Research and Statistics - Old and New

To follow up on last month's discussion of sources, I'd like to share another research tidbit, this one gleaned from the pages of De Bow's Review a New Orleans magazine dealing with Southern agriculture and commerce. Again, I have to thank Wayne Bengston for guiding me to the website where De Bow's can be read on-line.

The magazine's "Editorial Miscellany" column for April 1861 notes: "The proprietors have placed in our hands a self cocking hair trigger revolver, which is one of the simplest, cheapest and most powerful instruments of defense with which we have met. The agent for New Orleans is O. S. Jennings, 20 Camp Street. Our contemporary of the "Crescent" says most truthfully of the weapon: 'Starr's revolvers - We made a trial with one of these pistols a few days since, and must acknowledge that we were agreeable surprised by its great range and accuracy. Without being heavier than is desirable for a serviceable belt-pistol, they carry a sufficiently heavy ball to be effective, and, in the hands of a good marksman, a man could be brought down every time at from one hundred to one hundred fifty yards. The trial we made convinced us of this, and further, that they possess all the advantages of the Colt army and navy revolver, with additional ones of being better adapted for quick shooting, and having conveniences for cleaning and keeping in order what in active service will render them less liable to damage. Military companies, about supplying themselves with side arms, could do no better than choose this pistol'"

The story reveals that there was at least one Model 1858 double action Starr revolver in New Orleans at the outbreak of the Civil War, and probably a few more. It does not, however, tell us that Louisiana reenactor cavalry regiments should load up on reproduction Starr double actions, although there seems little doubt that any Starrs available would have seen service.

Despite constant factual misrepresentations by politicians like Joseph Hoeffel and their allies in the mass media who harass legitimate firearms owners with bogus "gun safety" legislation, accidental deaths from firearms continue to drop dramatically in the United States. In my own state, New Jersey, there was a 53% drop in accidental firearm fatalities between 1987 and 1996. The National Shooting Sports Foundation reports an increasing downward trend in national accident statistics as well, both in states with strict gun control, like Hawaii as well as states with little gun control, like Utah, both of which had no fatalities in 1998, the latest year for which statistics are available. Common sense indicates that the role of antique or replica firearms in these accidents is, as in criminal acts, minimal to non-existent.

At this point there is no way of knowing, however, because, despite the allegations of Mr. Hoeffel, still desperately in search of a "soccer mom" election issue, available information is incomplete and fragmentary - even using the congressman's own sources. I have been fortunate enough to secure, through the auspices of a reader, a copy of the elusive report prepared by the BATF and submitted by Director Bradley A. Buckles to Hoeffel's staff.

It is, as I expected, a statistical patch-job, to say the least. A pie graph accompanying the report classifies 45% of the 775 antique guns involved in "Crimes Reported With Antique Firearm Traces Submitted From January 1, 1997 to January 12, 2000" as connected with unspecified "Weapon Offenses." Other slices of the pie are associated with "Possession of Weapon" (10%), "Dangerous Drugs" (11%), "Stolen Property" (2%), Health-Safety (10%), and "Burglary" (3%). There is no clarification or breakdown of what these statistics signify, but it is likely that they mean tha