The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently published a study entitled Association Between Gun Law Reforms and Intentional Firearm Deaths in Australia, 1979-2013. “Following enactment of gun law reforms in Australia in 1996, there were no mass firearm killings through May 2016,” its authors write. “There was a more rapid decline in firearm deaths between 1997 and 2013 compared with before 1997 but also a decline in total nonfirearm suicide and homicide deaths of a greater magnitude. Because of this, it is not possible to determine whether the change in firearm deaths can be attributed to the gun law reforms.”
While the conclusion seems equitable enough, the report’s authors — Simon Chapman, PhD, Philip Alpers and Michael Jones, PhD — are hardly the people you’d choose to measure the efficacy of civilian disarmament. From medpagetoday.com:
The authors of the JAMA study had obvious conflicts, Wheeler said, with one being a member of the Coalition for Gun Control (Australia) and “Second author Philip Alpers is the founding director of the gun ban organization GunPolicy.org and is a delegate to the U.N.’s project to ban private gun ownership worldwide, the so-called Programme of Action. Mr. Alpers, although he holds the title of Adjunct Associate Professor at University of Sydney School of Public Health, apparently has no college degree and no evident qualifications other than being a premier gun prohibition activist. These are insurmountable shortcomings for authors of a supposedly peer reviewed scientific article in a journal with the reputation of JAMA.”
The lead author of the study, Professor Simon Chapman, said a similar study had been conducted 10 years ago, and that the researchers had repeated it to see if gun-related deaths were continuing to decline, finding that they had.
Professor Simon Chapman is a noted gun control advocate, who pushed hard for the policies evaluated by this study. From wikipedia.org:
He was a key member of the Coalition for Gun Control which won the 1996 Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission‘s Community Human Rights award for its advocacy for gun law reform after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.
A co-author of the paper, Associate Professor Philip Alpers, who is also the founding director of GunPolicy.org, said it was “amazing” that the reforms were still having a positive effect 20 years after they were first introduced.
Phillip Alpers does not have a formal degree. His major qualification for his associate professorship appears to be his anti-gun activism, and a number of papers he has written. From corregidor.org:
So we put it directly to the university, who on earth would referee for someone like Alpers whose various so-called scientific papers have one thing in common; they’re littered with the most clumsy and basic mathematical errors and elementary errors of logic, which invariably favour Alpers’ own arguments! Their reply:
“The University cannot disclose private and confidential information of that nature to third parties such as yourself. As all your correspondence is being copied to Associate Professor Alpers for his information, I suggest you address any further questions to him directly”.
Good idea, we thought. After being advised by Alpers that we should “feel free to ask (him) anything we couldn’t find elsewhere”, he apparently had a change of heart.
“As you’ve already been told, universities in common with other employers do not permit disclosure of reference-related information to third parties”.
So there you have it. In our day, Professors were a little different. Their many and various academic degrees, the universities that conferred these titles upon them, and the dates were all a matter of public record for every department.
Based on long-time AMA-HOD policy, the letter also calls for renewing and strengthening the assault weapons ban, including banning high-capacity magazines. AMA supports S. 150, the “Assault Weapons Ban of 2013,” which was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) can hardly be considered a neutral source for research about a policy position that they have long advocated. It was advocacy studies at the Centers For Disease Control that prompted a ban on federal funding of gun control advocacy there. The AMA has not come to its position on gun control recently. It has been an advocate for at least 24 years. From davekopel.com:
”In 1992, the AMA’s Council on Scientific Affairs promulgated a report and position paper on “Assault Weapons” (guns with a military appearance), and declared them to be a public health hazard in the United States. It recommended legislation to restrict the sale and private ownership of such firearms.
Among the critics of the AMA report was Edgar A. Suter, M.D. According to Suter (1995), “The AMA Council on Scientific Affairs did not conduct a rigorous scientific evaluation before supporting a ban on assault weapons. The Council appears to have unquestioningly accepted common misperceptions and even partisan misrepresentations regarding the nature and uses of assault weapons….While an assault weapon ban may have appeared to the Council to be a simple solution to America’s exaggerated ‘epidemic’ of violence, a scholarly review of the literature finds no reliable data to support such a ban. Unfortunately the Council’s faulty call for prohibition may distract legislators and the public from addressing effective methods of controlling violence.”
A major difficulty in any research is that people tend to find what they want to find. One of the ways it becomes a problem is selection bias. It’s clear that there’s little to no statistical support for the claim that a decrease in crime or suicides was due to the extremely strict Australian gun laws put in place in 1997.
Selection bias is a problem for all researchers. But people should be aware of studies done by advocates and published by an organization that promotes the same advocacy. This does not mean that Chapman and or Alpers consciously deceive or publish false information. It means that they are human, and more likely to see and report on that which supports their opinions.
As a “control” on mass killings, New Zealand did not implement the strict gun control laws of Australia. They eliminated much of their gun registry in favor of licensing of individual gun owners. Yet over the period of the study, New Zealand, like Australia, has not had a mass killing by gunfire. Link to Paper (PDF). Mass killings are rare events in both Australia and New Zealand.
The number of gun owners and guns owned in Australia have returned to pre-1997 levels, but the homicide and suicide rates have not.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch