JAMA Gun Control Study: More Mush from the Wimps

 David Hemenway (courtesy uvm.edu)

Dr. Michael S. brown writes:

The headline at the top of Thursday’s front page of The Columbian: 50-state study says more gun laws equal fewer deaths. It’s an AP story based entirely on an article published in JAMA Internal Medicine called Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Fatalities in the United States. The study is a heavily biased, scientifically unsustainable piece of “research” cobbled together from suspect data, created by the usual suspects (e.g., Harvard’s David Hemenway). For years, small groups of Northeast intellectuals have been churning out anti-gun agit prop supported by grants from liberal donors. They never stand up to careful scrutiny . . .

The text of this document includes the following admission: “our study could not determine cause-and-effect relationships.” And no wonder. The Brady Campaign to prevent Gun Violence and another notoriously anti-gun Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence provided the data. The Joyce Foundation provided funding.

Anyway, here’s the stated methodology:

Using an ecological and cross-sectional method, we retrospectively analyzed all firearm-related deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System from 2007 through 2010. We used state-level firearm legislation across 5 categories of laws to create a “legislative strength score,” and measured the association of the score with state mortality rates using a clustered Poisson regression. States were divided into quartiles based on their score.

The process is riddled with “issues.” “All firearms related deaths” includes suicides, which account for 60.9 percent of these fatalities. The correlation between firearms laws and suicides is both unlikely and unproven. The Brady Campaign chose the “5 categories of laws” applied in the study. They examined laws that . . .

(1) curb firearm trafficking; (2) strengthen background checks on purchasers of firearms beyond those required by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act; (3) ensure child safety; (4) ban military style assault weapons; and (5) restrict guns in public places

Not only are the categories ridiculous vague (“ensure child safety”) and arbitrary, they are misleading and scientifically dubious. As less than five percent of all homicides involve a rifle of any sort, why consider laws banning “assault rifles” when attempting to examine the cause and effect relationship between gun control and homicide rates?

Bottom line: this is a throw-away study. Another piece of faux scholarship [rightly] discounted by independent researchers and dissected by bloggers. of course, its publication has nothing to do with social science; it’s a key part of the civilian disarmament movement’s plan for influencing fence straddlers.

Each study is picked up by the mainstream media, reduced to a headline or a few soundbites and spewed forth into the news stream to make a single, brief, anti-gun, impression on the public consciousness. Almost everyone will read the headline, very few will read the uncritical article, and virtually nobody will actually go online and look up the study itself. That’s how editors get away with publishing junk science, they know you won’t look behind the curtain.

I was surprised that good folks at The Columbian were taken in by the anti-gun propaganda machine, but then I noticed that there was also an editorial calling for more gun laws and it started to make sense. When I saw the unflattering cartoon depicting the President of the NRA, I finally got the complete picture. The Columbian simply hates guns and they don’t care who knows it. They chose to run the sycophantic AP article, because it appeared to back up their appeal for more gun laws.

I decided to take a look at the Elway poll mentioned in the editorial. While some anti-gun measures did get a majority, it does not look like Washingtonians are strongly in the mood for more gun laws. In fact by 55 to 37 percent, respondents said they felt protecting gun rights was more important than controlling gun ownership. It sounds to me like some people are simply confused and I don’t blame them a bit.

The gun debate has always been carried out with a distinct lack of logic and evidence. The fight is waged with emotional soundbites and buzzwords intended to obfuscate and influence opinion without causing any deep thinking. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to do their own research online and bypass the media mavens who feel they know what is best for you. Fortunately, that is slowly changing.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is a member of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership