally associated with the Christian experience.

Then we get into the meat of the article: Mr. Hannaford recently wrote a bit about the first modern-day school shooting – which Hannaford identifies as Charles Whitman, even though Wikipedia knows of several dating back to the 1920s before that – in which he mentioned that the assailant used a sawed-off shotgun. Of course, as one of his readers pointed out to him, the assailant did no such thing, as a sawed-off would be pretty ineffective for a tower shooting. The commenter wonders sarcastically whether it would be too much to ask for columnists to do a little research before spouting “correct” opinions about subjects. Here’s the commenter’s actual quote:

If you try sniping at passers-by from the top of a 27-storey tower with a sawn-off shotgun, you aren’t going to get very far. Minor point, but is it too much to ask that writers have some familiarity with the subject that they’re writing about, rather than just having the correct prejudices?

Here’s Hannaford’s Very Mature Response:

Minor point, but Whitman did have a sawn-off shotgun (among others). Here’s the police report.

Notice how Hannaford wants you to miss that the commenter was criticizing him for saying (incorrectly) that the sniper used a sawed-off, not for saying (correctly) that he had one in his possession. It’s the former, after all, that is relevant to criticisms of his level of knowledge about guns. The latter relates to his level of reading skills, which is not being criticized.

But Mr. Hannaford is generous enough to acknowledge that the commenter is essentially correct: he only knows guns from stats. So, he went out and bought a gun. Then he goes on to tell us nothing that he learned from buying a gun. Instead, we get a bunch of those same statistics that were his original sole source of knowledge about gun violence. Predictably, he can’t even use them correctly.

For example:

Where I live in Austin, there are about 82 home invasions a year – in a city of 820,000 people. You’re far more likely to be injured by your own gun than to need one to use against somebody breaking in at night.

This is, of course, a completely meaningless thing to say since it makes no claims about the relationship between the level of gun ownership and the rate of home invasions in Austin. Nor does it address the real issue, which is that people have a right to defend their homes from invasion regardless of how likely it is that their home will be invaded, and whether or not a gun seems likely to help is their decision to make, not Mr. Hannaford’s. He can certainly give advice, but given his general ignorance of how to use a gun, it is unlikely to be very useful advice. Simply saying that something is unlikely to help is a long way from justifying restricting its use, especially when fundamental rights are involved.

Where it gets hillarious, though, is when he “forgets,” later in the column, to put statistics in perspective when they’re serving his cause. So, for example, we get this:

On average, over the last 25 years, one person has been murdered in Tara and Jim’s home city every day – and more than three-quarters of those were by a gun.

The “home city” is Philadelphia, and of course he provides no statistics on home invasions in Philly. But for giggles, let’s apply the same math to the murder rate in Philadelphia that he did – erm, hinted he had done – to home invasions in Austin. In a city of 820,000, there are 82 home invasions a year, so you have a 1 in 10,000 chance of experiencing a home invasion in Austin in a given year. Philadelphia is a city of 1.5 million people, so if there is a murder a day that’s 365, meaning that you have a 1 in 4100 chance of being murdered in Philly. But wait, only 75% of those were by gun. So, really, your chances of being killed in the relevant way are 1 in 5500. Maybe there is some blazing white line between 1 in 10000 and 1 in 5500 that I’m missing, but it seems like the chances are pretty low in both cases. So, if we don’t need guns to prepare for home invasion in Austin, why do we need prevention measures to address the murder problem in Philadelphia? I guess it’s because, you know, things are only Officially Unlikely if they’re smaller than 1 in 7000? Or something?

Well, what the hay, let’s take him at his word. If something has long become a clear and present danger by the time it’s reached a rate of 1 in 5500, then … yup, Philadelphia’s home invasion rate – at a whopping 2911 for a city of 1.5million (aka 1 in 515) – pretty clearly makes the cut. So, I guess Mr. Hannaford will go ahead and admit that Phlly residents need guns to defend against home invasion right? Right?

Not likely – and that’s because this ship sailed long before it left harbor. The rest of the column is equally duplicitous. For example, remember how we were supposed to be shocked that over 75% of homicides in Philadelphia involved guns, and that there was one homicide a day? Yeah, well, later on in the column he’s forgotten that:

A daily shooting resulting in death in Philadelphia is so commonplace that it rarely makes the news.

You see, he’s “forgotten” that his murder a day number was of murders a day, not gun murders a day. There isn’t a gun murder a day in Philadelphia – or anywhere in the US.

For another example, you may wonder why we’re talking about Philadelphia at all, given that this started off in Texas. Well, it’s because Hannaford has some friends there who run what would appear to be a very useful organization called Cure Violence, which treats violence as a public health issue and uses tactics from disease control to stop its spread. You may have already noticed something that Hannaford apparently didn’t, which is that they’re focused on violence in general, and not just gun violence. Aside from a mention on their front page, gun violence doesn’t seem to be privileged anywhere in their literature. Which sort of begs the question why Mr. Hannaford is so fixated on it? Surely it’s violence that’s the tragedy, right? You can shoot someone to death or beat him to death, what matters is the death? And that’s the duplicitous part: Mr. Hannaford presents Cure Violence in the context of a gun control debate when that evidently isn’t their primary concern. Moreover, it is an organization which pursues a strategy of changing societal norms – weapons elimination isn’t (directly) on the agenda. Cure Violence is a campaign for minds and social customs.

The charitable explanation would be that Mr. Hannaford is just name-dropping. He knows some people in Cure Violence but hasn’t taken the time to explore what it’s all about. But that’s not the explanation I believe. I believe that, like with so many people on the left, the idea that gun control is a kind of panacea is an article of faith with Mr. Hannaford, and under a certain threshold it really doesn’t matter how much research he does, because he will tend to see facts in a way that confirms his biases regardless. That’s why he can buy a gun, note the fact, and move on – there was never a genuine attempt to understand the other side in the first place. That’s why he can easily forget, in the same printed column, just how many murders were actually gun murders in Philadelphia in a year. That’s why he never thinks to compare his data points about home invasion and homicide. And that’s why there is never any attempt whatever to put gun crime in context. 75% of homicides in Philadelphia involve guns, and that’s all you need to know. As though a single, isolated data point were ever the basis of a cogent opinion about any social issue, let alone one as complex as this one.

2 thoughts on “Alex Hannaford is a Slippery Eel

  1. It’s weird. I have no interest in ever owning a gun. IDK why, I just don’t care to. Yet I sometimes find myself getting mad at some of the criticisms people make about guns. It’s not even criticisms of guns that irritates me. It’s just some of the arguements they present bother me for some reason.

  2. Right on. I have some interest in owning a gun, but it’s evidently not a very dedicated one since the only gun I own stays unloaded in the basement because I’m scared to fire it. HA! But yeah, there are some issues where the normal rules of logic are suspended, and this is definitely one of them. I’m in grad school (nominally), so I have a lot of professor friends on Facebook, and it’s completely SHOCKING to me how these otherwise intelligent, well-educated people who would see through the faulty logic in less time than it takes Jared Fogel to eat a footlong were it any other subject post the most poorly-constructed arguments imaginable on gun control. Here’s a particularly egregious example: http://joshuawherring.com/blog/?p=2505

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>