Gun numbers don’t hold up

By From page A13 | March 17, 2013

After reading the article in The Davis Enterprise on Garen Wintemute’s scientific study on illegal gun sales, I had more questions than answers. Being a numbers guy, I couldn’t quite get my arms around his extrapolated data regarding so-called straw purchases and attempted undocumented purchases of firearms.

If I just take his numbers at face value and assume he just applied those to the whole population (not necessarily a valid technique), his reported results are way out of line. Taking his sample size of 1,601 retailers out of a population of 9,720, he claims that participants reported 2,051 attempted straw purchases and 2,254 attempted undocumented purchases (the validity of which are in question, but I will get to that in a moment).

Applying those numbers and extrapolating by a factor of six for the entire population, one might expect to arrive at 12,306 attempted straw purchases and 13,524 attempted undocumented purchases. But Wintemute reports nearly 34,000 attempted straw purchases and 37,000 attempted undocumented purchases — or roughly 2.75 times those numbers. Did I miss something in the article?

Now, back to those attempted illegal straw purchases. There was no hard evidence to support those claims since the numbers were arrived at based on what the retailers “thought” the customers were trying to do. Just try taking that to court. Scientific studies are not solely based on opinions, attitudes and feelings.

I applaud Wintemute’s efforts at digging a little deeper into the problem and I’m all for shutting off access to guns for those who shouldn’t have them. But in my view, this is more of a SWAG (scientific wild-a$$ guess) than a true scientific study. What I’d be more interested in are the cases where the government failed to prosecute those who broke the law.

Greg Stovall


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