Shannon Watts (front right) (courtesy

Ever since the school shooting in Newtown, one of the preferred tactics for gun control advocates has been to argue that guns kill lots of children every year. It’s one hell of a propaganda claim, since there’s nothing quite like the bodies of dead children to empower the Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex, override the analytical abilities of the voting public and try to sneak through a little gun control legislation. We’ve seen this tactic before from the New York Times and we thoroughly debunked it. Now it looks like a medical student and his advisor have taken it upon themselves to pick up the mantle and try to advance the party line a little further. And once again, they’ve used some remarkably flawed data to back up their efforts . . .

To be fair, it was actually Discovery that first tipped me off to this steaming turd of a study, but NBC News will get no less of my ire for actually running with it.

The study was conducted by a Boston medical student and his adviser at Harvard. They ostensibly investigated the death rate of “children” at hospitals from gunshot wounds. Right away we run into a problem, because like the New York Times article the medical student in question includes all patients under the age of 20 in his definition of “children.”

The reason the word “children” is so loaded is that it evokes images of innocent, cherub-faced little tots barely old enough for elementary school. The picture that the title of the article and that the study tries to paint is one of innocent little Suzie being shot and dying before her 10th birthday. But in reality, as I discussed in the Times takedown, the vast and overwhelming majority of deaths from firearms for this age range happens in those 15 and over.

Personally, my cut-off for calling someone a child is where the state believes that they’re capable of operating a deadly machine at high speeds on the public roadways: 16. Any reasonable person might expand that definition to, at most, 18. But the study included, ahem, “children” up to the age of 20 because the probability of being wounded or killed by a gun increases drastically for every year between the ages of 15 and 20. The numbers simply weren’t big enough using actual children, so the study’s authors padded their numbers with those cohorts most associated with gang membership.

OK, so the stats are plainly padded. But before we actually get to the numbers, where do these authors get their statistics? From the NBC article:

Madenci, and his colleague, Dr. Christopher Weldon, a surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, tallied the new statistics by culling a national database of 36 million pediatric hospitalizations from 1997 to 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Wait. So, what they were looking at were the numbers of pediatric patients hospitalized for gunshot wounds? That would exclude anyone who A) was admitted to a non-pediatric service, B) was killed at the scene and never transported to the hospital, or C) was treated at a hospital that didn’t report in to the database. That’s like trying to get water out of a well using a sieve.

OK, so the data set includes an abnormally large swath of the population and uses a terribly flawed database for its input. What were the results?

During that period, hospitalizations of kids and teens aged 20 and younger from gunshot wounds jumped from 4,270 to 7,730. Firearm deaths of children logged by hospitals rose from 317 in 1997 to 503 in 2009, records showed.

That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The authors claim that nationwide, the trend for “children” dying from firearm related causes is on the rise, but I just ran the numbers from the CDC, and they paint a different story.

For actual “children” (12 and under), the following stats were recorded:

  • 1997: 318 fatalities
  • 2009: 209 fatalities

For “children” between 13 and 19, here’s what the CDC said was going on:

  • 1997: 3,905 fatalities
  • 2009: 2,502 fatalities

Two things pop out immediately. First, the study conducted by the med student and his mentor missed a couple thousand fatalities. Second, their conclusions were completely bogus.

If the study and NBC News are to be believed, the number of children dying from gunshot wounds is on the rise. But if we look at an actually unbiased source (the CDC, who collect all death-related statistics in the United States), the number of deaths from firearms is declining.

What’s even more astounding is that the raw number going down, not just the rate. With the increase in population we might expect that the raw number of children killed by guns to rise in proportion to the population, but the rate to remain the same or drop slightly. In this case, both the raw number AND the rate are declining. And yet NBC News and Discovery are both reporting that these numbers are on the rise.

The issue here is really the source of the data. If the authors wanted to know the truth about whether increased gun ownership is increasing the risk of fatal incidents involving firearms, the CDC’s numbers are there and readily available — he didn’t need to go trudging through an incomplete and obscure database for statistics. But rather than look at the whole picture, they decided to restrict their input to deaths in hospitals.

