Absence of Evidence

There is an interesting hypothesis that a number of people in the self-defense community likes to refer to quite often. While it generally comes from those who are focused on firearms, it also pops up in those who advocate knife carry, or even the carry of “disguised” or improvised weapons (such as the Comtech Stinger). That hypothesis is essentially how it is foolish to not carry a large tool like a full size pistol or a bigger bladed knife because with proper clothing almost anything can be hidden on a regular basis. And for proof, these lecturers will pull out the “I carried X weapon at (some crowded event or location) and no one made me”. I am not sure they are accurate.

Everyone who trots out that line needs to understand the scientific concept of “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. What does this mean exactly? It means that just because there is no apparent evidence in front of you, it does not mean that you see everything. The classic way of illustrating this is with this:

If Alice bakes a pie, then she places the pie on her window-sill.
She did not place a pie on her window-sill.
Therefore, Alice did not bake a pie

Just because the pie is not on the window sill is not evidence. Perhaps she has just removed the pie from the sill to cut a piece, or that it is still in the oven, or that she is just putting the ingredients together as she bakes.

And just as the pie not being on the window-sill means little, so does not hearing someone say “Oh, you have a gun” mean that you carrying is a beautifully concealed secret.

Here is a personal experience that demonstrates exactly what I mean. A few months ago, I was at a local Mexican restaurant on my lunch hour. As I walked to my table after ordering, I noticed an older gentleman at a corner table. What made him stand out was the fact that he wore an IDPA style vest. Now, Arizona is as pro-gun a state as exists, and I can count on one hand the number of times outside of a gun-oriented event that I have seen that style of vest. So he already stood out. I took a longer look and after about a minute I noticed the tell tale outline of a full size pistol over his right hip. Did I jump up and point at him and scream “gun!”? No. Did I call the police and report a man with a gun? No. Did I go to the person behind the counter and demand they remove Mr. Gun? Of course not. I chuckled to myself, and waited for my food.

Idpa vest

I have absolutely no doubt that guy went home that day satisfied that he walked around all day with a concealed pistol and no one knew. And he was completely wrong. I can assure you that was not an isolated incident. People carrying concealed are “made” everyday. Most likely, they are made by another gun guy, and no harm. But it does not mean they were not made. And people should be absolutely sure that they are not before making sure a bold statement.

20 thoughts on “Absence of Evidence”

  1. I think your example falls a little short. You suffer from the same fallacy — you believe you correctly identified the person as carrying –but you have no evidence of it actually being a firearm.

    Highly probable it was — but the evidence is all circumstantial.

    Nor do you know for a fact that the man went home thinking no one was aware of his carrying. – You suppose that was what he thought but for all we know, he could have deliberately dressed that way to advertise the fact he was carrying. He could have deliberately moved his vest in order for the pistol to print. Or he could have been fully aware that ‘those in the know’ would identify him for what he was.

    But to the point, the absence of evidence extends far beyond a single point quite often. We gun owners often point to multiple cases of no one noticing, not a single instance. We point to multiple cases of people being unaware of the lawful carriers. It isn’t an absence of evidence it is an totality of the absence of evidence — few people panic at the site of a firearm, few people notice the firearm, etc.

    Bob S.

    1. I disagree. I KNOW he was carrying. It was obvious. I can even tell you what pistol it was. And thinking he was advertising the fact is a huge leap of logic. If he wanted to do that, he could carry openly with no legal issues.

      And you are missing the entire point – “It isn’t an absence of evidence it is an totality of the absence of evidence” is STILL absence of evidence. If we are going to be responsible gunowners, we cannot make easy assumptions. There are too many people waiting for us to make a mistake. It is incumbent on us to make sure that if we are carrying concealed, it truly is.

      1. Sorry but you know it was a real firearm and not a training device or airsoft?

        Sorry but I’m not buying that at all. Your case is strong I will admit that. But so is the case for the Absence of Evidence — we don’t have wide spread panics, we don’t have constant reports of ‘man with a gun’, we don’t have people panicking in the street.

        Add up the lack of evidence — and it is circumstancial, again I’ll admit — but it makes a strong case for NOT being a problem. Trying to disprove a negative is impossible but the lack of issues is evidence in that direction.

        There are too many people waiting for us to make a mistake

        I agree. We have to be careful to point out that the lack of evidence is indicative not conclusive. But we can’t ignore the facts that sometimes not having problems is one of the best pieces of evidence we can have for good behavior.

