A Fordham University history professor recently was caught fabricating a statistic about the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
In a May 19 Slate article, gun control advocate Saul Cornell claimed the AR-15 is “200 times more deadly” than the rifles used in the American Revolution.
“Recent events in New York have brought the grim realities of America’s gun violence problem into sharp relief,” Cornell wrote. “In both instances, the perpetrators took advantage of the nation’s lax gun laws and legally purchased firearms whose lethality would have been unimaginable to the authors of the Second Amendment.”
Cornell also chided conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices for clinging to “originalist fantasy” and being “happy to parrot the propaganda” put forth by the National Rifle Association.
But National Review’s Kevin Williamson asked Cornell about the “200 times” statistic and discovered the professor had used World War II-era machine guns as a “stand-in” for AR-15s.
“World War II–era machine guns came in many different varieties,” Williamson writes, “but all of them were, by definition, fully automatic weapons, and practically all of them fired cartridges that were far more powerful than the 5.56mm NATO round used in most AR-style rifles.”
Cornell (pictured) conceded to Williamson it was a “mistake” to use the machine guns for his comparison and instead should have used the 1903 Springfield rifle. But even this, Williamson says, “would have been a willful misrepresentation.”
Professor Cornell’s explanation, self-indicting though it is, still doesn’t make sense: Substituting the World War II–era machine guns for the AR-style rifle, as he says he did, still would not produce that figure of 200x lethality. When I asked him about this, he replied that “this was all done quickly and I can’t reconstruct the process I used to come up with the figure based on my computer drafts.”
In response to my criticism, Slate has appended a correction to the article [see here], which now says that the problem was an “extrapolation” error and that the real number is something like 50x. How that figure was arrived at is anybody’s guess, given that Professor Cornell doesn’t know how he arrived at the earlier one, but the most relevant point is that this explanation is a lie. There was no extrapolation error, because there was no extrapolation, because there was nothing from which to extrapolate. The matter of AR-style rifles simply is not considered in the study, and there isn’t anything comparable from which to extrapolate.
Williamson says making mistakes and botching statistical conclusions happens. But this is not what Cornell did here — “he simply made up a number and then attributed it to a study that says nothing at all about the thing he claims it characterizes.”
According to his faculty page, Cornell is the former director of the Second Amendment Research Centre.
IMAGES: Shutterstock.com; Fordham U. screencap