As an EMT, I can tell you that we don’t typically transport corpses to the hospital emergency room — they go straight to the morgue. Those instances aren’t counted in the study. Similarly, not all injuries are serious enough for a $400+ ambulance ride and $1,000 hospital bill. Those instances aren’t in the study either. And including both those instances, you start to clearly see the downward – not upward – trend in “children” and firearms related deaths.

In the Discovery version of the article, the author of the study officially loses all credibility as far as statistical analytical ability is concerned.

“Based on our research, we know that there is a clear correlation between household gun ownership (and gun safety practices) and childhood gunshot wounds in the home on a large scale,” Madenci said in an email to Discovery News. […] He said he decided to look at the question of gun ownership and childhood gun deaths after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

If the author were to say that the overall accident rate for children in houses with guns had increased, that would be an interesting finding. But he didn’t — he wrote that gun accidents happen more when guns are present. That’s like saying households with cars are more likely to have a family member die in a car accident. What would be a persuasive argument to me is if the author proved that having a gun in the home increases the overall death rate (including all methods of death), because that would indicate that guns increase the overall probability of death. But he didn’t.

All he did was point out that by owning a certain object you’re more likely to be killed by that object that means nothing. Unless he’s trying to get some free publicity to help in his search for an intern position at a hospital in the near future, that is.

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41 Responses to NBC Touts Study Showing Gun-Related Fatalities in Children is On the Rise, Forgets to Fact-Check

  1. Couldn’t someone just make a simple graph with age on x-axis (0-20) and deaths on the y-axis, so we don’t have to define “children”? Oh right, that wouldn’t stimulate any righteous indignation.

  2. Regarding the photo: why do these people always generally look the same? They all look like they picked their clothes out of a Goodwill donations bin, and even the younger-looking woman second from left in the back row, who is somewhat attractive, still has grey hair and garbage-bin clothes. They all look like homeless elementary school teachers, more or less.

      • nothing wrong with it, just commenting on the appearance of even the younger women in the photo having grey hair. perhaps it’s just the lighting – could be making it look that way.

        I’ve just always noticed that a lot of hardcore liberal women seem to go grey early. perhaps they just don’t bother covering it up.

        • In the UK we might call them the ‘Blue-rinse’ brigade. Moral busy-bodies, generally over 50’s with the kids gone and no-one to mother.

      • Mmmm. Shannon Watts(TM). Actually fellas, I am digging up some things you will like. She does dress way better than this. Give me some time though. Once it is out, I will get banned on a bunch of places so I gotta make it count

        • I don’t see the appeal. She’s a hatable, big-foreheaded carney. Dirk if you DO ever get to bang that troll then you need to take a hit for the team: AIDS. I would say HPV too but I am pretty sure you have that base covered.

        • You won’t get banned here… RF got away with posting half nekkid Isrealis and they let KJW do trick shots in yoga pants ( that last one nearly caused a trucker at work to crash my gate while watching her) not that I’m complainin either way

  3. Speaking of statistics, I learned today from Kathleen Sebelius that the measure of Obamacare is not the number of people dropped from their insurers but the number of people who still have insurance.

    So really, we should be focusing on how many children have NOT been killed, right?

    • I made similar argument many years ago when I was still living in Kalifornia. The evening news reported 10 people had been shot in Los Angeles metro over the holiday weekend. My response was, “Over 10 million people were not shot in Los Angeles this weekend.”

  4. Nailed it, as usual. Ain’t logic a bitch?

    While deaths by gunshot are of course an important topic and statistic, I am curious as to how many “children” are actually shot, under whatever circumstances, every year, then a breakdown of age groups, gang or criminal affiliation/activity, suicides, and verifiable accidental shootings. The leftovers would be, of course, intentional shootings of children, and I like your classification of 16 and under.

    Why do these reports always focus on only those who died? Didn’t I read a statistic on this site not long ago that only about 25%-30% of persons shot with a pistol are likely to die of those wounds?

  5. Nick – doesn’t leaving out those who go straight to the morgue skew the stats lower? In other words, the number of deaths should be “taken to hospital” PLUS “straight to morgue”, right? Otherwise, I appreciate your analysis.

  6. It is the liberal, ummm, oh, hmmmm. let’s say “Progressive” tactic to use “Emotional Shock Reactions to garner leverage to get what they want .. you guys haven’t figured that out yet? It is plainly written in their instruction manuals for want to be radicals that this is what to do to promote socialism, er, ah, ummmmm, PROGRESSIVEISM that is ….

