Marc Parrish Debunked on Big Data Crime Prevention

The Atlantic published a piece by Marc Parrish titled “How Big Data Can Solve America’s Gun Problem.” I’ve never heard of Marc Parrish and this appears to be the only article he has ever written for The Atlantic. If he’s new to journalism and debate, maybe he can be excused for proposing such a silly idea. Maybe.

Either way, I’m here today to debunk the Marc Parrish “big data” gun control idea that he posited here. I have a problem with everything in this article, starting with the title and basically every sentence to the very end. Even just a cursory examination of his idea should make it obvious that it is a seriously flawed idea.

Marc Parrish’s Idea

The basic idea is that the government should be collecting data on all gun purchases and ammo in order to detect dangerous purchasing patterns. March Parrish explains that in the marketing world, big data is used to identify trends and collect vast amounts of useful information.

He argues that big data could be used by the government in a similar fashion to help detect, prevent and learn from mass shootings. He says that people underestimate big data and that we could learn a lot about mass shootings by simply collecting data over a period of time and analyzing it, with the long term goal of being able to identify potentially dangerous purchasing patterns.

This might sound like a good idea to liberals at first glance, but a closer look at this proposal reveals several serious flaws. By the time I finish debunking this silly idea, I think that even the most ardent gun control liberals will have to agree that its implementation would yield few if any results despite great costs to our liberty and finances.

Let’s get started:

“That’s a tragedy, because combining simple math and the power of crowds could give us the tools we need to red flag potential killers even without new restrictions on the guns anyone can buy. Privacy advocates may hate the idea, but an open national database of ammunition and gun purchases may be what America needs if we’re ever going to get our mass shooting problem under control.”

Privacy isn’t something you can just sweep under the rug with a simple “but” clause. That’s how every bad idea in the world begins. It’s just as stupid as the “I’m not racist, but…” statement that you hear from the drunk guy at the end of the bar.

The whole privacy thing is actually a pretty big deal. And liberals do believe in privacy, right? I remember liberals taking strong stands on privacy in issues such as sexuality, drug use and internet regulation. If you truly value privacy as one of the founding principles of this nation, then surely you also believe in privacy in regards to the 2nd Amendment, even if you don’t particularly like gun ownership.

You see, liberals, you need to have some consistency when it comes to privacy. You can’t just pick and choose when privacy is good and when it is bad. If you want to pick and choose, you are not a liberal; you are a tyrant determining the law based not upon principle, but based upon your whims of the moment.

If you want to pick and choose when privacy applies and when it doesn’t apply, you weaken every other argument that you have ever based on privacy in the past. All your old debates, court arguments  and Facebook statuses that espoused privacy become weaker because you are admitting that it’s OK to violate privacy if you add a “but we have to do something about Some Random Issue” clause.

In regards to our “mass shooting problem,” Marc Parrish gets it wrong again. These are extremely rare instances today and equally rare today as they were 50+ years ago. When we see such a heart-wrenching tragedy, it makes us sick, worried and sad. That’s a good thing.

The problem is that we jump straight to the Something Must Be Done demands. We get scared and we need comforting. Even though mass shootings are extremely rare, they scare us. We want to feel safe. We want to know that someone is doing something, anything. Instead of taking a little time to confront the problem with reason, we demand something be done now.

That something might not actually solve anything, but at least something was done.

Next quote:

“It doesn’t take a PhD in statistics to see that a quick, massive buildup of arms like this by a private individual — especially one, like Holmes, who was known in his community for having growing mental health issues — should raise a red flag.”

Actually no. People have all sorts of legitimate reasons for ordering lots of ammo. For one, it’s cheaper to buy ammo in bulk. And that’s important because ammo is expensive and it’s easy to shoot through a few hundred rounds in a day at the range.

Where do you draw the line at bulk ammo purchases? If you were to flag everyone who bought 500 or 1000 rounds at a time, you would have FBI agents working around the clock tracking down the thousands of people who place bulk orders for ammunition every month.

Every gun shop, gun show and website that sells ammo offers discounts for bulk purchases. Purchasing ammo in bulk is no different than purchasing any other commodity in bulk. It’s cheaper and more efficient to buy ammo in bulk.

On top of that, what do you do when your system flags someone who has purchased “too much” ammo? Do you send a couple of agents over to ask that person if he/she is planning to commit a mass murder? Simply flagging someone in your database won’t prevent a tragedy from happening.

And even more to the point, a bulk ammo purchase isn’t necessary to pull off a massacre. If you put the limit at, say, a thousand rounds, it won’t make any difference. Not one of these mass shooters carried even nearly that much ammunition. It only takes a few dozen rounds to cause considerable damage.

“In Newtown, Adam Lanza carried hundreds of rounds — enough to kill every student in the Sandy Hook Elementary school if he had not been stopped. But he also attempted to destroy his hard drives to cover his pre-rampage digital tracks. Clearly he feared the data he left behind.”

Adam Lanza stole his guns and ammo from his mother. Adam Lanza is the worst possible example to cite in the case of tracking ammo sales. Big data would not have stopped him because he stole the ammo from someone else. There’s no way to track that.

We should also note the phrase above “if he had not been stopped.” Adam Lanza was only stopped when he was confronted with armed responders. It’s a damn shame some teacher with a CCW permit and a gun wasn’t already there that day. Lives could have been saved.

Next quote:

“The list of examples can go on. Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech student who committed the worst mass shooting in American history, bought two semi-automatic handguns, along with hollow point bullets, from dealers in just over a month. A few weeks later, he purchased 10-round magazines from a seller in Idaho through eBay.”

This quote is a perfect example of the general ignorance of gun grabbers. Two handguns and ammunition is not a mass purchase. Magazines are necessary to even fire those guns. This is hardly a “mass purchase” worthy of sending up red flags. A system that would have flagged the Virginia Tech shooter would flag countless normal gun owners.

Hollow point bullets are hardly worthy of being flagged as dangerous. Our own police use hollow point ammunition because it is less likely to penetrate through walls and bad guys. The alternative is to use full metal jacket ammunition and place more innocent people in danger. Hollow points are not evil.

As a side note – the author shows the futility of banning 30 round magazines with this article. So-called high capacity magazines were not even used in THE WORST mass shooting in American history.

Data Collection Will Cause More Harm Than Good

This last point may not bother gun grabbers, but data collection sets a bad precedent. That data can eventually be used against law abiding gun owners. We just have to look at the recent controversy surrounding the Journal News’ decision to publish the names and addresses of gun permit owners in New York.

It’s hard to see how even the most advanced algorithm could come even remotely close to accurately predicting dangerous behavior in a nation of 300 million privately owned guns. One of the commenters (Daniel Schwartz) in Marc’s very own article put it best:

Statistically, mass shootings, horrifying as they are, are almost absurdly unlikely. There are an estimated 300 million guns in private hands in the United States, and something like 100 million gun owners. Yet 99.999999% of them (do the math) did NOT commit murder on that terrible day. Trying to predict, in advance, who that millionth of one percent is… well, this makes looking for a needle in a haystack seem trivially easy.”

Data collection won’t do the job and it won’t prevent crimes from taking place. Data collection is a reactionary measure, not a preventive measure. The only thing it will do is put legal gun owners on the same types of lists we normally reserve for pedophiles and rapists.

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