Elusive Facts About Guns Violence: Where Good Surveys Go Bad

Michael D Maltz and Stephen K. Rice (ed.) Envisioning Criminology: A Handbook of Emerging Research Strategies for Studying Crime and Justice (Forthcoming)

15 Pages Posted: 21 May 2014 Last revised: 17 Aug 2014

See all articles by Philip J. Cook

Philip J. Cook

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy; Duke University, Dept. of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jens Ludwig

University of Chicago; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: May 19, 2014

Abstract

Sometimes a survey is well designed, but the resulting estimates are demonstrably wrong, and by a wide margin. For that reason, we believe that if getting a reasonably accurate estimate is important (and if it is not, why bother?), then the analyst should ask and attempt to answer the following prosaic question: “Given everything we know, both from the survey in question and other sources, is this estimate in the right ballpark?” We might call this a “plausibility test.” It may seem like common sense, but a quick scan of reports of survey results will demonstrate that a discussion of procedure is far more common than a discussion of plausibility.

In what follows we consider three examples from the study of gun ownership and use (or misuse). The first example is gun ownership – the household prevalence of guns, and the number of guns in private hands. The second is the number of individuals who are shot and wounded in assault circumstances. And the third is the number of instances in which a private individual uses a gun to defend against crime. In each case the apparent bias in estimates based on population surveys is remarkably large.

Keywords: survey, firearms, crime

JEL Classification: K42, C83

Suggested Citation

Cook, Philip J. and Ludwig, Jens, Elusive Facts About Guns Violence: Where Good Surveys Go Bad (May 19, 2014). Michael D Maltz and Stephen K. Rice (ed.) Envisioning Criminology: A Handbook of Emerging Research Strategies for Studying Crime and Justice (Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2438801

Philip J. Cook (Contact Author)

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy ( email )

201 Science Drive
Box 90312
Durham, NC 27708-0239
United States
919-613-7360 (Phone)
919-681-8288 (Fax)

Duke University, Dept. of Economics

213 Social Sciences Building
Box 90097
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jens Ludwig

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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