  7. Those CDC reports are so bloody cluttered, it’s almost impossible to get any information out of them.

    I’d like a 10 year set, showing age, gender, race and location (urban, suburban, rural) in graph form. I can pretty much guarantee the results though.

    Compared to firearms laws AND arrest records regarding firearms for each respective year, there should be no real correlation between laws and deaths (if you believe the Harvard report), and arrests should in theory go up during times of higher legal restrictions (not everyone can keep things hidden).

    It just bothers me we have to stoop to using dry and crusty data sets in order to push the emotional blackmail out of the way so we can just live our lives…

  8. Right after that picture was taken….DiFi, Shannon Watts and the rest of those ladies ate that child.

    Not only is the picture with the article photographic proof that liberals eat children…I have recently completed a study that indicates more children are eaten by liberals, then are killed by aliens.

  9. Congratulations to the Harvard turd-polisher and his captive butt-buddy for faking yet another study. The two of them are everything we’re come to expect from the nation’s oldest and most politicized institution of higher learning.

  10. Some people are quick on the uptake. Last night, Piers Morgan said child death from firearms was increasing. I wondered where he got the information. Of course, he gave no information on were he got this information, but it must be a fact or he wouldn’t say it on television, right?
    God, when can we send him back to England!

    • Why do you think he gave his ‘phone hacking’ evidence via video link? He risks arrest and being placed in the same dock as Brooks, Coulson et al. Morgan’s wiki entry is enlightening, if you needed any more evidence as to his criminal narcissistic shenanigans.

  11. A person is no longer a child when that person begins making decisions for their own life. Sometimes they make wrong decisions and learn from them while some don’t.

  12. Again this may go back to a causality question. The outcome of this study was that reports of injuries are up. Does that mean injuries are up, or does it just mean that the reporting of them has become more thorough (due to technology, policies, or whatever)?

    It reminds me VERY much of a recent story that came out about continually increasing reports of “near misses” among aircraft — as in passenger planes — in the U.S. That was defined as two planes getting within X distance of each other while flying (and I recall the distance was somewhat large, like a couple miles or something). ANYWAY… the headlines were scary but the real take-home from the FAA was that the incident rate has NOT actually increased. Rather, our technology has increased where these incidents are noticed, verified, and logged automatically. We’re seeing basically all of them now, instead of seeing only some of them and not even logging all of those because it was done manually and not a big priority. So while it looks like these “near misses” have been increasing, it’s actually only the reporting of them that has been increasing.

  13. 20 yrs old is a child, seriously?

    By 20 I was married, owned 2 vehicles, had my own place, joined the military, and was on my first deployment to the sandbox, in what f^cking world does that sound like a child…?

    Maybe Mr. Boston medical student and his Harvard advisor were still having mommy and daddy wipe their asses for them at 20, but where I come from we refer to someone who’s 20 yrs of age as a “grown ass man/woman”.

    • in the world where 20 year-olds frequently still live at home, unemployed.

      I think that’s this “modern economy” that we keep hearing about.

      seriously – I’m nearly 30, family, house, cars, toys, etc. some of my friends are still living with mom and dad, and have never even bought a car with their own money.

      well, I take that back. one of my friends still lives with his parents, but his priorities are so skewed that the first thing he did when he got his new job was not to move out, but instead he bought a brand new Camaro SS. nearly two years later, he still lives at home.

      • I bet your friend is very opinionated and is somewhat of a know it all..

        I had a friend that was mentally weak like this, couldn’t leave the security of the nest, but he knew everything about everything, let me tell you.

        Ironically, the biggest pieces of shit are usually the most opinionated. They’ve never done anything worthwhile, but their going to let you know how the world works.

        • They’re simply taking the path of least resistance. If I can eat without lifting a finger, why lift a finger?

  14. ” He said he decided to look at the question of gun ownership and childhood gun deaths after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.” So let’s see – Douche1 and Douche2, MD decide to load up on some grant money and play “Fun with Numbers.” I’d bet the study wasn’t peer-reviewed at all. And they expect anyone to believe them? Please, concentrate on diagnosing disease better.

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