        I find your use of Arizona as an example of poor concealed carry as a little misleading. Especially since Arizona has been Constitutional Carry for over 5 years. You don’t know if he was trying to remain concealed or didn’t care. YOU simply made an assumption for the sake of your argument.

        You lack evidence to support your conclusions, right?

        Bob S.

          1. Nope, Not claiming that. What I’m questioning is your infallible claims as to knowing his intentions or mindset.

            You stated
            I have absolutely no doubt that guy went home that day satisfied that he walked around all day with a concealed pistol and no one knew.

            You have an absence of evidence to support your conclusions. You didn’t ask him, you didn’t talk to him. In short, you are drawing conclusions based on the absence of evidence — “Well, he wasn’t Openly Carrying, so he MUST have been trying to be concealed”. “He was convinced no one knew” — sorry but where is the evidence to support your conclusions?

            Don’t get onto people about something then turn around and do the same thing yourself.

            Bob S.

          2. He was carrying in an IWB holster with his vest partially zipped on a day when the temperature was in the 70’s. What logical reason is there if he was not interested in being concealed? Trying to dance around and assign weird and completely illogical motives in an effort to bolster your argument shows how lacking your criticism is. It is interesting that you are arguing so vociferously about an incident that you have absolutely no way to know what I saw or how it occurred, and what transpired that led me to know what I know. I was there, you wern’t, but you are arguing about what I saw. That is really odd.

            The more important fact is how regardless of whether I even cited the incident or not has no bearing whatsoever on the point or the conclusions of the article.

      2. As Arizona is open carry, perhaps he just wanted to cover it enough so the casual observer or “non gun guy” didn’t really notice it and potentially overreact to the presence of a firearm – a “soft” or “shallow” concealment. You may be certain of what you saw, but you actually don’t know his intent without him offering it to you. Slow news day, I guess.

  2. I have concealed carried for over 40 years and I can spot a carrier if you know where to look and certain other things about them. I use a holster that does not print very well. I like to keep mine a surprise. I am not a fan of “Open Carry” that’s like putting a big target on your back.

  3. Some go out of their way to convey that they are or might be armed by wearing the tacticool “shoot me first” clothing. It’s the fashion equivalent of “Do you feel lucky, punk?”. You have to put them in the category of “probably carrying”, but who cares?

    Tying up the mental cycles of a potential adversary with this kind of thing is something I appreciate others doing for me. 😉

  4. Good reminder, Cecil.
    It’s easy to get complacent. It is certainly likely that most people won’t notice and those who do mostly won’t give any feedback. Doesn’t mean you don’t have a “tell”.
    The bulge on the hip or the “position check” with the forearm as you stand up isn’t a big deal, until someday it is a big deal.

    To paraphrase Yoda, “Conceal, or conceal not. There is no try.” 😀

    1. Chuck – Exactly. There is more than a good chance a responsible gun owner who takes the time to make sure he is concealing properly does not get “made”. It takes work, but we can do it. However, ASSuming you NEVER get made just because no one says anything is not a good idea. Especially since that could lead to complacency.

  5. I have a vest from Cabela’s that screams Gun Carrier!!?!?! whether I’m carrying at the moment or not. I try to have ham radio gear and antennas sticking out of every pocket as camouflage. =)

    Since I’ve started carrying, I’ve noticed other people carrying from time to time. Clothing plays a big part (especially if overdressed for the weather), but attitude and behavior are also big giveaways. Usually when I’ve noticed, I think it’s a combination of factors. Having a holster or belt that fits not-quite-right, causing the carrier to be adjusting their clothing/weapon frequently, is probably the most common thing I have seen that causes me to look twice.

    Fortunately, in western Washington, no one really thinks twice about wearing layers and longer garments most of the year round. I’m sure I’ve been “made” before without being aware, but it’s never been an issue. Maybe people figure I’m clearly not planning a public rampage when I’m juggling two kids under 7.

  6. Thanks for the good article (MIchael Bane pointed me to this). If I’ve been made no one has ever said anything, but I’m sure it’s happened. The best indication I have of doing it right is when at the end of the day the wife comments that she forgot/couldn’t tell I was carrying.

  7. Good article! This is one of the reasons I love open fronted Hawaiian shirts when I carry a large gun during the summer, over a t shirt.

    I don’t stand out as tactical, if anything more of a fruit loop. The t shirt covers the gun and the Hawaiian shirt covers any bulge that may pop up, especially with a loud design. Plus, who’s going to look for a gun under a shirt with flowers on it?

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