Snopes.com appears to be branching out from objective myth busting to politicized myth creation. They recently published a “review” of a Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy piece by Don Kates and Gary Mauser. A review that was long on opinion, but short on facts. Thanks to DRGO, here’s Dr. Mauser’s letter to Snopes.com… to which they have yet to respond.
Barbara & David Mikkelson
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mikkelson:
I am writing to request that Snopes.com retract “Harvard Flaw Review,” by Kim LaCapria. This review makes numerous errors in discussing a paper that Don Kates and I wrote: “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?” published by the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. It is doubtful that the reviewer read our paper.
Her review of our paper is demonstrably biased. She merely reiterated a single, biased source, David Hemenway. Had she read papers by well-respected academic researchers Gary Kleck or John Lott she would have encountered scholarly opinions that differ from the usual public health advocacy. It is difficult to understand why Snopes.com would assign her as a Fact Checker.
LaCapria displays her biases in describing the lead author of our article, Don Kates, only as a “gun rights enthusiast.” She should have acknowledged that Don B. Kates is a highly respected scholar. He wrote the classic paper, “Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment,” which was the first modern article in a major law review arguing for the individual-rights view of the Second Amendment. Since then he wrote or co-wrote over 15 more law review articles, as well as writing, co-writing or editing four books. The scholarship of Don B. Kates was the catalyst for the legal briefs filed before the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 case that reaffirmed the individual right to arms. Based on his publications in law reviews, Kates became an advisor to the plaintiff’s counsel in the Heller case, Alan Gura.
Kim LaCapria incorrectly claims our research article, “was not peer-reviewed, it didn’t constitute a study, and it misrepresented separate research to draw shaky, unsupported conclusions.” Her most egregious errors are listed below.
First, her critique avoids coming to grips with the factual arguments in our paper and largely focuses on reports instead. If our claims are false, why not show that this is the case? Our article thoroughly reviews the evidence linking civilian availability of firearms with murder and suicide rates in all European countries for which published statistics are available. We show that civilian firearms ownership is not linked with homicide and suicide rates. LaCapria ignores our factual arguments. See Kleck here, here and here for thorough review of studies that attempt to link the availability of firearms with criminal violence.
Second, her comments are drawn virtually holus bolus from comments made by anti-gun campaigner David Hemenway in 2009. Hemenway has been characterized as having a “‘blinding bias’ that ‘colors his science … and ultimately his credibility as a scientist.’” As well, the respected criminologist Gary Kleck is unimpressed with Hemenway.
Third, following Hemenway, LaCapria claims our paper “didn’t constitute a study.” Our paper is a legal brief, not a scientific analysis, which is just as much a “study” as is a scientific experiment. Our paper is a factual analysis intended to inform public policy development.
Scientific studies, properly conducted, are designed to test hypotheses, not advocate policy positions. Hemenway is correct in saying that science is the search for truth. However, this definition rules out scientific studies being used as vehicles for advocacy. Certainly, advocates can use scientific studies, but in doing so they abandon science for advocacy. If Hemenway’s criterion were honestly applied, that science is the search for truth, it would exclude virtually all studies on firearms by public health researchers, which are nothing more than advocacy dressed up in pseudo-scientific guise.
Fourth, she claims, “the publication that carried it was a self-identified ideology-based editorial outlet edited by Harvard students.” This exaggerates the supposed ideological bent of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, which defines itself as “the journal [that] is … the nation’s leading forum for conservative and libertarian legal scholarship.” Apparently, she is ignorant of the ideological bias of Hemenway’s public health school. His organization’s mission is neither scientific nor scholarly, but rather evangelical: “To reduce the societal burden of injury and violence—through surveillance, research, intervention, evaluation, outreach, dissemination, and training.”
Fifth, LaCapria errs in insisting that our analysis of gun control regimes in Europe was not a “Harvard study.” Our study is legitimately associated with Harvard because it was published by the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, an actual Harvard University law review journal. She implies that we misrepresented ourselves as Harvard professors. This is incorrect. It’s difficult to see how anyone reading our article would imagine we were Harvard professors since our professional affiliations are given on the first page of the article. LaCapria fails to understand academic research. University-based researchers publish their work (or studies) in academic journals, which are housed at one university or another.
LaCapria is correct in saying our paper was not peer reviewed, only in that it was not reviewed by other academics. However, it was reviewed by advanced graduate students at Harvard Law before being accepted for publication. Law students are well known to be meticulous scholars, even if they are neither scientists nor yet lawyers. The Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy is highly regarded for publishing solid scholarship. Law review articles frequently offer excellent analyses of controversial political issues, such as the effectiveness of firearms laws, and are frequently cited in legal decisions, including those of the US Supreme Court. For example, our paper was cited twice in the famous DC vs. Heller case in 2008, not only by Justice Scalia, in voicing the majority decision of the US Supreme Court, but also by Justice Breyer in dissent.
Sixth, LaCapria errs when she claims, “the paper disingenuously misrepresented extant research to draw its conclusions.”
We did not. It is incorrect to claim we commit the fallacy of asserting that lack of evidence of effectiveness is proof of ineffectiveness. In our paper we state clearly that the body of research has “failed to identify any gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide or gun accidents.” This does not differ in any important aspect from the conclusions drawn by the papers we cited. For instance: “The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.”
Our research stands. Our article thoroughly reviews the evidence linking civilian availability of firearms with murder and suicide rates in all European countries for which published statistics are available. We show that civilian firearms ownership there is not linked with homicide and suicide rates. Neither LaCapria’s nor Hemenway’s remarks diminish the validity and significance of our study.
Your prompt response to this request will be appreciated.
Gary Mauser, Ph.D.
Professor emeritus, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C. Canada
Gary Mauser, PhD is professor emeritus in the Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies and the Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia. He specializes in criminology and economics, has published extensively on firearms legislation, firearms and violence, and has provided expert testimony on criminal justice issues to the Canadian government.