7.64x54mmR cartridge.

What Do Brady Campaign Rankings Really Mean?

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence became the new name for Handgun Control, Incorporated, the latest form of an organization which has been lobbying politically for tougher firearms purchase and registration laws since the 1970s. The National Council to Control Handguns was founded in 1974. It was renamed Handgun Control, Inc in 1980. HCI was renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2001.

The Brady Campaign and its Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence are non-profit organizations. Pro-gun advocates like to point out that the Better Business Bureau's Charity Review in January 2010 and April 2012 stated that the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence failed to meet five out of twenty standards for charity accountability.

However, before you get too excited, the BBB has given the NRA a C- on a scale of F to A+, and at times may not accredit them at all. That's a different scoring system, as the BBB considers the NRA to be a business.

Also compare these Charity Navigator ratings:

Charity Navigator Ratings
Organization Overall Financial Accountability &
Transparency
Brady Center 50.34 / 70 46.60 / 70 55.00 / 70
NRA Foundation 48.51 / 70 54.29 / 70 44.00 / 70

Enough of how other organizations rate the Brady Campaign. What about the rankings the Brady Campaign publishes? How meaningful are they?

What, If Anything, Do High and Low Brady Campaign Rankings Really Mean?

Since 2007, the Brady Campaign has calculated and published a 100-point scorecard ranking states based on their laws restricting and recording gun purchases. The higher their rating out of a potential 100 points, the tougher those laws.

Unfortunately, the laws accomplish very little in the way of Preventing Gun Violence. Let's compare the very top and bottom of the Brady Campaign's rankings, their "4 stars" and "3 stars" regulatory leaders, and the 2-point and 0-point bottom of the barrel. and the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division, Crime in the United States 2011, Table 20, murder by state and types of weapons:

State Brady ranking, 2011
Rank
 
Points
 
California 1 81
New Jersey 2 72
Massachusetts 3 65
New York 4 62
Connecticut 5 58
Hawaii 6 50
... ... ...
Idaho 47 (tie) 2
Kentucky 47 (tie) 2
Louisiana 47 (tie) 2
Montana 47 (tie) 2
North Dakota 47 (tie) 2
Oklahoma 47 (tie) 2
Alaska 50 (tie) 0
Arizona 50 (tie) 0
Utah 50 (tie) 0
State 2011 firearms murders
Total Per 100,000
population
California 1,220 3.21
New Jersey 269 3.05
Massachusetts 122 1.85
New York 445 2.29
Connecticut 94 2.63
Hawaii 1 0.07
... ... ...
Idaho 17 1.06
Kentucky 100 2.29
Louisiana 402 8.60
Montana 7 0.70
North Dakota 6 0.88
Oklahoma 131 3.43
Alaska 16 2.16
Arizona 222 3.32
Utah 26 0.91

If we throw out the outliers of peaceful Hawaii (clearly Hawaii Five-0 is fiction) and downright dangerous Louisiana, the remaining top 5 and bottom 8 aren't very different at all in per-capita homicide rates. If anything, the remaining members of the Brady Campaign's bottom eight have fewer firearms homicides per capita.

As the FBI stresses in their dedicated Caution Against Ranking page, you have to be careful about reading meaning into these numbers. They say:

To assess criminality and law enforcement's response from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, one must consider many variables, some of which, while having significant impact on crime, are not readily measurable or applicable pervasively among all locales. Geographic and demographic factors specific to each jurisdiction must be considered and applied if one is going to make an accurate and complete assessment of crime in that jurisdiction.

That page goes on to list some of the important factors:

Historically, the causes and origins of crime have been the subjects of investigation by many disciplines. Some factors that are known to affect the volume and type of crime occurring from place to place are:

  • Population density and degree of urbanization.
  • Variations in composition of the population, particularly youth concentration.
  • Stability of the population with respect to residents' mobility, commuting patterns, and transient factors.
  • Modes of transportation and highway system.
  • Economic conditions, including median income, poverty level, and job availability.
  • Cultural factors and educational, recreational, and religious characteristics.
  • Family conditions with respect to divorce and family cohesiveness.
  • Climate.
  • Effective strength of law enforcement agencies.
  • Administrative and investigative emphases of law enforcement.
  • Policies of other components of the criminal justice system (i.e., prosecutorial, judicial, correctional, and probational).
  • Citizens' attitudes toward crime.
  • Crime reporting practices of the citizenry.

A very interesting analysis appears in Responding to the Crisis of Firearm Violence in the United States, Comment on "Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Fatalities in the United States" by Garen J. Wintemute in JAMA Internal Medicine 2013;173(9):740. He is severely criticizing an article in the same issue in which its authors concluded that states with more firearms laws had lower rates of firearms fatalities. Wintemute, a prominent anti-gun medical researcher, wrote:

Their main finding is that having more laws on the books is associated with having lower rates of firearm-related homicide and suicide. This would be an important finding—if it were robust and if its meaning were clear.

He criticizes the authors' use of information from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, because both are advocacy organizations and the "scorecard" has never been validated for use in serious research.

He then points out that the cause and effect is most likely working in the opposite direction the Brady Center would like you to think — existing low rates of firearms ownership make anti-gun laws easier to pass:

When Fleegler et al accounted for the prevalence of firearm ownership, the association between firearm laws and firearm fatalities essentially disappeared. Perhaps these laws decrease mortality by decreasing firearm ownership, in which case firearm ownership mediates the association. But perhaps, and more plausibly, these laws are more readily enacted in states where the prevalence of firearm ownership is low—there will be less opposition to them—and firearm ownership confounds the association.

If one of the most prominent anti-gun medical researchers won't accept conclusions based on Brady Campaign rankings, they don't mean much. Read his paper for the full details. The rankings say "Strict laws are strict" and "We like strict laws", but they just don't have a connection to the claimed purpose of reducing gun violence.

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